It was a fortunate day for Scottish Rugby football when the game was adopted at Edinburgh Academy as a pastime for the boys in the 'fifties of the last century. From that beginning has grown the whole structure of Rugby in Scotland, and to-day without the schools the game would be of no account, if indeed it existed at all.
As far back as 1858-59 the Academy had an organised team playing, no doubt, a game which was a blend of the ancient and modern, but retaining the fundamental characteristics which enabled it to preserve its identity as ' Rugby.'
Between that year and the period in the early 'seventies which may be accepted as the beginning of organised football, a long list of notabilites, some as cricketers and football players and others in the even more distinguished spheres of public life, passed through Edinburgh Academy teams: Lyalls, Moncreiffs, Bells, Finlays, Marshalls, Langs, Balfours, Gilmours, Maclagans, Dunlops, and Macnairs are names which suggest to the mind a wide range of activities. Two of the elder brothers, W. A. Finlay and T. L. Finlay, were in the Academy team of 1861-62, which also included H. Radcliffe, the man who started the Edinburgh Wanderers club. Academicals of the time wondered why. John and Allan Gilmour were in the Academy team of 1868-64, and the following season T. R. Marshall gained his place. The Hon. F. J. Moncreiff, first Scottish International captain, led the Academy team of 1866-67. James Finlay had J. A. W. Mein and L. M. Balfour in his team of 1867-68, and in 1870-71 L. M. Balfour, while still at school, was invited to play against England, but was unable to accept. In this summary may be traced one of the principal sources of the first Scottish International team, and the influence of the Academy on football of these times may also be recognised. A few years later that influence expressed itself in the historic Academy team of 1873-74, which in absence of earlier evidence may be accepted as the first great school combination in the game. At least three of its members were players of all time. N. J. Finlay, W. E. Maclagan, and J. H. S. Graham still bear favourable comparison with the best that up to the present time have appeared in the game. Another member, J. J. Moubray, when he went to Oxford, was the first of the long list of Scottish schoolboys to obtain his 'Blue' at an English University, though to be accurate 'Blues' were not awarded for football at Oxford until some time later. P. W. Smeaton, another noted player and an International man, also played in J. H. S. Graham's Academy team. It was not therefore altogether because the Academy were earlier in the field than their rivals that the team of 1873-74 attained its position. It was abnormally strong for a school side, and it so far stood comparison with club football of the times as to be held in tolerably wide esteem the best team in the country.
W. E. Maclagan succeeded J. H. S. Graham as captain of Edinburgh Academy in season 1875-76. Graham, Ninian Finlay, L. G. Aitken, and J. J. Moubray had all left school. The first three passed into R. W. Irvine's Academical team, and Moubray went to Oxford. W. E. Maclagan had succeeded to a great heritage, but he had not the means to maintain it, for the players were not available. As for himself, he was not a great schoolboy player. Tall and rather overgrown looking, he had not developed the powerful physique of his later years. Even in his football he was slow to mature, and after leaving school he spent a season in the second Academicals.
Maclagan left Edinburgh in his prime, but what was the Academical loss was the London Scottish gain, for he quickly raised the standard of the play of the latter till very soon the club event of the London season was the fight for Metropolitan supremacy between the 'Scottish' and Black-heath, at that time the leading club team, as distinct from the Universities, in England. The Scottish Rugby Union had the greatest faith in Maclagan. So much so that he was urged into International matches, and even room made for him in unaccustomed places when, however active the brain, the physical response was not forthcoming.
W. E. Maclagan was elected captain by the English Rugby Union of the first touring team which left this country under official auspices. They won all their nineteen matches in South Africa, and had only one try scored against them. The Scotsmen who accompanied Maclagan were P. R. Clauss (Loretto and Oxford University), W. Wotherspoon (Fettes and Cambridge University), and R. G. MacMillan (Merchiston and London Scottish). Cecil Rhodes guaranteed the expenses.
W. E. Maclagan comported himself very seriously on the field. For his own he never could do too much, and often and often he travelled down from London to help the Academicals when they needed help.
