A Swarm of Angry Wasps

New Year derby fixtures have long been a popular feature of the Scottish football season although, sadly, the ongoing issues with COVID-19 will mean no bumper crowds as 2022 arrives, with Premiership matches rescheduled and attendances severely limited in the lower divisions. This short account of a match at Alloa in 1948 serves as an example of how desperate fans were to see football in the early postwar period, and of how disorder at matches has been a feature of matches for far longer than many people realise…

It’s fair to say that the 1947-48 season wasn’t a vintage one for either Alloa Athletic or Stenhousemuir. The Wasps had won promotion to the top flight in 1939, but found themselves controversially demoted back to the second tier when the leagues resumed from their wartime shutdown in 1946. If they felt determined to right that wrong, they failed to show it on the pitch, finishing fifth but trailing a long way behind promoted Dundee and Airdrieonians. The Warriors were similarly unable to trouble the promotion race, finishing seventh. The following season saw both clubs going backwards. As 1947 drew to a close, Stenhousemuir were ninth in the ‘B’ Division table, with fifteen points from sixteen games. For Alloa, things were even worse – they sat in fourteenth place out of sixteen teams, perilously close to the drop into the dreaded twilight zone of the reserve team-filled ‘C’ Division. They would have had the same points as Stenny, but had been hit by scandal when they fielded two ineligible players under false names, leading two a two-point deduction and a ban for manager Tommy Lipton; former Rangers and Scotland centre-half Jimmy Simpson had taken over as manager in November. Both teams at least finished the year on a high, with Stenny beating Dumbarton 4-2 at Ochilview for their third successive victory and Alloa recording an impressive 2-0 win at Dunfermline, and with only two points separating the clubs there was all to play for as they looked forward to their Ne’erday clash at Recreation Park.

Old aerial photo of an empty football ground surrounded by fields
Recreation Park on a quieter day

A healthy crowd could certainly be anticipated at the Alloa ground, with the Wasps averaging around 4,000 fans in the immediate postwar seasons as attendances boomed around the country. A generation scarred by their wartime experiences were desperate to return to the simple pleasure of watching a match, and New Year derby fixtures were a perennially popular draw. Unfortunately, 1948 arrived with atrocious wet weather all across Scotland that played havoc with the Ne’erday fixtures. Waterlogged pitches led to a number of postponements, including the Old Firm match at Celtic Park – which was immediately rescheduled for the following day! Matches at Dumbarton and nearby Stirling were also casualties of the weather. Other games went ahead, but with the terrible conditions ruining the spectacle and contributing to a number of shock results.

Play got underway as scheduled at Recreation Park, but quickly descended into farce. “The underfoot and overhead conditions at the start left plenty to be desired”, reported the Falkirk Herald, “and as the game progressed the ground became a quagmire”. With neither team having scored after 25 minutes, and with the pitch continuing to deteriorate, the referee had had enough and abandoned the match. The boisterous holiday crowd – some of whom may have overindulged with the wares of the town’s famous breweries – were unimpressed at being denied the entertainment they had paid for.

A portion of the crowd, “numbering from 200 to 300”, according to Aberdeen’s cautious Press and Journal, while Dundee’s Courier went for a more dramatic “between 2000 and 3000 spectators” – somebody somewhere was clearly a little careless with their zeroes – swarmed angrily around the pavilion and dressing room areas, demanding a refund on their admission and calling for officials to show themselves. Eventually Jimmy Simpson appeared, accompanied by William Stanton, Provost of Alloa and club chairman, but the manager’s appeal for the fans to calm down and go home had little effect. One angry supporter even threw the contents of his bottle of Alloa ale over the Provost. Amidst the chaos, two men were injured falling off the roof of the eight-foot high press box; one of them, Andrew Black of Clackmannan, had to be taken to the nearby County Hospital for treatment. With little sign of the crowd being placated, police reinforcements were called in. After about half an hour, they managed to disperse the crowd without any arrests being made.

There was little time to dwell on the dramatic events of the day, as both clubs had regular Saturday matches scheduled for just two days later. Stenhousemuir continued their run of wins in completed games, beating Cowdenbeath 2-1 at home, but Alloa went down 3-2 at Hamilton. The abandoned match wasn’t rescheduled until April, the authorities presumably hoping both weather and tempers would have improved by then. When it was finally played, a crowd of 3000 saw an Alloa team inspired by centre-forward Dave Paris run out 4-2 winners, with the excitement this time confined to the pitch. At the end of a disappointing campaign, Alloa were in eleventh place and Stenhousemuir fourteenth. But with both having avoided the drop, there would be another Ne’erday game to look forward to in 1949!

Archers to Artisans – the Changing Face of Kinning Park

This piece has its origins in the Wikipedia article on the Kinning Park ground, which I have no compunction about repurposing here as I wrote it in the first place! Never having staged league football or first-class cricket, it had somewhat fallen through the cracks in terms of recognition, hence it taking until 2020 before anyone thought to put it on Wikipedia at all, but it was a genuinely significant venue in its day, and my initial intention to write a brief snub snowballed into something much longer…

Travelling along the M8 motorway west of central Glasgow today, looking down on the modern industrial units (and occasional sandstone survivor) around Scotland Street West, it’s difficult to picture this area as it once was – a place of fields and streams, a semi-rural idyll favoured for recreation by the city’s sporting youth. But here, somewhere below the eastbound carriageway was the site of one of the leading sports venues around Victorian Glasgow. Its story is one of the growing industrial city, and the inevitable encroachment of the modern metropolis on the once-peaceful countryside a historic cricket field.

