HISTORY OF THE WESTERN HOCKEY CLUB 1898 – 1973
Written by Martin J. Kemp for the 75th Jubilee in 1973
Organised club hockey in Scotland may be dated with some justification from the formation of the first regular independent hockey club, Clackmannan County, in 1896. Five years later, a group of ten clubs formed the Scottish Hockey Association. Of the clubs who met at the inaugural session in Glasgow on 18th November 1901, only Western and Edinburgh University now survive under their original names; the other survivor, Cochrane Park, was then called Milliken Park.
The precise date for the inception of Western Hockey Club is a matter of some debate. The first club constitution was approved at the earliest Annual General Meeting on 25th March, 1899, but it is reasonable to assume that this meeting (held at the end of the season) must have followed some kind of more or less organised activity on the hockey field. This, at least, provides the historical basis for the celebration of the season 1973-74 as our Seventy-Fifth Jubilee. The Honorary President, elected at that first meeting, was Professor (later Sir) Henry Jones, and internationally distinguished scholar who had held the Chair of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow University since 1894; while his Vice-President was the Rev. Robert Primrose. It is difficult to claim that his degree of academic or spiritual excellence has quite been maintained throughout the succeeding years.
The club’s home ground during the early years was at Yoker. Players were expected to pay an entrance fee of 7/6d and an annual subscription of 5/- (1). The earliest list of members from 1898 contains the names of 49 ladies and 32 gentlemen; while the earliest printed fixture list (1903-04) shows some 17 first team and 16 second team fixtures against 11 different clubs. The first report of a match involving Western seems to be that against the Hon. J.C. Burns’ XI in 1900 at Wemyss Bay, a contest which Western won 3-1. Later in the same year, Western are recorded as defeating Dumbarton by the handsome score of 8-4. The side which belaboured Dumbarton was what the Glasgow Herald termed a ‘Gentlemen’s Team’ – a description intended to distinguish it from the ‘Mixed Team’ rather than as an indication of its approach to the opposition.
Given the sporadic nature of the reporting of hockey during these early years, it is difficult to build up an accurate picture of Western’s playing record. On the whole, the results seem to have been in Western’s favour, though the club met with some considerable defeats at the hands of Glasgow Wanderers, on one occasion in 1904 to the tune of 7-1. One Western player, W.E. Wickham, was selected in 1902 for Scotland’s first ever international team, which lost 3-0 to Ireland in Belfast. Further international honours were gained during the pre-war years by W. Renison, G.T. Harvey, H.E.B. Neilson and H.E.C. Bacon.
Even during the first years of its existence, the Club was beginning to experience the difficulties in obtaining a settled location which have so plagued it throughout its history. By the season1904-05 the Club had moved to Anniesland, where they remained for only four years. The position was stabilised somewhat in 1909 when Western was successful in reaching an agreement with Kelvinside Estates to rent an area at Crossloan for the formation of new pitches, on which the Club was play until 1926. In 1914 the grass pitch was drained at the cost of £25, and together with an ash pitch provided good playing surfaces for the ladies’, men’s and mixed teams, while a wooden hut provided just adequate changing facilities.
Under the guiding hands of A.M. Lindsay and George Rutherford, subsequent Presidents of the Club, Western prospered until 1914, when the calls made by the armed services inevitably brought club hockey to a halt. A number of prominent Scottish clubs passed out of existence during the next four years, never to re-appear, but Western were fortunate as a mixed club to retain the services of some dedicated lady members, of whom Anne Imrie and Mary Yellowlees were especially prominent. The ladies ensured that the pitches were maintained and achieved a steady from the sub-letting of the ground to various schools, including Laurel Bank, our later ‘landlady’ at Scotstounhill. Some male continuity was maintained by Capt. A.L. Hannah who, as President managed to attend at least one wartime meeting of the Club and by Max Roemmele who was the first gentleman to attend a post-war meeting.
No organised club hockey was played during 1918-19, but in the autumn of 1919 the small group of remaining members embarked upon a determined membership drive, most notably with the following advertisement which appeared prominently on the front page of the Glasgow Herald on 27th September: ‘The Western Hockey Club. Grass and Ash Pitches. The best grass pitch in the West of Scotland, now in excellent order. 10 minutes walk from Kelvinside car stopping place. Season commences 11 October: full fixture lists’. Prospective male players were advised to contact G.T. Harvey and the ladies Miss A. Imrie.
Four clubs were scheduled to play matches in the Glasgow area on 11th October, but Western were unfortunately unable to raise a side in time to play Cartha. By the following Saturday, however, the recruiting drive was having its desired effect and a Western XI which included Farquhar Macrae and Harry Bacon ‘sprang a surprise by returning a 6-1 victory over Glasgow University’. By the end of the season the playing strength was 20 ladies and 27 men, and the Club could boast five internationalists, Mrs Macrae, Miss Third, Mr (later Sir) A. Murray Stephen, J.M. Wilson and the inevitable Harry Bacon, who had already gained 3 pre-war caps and who was eventually to bring his grand total as a thrustful inside forward to 25.