From about this time school football began to operate more exclusively within its own circle. Previously, school teams, in their matches with one another, had generally included some former pupils or masters. Merchiston Castle, Loretto, Craigmount, and the Royal High School had all been playing the game and had each produced a sufficiency of good players to contribute to the first International team. Fettes College was opened in 1871, but during the first few years their teams, naturally perhaps, were not quite strong enough to compete successfully with those of the other schools. Two Edinburgh Academy boys, T. J. Torrie and P. Russel, who went to Fettes in 1873, appreciably added to the strength of the team. I recollect both perfectly well. Torrie was a forward, a very tall fellow, and, like all good forwards of the early days, became a most proficient dribbler. Dribbling as a science has gone out of the game. These old - time dribblers almost clutched the ball with their feet, kept it close and wound round and out, often in a most sinuous course. I have seen players dribble half the length of the field with the ball ' glued to their toes,' as they used to say. It was the forward's most effective weapon against backs and back play. Conversely, the back who would not go down to the ball and stop the dribbling, seldom gained respect as a player. Torrie had 'great command over the ball,' to apply the current term, and playing against England in the memorable 1877 match, he was the first Fettesian to be capped. Pat Russel ought to have preceded or followed Torrie as an International player. Imagine a man at one time playing quarter, next half-back, then full-back, all in representative matches, and being chosen one season as International first reserve for all positions behind the maul, and yet never having the luck to be included in the national team. By a strange anomaly his own versatility and cleverness were his greatest impediment. He was a very bright sprightly player in both football and cricket. I have never seen the equals of Pat Russel and A. R.
Don Wauchope as fielders at cover-point. Two of the Carruthers family were among the best of Fettes earlier players. The school had not to wait many years before winning the championship. In 1876-77 they beat all their opponents, including Edinburgh Academy for the first time. R. S. F. Henderson, who later on played for England, and Edgar Storey, a Lancashire boy who but for an accident would almost certainly have obtained the same honour, were two of the leading players of that season, but it was Pat Russel at quarter who was the life of the back division. He dropped a goal in each match against Merchiston, Craigmount, and the Academy. I may add that Russel, who was an Edinburgh boy and son of a notable editor of the Scotsman, carried his versatility with him after leaving school. He played cricket for the West of Scotland club and for the Grange, was one of Glasgow's Inter-city football and cricket players, assisted J. H. S. Graham's Edinburgh Academical team to beat the Glasgow Academicals for the club championship, and shared some of the remainder of his activities with the 'West' football team. Fettesians consider the 1876-77 team the best of the school's earlier teams, and one that bears favourable comparison with any of its successors. That, no doubt, is a correct estimate, but from another point I think it was the team of the following season that did more to establish Fettes football in general scholastic and public opinion. No doubt their great fights with Merchiston brought them under more direct notice and attracted wider attention. Having seen both teams and knowing the situation at the time, I can quite confidently state that the issue was accepted as lying between the forwards of Merchiston and the backs of Fettes. Edgar Storey had become rather a school terror, and Nimmo, his companion half, was both fast and dangerous.
A. R. Don Wauchope was beginning to acquire his great scoring powers, and he and his elder brother made a very hot pair of school quarters. Against this back division Merchiston depended largely upon J. A. Campbell at quarter and T. A. Begbie at half-back. Campbell was a strong, virile, and active player. 'Hash Campbell' he was called at Merchiston. Fettes team looked big compared with Merchiston, but even then the forwards of Merchiston were being drilled to perfection, and it was they who won the first match and held out for a draw in the second, though without Campbell they would never have kept the Fettes backs under control. Thus it was in these years and under these circumstances that I think Fettes football was established. A. R. Don Wauchope succeeded Storey in the captaincy, but had to move back into the half-back line, whence he devoted a great deal of attention to the development of combination and passing among his backs. This feature has been referred to in connection with the 'Oxford game.' There is not much doubt that had there been a sufficient number of Fettesians at Cambridge with Wauchope, the open combined play and the passing would not have been so peculiar to Oxford.
