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Leamington or Bust

This article was first published in Issue 153 of the quarterly magazine “Scottish Football Historian” and is reproduced here with our thanks.

By Robert Bradley and Douglas Gorman

In SFH 127 (Autumn 2013) Terry Willoughby wrote an interesting account of the first junior
international match where clubs from Birmingham and the surrounding area provided the “England”
team for the very first time. The match was played on 3 March 1894 at Leamington and “England”
won 5-2. This is the story of the preparations and arrangements for that match.


Discussions between the Scottish Junior Football Association (SJFA) and the Birmingham District and
Counties Football Association (BFA) had been taking place to try and arrange a match between the
two associations. The Scottish Counties XI had played matches against the BFA (formed in 1875) in the
past and so a match against the SJFA (established in 1888) must have been seen as a natural
development. Discussions between Mr G Morgan (BFA) and William Reid (SJFA) started to make plans
and the BFA wrote to the SJFA in January 1894 with a formal offer of a match at Coventry in February
or March. The SJFA thought that opponents from Birmingham would represent a good challenge for
the best Scottish junior players: “Birmingham and District Association an association that not only has
as large a membership, but also covers as wide an area as that of our own Association.” The BFA had
all clubs in the Birmingham area under its jurisdiction, from Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion,
Wolverhampton Wanderers and Small Heath (today’s Birmingham City) down to local works teams.
Clearly there had to be some selection criteria to ensure the two teams were as evenly matched as
possible. It was reported that the BFA players were to be drawn from “the leading amateur clubs of
Birmingham and district.” Unfortunately the letter proposed that gate receipts should be dealt with
on normal international terms with the hosts retaining all the receipts. The BFA secretary was a
Scotsman, Campbell Orr, and he would have been well aware that these terms has been agreed
between the SJFA and the Irish authorities for their junior internationals and it should be the same for
the BFA. Mindful of the costs involved, the SJFA were not happy with this proposal. The secretary
wrote back requesting £15 and half the gate receipts and proposing the match should be played on
10 March 1894. A further letter was received from the BFA offering home and away fixtures on normal
international terms and this was agreed. The Scottish team was selected on 29 January 1894 and it
was decided that the President (to act as linesman), the secretary, assistant secretary and treasurer
would accompany the players. With that settled it was agreed to play the match on Saturday 10 March
1894 at Coventry. Back in Glasgow attention turned to how to finance the trip and their opponents.


The match was certainly seen as a risky endeavour. The return rail fare from Glasgow to Birmingham
at the time was 45s 10d (£2.29). By comparison, a return fare for a cabin for a sailing from Glasgow
to Belfast, where the SJFA had already played two internationals, cost 12s 6d (62p). The SJFA party
would be 11 players and 4 officials giving a total travel cost of £34 7s 6d (£34.35) and before hotel and
other costs had been included. The Birmingham officials had initially decided to stage the match at
Coventry, “the centre of Association Football”, probably with the aim of better gate receipts. The
return fare from Birmingham to Coventry was 3s 1d (£0.15) that increased the total rail cost to £35 6s
9d (£35.34). The SJFA had around £20 in its bank account at the turn of the year. With Ireland visiting
Scotland three weeks before the Birmingham trip there would be more funds coming in. The gate
receipts from this match at Airdrie were £22 14s 0d (£22.70). Even with this income it was going to
be tight and there was only £30 8s 4d (£30.42) in the bank account prior to the England match.
As the match approached it was thought that the game might have to be abandoned due to the
financial burden. The SJFA was adamant that it would go ahead as they had entered into an agreement
with the BFA and would see it through. Towards the end of February 1894 it was agreed to move the
match to Saturday 3 March 1894 and for it to be played at Leamington due to other matches in
Coventry on that day that might prove to be counter-attractions and reduce the attendance. The
Birmingham secretary, Campbell Orr, would have been relieved that the SJFA had eventually agreed
to the gate receipts being dealt with on “normal international terms” as he was now anticipating a
lower attendance.