Under successive Presidents, D.S. McNair, T.A. Wright, G.T. Harvey, A.M. Stephen and W.F. Macrae, Western developed from strength to strength during the 1920’s. By 1922 D.T. Richardson, Hugh Cowan Douglas and Alastair Anderson (gaining the first of his 21 caps at half back) were added to our growing list of internationalists, and the minutes of the A.G.M. for that year not unfairly record that the men’s first XI ‘appeared to be one of the strongest, if not the strongest side in Scotland’. This remark gained even greater validity during the following season with the capping of C.P. Ker, J.G. Stephen and F.R. Walls. On one famous occasion, as recalled by H.T. Hogg and David Wyllie, no less than seventeen internationalists took the field for a match between Western and their keenest rivals, Edinburgh Northern (now Grange).
However, for all this undoubted success, troubles were close at hand. The lease of Crossloan had been renewed for a further ten years on its first expiry in 1919, but either party was free to review the arrangement after five years. In 1924 the solicitors for Kelvinside Estates informed the Club that Crossloan had been sold to a property developer. By a coincidence, H.T. Hogg, then the Club Secretary, purchased one of the houses subsequently built by Mactaggart and Mickel at Crossloan, but recollects with some pain that the goal area of the blaes pitch provided a far from ideal soil for a garden. Although the Club was permitted to remain at Crossloan until 1926, the committee immediately set in motion a search for new accommodation; pitches at Scotstoun and ‘a field in Bearsden’ were considered, and various schools were approached for the loan of a ground. The Club lacked the capital to purchase its own ground, and a crisis E.G.M. on 4th June 1926 was informed that no accommodation had been obtained for the coming season. This state of affairs led to the ladies’ and men’s sections seeking separate accommodation, with the inevitable result that two separate clubs were eventually formed.
The season 1926-27 was one of the most unhappy in Western’s history. On 26 November 1926, the Herald reported: ‘One of the greatest disappointments in the West of Scotland has been the inability of the Western players to fulfil many of their fixtures owing to having lost their ground. The Western Club has a long and splendid record and during recent years has probably played the best hockey in the district. It is gratifying to learn that there is the prospect of the club securing a ground next year’. The insecurity resulted in a decline in membership and the Club was in very real danger of permanent closure. That this did not occur is entirely due to the efforts of Alastair Anderson and a group of loyal members including H.T. Hogg, David Wyllie, Iain Haldane, Bill and Bob Kerr and A.D. Mackintosh.
For 1927 and for at least five seasons Western obtained the use of Scotstoun Showground, and later continued to play at Scotstoun on the pitch of the Domestic Science College. The Club strength during the first half of the 1930’s in no way rivalled the golden age of the early 20’s – of the 1923 team only Alastair Anderson, now playing as centre forward, remained as a first XI player – but the results maintained a respectable level. The only international honour at this time was gained by L.N. Cogie, though in a most unusual manner. L.N. Cogie, a talented forward, arrived as a mere spectator at the Scotland-Wales match in 1931 only to be pressed into service as a player because of the non- appearance of a member of the selected XI (2). The Club had to wait until 1937 for further representation in the Scottish team, when H.W. Vaughan Thomas was awarded his first cap.
1933-34 was the last season at Scotstoun, and the following year once again saw Western homeless. Between October and December 1934 ‘home’ matches were played at various locations, depending upon who was prepared to lend a pitch for the particular week in question. For 1935-36 the Club temporarily secured the use of Titwood (the present Clydesdale ground) for home games. The second major crisis of accommodation was no less serious in its implications than had been the first, ten years previously. The survival of the Club was again in the balance. Once more, Alastair Anderson was in the vanguard of the successful rescue, assisted by such stalwarts as L.N. Cogie and Iain Haldane. When the Club was eventually successful in negotiating the loan of the Laurel Bank pitches at Scotstounhill for 1936-37 and succeeding seasons, Alastair Anderson personally provided much of the £271 required for the construction of a wooden pavilion(3). In every sense, all the subsequent, present and future members of Western are in his debt for the continued existence of the Club.
Once the problem of location had been settled, the Club steadily regained its strength. Vaughan Thomas was joined in defence by Iain Macewan, capped in goal on 12 occasions and who later became Scottish captain, and by a promising youngster Leslie Ross. The Club was also fortunate to gain the services of Garewal, and Indian Olympic player, though his style offered a problematical contrast with the less exotic methods of the other members of the team. The first XI at this time also included R.G. Service and A.M. Drysdale, both of whom were to play significant roles in reviving Western after the war. The increased playing strength was reflected in the results, which regained some of their former consistency, apart from some convincing defeats from our old rivals Edinburgh Northern who were then probably the strongest side in Scotland.
