The Absolute Game Revisited – Part 51

October 27, 2010


The Official History of the Dumbarton Football Club

(by Jim McAllister and Arthur Jones, Holmes McDougall Publishing & Print Ltd)

In the foreword to this book the Club Secretary astutely points out that it will never be an international best seller. Naturally, the history of any football club will primarily be of interest only to devotees of that club, and on that basis this book should only sell about 400 copies. If there was any justice however, it would outstrip all those “Playing for Rangers/Celtic/Man Utd” pot-boilers with which the book-shops are permanently stuffed.

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Dumbarton FC was founded in 1872 making it one of the oldest surviving clubs in world football. Its history, particularly of the early years, is practically the history of Scottish football itself. (Steady on – Ed).

The Sons were the first ever outright champions of Scotland. Of course they’ve never repeated that triumph, and after a hundred years it now seems unlikely that they ever will. Indeed, this book is hardly a celebration of non-stop success, as Dumbarton’s last major trophy was the aforementioned championship in 1892.

That the “official history” coincides with the centenary of that success, while simultaneously marking a century of failure is strangely poignant.

At a time when many onionheads are calling for “wee” clubs to be abolished/amalgamated/disenfranchised, Dumbarton’s achievement is simply to exist.

All those of you who are “big club” supremacists and who believe that the present order is set in concrete should take heed of the cautionary tale told in the book of the charity match played between Dumbarton and Rangers in 1883. Despite the game being in aid of the relatives of a shipping disaster on the Clyde, Rangers insisted on being paid their expenses for taking part. Their secretary whined that it was all very well for big clubs like Dumbarton to play for nothing!

Although it is a characteristic of history books that they contain screeds of dry, dull, facts and statistics, the authors of this book have been able to combine the mundane historical details with an understated wit which makes the trials and tribulations of the club genuinely interesting and amusing.

In the early days, for example, there seemed to be a truly amazing number of games which had to be replayed following protests from the losers. The most common cause for complaint seems to have been “crowd-encroachment”. It appears that the ball would frequently emerge from a stramash out on the left wing featuring an assortment of players and spectators, and be crossed into the centre, where, amidst a melee of flailing legs, it would be fired into the net by one of the crowd. The losers would then troop up to the 19th century equivalent of Park Gardens and protest, and the game would have to be replayed.

More unusually, a Sons victory over Rangers was overruled on the, frankly pathetic, grounds that the referee failed to turn up and a member of the Dumbarton committee took over the role of whistler.

The authors report with a straight face that

“Celtic appeared on the scene in 1888 and Dumbarton were to find the Celts a very difficult side to come to terms with “.

Just how difficult can be gauged from the complete and definitive list of Dumbarton’s results since 1890, which is contained in the rear section of the book. By my reckoning the Sons have not defeated Celtic in a league or cup game since 1943 when their 4-1 away victory was their third and last triumph over the Parkhead men. Three wins in 100 years! Roll on the next three.

You know the old joke about some English people thinking that there was a team in Scotland called “Forfar Nil”. The authors reveal that this was anticipated by a Dumbarton shopkeeper in the 1890s when the Sons were experiencing hard times. He had a standard form to be displayed in the shop window on a Saturday afternoon recording the result of that afternoon’s match as

“(insert name of opposition and number of goals)- ­Dumbarton 0 – Hard Lines”.

Just to further confirm that there’s nothing new under the sun, the book recounts the activities of some Dumbarton players in the aftermath of their one and only Scottish cup win in 1883. In true Fergie, Fergie and Durranty style the players became involved with opposition supporters while “emboldened by excessive refreshments “.

I quote “Some rough and unseemly scenes followed, including the pouring of two pails of slaughterhouse blood over the occupants of the wagonette “. (A wagonette being the nineteenth century equivalent of a team bus).

This book should be required reading for everyone who has any interest in the history and development of Scottish football, whatever team they support. Any book which contains a sentence beginning

“A tragic Walter Smith own goal after only eight minutes…..“, is surely worth £7.50 of anyone’s money.

First published in TAG 27 – March 1992


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