An approach to Queen’s Park FC for financial aid proved fruitless “because they had observed from the
athletic press that the English match was arranged as a trip to the committee”. However, an approach
to Third Lanark FC proved more promising although the outcome is not known. After the match it was
reported that Rangers FC had made a donation to the SJFA.


The Scottish newspapers watched preparations for the match with interest. The “Scottish Referee”
had a regular column, “Notes from the Midlands” by “Retlaw” that provided well-informed reports on
preparations for the match. The BFA had decided to select players from “the leading amateur clubs
of Birmingham and district.” It is likely that they decided not to select players from the Birmingham
and District League. This league might have been considered to be broadly equivalent to the various
senior provincial leagues that operated in Scotland, e.g. the Highland and Midland Leagues. It included
the reserve teams of the four Football League clubs and other strong local teams with professional
players. Instead they looked to clubs in the Birmingham and District Junior League (later the
Birmingham Combination) and clubs that entered the Birmingham Junior Cup competition. These
were amateur clubs. 65 teams entered the Birmingham Junior Cup in the 1893/94 season giving the
selectors plenty of choice.

At the time the BFA was tackling how to deal with professional players who were seeking
reinstatement as amateur footballers. That was not the issue per se. There was a strong feeling that
junior competitions should only be open to junior players and there should be some restrictions placed
on former professionals successfully applying for re-instatement as an amateur and then immediately
strengthening a junior club. In 1893 William McGregor, the founder of the Football League and a BFA
official, said that he was prepared to put forward a resolution that would debar such players from
playing in the Birmingham Junior Cup for a season, “The Junior Cup competition should be for juniors
in reality as well as in name”. The BFA was tackling very similar issues to those faced by the SJFA for
many years of Senior players being reinstated to the Junior ranks. Although there was not a strict
definition of the term junior as there was in Scotland it was clear that the BFA were selecting a team
within the spirit of providing a competitive match.

When the BFA team was announced Scottish newspaper readers would have been intrigued to see
the selection of a man of the cloth, Reverend Watson (Leamington) - “the boys will require to be
careful”. When Watson was forced to withdraw along with Holmes (Rudge) the newspapers made no
comment as Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson had only started to appear in popular fiction. The
attention of Scottish football correspondents would have been drawn to the selection of Wood (West
Bromwich Albion). Albion were well-known in Scotland having already played Scottish clubs 11 times
and 8 of those matches had been played in Scotland. They knew the English club had already won the
FA Cup twice, contested two other finals and were hardly one of “the leading amateur clubs of
Birmingham and district.” Who was Wood? Why would the BFA select a player that on the face of it
did not meet the Birmingham definition of a junior player? Surely the SJFA had grounds to protest
over the selection? Were the BFA pulling a fast one?


With the BFA eager to foster good relations with the SJFA it is likely that they informed their new
Scottish friends of the apparent contradiction in the selection of Wood. The BFA would have told the
SJFA that Harry Wood was not a West Bromwich Albion player at the time of the match. We
understand that he was released by Albion in 1893 at some time after his last match for the club on
16 October 1893 and we believe he returned to his previous club Oldbury Town, a junior club. It is
possible that he was still technically on Albion’s books hence the club affiliation in the junior
international team. Harry Wood was born on 30 December 1873 in Oldbury, about one mile from
West Bromwich. He had signed for Albion from Oldbury Town, for the 1890/91 season and was
possibly an amateur as he continued to work as bank clerk. From what we know and complicated by
his brother Samuel being an Albion player at the same time, he only played 9 first team matches and
mostly played for the reserves in the Birmingham and District League. As a first team player he played
in four local cup ties, three friendly games, one benefit match and one Football League match. He had
played against Everton on 15 October 1892 and scored a goal in a 3-0 in a home match.

