Brechin City Football Club

Glebe Park, Brechin, Angus DD9 6BJ

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News - 16 February 2005

THE FIRST PART OF THE STORY...... - By Steve Mitchell

BRECHIN City are urging supporters to search their sheds and attics for any items that they believed they could be utilised to celebrate the club's Centenary in the 2005-2006 season.

City's first game, a 1-0 win over Montrose, away from home, was in the summer 1906 and the club has experienced many ups and downs since that day.

But time and time again through generations, Brechin City has overcome the greatest odds, to continue as the flourishing member of the Scottish Football League that it is today.

Only 13 years after its creation, the club faced one of its earliest crises. With the club's then ground, Nursery Park, having been dug up for the First World War effort, City were forced to look for a new home.

This was successful when Glebe Park, home of Brechin Renton and previously owned by the Church of Scotland was secured. The club having their first game on the hallowed turf against St Johnstone in September 1919.

The club faced bankruptcy in his early years on a number of occasions. Even with average attendances of between 2000 - 3000. On one such occasion, a number of local Publicans, who feared losing the 'fitba' punter going to and coming from the game on a Saturday clubbed together so the club could continue.

But as Alex Wood, explains, a club known as Brechin City had existed, long before 1906. Alex and Steve Mitchell have joined forces, with Alex’s work on the club’s very early years reproduced here for your enjoyment and interest.

The next stage of the story can only be told, with the help of any football club’s most important assets, its supporters................

Brechin City: 1906-1916, the First Decade



Dedicated to the men who established Brechin City Football Club, to the players of its first decade and in particular to Frank Forbes, Walter Fowler, David Glen, Robert Jaffray, David Collie Martin and Robert Strachan, who played for Brechin City and other local clubs, served in the 1914-18 War and did not return



As Brechin City approaches 2006 and the centenary of its formation some celebration of its formation and its earliest years is appropriate. George Cumming’s pamphlet, Through the Years with Brechin City, published in 1948, sketches the key events of the early years. This small work attempts to provide a more detailed narrative of the club, its players and its context in the early years of the twentieth century. It also attempts to analyse the effect of the 1914-18 War on the club and its players.

The recent publication of Jack Alexander’s superb McCrae’s Battalion, the history of the 16th Royal Scots, charts the fate of a first world war battalion with a significant contingent of professional footballers in its ranks. In the case of the 16th Royal Scots, the biggest single contingent, 15 men, were from Heart of Midlothian Football Club. Others who served had played for a plethora of Scottish clubs including Hibernian, Cowdenbeath, Dunfermline Athletic, East Fife, Falkirk and Raith Rovers. Eleven Heart of Midlothian players died in or as a result of the war. The contribution of Scottish footballers to the military effort of 1914-18 was of course enormously wider than that which could be portrayed in Alexander’s superb book but he has helped rekindle an interest in the wider story of the 1914-18 War and of how it impacted on so many aspects of Scottish life. In particular, he has focussed on a cohort of men who, despite their ordinary backgrounds but because of their extraordinary skills with a ball, were heroes in their time.

This book seeks to complete the story of Brechin City’s first decade with the story of as many of its players who fought in the war as could be traced.

Football in Victorian Scotland

The Scottish Football Association was formed in 1873, with the then-omnipotent Queens Park Football Club, the driving force. Queens Park won the first Scottish Cup in the season 1873-74 by beating Clydesdale by two goals to nil in the final. Queens Park continued by winning the Scottish Cup in its second and third seasons but in 1876-77 the run was broken by Vale of Leven. Vale of Leven also won three Scottish Cups in a row, two of Vale’s three successes being over Glasgow Rangers.

The two most important developments to follow the formation of the SFA were intimately related, the legalisation of professionalism and the inauguration of the Scottish Football League. The League was formed in April 1890, its first season being 1890-91 when Rangers and Dumbarton shared the title. The SFA adopted professionalism in May 1893. While much of what characterises football then was profoundly different from today’s game, these three initiatives essentially set the course for football, as we know it now.

Professionalism was shaped by the desire of the growing industrial workforce of Scotland for a form of mass entertainment, which fitted its pocket and its self-perception. Bob Crampsey, doyen of Scottish football historians and commentators, has noted the paradox which made a game, whose rules were fashioned in English public schools, the ‘fervent and abiding passion’ of working-class Scotland. It did so by offering a platform for the display of courage and stamina but also of individual skills. For the labourer or artisan with a flair for the game it also offered a potential escape from the drudgery of mine or factory. It articulated the intense expression of local rivalries and in small industrial communities it both expressed a local pride of place and ritualised a sense of superiority in respect of neighbouring communities. Wilkie, in his history of football in Dundee, sums up the relationship between social class and football in Victorian Scotland: “It was then that men in their frantic escapist search first discovered the spiritual qualities of football, for although to play at the highest level was the achievement of few it was the aspiration of many. Merely watching its matches brought a new kind of release, a new kind of solidarity and a new kind of sociability.” Moreover, at a time when a sense of British-ness was perhaps stronger than at any other in Scotland’s history, it provided ‘a theatre’ in which Scottish ‘nationhood and difference’ could come to the fore.

One of Scotland’s leading social historians, states that by the 1890s the workers of Scotland were becoming ‘football-mad’. For a class which often perceived itself as exploited and downtrodden, football satisfied a need to identify with winners . For those corralled into five-and-a-half days’ subservience in employment, Saturday afternoon on the pitch or the terracing offered the opportunity to relieve frustrations and assert a spirit usually dormant. Football had become ‘the new opium of the masses’.

The Early Years of the Twentieth Century

Scottish football in the years between 1900 and 1914 had elements, which today look positively archaic, and others, which would be entirely recognisable.

Goal-nets were still uncommon although the posts and tape had disappeared. Only in 1905 was the rule introduced whereby the keeper was required to remain still on the goal line during a penalty kick. The goalkeeper could hold the ball in his hands anywhere within his own half until 1912. If the rules were somewhat different, the structures however, bore remarkable similarities to those of the contemporary scene.

The ‘old firm’ certainly dominated the first fourteen seasons of the twentieth century. In these years Celtic won the Cup six times and the League seven times. Rangers won the Cup once and the League five times. The closest any club came to challenging that hegemony were Hearts with two Cup victories and Hibernian with one Cup and one League triumph. Dundee also offered a challenge to Rangers and Celtic at the end of the Edwardian era, being twice runners-up in the League and once winning the Scottish Cup.

In 1901 the First Division comprised ten teams. By 1914 it had doubled to twenty and the Second Division comprised fourteen. A Second Division of the Scottish League had existed since season 1893-94 but there were neither automatic promotion nor relegation. In the early years promotion and relegation were decided by the vote of the First Division Clubs. In that sense the situation was no different from that which led to Falkirk’s being denied promotion to the SPL at the end of 2002-03 or the initial farce which almost denied Inverness Caledonian Thistle promotion at the end of 2003-04. Aberdeen FC was formed in 1903 with the amalgamation of three sides, Orion, Victoria United and Aberdeen. The new Aberdeen club finished its first league campaign seventh in the Second Division but was immediately elected to join the First Division for season 1905-06, presumably because Aberdeen’s population offered a support base likely to generate reasonable crowds. Among the Second Division champions over the first years of the new century were St Bernards (Edinburgh’s third side), Leith Athletic, Ayr United and Cowdenbeath who were all champions twice in the period immediately before the outbreak of the Great War.

In addition however to the Scottish Football League there existed several senior regional leagues. The Highland League had been formed in 1893 and, along with the Borders League, the East of Scotland League, the Central League and the Northern League, offered Clubs which had ambitions to move into national league football the opportunity to start that process within a structure where costs were moderate.

Brechin City: Before the Formation

Various football clubs played in Brechin over the years. There had been intermittent attempts to maintain a senior team and, although Brechin City as it is known today, was founded in 1906, at least one club of the same name, playing senior football, had existed previously.

The Forfarshire Football Association (and the Forfarshire Cup) had been initiated in 1883, although with no Brechin club among its inaugural members. Records show however, that Brechin City played in the first round of the Scottish Cup in each of seasons 1888-89, 1889-90, 1890-91 and 1891-92. In each year Brechin City lost its first round tie: to Montrose by 8-1 in 1888, to Lochee United by 4-1 in 1889, to Kirriemuir by 4-2 in 1890 and to Arbroath by 9-3 in 1891. That appearance against Arbroath in 1891 was the last occasion on which the name of Brechin City appeared in a Scottish Cup draw until 1923-24, the year in which the club, as we know it now, was admitted to Division 3 of the Scottish Football League.