No player comparable to A. R. Don Wauchope has appeared in football from the days he played in the Fettes team until the present time. A completely equipped all-round player, his reputation rests in his extraordinary running and scoring powers. Heavily built round the haunches, he ran with a comparatively short stride and had the power to abruptly change his course within a very short space of ground. No back division could stop him, and no player could tackle him once he got fairly started and into the open. An International player and a great tackier of his time has told me that he did not believe any player could tackle Don Wauchope.
In the year that Merchiston beat Fettes for the championship J. A. Campbell played quarter for Scotland against England. He was not the first schoolboy to play International. That distinction belongs to Ninian Finlay, conferred while still in the Academy team of 1874-75.
Merchiston at this time had uniformly good teams, and Craigmount was one of the leading football schools. Two North of England boys, Harry Springman and Paul Springman, were noted Craigmount players. A large number of boys from England attended the Edinburgh schools during these and later years, and several of them, including H. Springman, H. B. Tristram (Loretto), C. H. Sample, and E. L. Strong (Edinburgh Academy), obtained places in English International teams, while an even larger contingent passed into the Oxford and Cambridge teams. When the brothers Guild and little Playfair, a regular sprite of a quarter whom there was no holding, were playing, Craigmount had one of the best teams of the season. The Academy had dropped back, but towards the end of the decade, when C. Reid, A. P. Reid, C. H. Sample, and F. T. Wright were all at school together, their team ought to have taken a much higher position.
Two adverse influences retarded them. Primarily, as a day school Academy football was not so well organised as at the boarding-schools. Secondly, they were not keeping pace with the changes that had set in, and when the other schools were playing a line of three halves, the Academy adhered to the old formation of two. 'Charlie' Reid obtained his International cap while still at school. Considering the importance attached to physique, weight, and strength in the national pack, it was an unheard-of thing for a schoolboy to be ranked among the giants.
Towards the end of the 'seventies Fettes and Loretto had increased the half-back line from two to three players. The point, as evidence of the origin of the passing game, is most important. A. R. Don Wauchope in his last two years at Fettes, 1878-80, played half-back in a line of three. G. C. Lindsay was one of a trio of halves in the Loretto team which won the school championship in 1881-82, and it was not until the following season that Oxford University first adopted a line of three halves, and Lindsay was one of them. As the increase was made in the direct interests of the development of the passing game, the source and origin of the greatest change that had taken place up to that time are beyond all doubt. Subsequent developments in back play were all founded on this progressive step taken by the Scottish schools, earlier perhaps, but not later than 1878.
When both the Scottish and English Unions hesitated and experimented, the Scottish public schools, quite two years before the Unions could make up their minds, boldly committed themselves to the line of three, and went on their way unconcerned as to what their seniors might think or do.
From that progressive stroke, Dr. Almond, of Loretto, must have derived gratifying support to his contention that the Union acted wrongly in refusing to admit the schools to their councils. His own school, Loretto, were very strong in seasons 1880-81 and 1881-82. Indeed, I should be inclined to say these were the halcyon days of the school as far as football is concerned. The production of players, and especially of backs, was abnormal. Loretto just missed winning the championship in season 1880-81, which, for distinction's sake, we may be permitted to term 'A. G. G. Asher's year,' without reflection upon the captain, H. B. Tristram, but as perhaps a clearer mark of identification to Scotsmen. Our admiration for Tristram was tinged only by the regret that Scotland should have reared such a player for the 'enemy.'
Loretto beat all the schools except Merchiston. The first match they lost by a goal to a try. That was T. Anderson's year at Merchiston. A tall fellow, and a good full-back, he played once for Scotland. Merchiston's forwards were strong and sound in their football, as they always were. Loretto hoped to draw level in the return game, but it was played in a sea of mud, and the Merchiston forwards again pulled them through by a try. I do not mean to infer that Loretto had no good forwards at that time. C. W. Berry, R. C. Kitto, and A. M'Neill, who all subsequently became Oxford ' Blues,' and Berry an Internationalist, were in the pack. I cannot claim to have seen much of that team, but I shall mention one match presently which I did see and recollect very clearly.