The “Scottish Referee” reported after the match that: “the English players are not juniors in the sense
that our men are. Wood, of West Bromwich, had played in English Cup ties and the same remark
applies to several other members of the Birmingham eleven.” Although Wood had not played in the
FA Cup, if that was what was meant by “English Cup”, the point made in the report was valid.
Goalkeeper Tom Garbett (Oldbury) had also played three first team matches for West Bromwich
Albion but they were two friendlies and a local charity cup tie. Wood and Garbett, had only limited
first team experience with a Football League club and were for all intents and purposes junior players
at the time of the international match. However, you can understand why the “Scottish Referee”
described the Birmingham definition of a junior player as “elastic”.


The party of 11 players and now only two officials (Messrs. McPhee and Liddell) left Glasgow at 21:45
on Friday 2 March and arrived, with the exception of Jimmy Moultrie (Dunfermline), the next morning
at 08:10 in Birmingham. Moultrie managed to get left behind at Carlisle but was able to catch a fast
train and caught up with the party in Birmingham. The party then proceeded to the Great Western
Hotel in Leamington that was to be their base where they were looked after by their hosts. The BFA
arranged for the party to be given a drive around the area in the morning and then entertained them
to a post-match dinner in the hotel before returning to Birmingham to catch a train to Scotland at
22:10. It was reported that “the hotel and travelling expenses to Leamington were defrayed by the
Birmingham Association”. The attendance at the match was around 1,000 and admission was 3d (1p)
or 6d (2p) for a reserved place meaning gate receipts would have been approaching £20. It was later
reported that the cost incurred by the SJFA was £23 9s 8d (£23.48). Despite the strict application of
“normal international terms” for gate receipts Campbell Orr had been able to provide some financial
help to the SJFA. At the end of the year with all accounts paid the SJFA balance was £36 19s 1d (£36.95)
the “Scottish Referee” said: “when it is remembered that the Association had almost expended its last
sixpence on the ill-fated Birmingham expedition the result is truly marvellous.”

Leamington left a good impression on the visiting Scottish newspaper men, “Leamington is a very nice,
quiet town – nice, scenery, nice parks and nice people..” even if they bemoaned the lack of shelter for
the press at the ground. The SJFA were delighted with the hospitality that its party received. They
took the good natured banter received from the locals as they walked the half-mile to the Tachbrook
Road ground in good part. They were determined to reciprocate the hospitality in the return match in
Glasgow in the following year. The second match played in Scotland on 16 March 1895 drew a crowd
of 5,000 and gate receipts of £69 11s 2d (£69.56). Under “normal international terms” the SJFA
retained all the gate receipts which was just as well as prior to the match its bank balance was down
to £14 17s 0d (£14.85).


Were the SJFA foolhardy to proceed with the match? We do not think so. Apart from the
establishment of a national cup competition (the Scottish Junior Cup) the other objective of the
fledging organisation was to field team of the best players to play international matches. The officials
worked tirelessly to fund the trip and I believe they were confident of eventually finding the funds
without bankrupting the SJFA. With this work, the generosity of their hosts and Rangers FC and
perhaps help from Third Lanark FC and other clubs they were able to play the first match in an annual
series that continued until the outbreak of the Second World War and had a brief revival from 1972
to 1976.

What of Wood of West Bromwich Albion? His selection probably played its part in establishing the
annual fixture. It is clear that the BFA were trying to select a junior team by their definition. Unlike in
Scotland where football was in theory an amateur game until 1893, they had to deal with the issue of
former professionals wanting to return to the amateur ranks. His selection may have generated
further discussion on the criteria for selection. Over time and with the growing strength of the SJFA
the selection criteria were changed. The local Football League clubs fielded reserve teams in the
Birmingham and District League that along with clubs in the Birmingham and District Junior League
(later the Birmingham Combination) provided the BFA team. It was eventually agreed that players
from Football League clubs who had not yet played for their club in the Football League or FA Cup
could be selected for the junior international.

The two associations played 46 matches in what proved to be a well-balanced series and the SJFA
record in the matches was:

Played Won Drawn Lost Goals For Goals Against
46 20 9 17 87 85