In the Qualifying Cup in season 1892-93 Arbroath FC defeated the then Brechin City by a stupendous fifteen goals to nil and in the same competition in 1895-96 Arbroath again triumphed over the earlier Brechin City side but this time by five goals to nil.

A club therefore by the name of Brechin City had maintained an existence from at least 1888 to 1896.

Junior Clubs in Brechin

Brechin also however supported several Junior football clubs through which local talent flourished. In the period immediately prior to the formation of Brechin City three Junior clubs operated Brechin Harp, Brechin Hearts and Brechin Rovers.

Brechin Harp Junior FC had an impressive record in the years immediately prior to the formation of Brechin City. In January 1905, almost 3,000 spectators watched Harp and Glasgow Parkhead in a Scottish Junior Cup fourth round replay at Clepington Park (now Tannadice) in Dundee. Harp lost 4-3. In 1904-05 Harp won the Forfarshire District Cup (beating Forfar Celtic in the final) and reached the finals of the Arbroath and District Junior Cup (losing to arch-rivals, Brechin Hearts) and the semi-final of the East of Scotland Junior Cup.

In season 1905-06 Brechin Harp played in the Melvin League, a Junior league involving teams from Brechin, Arbroath, Carnoustie and Friockheim.
Harp again won the Forfarshire District Cup, defeating Arbroath Rovers in a replay in the final. Moreover it had appeared as if Harp had won the Arbroath and District Junior
Cup. Hearts had beaten Harp 5-2 in the semi-final but the Arbroath Association upheld an appeal by Harp that Stewart, one of the Hearts players was a registered Senior. Hearts then refused to replay as instructed by the Association. The final went ahead between Harp and Arbroath St Thomas. Harp won by three goals to one. The Forfarshire Junior Association however over-ruled the Arbroath Association and, despite the fact that the final had been played, ordered the disputed semi-final to be replayed. Harp initially refused to do so but the game was played on the first Saturday of the next season. Hearts won by two goals to one, Livie, the former Harp but by then Hearts keeper, saving a penalty against his old club.

Harp’s home ground,as a Junior club, was Nursery Park, rented from the Cricket Club.

After the disastrous defeat in the replayed 1905-06 Arbroath and District Cup Final and the formation of Brechin City, Harp seems to have collapsed as a club. A revived Brechin Harp however was playing in the Juvenile League in 1912 and is illustrated as a juvenile team in season 1925-26.

Brechin Hearts Junior FC had been a highly successful local Junior club in the early years of the century. Hearts won the Arbroath and District Junior Cup in 1901-02, 1904-05 and in 1905-06, when they beat Arbroath St Thomas in the much disputed final, following their delayed semi-final defeat of Harp. Brechin Hearts also won the Forfarshire District Cup in 1903-04 and were beaten finalists, in a replay, in the Forfarshire Cup in 1904-05. The first final, at Dens Park, attracted a crowd of between 3,000 and 4,000. Brechin Hearts appear to have competed in the Melvin League in seasons 1904-05 and 1905-06.

Hearts played at Viewforth Park in season 1904-05 but opened their new ground, Central Park, on the opening day of the 1905-06 season.

Hearts however continued well after the formation of Brechin City and were playing competitive football until at least after the outbreak of World War One, having been finalists in the Forfarshire District Junior Cup in 1908-09, 1909-10 and 1912-13 and winners of the Arbroath and District Junior Cup in 1913-14, beating Arbroath Ardenlea 3-2 in a replayed final in which Guild scored a hat-trick. In one game, a friendly against Dundee Fairfield, in early 1914 they won by the astonishing margin of fourteen goals to three.

Brechin Rovers are noted as a Junior club in 1904-05 when they played Brechin Harp in the Forfarshire District Cup. Although they did not play in the Melvin League in 1904-05 they sought to join for the succeeding season but in 1905-06 there is no note of Rovers in the league tables published in the press. They did however, that season, play in the Scottish Junior Cup, the Arbroath and District Junior Cup and the Forfarshire District Junior Cup. The Melvin League appears not to have operated in seasons 1906-07 or 1907-08. By 1912 however, Brechin Rovers were playing in the Forfar and District League, likely as juveniles and are pictured as a Juvenile Club in 1924-25.

The Foundation of Brechin City

Brechin Hearts are often quoted, along with Brechin Harp, as the “nucleus” of the formation of Brechin City in 1906. “The juniors, particularly Harp and Hearts, had been doing so well in their sphere, that was urged that here was the nucleus of a first class organisation.” The initial public meeting to launch Brechin City FC, held in the Temperance Hall on 25th May 1906, indeed considered that, rancour between Harp and Hearts notwithstanding, “difficulties in the way of amalgamation were not insurmountable”. Brechin Harp and Brechin Hearts may indeed have provided the personnel for the nucleus of Brechin City but there was no amalgamation. Mr R.N. Clift, secretary of Brechin Harp became secretary of the new senior club when the office-bearers of the new Brechin City FC were elected at a committee meeting on Thursday 31 May 1906. The annual general meeting of Brechin Hearts FC however, took place on the following evening and while Brechin Harp, which provided the new club’s secretary and the largest single contingent of its players, seems to have ceased to exist very shortly after this point, Brechin Hearts continued an active and reasonably successful existence until during the First World War. In fact Harp’s last recorded game, a defeat at the hands of Brechin Hearts, was played on 3rd August 1906.

1906-07: the First Season

The early Brechin City signings included D Gourlay, the old Harp and Aberdeen University half-back, who played only once for the new club, and D Nicoll, from Laurencekirk, who had played at left-half for Brechin Hearts in 1905-06 and was a regular in the early City line-up. W Chapman, who had played for Harp in the previous season, a former right-back, signed for City, to be played however as an outside-right as well as at right-back and once even at centre-half. (He had also however played at an earlier but uncertain date for Brechin Hearts. ) Brechin next signed W Graham, formerly of Dundee Wanderers and Montrose, who turned out at inside left in almost every game of the season, and Morrison, from Arbroath Rovers who was the regular goal-keeper for the season. Shortly before the season started J.S. Lyon, formerly of Dundee A, and an ex-Harp player, was signed on amateur forms and played left-back in most of Brechin’s games over the season with three appearances at right-half, while Knowles of Dundee West End and John Ower of St Johnstone signed professional forms. Knowles appears to have played for City on only three occasions and to have departed Brechin by the end of September but Ower was a regular at either right- or left-back until December 1906 when he disappears from the team lists. Moncrieff, the half-back, came from St Johnstone. Moncrieff arrived early in the season from Perth Roselea.

As well as Chapman, R Clark and Caithness came from Brechin Harp. George Smart, another former Harp player, played one game for City in 1906-07 and then turned up during the next season playing his football in Australia, scoring a hat trick in New South Wales cup semi-final. Davie Glen, to become one of most famous of the early City players, had played for Brechin Hearts before joining City early in the 1906-07 season. J Melvin had also at one time played for Brechin Hearts but came to City from Forfar Athletic of which he had been captain. D Easson, another of the most successful of the early City players, came from Arbroath, having previously been with Montrose and, prior to that, with Brechin Hearts.

It was not until close to the end of the first season that City appears to have taken its first player from Brechin Rovers when Colin Hampton, later to be famous as a Scottish League internationalist and as a war hero, made his debut as a trialist goal-keeper in two end of season games.

Brechin City Football Club, as it is known today, came into existence therefore in 1906. After its foundation, the club took over the lease of Nursery Park which had, until then been the home of Brechin Harp. The Northern League had been founded in 1891 (initially comprising Our Boys, East End, Harp - all from Dundee - Montrose, Arbroath, Forfar Athletic, St Johnstone and Aberdeen) because the leading Scottish clubs from the west would visit the north eastern clubs only at new year. City was admitted to the Northern League for the start of season 1906-07, joining East Fife, Lochee United, Lochgelly United, Hearts of Beath, Kirkcaldy United, Wanderers (a Dundee team which played at Clepington, now renamed Tannadice), Dunfermline Athletic, Arbroath, Montrose, Forfar, St Johnstone and the Reserve XIs of Dundee and Aberdeen. Brechin City also played in various knockout competitions such as the Forfarshire Cup, the Qualifying Cup and the Consolation Cup.

