On This Day – 31st March 1888

Saturday 31st March 1888 was Easter Saturday. Queen Victoria had taken part of her court to Tuscany for some sunshine and on Easter Saturday morning the Queen-Empress had visited an orphanage in Florence. Thoughtfully, the children had presented a bouquet of flowers from across the British Empire.

Her Imperial Parliament was gathering at Westminster to debate the Irish Land Bill, while French parliamentarians were due to meet in Paris to discuss the fact that the country was, once again, without a government. German Kaiser Friedrich, Queen Victorian’s son-in-law, had that Saturday returned to Berlin for an operation on his throat. Italy’s war of conquest in Abyssinia was nearing conclusion.

And on Easter Saturday 1888 there was football. The game in Scotland was different to today’s game – players were nominally amateur and leagues, although talked about, hadn’t been formed.

East Stirlingshire Football Club’s fixtures were mainly friendlies, with competitive matches limited to cup-ties, the most important of which was, of course, the Scottish Cup. Next in terms of importance was the Stirlingshire Cup and, on Saturday 31st March 1888, Shire were due to meet Falkirk in that season’s final.

They were aiming to be the first team to win the competition three years in a row and that morning’s Glasgow Herald had declared Shire, “the favourites to win and by several goals.” That was hardly surprising as they were easily the best team in the county. They had no manager or coach, but their on-the-field leader was Laurence “Laurie” McLachlan, a forward so highly thought of that the local newspapers typically referred to him by his first name in match reports.

The Shire squad also contained Wull “The Laddie” Dunn, who was to go on to play top level professional football in England and, most famously of all, left-back Dan Doyle who was a future captain of the Scotland national team.

Camelon FC’s Victoria Park was chosen as the neutral venue and “almost 3,000 people” turned up and paid more than £51 in gate money to watch. We haven’t been left any details about the long-gone Victoria Park (which was roughly where today’s Mariner Centre stands) but both teams chose to get changed in Falkirk and get a horse-drawn brake to the ground in time for the 2:45pm kick-off.

Laurie won the toss and chose to have the breeze at Shire’s backs in the first half. They were the favourites to win, they had the advantage of the wind but it was Falkirk who were left to deal with a force a lot stronger.

Jocky Stewart gave Shire a fifth minute lead, which Dunn doubled after eight minutes. Then Doyle, rather than give the forwards the ball, tried a long-range shot which ended up flying through the sticks for a third Shire goal on the quarter hour.

Laurie was not to be outdone and he then added another two goals to give Shire a 5-0 advantage before even half an hour was gone. Thankfully for Falkirk there was no more damage before the interval but when referee Mr Sneddon re-started their misery continued.

Danny Kirkwood got Shire’s sixth and then passed to Dunn who scored the seventh, who then added an eighth. There was controversy when the referee disallowed a Falkirk strike but late on Kirkwood added a ninth. Full-time East Stirlingshire 9 Falkirk 0.

Although the result was not a shock the score was. Nevertheless, the two teams made their way back to the Crown Hotel for tea.  Before starting the proceedings Stirlingshire FA President, James Wilson, presented the cup to the winning team.

During the meal, which The Falkirk Herald’s sports writer Scrutator described as, “a very good affair – not exciting, but good of its kind”, there were toasts and singing too.

There was plenty of signing in Bainsford that night too. The village celebrated in the usual ways but the Carron Band, on its way home from a concert, played in the streets and at night people set off fireworks to mark the victory.

The partying did not end there. On the Monday evening a “Smoker” at the club halls was held where the cup was put on display, the Falkirk Iron Works Band played and there was “much rejoicing.”