But even as early as 1893, that earlier world was already lost. The Scottish Referee‘s cricket correspondent, “Mid-On”, in a piece for their “Cricket Notes” column titled “Something for the “old boys”” clearly sets out his stall with an appeal to nostalgia. The writer goes on to vividly describe his memories of Kinning Park as it was thirty years before, a time when there was not only the expanse of the Clydesdale cricket ground but also other fields used by minor cricket clubs to the east and even an archery ground to the north.

Kinning Park in the mid-19th century was barely a settlement at all, just an obscure locality on the road from Glasgow to Govan and Paisley, situated in a narrow sliver of Govan parish belonging to Renfrewshire as it reached down to the Clyde. It was part to the Pollok Estate, and decidedly rural in character, even though nearby Tradeston had been laid out and built up as an expansion of the city in the 1790s. The landowner, Maxwell of Pollok, had vague plans at this time for a prestigious development of villas for the middle classes based on Regent’s Park in London, but nothing came of this scheme.

The Clydesdale Cricket Club was formed in 1848 and started out on a field at Kinning Park rented from a Mr Tweedie, whose stated occupation of “cow feeder” certainly evokes a bucolic atmosphere. Unfortunately, Mr Tweedie was not impressed by the damage to his grass – the cow’s presumably took a similarly dim view – and so for the 1849 season they decamped about 500 yards to the west, where they rented a new field from the similarly rustic-sounding Mr Meiklewham, roughly on the corner of West Scotland Street and Lambhill Street.

Clydesdale opened this new ground on 30th June 1849, with a match against Barrhead. Within a couple of years, the young club would be attracting far more prestigious opposition. A three-day match beginning on 18th September 1851, described by the Glasgow Herald as “the great cricket match… which is exciting such an intense curiosity all over Scotland”, was billed by that newspaper as Scotland v England. More accurately, it was a Glasgow Select – effectively, Clydesdale augmented by a few English professionals – against the All England XI, one of the touring teams that were the biggest draws in an era before county or Test cricket. This team boasted stars such as Alfred Mynn and Fuller Pilch, as well as John Wisden of Almanack fame. As was usual in such matches, the visiting eleven would play an “odds match” against a local twenty-two, to ensure a more even contest. A large crowd was clearly anticipated, with a grandstand and stalls erected, and the printing tent of London-based cricketing entrepreneur Fred Lilywhite on hand to provide scorecards. The occasion was a great success, with around eight thousand spectators no doubt delighted by Glasgow’s 33-run victory – despite the sterling efforts of Wisden, who took twenty wickets.

Games of this sort took place with regularity at Kinning Park over the next fifteen years, with teams variously billed as Clydesdale, Glasgow or Scotland taking on glamorous touring teams, with the All England XI being joined on the fixture lists by the United England, United Ireland and United South of England XI’s (all of these also being odds matches, so none of the cricket staged at Kinning Park is categorised as first-class). This was the era that Mid-On was looking back wistfully on: his prose mixes comforting nostalgia (“the summer days were summer days in those days”) with regret that the popular game of his youth has been supplanted (“Thirty years ago, cricket was, and not football”) and pointed detail implying his disapproval of the upstart sport and its drive towards professionalism (“What about gates? There was no thought of money-making in the days I speak of”). As he attempts to describe the idyllic setting, he becomes positively rhapsodic:

“I’m nearly dazed in writing the above, and on the Saturday the ladies turned out – oh, yum, yum – and the galaxy of youth and beauty congregated on the daisy-spread field, meandered round the “boundarie” with their masculine attendants, habited in their blazers.”

At which point, Mid-On presumably stopped writing and went for a lie down. If the scene he describes seems hard to imagine today, it must have been scarcely more believable when he wrote it. Even when the last of the great fixtures against the touring teams took place in 1866, the relentless march of urbanisation and industry was starting to close in around the Kinning Park boundary, with railway lines, factories and tenement housing for artisan workers springing up all around. By 1871, the settlement itself had grown from rural backwater to the status of an independent police burgh (albeit the smallest in Scotland, with an area of just 108 acres). The changing social and political face of industrial Clydeside was reflected in the election of five working class men to the new burgh council, and the forming of the Kinning Park Co-operative Society. You were more likely now to encounter a trade union activist than an archery enthusiast on your way to the cricket, with paved streets rather than country lanes beneath your feet.

With land for development at a premium, the cricketers’ days at Kinning Park were already numbered. In 1874 the club were informed by Maxwell of Pollok (grandson of the one mentioned above), that it was required for a new goods yard to be built by the Caledonian Railway, whose General Terminus line ran nearby. The landowner did, however, offer a choice of alternative grounds elsewhere on the Estate, and at the end of the 1875 season Clydesdale left Kinning Park for the leafier surroundings of nearby Pollokshields, and the open spaces of their new Titwood ground.

It wasn’t yet the end for sport at Kinning Park, however. The new game of association football was already rivalling cricket’s popularity amongst fashionable young sportsmen. Clydesdale’s football section was formed around 1872, and with the prestige attached to the club name quickly achieved prominence. They were a founder member of the Scottish Football Association in 1873 and participated in the inaugural Scottish Cup tournament; Kinning Park staged its first cup tie in the opening round, a 6-0 win against Granville, with Clydesdale going on to reach the final. When the railway development came, it swallowed up part of the cricket field, but enough land for a football pitch remained. Before they too flitted to Titwood, Clydesdale’s footballers played one last season at Kinning Park. Events around one of their final games there, a friendly match against The Wednesday in April 1876, illustrate the cramped surroundings that the venue now operated amidst. With a large crowd wanting to see the famous Sheffield club, a grandstand was hastily built on the north side of the pitch. This held around 1000 spectators, while a further 6000 were around the ropes. Perhaps half as many again, however, were locked out, and many did whatever they could to seek alternative vantage points. There was a worrying moment when a shed roof behind one goal – from which around 200 were watching – collapsed, although fortunately there were no serious injuries.