Brechin’s first game as a senior club was against Montrose at Links Park where the new team enjoyed a 1-0 victory over the established club. Brechin’s first competitive game was against East Fife at Bayview in Northern League on 18 August 1906. East Fife won 4-1. In its first season, 1906-07, Brechin City deafeated Montrose 3-2 in the first round of the Qualifying Cup and was defeated 4-0 by Arbroath at Gayfield in a replayed second round Qualifying Cup game after having drawn the initial encounter at Nursery Park, 2-2. Arbroath also defeated Brechin, 3-0, in the one Forfarshire Cup game City played in its first season. Three Brechin players, Lyon, Glen and Graham, were selected to play for the Forfarshire Select in its annual match against the Perthshire County Select. Perthshire won 2-1.

Records exist of 34 games played by the club in its first season. Twenty-six games were played in the Northern League. Of these, City won 11, lost 11 and drew 4. In the Qualifying Cup and Forfarshire Cup the club won one, drew one and lost two. Four other games, friendlies and a benefit game, resulted in two wins, a draw and a defeat. Scorers have not been traced for all games but Easson scored at least fourteen times in that first season, with Graham netting at least four and Glen at least three. The club completed the Northern League that season a creditable seventh out of fourteen.

At the AGM of the club at the end of the season it was noted that City had not had a player on the books a few weeks before the season started but had finished creditably. D Easson was noted as the only player to have played in every game. (Team lists have been traced for 33 out of the 34 games played and Nicoll with 30 games, Morrison and Lyon with 29 games each, Chapman with 26, Moncrieff with 25,Brand with 23 and Melvin with 21 also had consistent records. Davie Glen played 18 times but had moved, briefly, to Dundee towards the end of the season.)

The line-ups tended to follow fairly clear patterns. Morrison played in goal on 29 occasions, with the young Colin Hampton playing twice. Jim Livie, previously Harp’s keeper but by then the regular keeper for Brechin Hearts, made single game appearance between the sticks late in the season. Chapman and Ower had 17 and 13 games respectively at right back. Lyon and Ower had 26 and four respectively at left back.

The half-back line was slightly more variable. Melvin occupied the right-half berth on 21 occasions, Lyon and Strachan on three each and Brand and Smith on two each. Nicoll was the regular centre-half, playing there in 29 games, with Skea appearing twice and Chapman and Gourlay once each. Moncrieff occupied the left-half position on 23 occasions, Smith six times and Strachan and Nicoll once each.

The forwards rotated positions more frequently. Easson wore the number seven jersey on 24 occasions but Chapman, usually the right back, also played on the right wing 8 times. Brand, who had twice played at right half, was the regular inside right with 21 appearances. Hunter also played at inside right, three times, and Glen, Salmond and Clark each occupied the berth twice. Glen was the most regular centre forward with 16 games but Easson with eight, Hunter and Knowles with three each and Strachan with one appearance also filled the number nine spot. Although Easson with his 33 narrowly took the appearances record, Graham who played 32 games, all at inside left, appears to have been the most consistent player ain his own position. Caithness was the regular left winger with 24 games; Ritchie also had four games at number eleven and Moncrieff and Strachan had one each.

Income for the year was £328 13/5½d.
Expenditure was £317 17/3½d. Home gates had generated £159 13/6½d and away gates £118 13.5d. Players’ outfits had cost £35, travelling expenses £96 4/4d and players’ wages £37 15/-. £82 2/9d had gone to visiting clubs as their share of the gates. George Cumming was re-elected president and Mr R.N. Clift as secretary.

1907-08: the First Championship

As the 1906-07 season came to an end, City started to prepare for its second senior campaign. Easson and Chapman were the first of the old guard to re-sign. R Clark of Arbroath St Thomas, A Skea of Arbroath Fairfield (who had been twice trialled at the end of the previous season) and A Shand of Forfar (but formerly of Brechin Harp and a native Brechiner) were also signed. J Melvin was the next of the old squad to re-sign. Milne of Lochee United signed for City in July. J S Lyon remained with City on amateur forms. W Don, the former Raith Rovers keeper, joined the club. D Easson, Davie Glen and D Graham, “last year’s fine trio of forwards will again be in their respective positions” and Harry Brown, from Dundee, joined them. Brown however, a regular player in the City forward line, transferred to Raith Rovers in December 1907. Steve McDonald had also transferred to Brechin from Dundee and appears to have played some five games for Brechin in late 1907-early 1908 before transferring in January 1908 to Aston Villa. George Richardson, previously with Brechin Hearts, joined City and excited considerable interest from other clubs. He was selected, along with Melvin, to play for a Forfarshire Select against the Perthshire Select in April 1908. The Forfarshire reserves for that select included Hampton, Easson and Graham of Brechin. George Richardson was also the sole Brechin player selected for a Northern League XI in March 1908. Another regular for Brechin, usually at left-half, for part of that season was Willie Campbell. Campbell had also played hockey for Brechin Hockey Club and had been professional for Montrose Cricket Club. His participative sporting activities had to be surrendered however when he was appointed green-keeper at Edzell Golf Club, the duties of which post “will prevent him following either football or cricket”.

In 1907-08 Brechin had a spectacular league season. The season started with a notable win at Methill against East Fife. After their fifth game they topped the table, a position they scarcely surrendered for the remainder of the season despite a 5-1 defeat at the hands of Dundee A in November.

The end of November however saw a dramatic local derby with Forfar (which Brechin narrowly won, 3-2) and in which a spectator “entered the field and struck a Forfar player”. As a result Brechin’s Nursery Park was closed for a week “and the club ordered to post warning bills”.

At the club’s half yearly meeting on 7th January 1908, George Cumming, the club chairman, “congratulated the members on the prosperity that had attended the club, and expressed the hope that the Northern League championship would be secured”. When the club’s AGM occurred in April there only remained three league games to play. George Cumming stated that they “had created a record that would take some beating in the Consolation Cup, and there was a good possibility that the Northern League championship would be annexed.” George Cumming was re-elected as president, James Law as vice-president, R N Clift as secretary and A Rankin as treasurer.

City fulfilled George Cumming’s hopes, winning two of their remaining three league games and completing the season top of the Northern League, having played twenty four games, won fourteen, lost six and drawn four.

Although not every team in the league completed their fixture list, it was clear that none of Brechin’s rivals, even had they won every outstanding game, could have ended the season with a higher points total than City.

P W L D G f Ga Pts
Brechin 24 14 6 4 53 38 32
Lochgelly 23 13 7 3 59 43 29
Arbroath 24 12 8 4 56 44 28
St J’tsone 22 13 8 1 53 31 27
Dunf Ath 24 11 8 5 45 42 27
Abdrdn A 23 10 8 5 36 32 25
K’caldy Utd 23 11 10 2 47 36 24
Forfar Ath 23 11 11 1 47 43 23
East Fife 19 10 8 1 44 35 21
Dundee A 19 6 9 4 33 42 16
Montrose 22 7 13 2 26 51 16
Lochee Utd 22 5 14 3 32 56 13
Wanderers 22 3 16 3 27 74 9

Although City went out in the first rounds of each of the Forfarshire and the Qualifying Cups in 1907-08, a superb run in the Consolation Cup (defeated Dunkeld, 5-1; Clachnacuddin, 3-1; Dunfermline, 2-1; Kirkcaldy United, 3-0) propelled the Brechin club to a marathon tussle with East Fife in the quarter final of that competition. The first game was played at Nursery Park on 14 March 1908 and resulted in 1-1 draw. The replay at Bayview was goal-less. The second replay was at Clepington Park (later renamed Tannadice), Dundee, where the score was again 1-1 despite an extra thirty minutes having been played. For the third replay on 1 April the venue moved across the road to Dens Park and on this occasion the outcome was 0-0, again after extra time. On the following day the sides played their fifth tie, again at Dens Park, and East Fife won by two goals to nil. The two clubs had created a record in the football world, having battled against each other for eight and a half hours before reaching a settlement.

Team sheets have been traced for 39 of the 43 games played that season and a partial team list can be ascertained for on other game. Chapman and Easson each played in at least 39 games, Shand in 37, Graham and Glen in 36 and Melvin in 34. Skea and Clark with at least 26 appearances, Hampton with 21 and Brown with 18 were all regular team players. Of the scorers who have been identified, Richardson tops the list with at least ten goals, Davie Glen had at least nine, Graham and Easson had eight apiece, Brown and Clark five apiece and Melvin had four, three of them penalties.

The Brechin team for its second season had a fairly regular pattern to it.

Don, who had signed from Raith at the beginning of the season, played13 games in goal in the first half of the season, with Steele substituting for him on six coccasions. By December however, Colin Hampton, the Brechin Rovers keeper had had two trial games in the previous season, started to wear the gloves and bunnet and was established by the end of the season as Brechin regular keeper with 21 appearances. Chapman established the right-back berth as his with 35 appearances, Shand and Lyon playing there on three and two occasions respectively. These same three players shared the left-back position, with Lyon’s 35 appearances there making him the regular and Chapman’s 3 and Shand’s 2 covering the other games.