D. J. M'Farlan played during the earlier half of the season only. If I may be permitted another little degression, I would say that D. J. M'Farlan, G. C. Lindsay, and H. T. S. Gedge were the best three halves or three-quarters the school has produced. During the year in question Lindsay had not defined his position. Sometimes he was in the scrum and sometimes out of it. So likewise was M. F. Reid. The stability of the back division rested with Tristram, C. Dunlop, and Asher.
Dunlop was a fine schoolboy player. In each match against Fettes, Asher dropped the winning goal. Loretto had never previously beaten Fettes.
But if that Loretto team failed to win the championship, they accomplished even a more wonderful thing when in the closing weeks of the season they beat an Edinburgh Academical side which included Ninian Finlay, J. H. S. Graham, p. W. Smeaton, C. Reid, F. T. Wright, and T. A. Bell, in a match which had been arranged in order to keep the Academical International men in condition. Loretto, fit as fiddles, made the Academicals gallop, and beat them by a goal and a try to two tries. I remember in the closing minutes the Loretto boys buzzing about like bees with three or four of them lighting on every Academical who tried to move. Ninian Finlay in front of the posts let blaze at goal, and you caught an indistinct glimpse of a projectile in scarlet, a tangle of bare legs and bare arms, hurl itself at him ere you realised the kick had been charged down. That was a 'save' by C. Dunlop, and one of the small things that cling to one's memory. But I also recollect everybody thought that A. M'Neill was a right good forward. The match was the talk of the day, and the wonder of the football world long after it was played.
A. G. G. Asher, H. B. Tristram, and A. M'Neill all left for Oxford at the end of the season. C. W. Dunlop joined another Lorettonian, D. A. C. Reid, in the West of Scotland club, and was followed later by M. F. Reid, and an influx from Loretto and other Edinburgh schools that raised the 'West' to a high position in the 'eighties and 'nineties.
In the following season, 1881-82, Loretto won the championship clearly and decisively. They had a strong scoring half-back or three-quarter line, G. C. Lindsay, M. F. Reid, and A. S. Blair, and two good quarters, J. A. Dun and T. N. Henderson, and it was in their back play that they beat all the schools. Lindsay I have referred to in his International connection. A. S. Blair, I used to think, as a very fast man, a striking example of the exception that proves the rule. He could run and score, but as a defensive player he was very tenacious, and there was no getting out of his reach. I always thought his defence better than his attack, strong as the latter was. It was almost an axiom that fast men could not defend, yet Blair was one of the finest short-distance runners Scotland has produced and a tenacious defender.
In the Oxford and Cambridge athletic contest, he beat H. F. Tindall, the English quarter-mile champion and record-holder. He got his double 'Blue' at Oxford, and missed his football International cap by the ill-luck of an accident.
I do not think Marshall Reid quite sustained his football form after he left school. Had he gone to Oxford instead of to Glasgow, it might have turned out differently with him. He retained his goal-dropping proclivities, and in club matches he got on the nerves of some of the opposing teams. His drops were not the lofty lunges of L. Stokes, Ninian Finlay, or H. B. Tristram. They were more a gentle tap from the toe, a sort of scientific demonstration of the mechanical law of propulsion. Gregor MacGregor used to treat the ball in the same mild manner.
