But few appreciate that Partick blazed a trail as a ‘shop window’ for Scottish players and how their unlikely relationship with Darwen prompted a cross-border revolution which saw a number of others follow in Love and Suter’s footsteps.
Modern sport in Partick has its origins in the West of Scotland Cricket Club, founded 1862, whose home at Hamilton Crescent was the only major enclosed sports ground close to Glasgow. It hosted the first football international in 1872 as well as numerous other major sporting events including top level cricket, athletics and rugby. West of Scotland started playing football in 1865, but they chose rugby rules and it was not until 1875 that members of Partick Cricket Club expanded their horizons to become Partick Cricket and Football Club, playing to association rules.
Partick (not to be confused with Partick Thistle) made little impact on the Scottish Cup in their ten year existence and never provided an internationalist, yet they were doughty football pioneers: within months of their foundation, they were the first Scottish club apart from Queen’s Park to play a match south of the border.
Meanwhile in Lancashire, Darwen also grew out of a cricket club, dabbled with rugby rules, then switched to association football. The romance of their brief flirt with fame was cleverly told in Keith Dewhurst’s book ‘Underdogs’, but as so often with early football history his dividing line between established truth and educated guesswork is hazy.
The story began on New Year’s Day 1876 when Partick travelled to the mill town of Darwen, 20 miles north of Manchester. Although the game was not mentioned in local papers there was a brief report in Bell’s Life: ‘The Partick Club seem to have had it all their own way at Manchester … in presence of upward of 5,000 people. Most of the English team were Rugby players, and two of them are amongst the finest exponents of those rules in England. The Partick Club sent a very strong team to Manchester, including four of the Eastern, and the result was painfully one-sided, Partick carrying off the game by seven goals to nothing.’
Teams were not listed but the mention of ‘four of the Eastern’ is interesting as that club’s members included Peter Andrews who moved to Sheffield that year, for work reasons. After the match the teams had dinner together at the Greenway Hotel (later the Greenway Arms, now demolished) which was close to Darwen’s Barley Bank ground.
So, why would a team from a Glasgow suburb (in fact, a separate burgh) travel 200 miles to play an inexperienced eleven in an obscure Lancashire town?
The genesis of this link between can confidently be traced to William Kirkham of Darwen, who went to work in Partick and played football there before returning home around 1877, featuring in the Darwen team until 1880. Kirkham must have instigated the frequent contacts between the two football clubs over the next few years:
1 January 1876: Darwen 0 Partick 7
10 November 1877: Partick 5 Darwen 0
1 January 1878: Darwen 3 Partick 2
1 January 1879: Darwen 0 Partick 7
2 October 1880: Darwen 4 Partick 1
31 December 1881: Darwen 3 Partick 3
Partick also faced Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers on their travels, and the series of games had far reaching implications, effectively acting as a ‘shop window’ for talented Scots players who would be among the earliest paid players in England.
Darwen was first to take full advantage, with the club perhaps open minded about the morality of paying footballers (which was not in fact outlawed by the FA until 1882). Their teams around this period included Tom Marshall, well known as a professional runner, and Ralph Crookes, who was their cricket professional in the summer months.
The first to move south was James Love, who can be found in the Darwen eleven for the opening game of the 1878/79 season, against Church on 26 October 1878. A few weeks later, Fergus Suter made the same journey, having started the season with Partick.
Love left after a year while Suter went on to a glittering career with Blackburn Rovers, and there is little doubt they were enticed by the promise of payment. In 1902, Suter recalled: ‘We had no settled wage, but it was understood that we interviewed the treasurer as occasion arose. Possibly we should go three weeks without anything, and then ask for £10. We never had any difficulty.’
They were the first footballers to be paid, and soon others would use the ‘Partick connection’ to embark on a professional football career. To demonstrate this, take a look at the teams for the game on New Year’s Day 1879, which Partick won 7-0 despite Darwen already having Love and Suter in their team.
Darwen: J Booth, A McWetherill, F Suter, WH Moorhouse, J Knowles, T Marshall, J Love, J Hayes, JG Gledhill, T Bury, Kirkham (reports do not specify if this is William).