Melvin was regular right half with 33 appearances, Milne, Hunter, Skea, McDonald, Campbell and J Richardson each turning out once at number four. Shand with 32 appearances and Campbell with four, Skea with two and Milne and Chapman with one each were the centre halfs. There was fiercer competition for the left half berth with Skea appearing 22 times, Campbell and McDonald five times and Milne thrice.

Easson was the regular at outside right with 37 appearances. Clark and Graham each notched up 17 at inside right, with Glen playing there three times and Milne and Eddie once each. Glen’s regular spot was at number nine where he played 32 times, his vacancies being covered by G Richardson five times, Easson twice and Clark once. Graham had 19 games and G Richardson 12 at inside left with Clark playing there five times, and Glen, Petrie, Smart and Dakers once each. The outside left spot was also vigorously contested. Brown had 18 games, Vass nine, Petrie five, Milne three, Clark two and Lyon, Skea and Dakers one each.

As that glorious second season came to an end W Graham was the first of the Brechin squad to re-sign for the new season but the scouts from the south had spotted potential, and, in addition to Harry Brown and Steve McDonald who had already moved to Raith Rovers and Aston Villa respectively, R Clark was signed by Arsenal and David Smart, Brechin’s honorary treasurer moved to be assistant manager at Heart of Midlothian.

A named photograph of the Brechin City team from that season shows the following players: J Melvin, D Glen, W Chapman, W Don, A Shand, A Skea, D Easson, R Clark, J Lyon, W Graham and H Brown. That particular combination players played four games together over the late October-early November period in 1907.


As City prepared for the new season, Alan Nimmo, formerly of Dundee and Cowdenbeath was signed.

In season 1908-09, Brechin City finished the Northern League in fourth place out of twelve. Even more impressively, that year they reached the final of the Scottish Qualifying Cup. Brechin lost that final, 5-2, to Vale of Leven, one of the SFA’s eight founding clubs of 1873, Scottish Cup Winners from 1877 to 1879 and one of the Scottish League’s eleven founding clubs of 1890.

In 1909-10 Brechin City won its first knock-out trophy by defeating Arbroath FC in the final of the Forfarshire Cup. At the start of that season Arbroath FC, along with the Fife clubs, had left the Northern League and joined the Central League. The Northern League was much depleted, comprising Brechin, Forfar, Montrose, Dundee Hibernians, Dundee Wanderers and Dundee’s and Aberdeen’s reserve sides.

In 1910-11 Arbroath rejoined the Northern League while still playing in the Central League and maintained for some years an intermittent presence in the Northern League.

In 1911-12 Brechin City defeated Arbroath 2-0 at Nursery Park in the second round of the Qualifying Cup. The Northern League in that season was officially unfinished.

In 1912-13 Brechin City were, for the second time, league champions of the Northern League.

In 1913-14 Brechin City finished a creditable fourth in the Northern League, although the competition was officially unfinished. As the season drew to a close, the re-signing of four ‘stalwarts’, Hunter, Richardson, Heatherington and Laing, were reported. Bob Laing however, had determined “to play as an amateur”. At the end of that season it was Brechin City’s turn to seek membership of the Central League for the succeeding season. The Central League apparently agreed to admit Montrose but not Brechin. (Despite that decision, Montrose was still playing in the Northern League when the new season began and ultimately played but one brief season, 1914-15, in the Central League.) At the end of the season, at the AGM of Brechin City, George Cumming the secretary bemoaned the clubs which “had promised games … (but) had not fully carried out their promises.”

Brechin City played out season 1914-15 in the Northern League which thereafter ceased to function until after the war ended.

Football and the War

Football was, as it always has been, ritualised conflict. Whether of course as a pressure valve to work off innate aggression or as means fuelling that aggression remains endlessly debatable. Above all of course, football was team work. Controlled aggression and disciplined team work were essential to effective soldiering. .

The authorities were well aware of the potential of football and of sport in general to test those they were about to send to war. In particular they perceived sportsmanship as an attribute of leadership. William Carr, who came from a Kincardineshire farming family, tells the story of his Commission Board.

‘“What games did you play at school?”
‘“We didn’t play games, Sir.”
‘“You didn’t play games?”
‘The officer stared at me in disbelief.’

Carr did not, at that stage, receive his commission and although the reason was almost certainly the fact that he had gone to a school at which ‘games’ were not at the peak of the curricular hierarchy, and by definition therefore he could not have been a gentleman, there can be little doubt that had he gone to such a school and told the Board so, his sporting experience would have been analysed as sign of his potential strengths as an officer.

Brechin and the War

The Brechin War memorial lists 298 Brechiners who died in the war. From D & R Duke’s Denburn Works alone 92 men enlisted in the armed services; nineteen of them were killed. (Eighteen are noted on the inside cover as ‘killed’ but a total of nineteen are mentioned in the succeeding text.) The footballers of Brechin also enlisted, served and died in significant numbers.

What follows seeks to trace the role of Brechin footballers in the 1914-18 War. Some effort has been made to trace as many as possible of Brechin’s footballers who fought in the Great War, both those who played the game at senior and at junior level. Sadly, this long after the events, it is enormously easier to trace those who died and to recreate their stories than it is to build a comprehensive picture of those who served but survived. Nonetheless this article seeks to identify those Brechin footballers who died in the war and to trace other Brechin players who fought in it. Some effort has also been made to trace other Brechiners with football connections, including those who played at junior and juvenile levels and those who were club officials, and who fought in the war.

Brechin’s Footballers

The bulk of this work focuses on ten footballers (Frank Forbes, Walter Fowler, David Glen, Colin Hampton, Robert Jaffray, James Livie, Collie Martin, J Milne, Robert Strachan and John Walker), all of whom were either born in Brechin or resident in Brechin at some point and all of whom either played for Brechin City (in some cases among other senior clubs) or for Junior football clubs in the Brechin area. Six of the ten were killed.

Some mention is then made of other Brechin football figures who fought in the war. There are almost certainly other Brechin players or Brechiners who played for clubs outside Brechin who are not included. A few names of Brechin war dead who may have a connection with football in the town are mentioned.

The story of the Brechin footballers is one of working class men from a small country town, thrown by world events beyond the restricted locale which most of them knew. The story which unfolds of these Brechin footballers is of a small cohort men who overwhelmingly volunteered before they were required to serve and with a significantly higher proportion both promoted and decorated for gallantry than would have been the norm.


It is worth mentioning that of the ten players who have been identified with certainty and on whom some detail has been assembled, five were directly employed in the textile industry (two at the East Bleachfield and three at the Denburn Works) on which the economy of Brechin rested. One was employed at the paper mill, although he had previously been noted as a flax worker. One appears to have been a full-time professional footballer but had also previously been employed in the textile industry. One was a house painter although as a boy he had also been employed as a porter in the linen industry. The occupations of the other two have not been established. It appears that, with the exception of Frank Forbes, a Dundonian whose parents were Brechiners and who moved into Brechin, of James Livie, who spent a brief period in Canada and of those players who left Brechin to ply their footballing trade elsewhere, the entire group resided throughout their adult lives prior to the War in Brechin or the immediately surrounding countryside.

Military Careers and Regiments

At least five of the ten originally enlisted in the 5th, the Angus or Forfarshire Territorial Battalion, of The Black Watch. Britain declared war on Germany on 4th August 1914. The Brechin Advertiser, published on that day, noted that the 5th Black Watch had, on the previous week, been at Monzie, near Crieff, on its annual training camp. Late on the Wednesday (29th July 1914) the Battalion’s Special Service men were informed to be ready to march off at six the next morning. Some 200 of them, including a detachment of about 25 Brechin men, entrained at Crieff on the Thursday morning. For these 25 Brechiners, full-time war service had begun, although their initial duty was guarding the Tay Bridge rather than embarkation for the continent. That came, for the whole Battalion, some three months later. The remainder of the Battalion, in the meantime, completed its camp and returned to their home towns on the Saturday night, 1st August, and Sunday morning, 2nd August, the Brechin detachment, under Lieutenant Archibald Duke, attending Divine Service at the Cathedral on the Sunday morning. The 5th Black Watch was among the first Scottish Territorial battalions to reach the front line, arriving in Le Havre on 13th November 1914. (Only the 9th [Glasgow Highlanders] Battalion, the Highland Light Infantry and the 5th Battalion, the Scottish Rifles (Cameronians), both of which disembarked in France on the 5th of November, arrived before them – unless of course one counts the 1st London Scottish which had already seen action at Messines on 31st October 1914.)