The career of A. G. G. Asher could only be done justice to in a much more extended and detailed description than I am in a position to attempt. As a triple 'Blue' at Oxford, A. G. G. Asher won great honour for himself and renown for his school. In football he had the singular experience of acting as partner at quarter or half-back with A. Rotherham in England and with A. R. Don Wauchope in Scotland. Neither at the University nor in Scottish International football have these partnerships been excelled or even equalled. I saw a good deal of A. G. G. Asher's football and cricket in Scotland, and I knew his 'form' on the track pretty well. The English International of 1886 is one of the games most firmly impressed on my memory, and on that occasion was seen perhaps the greatest half-back conjunction-—A. R. Don Wauchope and A. G. G. Asher, A. Rotherham and F. Bonsor—that has appeared in International football. Asher had the misfortune to have his career prematurely closed by the accident of a fractured leg sustained in an International Trial match at Raeburn Place in the spring of 1887. Projecting his foot across the line of a forward rush to push the ball out of their way, he had not time to recover his balance before the mass fell on the top of him. I happened to be standing near the spot at the time, and I think that is how the accident occurred.
H. B. Tristram, by common consent, was acknowledged the best full-back who up to his time had played for England. I know of no change in the requirements of the position, and I have seen little on the part of any of his successors that would weaken the claim that he is still the best. Tristram was a son of Canon Tristram, Durham.
C. Reid once arrived late in a representative match. His side's forwards were being beaten till he came on to the field. One who played in the game has told me that well as he knew Reid's play, he never realised its potency until that occasion. The moment Reid joined the pack the balance turned as quickly and decidedly as a scale with a prepondering weight added.
In a London match, when he was playing for the ' Scottish,' an opposing forward at the beginning asked Reid what all his bustle and hurry meant— what was he making the fuss about. Five minutes later he got his answer in a couple of tries scored by Reid, and the crowd were asking, 'What manner of man is this?'
The Welshmen opened their eyes in wonder when he kicked off for Scotland and sent the ball over the bar. It was his practice when kicking off for the Academicals to make the other side touch down. I recollect coming into Raeburn Place rather late and arriving at a spot just opposite the goal-line as Reid was about to kick off. Stopping for a moment, I watched the kick, and nothing will persuade me the ball did not pass within six feet of the top of the posts.
I have endeavoured to sketch the conditions and touch upon the circumstances under which school football was established in the form in which it has remained practically until the present time. To enumerate all the important happenings or to deal closely with each championship team and its players would occupy a volume in itself. After Loretto's first championship win in the early 'eighties, the competition for the position of honour during a number of years was practically confined to three schools, Merchiston, Fettes, and Loretto. Overshadowed by Edinburgh Academy in the earlier days, Merchiston football was even then of high quality. I can recollect how, in a match against the great Academy team of J. H. S. Graham and Ninian Finlay, every one admired the play of the Merchiston forwards, small and light as the boys were. It was the perfection to which their forward play was brought that impelled the late Dr. Almond in 1892 to write: 'I have no hesitation in saying that in recent years the best football in the world has been played at Merchiston.' With the exception of the years 1884-85, 1885-86, when Fettes were very strong and won the championship both seasons, Merchiston dominated school football after Loretto's championship year till the close of the decade. During the two years in which the Merchiston sequence was broken, Fettes had a number of players who attained great prominence after leaving school. C. J. N. Fleming, M. M. Duncan, H. F. Menzies, W. Wotherspoon, and Ian Maclntyre all played for Scotland, and quite a number of the others obtained University 'Blues.' Fettes matches with Merchiston, in the earlier season mentioned, produced most conflicting results. Fettes won the first game by the unusually large score for a Merchiston match of 5 goals and 5 tries and lost the return by 3 tries. A. N. Woodrow was so badly injured in the early debacle that he had to be withdrawn from the field and sent off to Merchiston in a cab.
Of all who came before or after him, I do not think the school ever produced any one more true to type or more representative of Merchiston traits and training than A. N. Woodrow. Not that he was a great Internationalist, or even a great player, but, dapper and trim, he dominated football all the years he was at school. He was always being injured, but he had the heart of a lion, and would play on though hardly able to move. He played in all three Internationals of 1887, and, coming under the observation of 'Jakes' M'Carthy in the Irish match, that somewhat eccentric authority described the football of the Merchistonian as a 'poem,' and henceforward he was known to the football world as 'Poem' Woodr,ow.