A couple of weeks prior to the Wednesday match, Clydesdale had hosted Rangers. They were evidently impressed by the facilities on offer, because they became the new tenants of the ground that summer. Having started out on Glasgow Green, Rangers had graduated to their first enclosed ground at Burnbank in 1875-76, but the West End location hadn’t proved popular with their already burgeoning support. The move to Kinning Park took them to the south-western fringe of Glasgow for the first time, where they would make their permanent home. Rangers officially opened their new ground on 2nd September 1876, against Vale of Leven.

The layout of the Kinning Park ground as it was when Rangers played there

During Rangers’ tenancy of the ground, Kinning Park was chosen by the SFA to host the 1881 Scottish Cup final between Queen’s Park and Dumbarton. Every previous final had been held either at Hamilton Crescent, a spacious cricket ground such as Kinning Park had once been; or at the first Hampden, the most developed football venue then in existence. At a time when interest in football was ever-growing, a large attendance was clearly to be expected for this clash between two of the leading teams in Scotland, but the organisers seemed unconcerned by the cramped location; perhaps the difficulties at the Wednesday match had been forgotten five years on. The weather was fine for the match on Saturday 26th March, and anything up to 20,000 people made their way through the streets of Kinning Park to the ground, making it the largest attendance seen at any match in Scotland up to that point – “beyond anything experienced in the history of football”, as Glasgow’s Evening News put it. The grandstand was packed to capacity well before kick-off, with long queues at the gates. Standing areas became equally packed, with fears that the wire “ropes” would struggle to contain the throng, but officials and police just about managed to maintain order. With viewing difficult, fans clambered anywhere they could for a better look: atop walls, or from railway trucks on the adjacent sidings; some reportedly demolished a small building and fashioned the bricks into a rudimentary platform. Somehow, amid the chaos, the match got underway.

In a well-contested match, Harry McNeil put defending champions Queen’s Park ahead early on, only for Robert “Sparrow” Brown to equalise for Dumbarton. With the second half degenerating into something of a battle, Johnny Kay put Queen’s back in front, despite Dumbarton vociferously claiming that the ball had previously gone out of play. There was no more scoring, so Queen’s had – apparently – retained the trophy. Amicable relations seemed to have been restored as the two teams adjourned for a post-match tea, but it subsequently emerged that Dumbarton had submitted a protest to the referee on the grounds that spectators had encroached on the pitch, disrupting play. The SFA committee controversially upheld the protest and declared the result void. A report in the London-based paper Bell’s Life suggested that the match would be played again in midweek, with either Kinning Park or, more intriguingly, Maryhill Barracks considered as venues. The latter, opened in 1872, had extensive recreation grounds for military use, but never regularly hosted civilian football. Were the SFA considering the radical step of replaying the game without spectators, the public firmly excluded beyond the Barracks’ formidable stone walls? If so, the Scottish Cup may have had its first closed-doors final long before COVID intervened in 2020 and 2021.

In the event, it was decided that Kinning Park would host once again, with the date fixed for Saturday 9th April. Extensive precautions were taken to prevent the disorder seen at the first game, with temporary stands installed behind both goals and the inadequate ropes reinforced by wooden barriers at the weakest points. Another sizable crowd assembled, perhaps around 15,000 this time; again there were many watching from outside the ground, with wily local residents charging fans to watch from nearby windows. Rangers, unhappy that people had scaled their clubhouse roof at the first match, looked to prevent a repeat by having it freshly tarred for the occasion. Already angered at having to play again – they lodged a formal protest against the SFA decision – Queen’s Park channelled their frustration in the early stages and blew Dumbarton away, with Dr John Smith recording the first ever Cup final hat-trick within the opening half hour. In another bruising contest, with several players limping before half time, Queen’s held firm, and despite James Meikleham pulling one back early in the second half, the Cup was theirs.

Although the replayed final had passed without incident, the scenes at the first match must have contributed to Kinning Park never again being chosen to host a major fixture. Rangers continued to play there for a further six years, and during this era athletics events were also squeezing into the tight confines of the ground. The inaugural Rangers Sports took place there in August 1881, while Clydesdale Harriers, Scotland’s first open athletics club when they formed in 1885, used Kinning Park for training and events; although there was no formal link, their membership had a significant overlap with that of Rangers. One notable football match in this period was a friendly in February 1886 when visitors Airdrieonians ran riot, winning 10-2 in what remains Rangers’ all-time record defeat. The 1886-87 season would be Rangers’ last at Kinning Park, with the ambitious club increasingly frustrated by the cramped conditions and inability to expand capacity. That season was the last in which Scottish clubs were permitted to enter the FA Cup and Kinning Park staged its final competitive fixture in the quarter-final on 19 February 1887, Rangers beating Old Westminsters 5-1 in front of a crowd of around 5 or 6,000. The age of the gentlemen amateurs was fading fast…

For the following season, both Rangers and the Harriers would move further out from the city towards Govan, where they would open the first Ibrox Park. The final football match at Kinning Park, before this last vestige of green was finally swallowed up, took place a week after the FA Cup tie. Perhaps fittingly, it was the “Moderns” against the “Ancients” – a team of present-day Rangers members against a side from the earliest days of the club, when they had casually kicked a ball about on Glasgow Green. It was an appropriate postscript to Mid-On’s world of leisurely summer entertainment for the middle classes. The age of professional sport played by and for the working masses was now at hand.