During the Second World War, as in the First, hockey activities all but ceased and a number of clubs disappeared permanently from the scene. A case in point was the Nomads Club, from which Western gained the gifts of R.R.D. Stewart, a most able administrator who was for many years prominent in West District and S.H.A. affairs. Eight members, inevitably led by Alastair Anderson, met at the beginning of the 1946-47 season to revive the dormant Club and by the time of the 1947 A.G.M. the Secretary, Leslie Ross, was able to report that the playing strength had been built up to 33. Ewan MacDonald assumed responsibility for the first XI and Basil Emslie performed the equivalent duties for the second XI. The tenancy of the Laurel Bank pitches had been renewed, and although the arrangement did not always prove altogether satisfactory, the Club in 1950 renegotiated the tenancy for a further 10 years.
Western celebrated its Fiftieth Jubilee during 1948-49, with characteristic enthusiasm, and appropriately, renewed its international tradition when Leslie Ross represented Scotland against Wales in 1949. He was followed in this by Maurice Gregory, who became a Scottish regular during 1951-56. The greatest moment of sadness during this period of increasing success came with the death of Alastair Anderson on 18th April 1950 – a loss felt deeply throughout Scottish hockey. To perpetuate his memory, the cup for Western’s perennially popular six-a-side competition (now in abeyance) was named after him, and his wife was unanimously elected to the specially-created post of Honorary President. Happily Mrs Nora Anderson still holds the position of an Honorary Vice-President in the revised constitution of the present Sports Club.
During the early 1950’s, the playing standard built up to a level probably unrivalled since the golden 20’s. Further caps were gained by N.M. Boyd (in goal), P.C. Armstrong and Gordon Hopkins (who with Ron Johnson was a moving spirit behind the installation of showers at Scotstounhill), while Hamish MacDonald was awarded his first cap shortly after his departure from Western. In 1954, the moves to introduce league hockey in the West District came to a head. At a specially convened General Meeting the Club rejected the idea of competitive hockey, but the District clubs as a whole voted for its introduction by the narrow majority of 7 to 6. The irony of the Club’s reluctance became apparent when they triumphed in the resulting league during the first four years (when it was decided on a percentage basis) and subsequently won the A Section for the first three occasions after its reorganisation in 1959.
The parallels between the 1920’s and the 1950’s became even closer when Western was again threatened with eviction; in 1955 Laurel Bank announced that they would be unable to extend the lease beyond 1960. A new search for pitches was instituted and various possibilities were investigated, including West of Scotland’s ‘new ground’ at Burnbrae, the Hillhead High School ground at Garscadden and Milngavie and Bearsden Cricket Club, the last of which was adjudged to be ‘rather too small and badly drained’. The Hillhead alternative was favoured, but negotiations collapsed, and the problem was only resolved when by the stout efforts of Stephen Easton and Jock Lyle a new under- standing was reached with Laurel Bank in 1958 to lease the pitches for a further 20 years. The three years of uncertainty do not appear to have adversely affected membership on this occasion; in 1957 a fourth XI, generalled by Basil Emslie and called the Wanderers was instituted. This XI boasted very considerable experience. Experiences of various kinds were also gained during the first of the annual encounters with Huddersfield in 1955, which established a precedent which has been rigorously followed during subsequent visits by each club to each other’s home territory.
During the later 1950’s and early 1960’s, while Western continued to win the league and while veteran Ewan MacDonald proceeded to set what must have been a long-service record with the first XI, a number of members continued the Club’s international representation: Jim Griffiths, Joe Hair and Gavin Walker all played for the Home Scots during 1958-59 and Gavin Walker went on to earn the first of his selections for the full Scottish side (4). In the same year Leslie Ross achieved the unusual distinction, shared with only two others, of adding an umpire’s cap to his status as a Scottish international player. Two years later Gavin Walker was joined in the Home Scots XI by Ian MacDonald, an extremely promising and well-liked young player from the Abbey School who was tragically killed in a road accident shortly afterwards. During the succeeding seasons of 1961-66, further caps were won by Dennis Hay (the first of many with Western and with his present club, Inverleith), by Tony Duncan, who is still efficiently active in the first XI, and by Norman Macleod; while at the same time David Hopkins, the goal scoring ace, received the equivalent honour with Ireland. Probably the most remarkable honours were those won by Morton Ramsay in 1965 and 1966, who first played in goal for Scotland after only one full season in competitive hockey! His kicking abilities reflected his previous activities as an amateur soccer internationalist, and his double representation of Scotland in these particular sports probably remains unique.