I believe I must have seen all the Merchiston teams of the successful period that followed the two seasons of Fettes triumphs. One of my recollections is that rivalry between the two schools was very keen, and there was always a crowd at the matches, even when played on week days. The Neilson brothers were very prominent in Merchiston football in these times. F. W. J. Goodhue, W. R. Hutchison, and J. N. Millar were all good forwards, but we have to go back some years earlier for the best of all Merchiston forwards, R. G. MacMillan, one of the greatest of all Scottish scrummagers. Merchiston did not specialise in back play, but if they got two quick, active halfbacks with their eyes open and their wits about them, they seemed content if the others took care not to spoil the good work of the forwards. I recollect a particularly nippy pair, A. W. Livingstone and W. M. Gow. W. J. Reid was one of the cleverest Merchiston half-backs of that time, and although W. Neilson developed into a centre half and got his 'Blue' at Cambridge and his International cap in the position, he was a forward for a time at Merchiston. He retained the Merchiston tackle to the end of his career, and especially in a winning game he made the back play go with a swing.
There were good teams and good players at Loretto during these times. J. D. Boswell was dropping and placing goals and scoring tries in 1884-85, and Paul Clauss, F. E. Woodhead, and P. H. Morrison formed an exceptionally strong line of school half-backs. Clauss was not big, but he was strong, and besides being a clever runner he was a long and accurate drop-kick. P. H. Morrison played for England. The Patons and Patersons were also at school at this time, so that Loretto were strong. Not so Edinburgh Academy, in whose team H. J. Stevenson was passing through a rigorous course of defensive training that in later years rendered him a marvel in some phases of this section of the game.
G. T. Campbell first appeared in a Fettes team in 1888-89, and the following season he, J. H. Hall, and C. F. Marshall formed a very clever half-back line. Campbell was one of the most prominent schoolboys of his day, and later became a first-rate International three-quarter, sound in every detail of the game. Fettes recovered the championship that season. I would not say it was a great, but it was an exceptionally smart and clever team.
Craigmount had been displaced by Blairlodge, who never took the same position in football as they attained in cricket. They were strong when W. F. Holms and H. L. Fleming were playing, but Blairlodge was never really a great football school. In 1893-94 Edinburgh Academy for the first time since 1875 beat Fettes, but Academy teams had been improving for a number of years, and that season W. M. C. M'Ewan, J. H. Dods, L. B. Bradbury, J. I. Gillespie, and T. A. Nelson were playing in a side of championship status.
In 1892-93 Watson's College first began to take its place among the leading schools. That year for the first time in their career they beat Merchiston, and were all the more pleased with their success because the Merchiston team contained A. Morton, the cleverest player in Watson's team of the previous year. Fettes beat them by 50 points, and thereafter suspended relationship with Watson's for a long number of years. The heavy defeat, in characteristic schoolboy terms, was attributed by one of the Watson's players to 'a frost of a halfback ' who disorganised the team. That Watson's team will, I dare say, be identified by mention of a few of its more prominent members: J. S. Tait, H. B. Wright, C. Wright, J. Hastie, and Hugh Welsh, who, in my opinion, became the greatest amateur mile runner that Scotland, or England for that matter, has produced; so when Watsonians hear comparisons between Lieut. Halswelle, A. R. Downer, and E. H. Liddell, let them never fear to bring in their own runner, Hugh Welsh. When I read of great things done on the track by Norwegians, Finns, and other foreigners, it gives me little concern, for I know that in her schoolboys Scotland has the finest athletic stock in the world. Foot running is not their sport, neither for that matter is cricket. The Scottish schoolboy doesn't take his bat to bed with him and dream of strokes and scores all night. But think how since 1871 Scotland, with her limited resources, has stood up to the pick of England's masses from her Universities, from London, and from the provinces, and I think it will be agreed that school football, as the pillar on which Scottish Rugby is supported, is a marvellously solid construction.