It should also be noted that in February 1916, the 4th (Dundee) Battalion and the 5th (Forfarshire) Battalion of The Black Watch, both having suffered such serious casualties, were amalgamated and, for the remainder of the war, operated as the 4th/5th Battalion, The Black Watch.

Another two of the ten served with The Black Watch although it is not known with which battalion. Two of the ten Brechiners however had transferred from the 5th Black Watch by the time of their deaths, one to the 7th (Fife) Battalion of The Black Watch and one to the Machine Gun Corps.

The other three named players served with the Royal Scots, the Royal Army Medical Corps and the Motor Machine Gun Corps. Of the ten, seven were promoted: four sergeants, two corporals and a lance-corporal. Three of them had been awarded the Military Medal for gallantry in the field.

It is clear that almost all of the ten were volunteers. Robert Jaffray was a Territorial who first went to France in November 1914 and therefore enlisted, at the latest, in 1914. David Glen enlisted “shortly after war broke out” , in fact in December 1914 . Robert Strachan had enlisted in the Territorials by 1915 at the latest. Collie Martin , Walter Fowler , Frank Forbes and Colin Hampton all enlisted in 1915 (Frank Forbes in January of that year ). John Walker enlisted in February 1916 as a result of the Derby scheme , the first tentative step towards conscription, but since conscription, which was introduced by the Military Service Act, did not come into operation until 27 March 1916, all of these eight men were pre-conscription volunteers. No date of enlistment has been traced for J Milne or James Livie. In other words, of the ten men on whom we have some detail, at least eight were volunteers.


In alphabetical order, the six known Brechin footballers who died in the War were Frank Forbes, Walter Fowler, David Glen, Robert Jaffray, Collie Martin and Robert Strachan.

Although Brechin suffered its casualties in the early stages of the war, it was not until close to the end of the Battle of the Somme in 1916 that the first of Brechin’s footballers was killed.

Robert Strachan

The first fatality among Brechin’s footballers was Robert Strachan.

Robert Mitchell Strachan, son of James Strachan, linen factory worker, and Elizabeth Strachan (nee Mitchell) was born on 18th December 1882 at 14 Union Street. By 1891 his parents, three brothers, sister and himself had moved to a one roomed house at 86 High Street. By 1901 the family, now comprising his parents, four brothers, two sisters and Robert, were living in a two roomed house at 38 Montrose Street. Robert was noted, at that point, as a flax worker. He had married Mary Burnett in Brechin in 1908. At the time of his marriage he was resident at 13 Kinnaird Place and noted as a paper mill worker, which was also his occupation at the time of his enlistment.

Prior to the war he was a prominent member of Brechin City FC. “He was wounded with the local Territorials, and went to France with a draft in the spring of 1915.”

Lance Corporal Robert Strachan, originally of the 5th Black Watch, Service Number, 240664, was first reported missing in October 1916. His death is noted as 14th October 1916 but it was not until November 1917 that his wife, who resided at Southesk Terrace, was officially notified that her husband was by then presumed to have been killed. In October 1916 the 4th/5th Black Watch, as part of the 39th Division, was engaged in the Battle of the Ancre Heights, one of the final phases of the Somme offensive of that year. Robert Strachan has no known grave but is commemorated on the Black Watch’s panel on the Thiepval Memorial on the Somme.

D Collie Martin

David Collie Martin, known as Collie Martin, was the next Brechin footballer to die in the war.

He was born on 19th March 1890 at 8 Union Street, Brechin, the son of Jessie Ann Martin. As an infant, in 1891, he was boarded in Market Street with the McGarrie family. As a youth he had resided in 1901 in 86 Montrose Street with his grandmother, mother and aunt. In 1913 he was residing at 86 Montrose Street, Brechin, when he married Catherine Reid. At the time of his marriage in 1913 he was noted as a bleachfield worker and immediately before enlisting in 1915 he was employed at the East Bleachfield in Brechin.

He played centre forward for Brechin City and later, for a short period, for Dundee, “where he excelled as a goal scorer. Everywhere he was appreciated as a clean, gentlemanly player.” He played one game at centre forward for Dundee towards the end of season 1910-1911 (against St Mirren) and seven games in 1911-1912 during which he scored three goals, two against Queens Park in September 1911 and one against Hamilton Accies in December of the same year. Collie Martin played only a relatively limited number of games for Dundee Football Club. He played however at a time when Dundee FC was among the cream of Scottish football, one of the few clubs challenging the power of the old firm. In 1906-07 and 1908-09 Dundee had been runners up in the League and they won the Scottish Cup in 1909-1910. Dundee had also won the Forfarshire Cup in 1908-09 and in 1911-12.

He is noted as having been killed serving as a corporal with the 5th Black Watch near Ypres on 26th March 1917, a week after his twenty seventh birthday. The Third Battle of Ypres was still some three months away when he was killed on this section of the front over which fighting had continued almost incessantly since the early days of the war. His Service Number was 241085. He is buried in Railway Dugouts Burial Ground, on the outskirts of Ypres, Belgium.

David Glen

The Battle of Arras in the spring of 1917 saw enormous Scottish casualties, with three of the Scottish Divisions (the 9th Scottish, the 15th Scottish and the 51st Highland) all engaged. The Arras campaign was initiated on 9th April 1917, Easter Monday, and on that date fell one Brechin City’s best known early players, Davie Glen.

David Glen was born at Crosshill, in the parish of Brechin (less than a mile beyond the town boundary, on the Montrose road) on 31st March 1881. His parents were David Glen, a farm servant, and Mary Ann Glen (nee Cook). By 1891 his father was dead but David’s widowed mother, himself, his two brothers and two sisters remained at Crosshill. By 1901 David Glen was residing in Kinnaird Place with his widowed mother and his sisters and was noted as a bleachfield worker. Prior to the war he was employed at the East Bleachfield.

David Glen played at centre forward for Brechin City as well as for Dundee (very briefly) and Milwall.

David Glen played Junior for Brechin Hearts and is regularly noted on the Hearts team lists, at either centre-forward or inside right, in seasons 1904-05 and 1905-06. He played inside-left for the Forfarshire Junior XI in October 1905. On 3rd August 1906 he played for Brechin Hearts against Brechin Harp. On the 15th of August however he featured in the Brechin Cuty team which played a friendly against Montrose, Brechin City’s first official game as a senior club. He again lined up on Saturday 18th August when Brechin City played East Fife in the Northern League, City’s first ever competitive game. He was however back in the Brechin Hearts line-up against Dundee Stobswell on the 1st of September. He turned out for Brechin City on the 3rd of November 1906 against Forfar and seems to have played for City thereafter until close to the end of the season, his last game apparently being against East Fife on the 9th of March 1907. He played for the Forfarshire Select in March 1907 when the Perthsire Select won by two goals to one. He then played four games for Dundee in the latter part of season 1906-07, one on the right-wing and three at centre-forward. His first game, on 23rd March 1907, was a 0-0 draw against Celtic in Glasgow front of a 35,000 crowd.

He is pictured with the Brechin City team of 1907-08 in two separate photographs. He played in the Brechin City team, which won its first ever knock-out silver-wear, the Forfarshire Cup, by beating Arbroath, in season 1909-10. Cumming, in his history of Brechin City’s early years, states that “Davie Glen was a centre forward, even (sic: presumably ‘ever’) a gentlemanly player, feared by all his opponents for his robust style of play. It was no uncommon feat for him to cycle 20 odd miles into Brechin, don the colours, and lead his team to victory.” David Glen was certainly still playing for Brechin in January 1912 when he played centre forward in a Northern League game against Dundee A (i.e. Dundee Reserves). (It is likely that David Glen was working somewhere in the Angus Glens at the point when he had to cycle into town to ‘lead his team’.)

David Glen enlisted in December 1914 . He was serving with the Service Number 16611 as a Sergeant with the 13th Royal Scots when he was killed. The 13th Royal Scots was a Service Battalion which had been raised in Edinburgh in September 1914, was attached to the 45th Brigade of the 15th Scottish Division from that point until the end of the war and which landed in France in July 1915.