Continue reading “Archers to Artisans – the Changing Face of Kinning Park”

Steve Bloomer Goes Forth

Although I’m originally from Glasgow, I’ve lived in Derby for the past 17 years, so I wanted to mention the local team on here sooner or later. As this unusual little story covers one of their trips to Scotland, I thought it would fit in well.

Steve Bloomer, England shirt as white as his face.
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Steve Bloomer looked deathly pale at the best of times. The greatest goalscorer of his era and prototype footballing celebrity he may have been, but with his slight frame and pallid complexion his appearance on the pitch scarcely created the picture of health that his achievements might have led one to expect. But right now, with a steam locomotive thundering past within touching distance and nothing but a thin rail to prevent him from plunging into the dark waters of the Firth of Forth 150 feet below, the man nicknamed “The Ghost” could be forgiven if he looked even more spooked than usual.

It is April 1899, and Derby County are in Scotland to play a couple of end-of-season friendlies. But today, they have the distinction of being the first, and probably last, football team to walk across the great engineering wonder of the age, the Forth Bridge. And as his teammate Jimmy Methven would later recall, none found the experience more nerve-wracking than Bloomer.

If he had lost his cool atop the bridge, this was something Bloomer rarely did in front of goal. But less than two weeks earlier, his composure had also been found wanting when he faced up to an equally imposing Victorian edifice, Sheffield United’s 18½-stone goalkeeper William “Fatty” Foulke, in the FA Cup Final at the Crystal Palace.  With Derby leading 1-0 through John Boag’s early goal, Bloomer was clean through on Foulke but inexplicably spurned the scoring chance. It was the turning point of the match, with the Blades going on to score four times in the last half hour and carry off the trophy. Finishing as runners-up for the second year running, Derby’s sense of frustration at the opportunity wasted was surely only compounded when they concluded their First Division campaign with a 1-0 win against the same opposition at the Baseball Ground a week later. This time Bloomer got the better of Foulke to score the winner and complete his best-ever season’s tally of 30 goals, and Derby finished an indifferent ninth in the First Division table.

There was little time to reflect on this achievement, however, with Derby about to embark on a short tour to Scotland and the North of England, stopping in nearby Buxton for the first of four games in five days. The team had used Buxton F.C.’s Silverlands ground for their pre-Cup Final training camp, and had arranged to return and play the Combination club as a token of thanks. The match took place on Tuesday 25th April, and although Buxton took the lead Derby went on to equalise through an goal before goals from Bloomer and Harry Allen secured a 3-1 win. After dining with their opponents, they set off by train for Edinburgh that night.

Two matches had been arranged against teams from the Scottish First Division on the next two days. On the Wednesday, Derby faced a stiff test against Heart of Midlothian, who had finished second in the league. In front of a crowd of 3,000 at Tynecastle, Bloomer put Derby ahead in the 5th minute. Willie Michael then equalised for Hearts, despite strong claims of offside from the visitors. The home side then went ahead early in the second half through the great Bobby Walker before young Irish forward Tommy Shanks secured a draw for Derby. Both teams treated the game rather more seriously than might have been expected of a friendly, with The Athletic News describing the second half play disapprovingly as “very coarse”.

The following day, Derby travelled through to the West of Scotland, where they would face Partick Thistle. This was a time when Thistle still played at their old Meadowside ground in Partick, and when the burgh was still independent of Glasgow. On paper, it was an easier match for Derby; Thistle had finished second bottom of the First Division and were due to face a re-election vote, which would subsequently result in them losing their top flight place to Kilmarnock. Securing a visit from the FA Cup finalists was, therefore, seen as something of a coup for the club, but unfortunately the fine weather from the match in Edinburgh was not repeated. It rained heavily, and a much smaller than anticipated crowd meant a financial loss for Thistle. In the first half, Derby were far too strong for their opponents: Bloomer opened the scoring, Shanks added the second from a corner and Bloomer netted a third. It could have been worse for Thistle, with efforts from Bloomer and Boag missing by inches and Hugh McQueen denied the fourth when the half time whistle blew just before his shot entered the net. The hosts rallied in the second half, Frank Waddell – on trial with Thistle from junior club Glasgow Perthshire – scoring on his debut and Geordie McNicoll adding a second, but despite a strong finish they were unable to snatch a draw.

The Forth Bridge around the turn of the 20th century; Derby County not pictured.
Image from Wikimedia Commons

The exact date of the visit to the Forth Bridge isn’t recorded, but it’s reasonable to assume that the Derby players were resting in Edinburgh on the Wednesday after their overnight journey from Buxton, and went on their excursion some time on Thursday before travelling onwards to Glasgow. The reason that they were able to make the historic crossing was that one of the players was acquainted with a Mr Paton, an official of the bridge’s operators, the North British Railway, who arranged for one of the railway employees to act as guide to the footballers. Jimmy Methven spent over thirty years at Derby as player and manager, but was originally from Ceres in Fife, not far from the North British route taking the line from the bridge towards Dundee; he had also previously played for Edinburgh-based St Bernard’s, and had lived in the capital where the railway had its headquarters, so it’s entirely possible he had the relevant contact. Not that Derby’s travelling party was short of candidates, with Boag, McQueen, Robert Paterson, Johnny May, Billy MacDonald and Charlie Leckie all being Scots-born, while John Goodall – although born in, and capped for, England – had been brought up in Ayrshire. It was when Methven’s reminiscences were serialised by the Derbyshire Football Express in the 1920s that the full details of the adventure were revealed, the irrepressible full-back giving the impression he was at least one of the ringleaders:

We put pennies on the lines for the fun of seeing the trains flatten them, and every time one roared past, the players hung to the sides of the bridge for dear life, none more affectionately than Steve Bloomer.”