To return to the Watson's College team of 1892-93, from that date the establishment and acknowledgment of the school as a participant in the first grade of the competition may be fixed. If Watson's was not producing championship teams, the success of the Former Pupils and the number of Watsonian International players who appeared between 1890 and the date of the war is in itself a striking tribute to the quality of the school football.
Not till after 1890 did the Academy begin to resume its old position. W. M. C. M'Ewan, J. H. Dods, Ernest R. Balfour, L. B. Bradbury, J. I. Gillespie, J. M. Reid, and T. A. Nelson were all at school in the early 'nineties. I do not know but that Gillespie was the best half-back the Academy ever produced. When W. M. C. M'Ewan and Gordon Neilson were selected as schoolboys for the International, there were many who thought that J. H. Dods was the best of the three. A host of Internationalists, amongst whom Phipps Turnbull and J. H. D. Watson were exceptional players, came from the Academy after that time.
The brothers Crabbie represented high - grade three - quarter play. I have seen it stated that J. E. Crabbie, when captain of Oxford University, instituted the oblique positions in the three-quarter line worked out mathematically in relation to time and space.
Hugh Martin was a lively school three-quarter, and we saw how quickly he could slip through even an International defence. He and K. G. Macleod formed one of the cleverest combinations at three-quarter that have played in International football since the turn of the century.
L. H. T. Sloan promised great things as a schoolboy, but I do not think the army helped to bring him out. I never did fancy military football as helpful to young players. A. T. Sloan turned out the best stand-off half Scotland has had in recent times. A deadly tackier and a dangerous scorer, we saw how he ran through the Welsh defence at Inverleith, and Heriot's know how on one occasion he quenched the glimmer of their championship hopes at Goldenacre.
But of all the Academy boys of that time, F. J. Christison, who fell in the Great War, was, in my opinion, the one who held out most promise. Scotland lost a great player in him. He was a football genius, another H. J. Stevenson or J. H. D. Watson, and 'Bungy,' who went down in the Hawk, was the greatest centre the game has seen for many a long day. His 1914 performance for England against Scotland was only a foretaste of what was coming.
In the closing years of the 'nineties Merchiston were strong in players whose influence bore very directly upon the strength of Edinburgh University teams and was appreciably felt in International football. In a trio of first-class half-backs, F, H. Fasson, J. Knox, and E. D. Simson, Merchiston would have to go back to the days of J. A. Campbell and Hugh Neilson to find the equal of E. D. Simson. Not such a strong and powerful player as either, his quickness and cleverness were marked attributes in his football. W. H. Welsh will always be associated with the Scottish successes of 1901. So will also A. W. Duncan, who at centre three-quarter led a fine Merchiston championship team, and when Phipps Turnbull and A. B. Timms blocked the way in the centre, Duncan fell back a step to the rear and completed the most perfectly balanced Scottish back division of modern times.
Before passing on to the events of the new century, allow me to present a little problem in the economics of the game. Everybody knows that schools pass through lean periods as well as rich periods, subject to no law of control. All that can be done during bad times is to make the most of them and wait with patience till the ills have exhausted themselves. Every rule has its exception. The Fettes team of 1898-99 contained no fewer than six future International players, D. G. Schulze, J. Ross, D. R. B. Sivright, W. P. Scott, J. V. B. Sivright, and S.. H. Osborne, who played for England. A potential championship team and a powerful one at that, yet in actual practice and on results it was one of the most ineffective teams that ever played for Fettes.