In spite of the apparently stabilised situation at Laurel Bank, the Club was still experiencing problems with the quality of the playing surface, and yet another investigation for alternative accommodation was commenced in 1962. One unfortunate casualty of these difficulties was the Western ‘Sixes’, the first and most popular tournament of its kind in the district. West of Scotland Cricket Club initially proved sympathetic to our predicament and during the season 1962-63 four games were played on the excellent turf at Hamilton Crescent. The possibility of complete integration with West of Scotland was widely discussed and approaches were also made to Milngavie and Bearsden Cricket and Tennis Club. The former scheme collapsed when a motion at the West of Scotland Cricket Club General Meeting failed to achieve the necessary 75% majority, thought Western continued to have the occasional use of the West of Scotland ground. The pitch problem was greatly eased with the renting for the first time of the fine Corporation blaes pitches at Blairdardie, a facility which is still fortunately available to the Club, together with subsequently constructed games hall for indoor training.
Meanwhile, contacts continued with Milngavie and Bearsden Cricket and Tennis Club. These reached a climax in 1968 when a meeting of the Hockey Club agreed overwhelmingly to apply for amalgamation with the Auchenhowie club. As recorded in the minutes of the A.G.M. for 1968, the negotiations which had been conducted under the guiding hands of Leslie Ross and Stephen Easton had revealed conclusively that ‘Auchenhowie is a sports club in the true sense’. It was with much relief and gratitude that Western heard that a meeting of the Sports club had agreed to the integration, which was ultimately completed in 1969. Thus, after some 70 years of efforts, the Club had finally gained a home. The Club was no longer an uneasy tenant; each member had an equal stake in the new Club and equal rights under its new constitution. At least any bumps in the pitches were our own bumps and the remedies lay within our own hands! From the Western point of view, the merger has been entirely successful and hockey members have met with consistent friendship and hospitality from the existing members of the Sports Club. It is hoped (and believed) that the former Milngavie and Bearsden Cricket and Tennis Club have found the arrangement equally agreeable.
Western lost their dominance of the league in 1963-64 and were not again to triumph in the competition until 1971-72, when led by John Young, they first acquired the John Dick Trophy which had been awarded to the league champions since 1967. During the intervening period, Western appeared in the guise of almost perpetual runners-up. During the remarkable season of 1968-69, the first XI sustained only two defeats, both of which were at the hands of Stepps and resulted in our exit from the Scottish Cup and our failure to win the league by one point. Previously the Club had reached the semi-final of the Scottish Cup in 1962-62 and 1964-65. By 1964 the depth of playing strength was such that the Kelvin XI was formed to obtain better ‘second team’ fixtures and the possibility of splitting the Club into two separate first XI’s was seriously considered but subsequently rejected. At international level, however, only Tony Duncan maintained Western’s challenge during the later 1960’s, but the Club continued to supply the District with numerous players; no less than nine of the 1972 league-winning team had represented the District in the Baxter Trophy on at least one occasion. Considerable successes have also been obtained in the relatively new indoor tour-naments; at the end of the 1972-73 season, Western held all three trophies for the indoor championships in the area.
The Club has been fortunate throughout its history in the willingness of many of its members to fill in the various administrative offices without the running of which the Club could not function smoothly. Many of those who have been involved have already been mentioned in one way or another in this history but in addition during the past twenty years the Club owes a debt of gratitude to R.D.D. Pursey, Noel Hopkins, Jim Michael, Graeme Carson, Geoffrey Laird-Portch, Duggie McLeod, Ron Barrett, Robert Cunninghame-Graham (our longest serving playing member), Jimmy Cuthbertson, John Davies, Bill Matheson, who as well as being a former Honorary Secretary of the Club is also the present Grounds Convener of the Sports Club and has been largely responsible for the preparation and present state of the hockey pitches at Auchenhowie, Alan Walker, the present indefatigable Honorary Secretary, and Alastair Carnegie, the current President of the Club, as well as many others.
Given the Club’s present position, fully established in a permanent home for which expansion plans are under consideration, running five teams with the prospect of participation in a National League and with a group of promising younger players, coupled with older and established members with a wealth of playing and administrative experience, there is every reason to hope that the worthy traditions of Western can be upheld and that the Centenary of the Club in 1998-99 will provide equal cause for satisfaction.
Notes on text:
(1) A combined entry fee and annual subscription of 12/6 (twelve shillings and sixpence) would equate to 63 pence. Related to average earnings, this would be equivalent to about £275 today.
(2) This report on L.N. Cogie’s first (and only) cap in 1931 coming unexpectedly on the day of the match appears to have no basis. Newspaper reports of the time clearly show that he played in the Final Trial, following which he was selected as left wing for the match against Wales on 28th February in Inverness, in which he duly appeared.
(3) Alastair Anderson’s generosity could be easily underestimated. £271 in 1936 would be worth in the order of £36,000 in 2009.
(4) Gavin Walker was in fact first capped whilst playing for Glasgow University in 1957.