Methven and Bloomer were friends and colleagues for a long time, both joining Derby in 1891 and spending fifteen years as teammates. Later, after becoming manager, Methven would bring Bloomer back for his second stint at the Baseball Ground following a spell at Middlesbrough. Methven’s recollections make it obvious that he relished teasing his normally ice-cool friend. It’s tempting to conclude that he may have had a deliberately selective memory in singling out Bloomer, who could have hardly been the only one of the Derby party to feel a hint of panic as they were buffeted in this exposed and dangerous location. Happily, however, the rest of the bridge walk passed without incident and all would safely return to the less hazardous business of playing football matches. There might have been yet another match in Scotland, Dundee having issued a late invitation for Derby to appear at their Carolina Port ground on Friday, but they were committed to playing Newcastle United on the Saturday and would already be en route to Tyneside by then, so had to decline. No doubt exhausted from the heavy playing schedule, the constant travelling and their exertions on the Forth Bridge, Derby went down to a 4-1 defeat at St James’ Park, with Allen scoring their consolation goal. The players were doubtless pleased to then depart for their close season break, with the Scottish members of the team returning north once again for the summer while the rest travelled on to Derby.

Since the 1899 tour, Derby County have made only a single return visit to Tynecastle, when they played a benefit match for Hearts star Tommy Walker in April 1938. There would be some sightseeing activities for the Derby players this time around too, such as visiting Edinburgh Castle and going on a motor tour of the Borders. There would also be a drive to see the Forth Bridge in the company of Walker; on this occasion, however, everyone was content to marvel at the famous old structure from a safe distance. Back in Derby, Steve Bloomer had only just returned home from another adventure, having been sent on a cruise to Australia in a vain attempt to improve his ailing health. He died on 16th April, less than a week after another generation of Derby players had gazed upon the famous bridge that he had, albeit reluctantly, dared to walk across four decades earlier.

The Fred Stoessel Story – Part Two

The reaction last week was very kind – so here, by popular demand (sort of), is the concluding part of Fred Stoessel’s life story. If you missed the first part, where have you been? Well, never mind, you can catch up on Fred’s life prior to the First World War here.

It took a while for the political machinations in Europe to make their effects felt in Dundee, where the cricket season continued as normal and the Hibs squad assembled for their forthcoming campaign. Hopes were initially high, manager Pat Reilly having retained key players such as Fred Stoessel and the Second Division’s top scorer Collie Martin, and adding some more promising juniors. But by the time the Greens kicked off the new season at Dunfermline, war had been declared and already two of the team had signed up to serve. Fred played in the first three league matches, then the opening Qualifying Cup tie against Forfar. The 4-0 reverse in that match proved to be his farewell to Tannadice, for the time being; the following week, the local papers were reporting that Fred Stoessel had “joined the colours”.

The regiment Fred joined was the 2/1st Scottish Horse, intended for service on the home front rather than overseas. By the end of October they were stationed at Kettering in Northamptonshire, which enabled Fred to resume his football career. He joined Kettering F.C., who were struggling at the foot of the Central Alliance, scoring in his first match as they ran out 3-1 winners against Loughborough Corinthians. Over the rest of the season, Fred helped them improve to a respectable mid-table finish and run up some big wins, including 6-0 against Sutton Junction, 8-1 against Grantham Avenue (Stoessel playing “a prominent part”, according to the Loughborough Echo) and 9-1 against Leicester Imperial (including two Stoessel goals).

Later in 1915, the regiment were posted to Alford in Lincolnshire, and in August Fred was turning out for a Scottish Horse cricket team against Louth and District. He had seemingly tired of life on the home front, however, as he then transferred to a new regiment, the 1/1st Lovat Scouts (which became the 10th (Lovat Scouts) Battalion of the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders the following year). By the end of 1915 he was on the front line at the Dardanelles in Turkey, taking part in the Gallipoli Campaign. There, Fred was reunited with his old teammate Willie Linn, who had joined up with the Royal Naval Division, and the two were able to take part in impromptu footballl matches – albeit with Turkish shells falling within a few hundred yards as they played. Shortly afterwards, Fred’s regiment were redeployed to Egypt, where he was again on the football field, starring in an “international” between Scottish and English regiments and setting up a goal in the 2-2 draw.

Bert Stoessel was also in the forces, and news that both brothers had been wounded reached the Dundee papers in June 1917. In Bert’s case, he had been posted to Egypt and then France, where he had been wounded on two occasions. Fred was now in Salonika, Greece, and hospitalised with a fractured arm. He eventually came through the war unscathed, however, and after being demobbed from the Army in April 1919 he immediately returned to Dundee.

Notwithstanding his sojourn at Kettering, Hibs still retained Fred’s registration in Scotland, the club having chosen to keep paying all their players who had been away on service. After one wartime season, the Second Division had closed down in 1915; Hibs had then competed in the Eastern League until that too was mothballed in 1918. When Fred and other demobbed players returned during the 1918-19 season, therefore, the club was playing friendly matches only. He was able to play in a few late season fixtures, mainly against junior opposition but also including one against the other Hibernian, from Edinburgh. Willie Linn was back too, and they briefly resumed their partnership on the left before leaving the club at the season’s end. As life began to move back towards normal, Fred was on the cricket field again too in 1919, now turning out for local clubs Roineach Mhor and Downfield, and the Dundee Corporation XI.