During the latter years of the century and on to the outbreak of war in 1914 school football was of a high standard generally and was producing a proportionate number of first-class players. Fettes figured very strongly in the competition, more especially in the years that followed the turn of the century, but it is long years now since the characteristic forward game departed from Merchiston. All school football is now moulded on the one pattern more calculated to produce teams than to make players. I can remember how, in early years of the introduction of combined play, the 'selfish' player was universally and wholeheartedly condemned to the depths. Selfishness was eradicated, and the selfish player expelled or expunged, but when he departed I am afraid a good deal of the self-reliance went out of the game. However, I think the days of mechanical and clock-model football are numbered. The 'break through' is quite a recent and significant addition to the vocabulary, and nobody now condemns the scrum half who has the 'enterprise' to pick up the ball and run with it, but the wheels of time have not yet revolved sufficiently to bring back the true forward, who in the best days of forward play was the most highly skilled player in the team. Why, John D. Boswell carried an emporium of component parts in his game. J. H. S. Graham, long after he had retired, once turned out in a team of old International players in a charity match. Slow and stones overweight, he got the ball between his feet, and although nearly every man in the defence made the attempt, they could not stop him till he had traversed nearly half the length of the field. I have often seen forwards carry the play from their own goal-line to the other ' 25 ' and never a hand laid on the ball.
Even for a strong football school the run of successes of Fettes teams in the opening years of the century was very remarkable. From 1902 until 1906 Fettes were not beaten in a school match. Following a very moderate season in 1900-1, Fettes gained the championship in 1901 and retained the title till deprived of it by Edinburgh Academy in 1906-7. The period may be more clearly recognised as the times of the brothers Macleod, and more particularly as those of K. G. Macleod, one of the most brilliant football players that have come out of Fettes. The three-quarter play of the brothers Macleod and J. Burt Marshall occasioned a deal of comment even beyond school circles. Indeed, both the English and Scottish Rugby Unions were said to have sent up kites in the direction of K. G. Macleod, but Fettes school authorities have never allowed one of their pupils to take part in an International match. J. Burt Marshall would have obtained his cap after leaving school, but for ill-health. A number of Fettes forwards of these years, including G. C. Gowlland, J. M. Mackenzie, A. L. Purves, W. G. Lely, played for Scotland.
It was a good Academy team under A. B. Mein, in whom a connection with the first International in 1871 may be traced, that deposed Fettes in 1906-7. Hugh Martin, in the three-quarter line, was the schoolboy back of the year and carried his form to Oxford and into the Internationals.
Loretto followed the Academy as champions with a fair level side, and Fettes regaining the title during the next two seasons, had won the honour eight years out of ten. R. A. Gallie, subsequently Glasgow Academical and Scottish ' hooker,' was in the 1909-10 team along with two more International forwards, R. W. Symington and P. C. B. Blair.
A. T. Sloan was in the Academy team which came to the top in 1910-11, and also W. M. Wallace, later Cambridge University and Scottish full-back. Merchiston, which had been the great football school in the later 'eighties and 'nineties, had long lost their particular efficiency in forward play, and when after a lapse of about ten years they won the championship in 1911-12, it was by general smartness and cleverness all round.
Edinburgh Academy was very strong in players in the years immediately preceding the war. Three of the best backs that have come out of the Academy in recent times, F. J. Christison, A. T. Sloan, and G. B. Crole, were in school teams of these years.
War football can hardly be recognised in the same degree as that of normal times. Since the resumption the general pre-war standard has not been regained, and the production of the highest class of players, until the last year or two, has been low.
Watson's College, almost alone, have advanced, but it seems as though a year or two must still pass before the old standard has been recovered. There is no doubt that players of very moderate calibre were obtaining places in International teams just after the war, but that was inevitable. Loretto and Fettes between them have supplied the Glasgow Academicals with a batch of players who have raised the team to the highest position in club football, but Watson's College has not yet supplied the force necessary to re-establish the Watsonian team in its old position, though D. M. Bertram, J. C. Gillies, J. A. R. Selby, and J. H. Carmichael bear evidence in an International connection that the school is still producing first-class players. No great team has issued from Loretto in recent times, but national contributions, if not on a lavish scale, are being maintained as exemplified in R. S. Simpson and J. C. Dykes. The best that Fettes has given are, I think, G. P. S. Macpherson, H. Waddell, and G. S. Conway. The limit of Macpherson's football has not yet been reached, and the old irony of the position once again reveals itself in the presentation to England of G. S. Conway, one of the best forwards that has been reared in a Scottish school for a number of years past.