On Easter Sunday, 1917, in the area around Arras, for the first time that year, the sun had a touch of warmth although snow still lingered around many of the banks. The Germans shelled Arras continuously that Sunday. The Monday morning, 9th April, however was cold with a sharp wind blowing from the south-east and rain squalls. On that day the British and Imperial forces launched their offensive around Arras, sometimes referred to as the First Battle of the Scarpe. It was essentially a diversion in support of the French offensive about to be launched (on the 16th of April) by General Nivelle on the Aisne. David Glen was killed on the first day of that battle.

David Glen had been awarded the Military Medal for bravery (notification of which award only reached his mother a few weeks after his death) and had been recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal on several occasions. “In a letter of sympathy to his widowed mother, who resides in Montrose Street, the gallant sergeant’s captain spoke of the regard in which Glen was held in the battalion, and stated that he had on more than one occasion to commend him for his resource and bravery.” His mother resided at Montrose Street, later at 28 Kinnaird Place, Brechin. He is buried in Cabaret-Rouge British Cemetery, Souchez, France.

Walter Fowler

Walter Fowler, son of James Fowler, a tenter in the Denburn Works, and Margaret Ann Fowler (nee Barclay) was born on 1st January 1889 in the High Street, Brechin. He died exactly a fortnight after David Glen, and only a few miles away.

Walter Fowler played for Brechin Arnot, almost certainly as a juvenile. He later played for Brechin Hearts Junior FC and was captain of that club in the last pre-war season, 1913-14. In that season Brechin Hearts won the Arbroath and District Junior Cup, beating Ardenlea 3-2 in the replayed final. Walter Fowler continued to play for Brechin Hearts into the next season: he is noted as one of the scorers in a 3-3 draw with Dundee Osborne on 3 November 1914. He played for the Forfarshire Junior select and also at some point played for Brechin City. (He may have been the outside left noted as Fuller in the Brechin City team defeated by Montrose on New Year’s Day 1915. )

He is noted on the Roll of Honour of D & R Duke’s Denburn Works, where he was employed, as having left Duke’s in October 1915.

Walter Fowler enlisted in the 5th, the Forfarshire battalion, of The Black Watch, likely in October 1915 and trained with its depot battalion, the 3/5th, at Ripon in Yorkshire. While at Ripon he played for the 3/5th Black Watch football team. At least one other member of that team, the goal-keeper, James Livie, was also from Brechin and had played junior football in the town. Walter Fowler returned to Brechin from Ripon in May 1916 to marry Mary Ann Sinclair.

He transferred at some point between June 1916 and April 1917, along with another Brechin soldier, James Low, to the 7th (Fife) Battalion of The Black Watch with the Service Number 292529. The 7th Black Watch was part of the153rd Brigade of the 51st Highland Division. Shortly before five o’clock on the morning of 23rd April 1917, British troops advanced east of Arras upon the German line between Gavrelle, Guémappe and Fontaine-lez-Croisilles. This advance marked the beginning of the Second Battle of the Scarpe. The Germans had brought up many new batteries, spread along the line, and had massed large numbers of machine guns in the villages, trenches and emplacements, from which they were able to sweep the British line of advance by direct and enfilade fire. These machine guns were thick in the ruins of Roeux. The 51st Highland Division attacked the village of Roeux and the German line, which stretched from Roeux northwards past the Roeux chemical factory and the station on the road to Gavrelle. On that day, the 7th Black Watch advanced from the general direction of Fampoux, parallel to and immediately north of, the railway line, and suffered, along with the remainder of the division, severe casualties.

At first Walter Fowler was noted as missing. "Information from the front has been received that a well-known Brechin footballer, Walter Fowler, has been missing since 23rd April. He was one of the best known juniors in the Centre and North of Scotland and has appeared in representative matches. He also played for Brechin City."
One week later however, the same columns report his death. "Intimation has now been received that Private Walter Fowler, Black Watch, who was previously reported missing was killed in action in France on 23rd April. Before the war he was a lapper at Denburn Works. He was one of the best known junior football players in the district and had played in several representative matches as well as for Brechin City. He was the only son of Mr James Fowler, 11 Montrose Street, and leaves a young widow and child who reside in Damacre Road." The same issue includes a death notice: "Deaths: for their Country. Killed in action in France on 23rd April Private Walter Fowler, only son of Mr and Mrs James Fowler, 11 Montrose St, Brechin, and husband of Mary Ann Sinclair, 13 Damacre Rd, Brechin."

Tragically, two days later, his friend, James Low, who had transferred with him from the 5th to the 7th Black Watch, was also killed. Walter Fowler is buried at Brown’s Copse British Cemetery, Roeux, and James Low lies less than fifty yards from him. Brown’s Copse Cemetery is on the Black Watch’s line of attack between Fampoux and Roeux. At the request of his widow who visited Brown’s Copse in the 1920s, his grave in inscribed with the words, ‘He lies in a beautiful place’.

Frank Forbes

The next of the Brechin footballers to be killed was Frank Forbes who died in September 1917 of wounds sustained in the Third Battle of Ypres, often referred to as the Battle of Passchendaele.

Frank Forbes played for Brechin City before and during the first year of the war. He is noted as the inside-right in the teams which beat Montrose3-1 in the Qualifying Cup in September and which lost 3-0 to Arbroath in the Forfarshire Cup in November, both 1914. He was employed at the Denburn Works which he left in January 1915. Curiously, although the Denburn Works Roll of Honour notes Frank Forbes in its list of employees who served in the war and, on that list, notes him as having died in September 1917, his name is not noted on the list of those killed on the frontispiece to the publication.

Frank Alexander Forbes was born in Littlejohn Street, Dundee on 22nd January 1888, the son of David Forbes, then a sewing machine company porter, and Julia Forbes (nee Mitchell). His father, originally a ship’s carpenter, and again employed as such in 1891 and 1901, was likely born in Brechin. The 1881 and 1891 census returns state that he was: the 1901 census gives his place of birth as Dundee. Frank Forbes’s mother was definitely born in Brechin and his parents had been married in Brechin.

He was residing in Dundee, still in Littlejohn Street, in 1891 with his parents and two brothers and in 1901 with his widowed father and brother, but by the time of his marriage in May 1916 he was noted as residing at Andover Hill, Brechin. Frank Forbes was therefore, although a Dundonian by birth, a Brechiner by ancestry, by residence and through his football club. He was noted as a cloth lapper on his marriage certificate but, in brackets, also as a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Cloth lapper was, in other words, his civilian occupation in May 1916, but he had already enlisted by that date in the Medical Corps. He had in fact enlisted immediately after leaving Denburn in January 1915 . His wife, Jane Muckart, was also resident in Brechin, in Kinnaird Place, at the time of their marriage.

Private Frank Forbes served with the 134th Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps, his service number being 53477. He had been wounded in June 1917. Over the course of the 24th and 25th September 1917 there was hard and prolonged fighting north and south of the Menin Road, the road out of Ypres to the east, with major engagements around Zonnebeke and Polygon Wood. On 26th September 1917 Frank Forbes was out with a party bringing in the wounded when he was hit in the leg by part of a shell and died later in the same day. His widow was by then resident in Montrose Street. He is buried at Voormezeele Enclosures, near Ypres, Belgium, only a short distance beyond Railway Dugouts, the resting place of Collie Martin.

Robert Jaffray (or Jeffrey)

The last of the Brechin footballers to fall, in November 1917, was Robert Jaffray.

Robert Jaffray, the son of Robert Jaffray, millworker, and Jemima Jaffray (nee Paton) was born on the 7th October 1896 at 179 Montrose Street, Brechin. By 1901 his family (parents and three sisters) and he were residing at 271 Montrose Street.

Private Robert Jeffrey (sic) was one of the majority of D Company, 5th Battalion, The Black Watch, to have volunteered in November 1914 for Foreign Service. He then went to France with the 5th Battalion. When he was killed however, he was serving as a corporal with the 154th Company, the Machine Gun Corps. His Service Number was 24486. He had been awarded the Military Medal early in 1917 and had been recommended for a Distinguished Conduct Medal shortly before his death. (At this point the only decoration for gallantry which could be awarded posthumously was the Victoria Cross.)

He was “well known in junior football circles prior to the war” and had been employed at the Denburn Works, which he left in August 1914.

The titanic battle of Third Ypres had officially ended on 10th November 1917 when the British took Passchedaele. The Highland Division, including the 154th Machine Gun Company, had moved south-east and over the period 20th November to 7th December took part in the Battle of Cambrai. Robert Jaffray died on 23rd November 1917 of wounds, likely sustained in the struggle for the capture of Bourlon Wood, and is buried at Rocquigny-Equancourt Road British Cemetery, Manancourt, France. At the time of the registration of his grave his parents were residing at 127 River Street, Brechin. (It is worth noting that Robert Jaffray appears on the Commonwealth Graves Commission’s web site as Robert Jeffrey.)