For the 1919-20 football season, Fred joined Arbroath in the revived Eastern League. He made his debut in a Qualifying Cup derby against Arbroath Amateurs, but didn’t look entirely up to speed despite a 5-1 win. The Hibs were also in the Eastern League, but Fred didn’t feature against his old club; the first meeting at Tannadice was early in the season, before he had signed for Arbroath. He was absent when they clashed again at Gayfield in October; intriguingly, the Arbroath Herald stated he was rested “on account of wedding festivities”, but without elaborating. No member of the Stoessel family appears to have got married around this time – indeed Fred himself seems never to have wed – so the event remains a mystery. He did play when the teams met in January in a secondary competition, the Northern League, a 2-2 draw played at Gayfield in a blizzard. The Herald reported that Fred was one of the few who stood out in what they described as “excruciatingly bad” weather.

Having left Arbroath, Fred signed for Forfar Athletic in September 1920 and debuted against Brechin City in the Qualifying Cup. Forfar were then playing in the Scottish Alliance, primarily against reserve teams of Scottish League clubs, but even at this modest level he failed to make the expected impact, and was dropped in October. “Stoessel has fallen far short of what was anticipated,” commented the Forfar Herald, “his timidity is most marked”. Approaching his 30th birthday, it seemed Fred’s career was winding down, and over the next year or so he was an itinerant player. He ended that season appearing for Dunkeld and Birnam in the Perthshire Consolation Cup. In 1921-22, he briefly turned out for Downfield in junior football, had a stint with amateur club Roineach Mhor, then returned to Dunkeld and Birnam for the Perthshire Cup. It was something of a surprise, then – or perhaps just an indication of how badly Dundee Hibs were struggling – that he ended the season once again turning out for the Tannadice club in Scottish League football.

The League had finally reintroduced the Second Division, for the first time since the war, but with two of the new intake scheduled to be culled at the season’s end. A dreadful run of form had left Hibs on the brink of finishing in the bottom two, and amidst Pat Reilly’s increasingly desperate attempts to turn things round, he brought Fred Stoessel back to the club. On 8th April he played his first competitive game for Hibs in eight years and helped them to a 1-0 win over Dunfermline at Tannadice, but their performance was unconvincing. Two days later, another poor showing resulted in a 1-0 defeat at home to East Fife, who played half the game with ten men. “Stoessel failed to do anything with the many opportunities he got”, pronounced the Courier. Two days after that, Hibs played Dundee in a benefit match for Willie Linn, but this time Fred wasn’t in the line-up alongside his old colleague. The experiment of bringing back the former star, had failed; Fred never turned out for the club again, and Hibs lost their League status at the end of the season. By the following weekend he was once again turning out for Dunkeld and Birnam, as they lost 3-1 against Blairgowrie Amateurs in the Atholl Cup final.

Fred wound down his sporting career over the next year or so, playing for Dunkeld Juniors in the Perthshire Junior League in 1922-23 and then making his final cricket appearances for Inverary (another Dundee club) in the summer of 1923. Some time after that he left Tayside for good, and it appears that family connections took him initially to Yorkshire. As far back as 1913, when he was linked with a transfer to Bradford, it had been noted in the press that the move may appeal as Fred had family nearby. The 1911 census shows that his sister Florence and her husband were then living in Leeds, and another sister, Gertrude was staying with them. Oldest brother Alexander was still in Scotland at this time, but by the 1920s he too was living in Leeds. While Bert had been in Dundee until war broke out, he served with the York and Lancaster Regiment and the West Yorkshire Regiment. He eventually settled near Leeds in the 1930s, in Pudsey, after spells in Stockton-on-Tees and Derby.

While Alexander and Bert would both remain in the Leeds area for the rest of their lives, Fred was soon on the move again. His last UK address, at 35 The Drive in the Cross Gates area of Leeds, is given in the passenger list for HMS Montclare of the Canadian Pacific line, which sailed from Liverpool on 10th March 1927 bound for Saint John, New Brunswick. Fred was off to build a new life in the Canadian prairies, and appears to have spent some time in Alberta before finally settling in Saskatchewan.

The next time we hear of Fred is in 1929, in the pages of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, and it was because he was back on the football pitch. Although the Saskatoon Football Association league contained at least three teams representing the city’s Scottish community, Fred was playing for a military side, the 21st Battery, suggesting he had had gone back into uniform since arriving in Canada. He made his league debut in the inside-left position as the Gunners opened their season with a 2-0 defeat to one of the Scottish sides, the Callies. While he played regularly that year, there’s little mention of Fred over the next few years except for an appearance for the City Cricket Club in 1931 – perhaps suggesting he was on military duties elsewhere.

A few years later, Fred was at the Dundurn Military Camp, about 25 miles south of Saskatoon and undergoing a massive expansion in the mid-1930s. Still playing football, he appeared for Dundurn United in 1934 and was one of their better players as they lost 9-5 on aggregate to Saskatoon Thistles in the Provincial Shield competition. The following year he was with the wonderfully-named Dundurn Potato Bugs, who had newly joined the Saskatoon Football Association. Profiling the team, the Star-Phoenix noted Fred Stoessel’s pedigree with Dundee Hibs and Arbroath. Nearing his 45th birthday, and no doubt in deference to his age and loss of pace despite the modest standard, Fred had by now dropped back into the left-half position from his former wing berth. In 1936 he was back on the cricket field in Saskatoon, taking part in an exhibition match where he “stole the spotlight with some lively hitting” on the way to a score of 42. In 1937, he was playing football for the Callies. The last big game of Fred’s career was at the beginning of the 1938 season. Now a 48-year old veteran, he played left back in a trial match to select a Saskatoon all-star team that would face the Islington Corinthians, an amateur select team from London then coming towards the end of an extraordinary year-long, 95-match, world tour. Sadly, Fred didn’t make it to the final XI so was unable to round off his career with an appearance in this prestigious fixture.