Partick: E Suter, H McIntyre (Rangers), W Bell, JS Campbell, R Rolland, JN Boag, J Smith, R Hutchinson, R Love, WG Struthers (Rangers), W McLachlan.
Several of the players are worthy of closer inspection.
In goal for Partick was Fergus’s elder brother Edward, born in Bangor, Co Down, just before the Suter family moved to Scotland. Edward joined Darwen in November 1879, initially as a forward before reverting to goalkeeper and for a year the Suter brothers featured in the Darwen team together. Although Edward did not initially settle he married a local lass in 1883 and spent the rest of his life in Darwen. (NB a third brother, Jerry (christened Jarvis), was later a key figure with Partick Thistle and also moved south to work at Fergus’s pub in Blackburn.)
There were two guest players from Rangers in the Partick team, Hugh McIntyre and William Struthers, who both turned professional.
McIntyre gravitated between Scotland and Lancashire before being induced to make the move permanent. His first match for Blackburn Rovers was in March 1879 v Sheffield yet he also played for Rangers in that season’s Scottish Cup final. In October 1879 he captained Rangers against Blackburn Rovers, in December he played for Blackburn in the FA Cup, then won his Scotland cap in March 1880 as a Rangers player.
That summer he set up in business in Blackburn, and the inducement for moving south was money, as revealed in his bankruptcy case in 1892: ‘The debtor, who was formerly captain of the Blackburn Rovers football team, was a journeyman upholsterer until 1880, when he commenced business as a licensed victualler at the Castle Inn, Blackburn; paying with borrowed money £500 for the goodwill, stock, plant, and license.’ The clear inference is that the football club lent him the £500 to set him up in business in return for his footballing services.
William Struthers took slightly longer to move to Lancashire, joining Bolton Wanderers from Rangers in September 1881. He later became Bolton club secretary, moved on to coach Gorton Villa, and eventually emigrated to South Africa.
These players had such an impact that in October 1881 the Lancashire team included Fergus Suter, Hugh McIntyre and William Struthers (as well as another Scot, Jimmy Douglas who came from Renfrew).
But the Partick connection with Lancashire did not end there.
When Darwen played Old Etonians in the epic FA Cup quarter finals of 1879, which went to three matches, William Kirkham was injured in the second. His place in the third game was taken by W McLachlan, but this name does not appear in any other Darwen line-up, nor is there a McLachlan in local records. Yet there was a William McLachlan in the Partick team – was he invited to play for Darwen in an emergency?
In 1880, John Inglis played for Partick in their Lancashire friendlies. He also moved to Rangers, was capped by Scotland, and ended up at Blackburn Rovers where he won the FA Cup in 1884 alongside Suter and McIntyre.
Then there was Partick player and club secretary John Boag. Although he remained in Glasgow, and eventually ‘transferred’ to Partick Thistle in 1885 when the original club folded, he also had something of a love affair with Lancashire as in April 1882 he married local girl Eliza Almond in a Bolton church.
And the final direct link is also one of the most intriguing: James Gledhill, a key player in Darwen’s FA Cup run, moved in the opposite direction to play for Partick.
Born in 1854 to an English father and Scottish mother, Gledhill was brought up near Preston and trained as a doctor in London, playing football for Pilgrims until he passed his medical diploma exams at Apothecaries Hall in 1878.
Returning north, he joined Darwen, one of the few clubs then playing to association rules, and was a key forward at this period. Then Gledhill left to complete his medical studies at Glasgow University, graduating in 1883, and - according to his nephew, writing to a newspaper many years later - while in the city he played for Partick under an assumed name. Dr Gledhill was a surgeon and lawyer in Lancashire but his health declined and he died in 1906 in an asylum, with sufficient reputation to earn an obituary in the British Medical Journal.
While there is insufficient space here to provide full details of all the players, the sum of these connections between Partick and Lancashire add up to a substantial contribution by one small club to the birth of the professional game.
If you would like to find out more, contribute further information or discuss these findings, please use the contact form on the home page or leave a comment below. Andy Mitchell