Evidence has been collected about four Brechiners, three of whom played at some point for Brechin City, one of whom played Junior football in Brechin and all of whom survived the war, Colin Hampton, John Walker, J Milne and James Livie.

Colin Hampton

Colin McKenzie Hampton, son of William Hampton, slater, and Jane Hampton (nee Donaldson) was born at 135 River Street, Brechin, on 1st September 1888. The family was still at 135 River Street in 1901. He was residing, aged 13, with his parents, sisters and brother in River Street, Brechin, in 1901 and was then noted as a ‘halftimer, flax’. He was, in other words, attending school half-time and working half-time in the textile industry, a common introduction at that historical juncture to the world of work. His father, William Hampton, had, in his youth, played football for Brechin Trades and had been a keen local athlete.

Colin Hampton is pictured in Adams’s 1989 collection with the Brechin Arnot FC team in 1903-04 in which year Arnot is illustrated as the (Brechin?) Juvenile Cup holders. He would have been 15 years of age at this point. In Janaury 1905 he is noted as having been selected as goal-keeper for the Brechin Juvenile League select to play the Montrose Juveniles. He played for Arnot in the deciding game of its 1904-05 Juvenile League campaign in March 1905. His obituary notes his first team as having been Brechin Rovers. It is unlikely that he played for Brechin Rovers before he played for Arnot. He may have been the Hampton playing in goal for Montrose Waverley, a junior team, in its game against Brechin Harp in September 1905. If so, it was a short-term arrangement for he is noted as playing for Arnot against Brechin Hibs in a Second Class Junior game in March 1906. He played for Brechin Hearts in a friendly against Brechin Rovers on 31 March 1906 and again against Montrose Rosevale a fortnight later. By the next season, 1906-07, Colin Hampton was turning out for Brechin Rovers. Towards the end of that season however, he played a trial game for Brechin City in a benefit match against a Forfarshire Junior XI. Brechin Advertiser, 19 March 1907. Colin was still with Rovers at the beginning of the next season, 1907-8, when he is noted in Rovers team against Forfar East End in late September and in various other games over the second half of 1907. He turned out for City however in a friendly on 28 December 1907 against a University XI at Nursery Park. Thereafter he appears to have been the first choice keeper for the remainder of the season. His star was certainly in the ascendant on 29th February 1908 when he saved two penalties when playing against Aberdeen A in the Northern League. He was selected as reserve keeper for the Forfarshire Select’s game against Perthshire in April 1908. He also appeared between the sticks in all five of the clashes with East Fife in the Consolation Cup.

Two pages on, in Adams’s collection of Brechin photographs, are one of the Brechin City team in 1907-08 in which the goal-keeper is almost certainly Colin Hampton. (Interestingly, another team photograph of City in that season shows a goal-keeper that is NOT Colin Hampton. )He had indeed moved to the senior ranks with Brechin City in that season. His team-mates in his first senior venture included Chapman, Lyon, Melvin, Skea and Easson. He played with the Brechin City team, which reached the final of the Scottish Qualifying Cup Final in 1908-09, losing to Vale of Leven.

What can be amassed from these clues is that Colin Hampton was playing juvenile football until about the age of 18, certainly for Brechin Arnot, he appeared briefly for Brechin Hearts and he moved up to the senior ranks with Brechin City in 1907-08.

Colin Hampton moved to Motherwell FC at some point thereafter, certainly by 1910 although he does NOT appear in the club photograph of 1909-10.

Colin Hampton became the first Motherwell player to win a cap for the Scottish Football League. He was selected to play in goals against the Irish League in 1912 at Windsor Park in Belfast. Reputedly he had a very good game and losing only a single goal in the game in which Scotland ran out 3-1 winners. While with Motherwell he won a Lanarkshire Cup Winner’s Medal.

He was also twice rewarded with the Daily Mail Weekly Merit Award, one for his part in the Motherwell v. Raith Rovers game of 13th September 1913, which Motherwell won 3-2, and one for his part in the Motherwell v. Celtic game of 20th December 1913. The prize on both occasions was an engraved cigarette case.

While with Motherwell FC however, Colin Hampton had another claim to fame. In 1912 the laws of football were changed to confine the goal-keeper’s handling of the ball to the penalty area. Prior to that, the keeper could handle the ball anywhere in his own half. In a game between Third Lanark and Motherwell in 1910, both Jimmy Brownlie, the Third Lanark keeper, later to serve as manager of Dundee United, and Colin Hampton, scored goals for their respective teams from kick-outs. It has been suggested that it was this coincidental pair of goals in the same game, which led to the 1912 change in the laws.

Colin was transferred to Chelsea on 20 April 1914 for £600, a considerable fee in those days. His debut at Stamford Bridge in front of 30,000 against Everton on 25 April 1914, Chelsea’s last game of the last peace-time season. Chelsea won 2-0. At that point Colin Hampton was noted as 5’ 11” tall, weighing 11 stone 4 pounds.

His playing days were interrupted by the War. He enlisted in August 1915. By November 1915 he was a Corporal when he won a medal for the Motor Machine Gun Service Battery Football Cup. He was noted at that point as serving with the 28th Battery MMGS. He eventually served as a machine gunner in Mesopotamia. His service number in the Motor Machine Gun Corps was 2338. In 1918, by which time he was a sergeant, his armoured car was shattered by shellfire and Colin was taken prisoner by the Turks, only to be released with his comrades when the armistice was declared while being marched to Constantinople. Colin was awarded the Military Medal, the citation for which was gazetted in 1919.

After the war he returned to playing for Chelsea for which his best years were from 1922 to1924 when he played 28 and 22 games in consecutive seasons. While playing with Chelsea he won a London FA Cup Winners medal. Most of his years at Stamford Bridge were spent understudying goalkeepers such as Jim Molyneux and Benjamin Howard, yet he was “an extremely sound and reliable keeper”. All in all Colin Hampton played 82 games for Chelsea, 79 in the League and 3 in the FA Cup . Chelsea rewarded him with two benefit matches. He was also however rewarded by Chelsea’s aristocratic President, the Earl of Cadogan, who evidently had the Chelsea team spend some time at his stately home, Culford Hall, in Suffolk, at which a photograph was taken of the Chelsea team (in civvies), a signed copy of which was sent by Cadogan to Colin Hampton.

He “again donned the City jersey in 1924” when he returned home to Brechin to support his father. After a brief stay however, he returned to London, joining Crystal Palace, then in Division 3 South of the English Football League, on a free transfer from Brechin on 16 December 1925. At the time, the Crystal Palace manager was Alec Maley, formerly of Hibs. It is possible that he was taken to Selhurst Park as a replacement since, at the time, Harper, the regular Palace keeper, was seriously ill with pleurisy. Colin Hampton’s first game for Palace was at Selhurst Park, in front of a crowd of 12,000, against Bournemouth and Boscombe Albion. Crystal Palace won 3-1. “Hampton, Palace’s new goalkeeper, was not always convincing in his fielding of the ground shots, but he made many fine saves from high shots, centres, and corner kicks and appeared to inspire confidence in the team.” He played two further games for Crystal Palace, both against Norwich in December 1925. He had left Crystal Palace however by the start of season 1926-27.

Colin Hampton was an all-round sportsman. Like his father he was a more than competent athlete. In July 1904, aged 15, he was second in an 18-mile race at Burghill, which he completed in 2 hours 54 minutes, the winner having beaten him by 3 minutes. (It is noteworthy that, by today’s standards, when distance running is much more common, this would be a fairly slow time.) He won medals for shot putting and the long jump while stationed at Aldershot during the Great War and he won medals at golf as early as 1921 (The Daily Mirror Professional Gold Competition) and as late as 1943 (Handicap Medal, the Coventry Gauge and Tool Company Golf Club).

In the years immediately before the 1939-45 War Colin Hampton ran a small confectionery shop, adjacent to the King’s cinema (ultimately Flicks nightclub) in the High Street. He had married Eliza Watson, originally from Kirriemuir. During World War II he worked at the Coventry Gauge and Tool Company while his wife maintained the confectionery business. During World War II he also served as Special Constable. He died of emphysema at Stracathro Hospital, near Brechin in January 1968.

John Walker

Another Brechin City footballer who survived the war was Private John A Walker of The Black Watch.

John Alexander Walker was born in Southesk Terrace on 2nd March 1882, the son of John Walker, an overseer in a flax mill, and Jane Ann Walker (nee Strachan). In 1901 he and his parents and his young brother, William, were living in 88 Montrose Street, next to Collie Martin.