Despite retiring from sport and being almost in his fifties, Fred once again heeded the call when another World War broke out, and he was amongst the “originals” of the Saskatoon Light Infantry who departed for Europe, being part of the first contingent of Canadian troops to cross the Atlantic in December 1939. This meant a brief return to Scotland for Private Stoessel, with the ships docking on the Clyde before proceeding to Aldershot. Little about his personal experience of the Second World War is known, but we can gain some idea of where he might have served. The initial plan to deploy Canadian troops on the continent in 1940 was abandoned following the Dunkirk evacuation, and they spent much of the next few years in the UK until finally seeing large-scale deployment in the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943. Fred didn’t quite serve throughout the conflict, and was not amongst the select band of originals who also returned to Saskatoon with the regiment in October 1945, but he had served up until the previous year.

Fred’s obituary from the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, 8th October 1974.
Reproduced from www.newspapers.com

Returning to postwar Saskatoon, football and the military continued to be big parts of Fred’s life. Although no longer playing, he remained involved by acting as a referee or linesman in local matches in the late 1940s and early 1950s. When Saskatoon Airport, which had been an Air Force base during the war, returned to civilian use, some of the barracks were converted into a Veterans Home, and Fred was employed here as a caretaker until retiring in 1955. He was active in the Royal Canadian Legion for the last thirty years of his life and was a pallbearer at numerous funerals of former comrades. Fred himself passed away in October 1974, just short of his 84th birthday, and was buried in the Soldiers Field of Woodlawn Cemetery in Saskatoon – the end of a long and varied life spanning three continents on the fields of sport and battle.

The Fred Stoessel Story – Part One

I wanted to begin this blog with something Dundee United-related, and I had randomly fallen into researching Fred’s life, simply because his surname and birthplace suggested a more cosmopolitan backstory than was usual for his era (and because trawling through newspaper archives becomes much, much, easier when you’re tracing an uncommon name). Fred was by no means a big star, but it was comparatively easy to put together a lot of detail about an interesting life and career spanning three continents. So here we go, with our first random poke into the corners of sporting history…

In recent decades, Dundee United supporters have grown accustomed to seeing players from around the globe represent the club, with the 2020-21 squad featuring the likes of Cameroon international Jeando Fuchs, Adrián Spörle from Argentina and Swiss goalkeeper Benjamin Siegrist. In the club’s early days as Dundee Hibernian, the focus was closer to home, with most of the players recruited from local teams. Amongst the various Scottish and Irish surnames in the 1913-14 team, one more unusual name stands out, and that belonged to another player whose family origins lay close to the Alps: Fred Stoessel.

Fred pictured in the Dundee Courier, 8th December 1913

Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk). 

Frederick Charles Stoessel was born in the Battersea area of London towards the end of 1890, and by the time of the 1891 census his family were living in Rosenau Road, close to Battersea Park: parents Alexander and Ellen, and their six children – oldest son Alexander junior, four daughters and then baby Fred. Alexander senior, who worked as a “chef de cuisine” (i.e. a head chef), had been born in Basel, Switzerland, in 1854 before coming to London – presumably for restaurant work – where he married Ellen, who was originally from Sussex. They first lived in Brixton, where the four oldest children were born, before moving to Battersea. Within the next few years, however, they were on the move again , to Scotland – another son was born in Edinburgh in 1894, and by the time of the 1901 census the Stoessels had settled in Dundee, living at 1 Forebank Terrace near the foot of the Hilltown.

As far as the Dundonian public were concerned in the early years of the twentieth century, the most notable bearer of the Stoessel name was not the chef but the Russian imperial general, Anatoly Stoessel, who frequently featured in news coverage of the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War as he sought to defend the besieged Russian garrison at Port Arthur in Manchuria from the Japanese. The Dundee Football Post was no doubt delighted to introduce a local angle to their coverage in September 1904, with the revelation that one of Alexander’s daughters had written to their famous namesake and received a signed visiting card in return (this snippet appeared next to a cartoon of questionable taste titled “Two Attacks”, that likened the task facing the “little Jap” at Port Arthur to that of the Dundee forwards in that day’s match against Rangers at Dens Park. As it turned out Dundee’s attack was blunted in a 3-0 defeat; the Japanese forces would ultimately achieve a more impressive result, leading to the formerly celebrated General Stoessel being court-martialed for surrendering).

Back in Dundee, it was to be young Fred’s sporting prowess that would keep the Stoessel name in the local press in the coming years. During the 1906-07 season, he was playing for the 3rd XI of Dundee Rangers in the Dundee City Boys League. His name first appears in print in October 1906, around the time of his 16th birthday, when he is listed to appear at outside left against the Glenmore 3rd XI in a Dundee Juvenile Cup tie. He must have impressed that season, as by February he was picked to appear for Dundee against Perth in an inter-city representative match. Stoessel and Rangers went on to clinch that season’s Boys League title, beating Anchorage in a play-off after the two teams finished level on points. He began the following season with the Rangers before switching to another local leam, Waverley, in the Dundee and District League. By the end of that season, Stoessel is to be found lining up for one of the city’s top junior teams, Dundee Violet, as they took on Harp in the final of the Kiddie Charity Cup. This match was played on Clepington Park, so it might just have been Fred’s first appearance at the ground that would be renamed Tannadice when taken over by the newly-formed Dundee Hibs the following year.

Gradually, Fred was building a reputation, winning the Dundee and District League with Violet in 1909-10. The Courier reported in December 1909 that he impressed the junior international selectors attending the Consolation Cup tie with Brechin Hearts, despite Violet’s 3-2 defeat. International recognition wasn’t forthcoming, although later that season Stoessel was chosen as a reserve for the team representing the Dundee and District League against the Inter-County League. It was a similar story in January 1911 when he again only made the reserve list for the Forfarshire Junior Association team to play their Perthshire counterparts. He was, however, selected for the Dundee and District League team to take on the Forfar and District League at Tannadice in April. The 1911 census tells us that, away from football, 20-year-old Fred was employed as a municipal clerk with the Dundee Gas Commissioners. The family were still at Forebank Terrace, but Fred’s father had died in 1908 and the five oldest children had by now left home, leaving only Ellen, Fred and younger brother Bert.

Fred parted company with Violet that summer, but there was as yet no route for him into senior football, and he joined league rivals Dundee North End for the 1911-12 season. He soon came back to haunt his old teammates, as North End hammered Violet 5-1 in September; “Stoessel was in great form … and had a good say in the big win”, reported the Evening Telegraph. This time round, Fred’s form was enough to secure him a place in the Forfarshire team when Perthshire again visited Tannadice in February. In the opinion of the Tele, he was one of only two Forfarshire forwards to reach “the necessary standard” in the resulting 1-1 draw. Odd, then, that he was only a reserve when the Dundee and Forfar leagues clashed again in March.

With neither club having enjoyed a particularly successful season, Stoessel left North End in the summer of 1912 to re-sign for Violet – but it proved to be a short-lived return, as he was finally about to graduate to the senior ranks. Signing for Dundee F.C. on amateur forms, he took part in a pre-season public practice match, lining up in his usual outside left position for the “Reds” as they ran out 4-1 winners over the “Blues”. Fred certainly made an impact in front of the 10,000 crowd at Dens Park, his performance being described as “a clever exhibition” by the Courier and “sprightly” by the Tele, but he had been recruited with the reserve team in mind. Dundee ‘A’ were newly elected to the Central League, and an “eager and active” Fred was instrumental in them opening the campaign with a 4-1 win against Alloa Athletic at Dens. The winger, however, suffered a foot injury that would rule him out for much of the season.

Leaving Dundee at the end of the campaign, Fred moved across the road to join Dundee Hibernian, where he would line up alongside his former Violet teammate, inside left Willie Linn. He made his Scottish League debut in Hibs’ opening Division Two match of the season, a goalless draw with St Johnstone at the Recreation Grounds in Perth. He scored his first league goal two weeks later, an equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Leith at Old Logie Green. Hibs, under manager Pat Reilly, went on to have a fairly successful league season, finishing third – their highest position since entering the league in 1910. However it was the Scottish Qualifying Cup that provided some of the highlights of the season.

After beating Brechin City in the first round, they faced Dunfermline Athletic at Tannadice and won 3-0, with Stoessel opening the scoring; he “played cleverly, and his goal was brilliantly taken”, according to the Courier. Thanks to a gift scheme run by Hibs supporters, there was a bonus for Fred, who won a cruet set! This win gave Hibs entry to the Scottish Cup itself, but the “Q.C.” run was by no means over. Subsequent wins over East Stirlingshire and Forfar Athletic put them through to a semi-final with Caledonian, of the Highland League. Hibs were hot favourites to make the final, but a 1-1 draw at Tannadice – a poor performance, with Stoessel one of the few on form – meant a difficult trip to Inverness for the replay. But against physical opponents at a snowy Telford Street, Hibs ran out 2-0 winners, with Fred scoring both goals and being proclaimed the hero of the game in the Dundee press. The final pitted Hibs against Second Division rivals Albion Rovers, and took three matches in Edinburgh to settle, with the first game at Tynecastle and replay at Easter Road both finishing 1-1. Rovers had clearly identified Fred as a threat and gave him special attention that effectively subdued his perfomances. The teams returned to Tynecastle for the second replay and it was the Coatbridge club, coping much better with the dreaful conditions, that ran out comfortable 3-0 winners.

Although Fred subsequently missed a number of matches in January due to injury, his form had clearly attracted attention. During the cup run, he had been linked with a move to Bradford City in the English First Division (who were managed at the time by future Dundee Hibs manager Peter O’Rourke). After Hibs’ interest in the Scottish Cup had begun and ended in a 5-0 defeat at Airdrie, there were reports that he had been the subject of bids from Liverpool and Preston North End, but although a transfer seemed imminent, he remained at Tannadice. By the end of the season, Fred had had made seventeen league appearances and scored six goals. Despite offers from elsewhere, he was happy at Tannadice, and duly signed on again for another season.

Before the new football season got underway, Fred turned his attention to cricket. In those days, the summer sport still commanded a good deal of popularity in urban Scotland, and he was one of a number of professional footballers in Dundee who played. Fred was a member of the Dundee Victoria club, who played close to Tannadice on a field at Wester Clepington, and played primarily as a middle order batsman. His name first appears in 1911, initially playing for their second team, the Victoria XI, occasionally alongside his younger brother Bert, before gradually appearing more regularly for the first eleven. By the summer of 1914 Fred was a well-established club member, and in July took part in a novelty cricket match against a team of ladies during the club’s fancy dress carnival, showing his affinity with his adopted homeland by playing in a kilt. But the participants little realised their summer fun was about to be curtailed. The same edition of the Courier that reported on the carnival also covered the ongoing intrigue around the assassination of an Austrian Archduke in Sarajevo three days earlier…

To be continued…