The Brechin Advertiser of 13th August 1918 reported that on the previous week Mr and Mrs John Walker of 88 Montrose Street, Brechin had “received a letter from their son, Pte. John A Walker, Black Watch, dated France, 1st August, intimating that he had been wounded again – ‘a bullet through the jaw this time, but not to worry,’ and that he was leaving for Blighty next day. This is the third time John has been wounded and the third time he has been brought over the Channel in a hospital ship, but on this occasion, the wounded soldier had a very trying experience as he crossed in the hospital transport Warilda that was torpedoed and sunk by the Germans on early 3rd inst. On Wednesday Mr and Mrs Walker had another letter from their son (now in hospital in the south of England), in the course of which he wrote – ‘I expect by the time you receive this you will have heard about the hospital boat that was torpedoed. Well, I was on it. It happened about two o’clock in the morning, and it was a good job I kept my head. I stopped on the ship till the destroyers came, and then I got hold of a thick rope and slid down and was hauled aboard a destroyer by some of the sailors. We were run to the nearest port, and then to hospital. I lost everything except my trousers, and some poor fellows had nothing but a bit blanket round them when they arrived in England.’

“John was one of the first local Derby recruits. He enlisted on 10th Feb. 1916 and was wounded on 16th October of that year. He returned to France on 29th April 1917, and was wounded for the second time on Sept. 20th. Recovering from his injuries, he was home on draft leave in March, and was then kept back a draft in order to play in the final for the football championship of the North Camp, Ripon, which took place between the Black Watch and the Seaforths on 3rd April. The Seaforths had not been beaten so far, but the Black Watch proved the champions, winning by 3 goals to 2. John scored the first and third goals for the winners, and Serg. J. Milne, another Brechin City player, had the second. The team got a special four-days leave in recognition of their victory and John was able to pay another flying visit home and then went back to France for the third time about the middle of April. He will have the sympathy of many friends for his trying experiences and their good wished for a complete recovery from his wounds. Sympathy will also be felt for his parents, who lost their younger son, Willie, in the tank advance on Cambrai on 20th Nov. last, and who are naturally distressed at their only remaining son’s third misfortune in the war, and their prayer is ‘Surely they will not send him over again. He has done his bit.’”

This fascinating article portrays the sustained burden of one soldier and one family. Its final sentence, about the tournament at Ripon, not only informs us that John Walker played for Brechin City but of another Brechin City player in the Black Watch, Sergeant J Milne.

J Milne

Sergeant J Milne of the Black Watch played for Brechin City and scored in the final of the championship tournament at North Camp, Ripon, in 1918. (See above.) A photograph of Brechin Thistle F.C., a 1920s junior club, shows a J Milne who appears of an age which would fit with one who had fought in the war and played football prior to it. In August 1925 Brechin City lost 5-2 to Montrose. The scorer of Brechin’s first goal was the inside left, Milne. This may or may not have been the Sergeant J Milne who played in the pre-war City and war-time Black Watch teams.

James Livie

James Livie was born at Rossie Muir, in Craig parish, on 9th February 1886, the son of James Livie, crofter, and Isabella Livie (nee Mackie). By 1891 his family had moved into Brechin and were residing at 38 Market Street, his father being noted as a factory worker. By 1901 the family were in 22 Montrose Street and the 14 year old James was noted as a porter in the linen industry. In 1912 he married Agnes Jane Glen, the sister of David Glen, the footballer. He continued, at that point, to reside at 22 Montrose Street, and his occupation is given as house painter. He did however spend some time, likely around the years 1912-14, in Canada.

James Livie was a goal-keeper who played Junior football both before and after the 1914-18 War. He is noted as the Brechin Rovers goal-keeper in early 1905. By the beginning of season 1905-06 he is playing regularly in goal for Brechin Harp and played for Harp throughout that season. By the beginning however of season 1906-07 James Livie had moved to Brechin Hearts. He played in goal for a ForfarshireJunior Select against Brechin City in a benefit match in March 1907. He played in goal for Brechin City in an end of season friendly against Forfar Athletic on 20 April 1907. He ended the 1906-07 season on a high-note, playing in the Brechin Hearts team which defeated Ardenlea (of Broughty Ferry) in the final of the Arbroath and District Cup at Gayfield.

He served in the war in The Black Watch, completing his service as a sergeant and surviving the war. He appears in the photograph of the 3/5th Black Watch battalion team taken at Ripon, likely in 1916. James Livie returned to Brechin after the war and played junior for several Brechin clubs including Commodores. Although James Livie normally played in goal he occasionally appeared at centre-half – including for Brechin Hearts in a 7-0 victory over Constable Works in November 1906! He is almost certainly the goal-keeper pictured in the early 1920s photograph of Brechin Commodores Junior FC . He had therefore a career in Junior football which stretched over almost 20 years. He lived the remainder of his life in Brechin, dying there in 1959. His son still resides in Brechin.


The author of this article would be glad to hear any information which corrected, improved or enhanced any of the information given here and would be delighted to hear of any readers who have documents, photographs, articles or simply memories or knowledge of any of the names mentioned or of any other Brechin footballing connections with the 1914-18 War. The author can be contacted at: .

Any such material will be used to supplement this article.


The major sources for this short article were:

Adams, David G: The Kirn Poke o’ Brechin, Chanonry Press, Brechin (1986)

Adams, David G: The Brechin Bran Tub, Chanonry Press, Brechin (1987)

Adams, David G: The Brechin Rag-Bag, Chanonry Press, Brechin (1988)

Adams, David G: The Brechin Lucky Dip, Chanonry Press, Brechin (1989)

Alexander, Jack: McCrae’s Battalion, Mainstream, Edinburgh (2003)

Carr, William: A Time to Leave the Ploughshares, London (1985)

Cheshire, Scott: Chelsea, A Complete Record 1905-1991, Breedon Books (1991)

Crampsey, Bob: The Scottish Football League, the First 100 Years, SFL, Glasgow (1990)

Cumming, George: Through the Years with Brechin City FC, Simmath Press, Dundee (1948)

Falls, Cyril: History of the Great War, France and Belgium, 1917

Gibbs, Philip: The War Dispatches, Tandem, London (1968)

Hampton, W: Collection of Colin Hampton Memorabilia (including medals, press cuttings and photographs)

Lynch, Michael: Scotland, A New History, Pimlico, London (1992)

McArra, Kevin: Scottish Football, a Pictorial History, Edinburgh (1984)

McLeod, Rod: 100 Years of Scottish Football, STV, Glasgow (1973)

Price, Norrie: Up Wi’ The Bonnets, N Price, Aberdeen (1993)

Smailes, Gordon, Scottish Football Records, Derby (1995)

Smout, T.C.: A Century of the Scottish People, 1830-1950, Fontana, London (1997)

Swinburne, John: Motherwell Football Club, 1886-1999, Tempus, Stroud (1999)

Wilkie, Jim: Across the Great Divide, Mainstream (1984)

Wood, Alex.: Collection of Walter Fowler memorabilia (including medals, photographs and Brechin Hearts membership card)

The Brechin Almanac 1918

The Brechin Almanac 1920

Brechin and The Great War 1918 (Brechin Advertiser, February 1919)

The Brechin Advertiser

D & R Duke, Denburn Works, Roll of Honour, Brechin (1919?)

Relichtie Arbroath FC fans’ website

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Debt of Honour web-site

The County of Angus Roll of Honour

Corstorphine, James K: The East Fife Football Historian website historian.html

McColl, Brian: Scottish Football Encyclopaedia website ScottishFootballAtoZ.html

Parker, Jim: Machine Gun Corps Research website

Ross, James M: Scotland - List of Qualifying Cup Winners, website

WELLnet, Motherwell FC website

Birth Certificates were traced for most mentioned men and marriage certificates for several via Scotland’s People, the web site for the General Register Office for Scotland, from which were also traced census entries

In addition the following individuals and institutions were of enormous assistance in compiling the material on which this article was based and their efforts and support is acknowledged with gratitude:

Chelsea Football Club (Claire Lait);
Crystal Palace Football Club (Rev Nigel Sands);
Dundee FC (David Forbes);
Bill and Agnes Hampton, Brechin;
Jenny Hill, The Brechin Advertiser;
James Livie, Brechin;
Steve Mitchell, Editor, Brechin City Programme;
Jack Souter, Luthermuir;
The Staff, Brechin Public Library;
The Staff, The National Library of Scotland.