The History of Montrose Football Club by Forbes Inglis
History of Montrose FC
The first game of Association Football in Montrose took place on the Eighth of November 1879, when a team from Montrose played Arbroath Wanderers. Football had been played on the Links for a long time but, with travel now easier due to the coming of the railways and the increased leisure time available to workers, teams had begun to play outside their own localities. As a result there was a need for an agreed set of rules.
A press report of the time suggested; 'Owing to the Montrose players not understanding the technicalities of the rules, it being the first time they had played under the above rules, during the second period of play was of a give and take nature, neither sides scoring, although Montrose by this time understanding the game better played a plucky game, carrying the ball several times rather close to the Arbroath posts. The game was witnessed by a large number of spectators.
Given their lack of knowledge of the 'new' rules it is hardly surprising that the home side lost by four goals to nil with all of the goals coming in the first half.
The team that day, in the two-two- six formation that appears to have been common at the time, was G Gauld; J Fotheringham & J Hunter; J Marr & T Johnston; R Johnston, E Lindsay (captain), D P Davidson, J Skene, J Smith & A Wadie.
In those early days of the game, when the visitors were 'the strangers', Montrose were sometimes called 'the stripes' because of their black and white strips, a goal was often referred to as 'a point', the goal itself as 'the citadel' and the goalkeeper was known as 'a custodian.'
Initially, Montrose played their home games on the Links before eventually moving to the first Links Park, which was situated in Dorward Road, to the east of Dorward House. The original Links Park was not considered to be suitable for football and the club moved to the present Links Park in 1887.
Although Aberdeen FC was not founded until 1903 the Gable Endies had also played several games during the 1880s against teams styling themselves as Aberdeen. The first was in December 1882, when an Aberdeen team travelled to Montrose to play the local side. The visitors won by 5 goals to 1 and 'after a pleasant match, the teams dined in the Queens Hotel, and spent an enjoyable evening.'
Over the next few years the two sides met on a regular basis, with Montrose generally coming out on top. In 1884, the Gable Endies 'won,' by 3 goals and a disputed goal to 3 goals. (In the early days, disputed goals appear to have been counted.)
Montrose won 6-1 later that year, when the teams met in Aberdeen. Apart from the score the match was a memorable one in that Alex (Sandy) Keillor made his debut for the Gable Endies and, according to the match report, they played in a 2-3-5 formation for the first time.
Two years later the sides met again at Montrose and this time the game finished one all. Perhaps what is remarkable about this match was that, depending on which match report you believe, it was played in 3 or 5 inches of snow!
By about 1890 Montrose had one of the stronger teams in the Scottish game. During the intervening years since the Club's formation, they had played several teams from the west of Scotland such as Dumbarton, Third Lanark Volunteers and Glasgow Thistle, usually during the New Year break, and had generally acquitted themselves well.
A measure of this improvement can be seen from the fact that, in March 1891 Keillor was selected in the Scottish team to play Wales at Wrexham Racecourse. Although he failed to get himself on the scoresheet, Scotland triumphed by four goals to three.
Keillor, who was born and bred in the town, also played cricket for Montrose and was a keen golfer. He had been a member of the Mechanics before later joining the Mercantile Golf Club. He won the Boothby-Campbell Challenge Shield for the Links Championship in 1890 and six times in all. It was even suggested that he might have been a 'famous golfer on the other side of the herring pond.'
Season 1891-92 was one of the finest in the Club's history. January 1892 saw them take on East End (Dundee) at West Craigie Park, the then home of Our Boys, another Dundee team which later became Dundee FC, in the final of the Forfarshire Cup.
The team that day was McKie, Bowman (Capt), McIntosh, Clark, Gordon, Hebson, Cairncross, Falconer, Murray, Thornton & Keillor.
In those days there were obviously no radios, televisions or mobile telephones. To keep the locals up to date with the team's progress telegrams were sent back to Montrose every fifteen minutes.
Montrose had arrived at the ground some fifteen minutes late and elected to play uphill. They appear to have been the stronger side on the day, scoring five goals to their opponents three to win the Cup.
Well, not exactly, or at least, not immediately. East End lodged a protest at the final whistle, complaining that they had been put off by; the Montrose team's late arrival, the lack of light towards the end of the match, (caused by the late arrival of the Montrose team), and the poor state of the pitch. As a result of the protest the Cup was not presented on the day of the final.
The lack of a Cup did not prevent the people of Montrose celebrating. A large crowd waited at the Caley Station for the team's return and both the Black Horse Inn and the Commercial Hotel had been granted special licences. In an age where people often had little cheer in their lives we can be sure that they would have made the most of such an excuse.
East End's protest was heard at the Forfarshire Association's meeting held on the Wednesday following the Final. Montrose protested that the delay in their arrival had been caused by their travel arrangements and was therefore not their fault.
The match referee, Mr Gamble, reported that the pitch had been perfectly playable and that the light had had no bearing on the final result. Unsurprisingly, the East End protest was refused and the Gable Endies got their first trophy, which was duly displayed in the Gutta Percha Boot & Shoe shop, at 82 High Street.
In March of the same season, Keillor was selected in the team to play Wales but appears to have played, instead, against Ireland. Four players from Renton F C withdrew from that fixture and Keillor, together with his Montrose teammate Bowman, were among the replacements. Keillor opened the scoring in a game that Scotland won by 3 goals to2.
Had the Gable Endies been able to keep the side together they might have gone on to greater things but professionalism, which had been in place in England for a number of years, was accepted in Scotland.
By the time of their Cup triumph they had already lost R W (Bob) Mackie to Newcastle and the following year Sandy Keillor signed for Dundee, while Bowman later joined Third Lanark.
In December 1921 Montrose won the Scottish Qualifying cup, a feat which, along with some of their other triumphs, is described elsewhere. They also won the Forfarshire Cup that season, beating Forfar Athletic by a late goal to nil at neutral Gayfield. The size of the crowd, which numbered 5,000, was described as 'disappointing.' Today, any of the Angus clubs would be 'over the moon' in football parlance if they had a gate of half that number, particularly for a Forfarshire tie.
The Gable Endies struggled on with finance a regular problem. During the intervening years they did have their moments of glory, such as their defeats of cup holders East Fife in 1939 and First Division Queen of the South in 1948. (QOS had defeated Celtic at Dumfries prior to the cup-tie and then beat Rangers at Ibrox in their next League match). Their other difficulty was having to play in various leagues and it was not until 1956 that they secured a permanent position in the Scottish League.
The same year that they were admitted to the League the Club appointed former Dundee winger George 'Pud' Hill as its first manager. One of the new manager's signing was Ronnie Cross, whose service to the Club would be considerable, not just as a whole hearted player, but eventually as a scout with a real 'eye' for talent.
The Gable Endies found life in 'B' Division a struggle and it was not until Norman Christie replaced Hill for season 1959-60 that matters began to improve.
Norman brought in players like Willie Nicoll and Jimmy Kilgannon and before long Montrose found themselves in the promotion race, along with Dundee United, St Johnstone, Hamilton and Stenhousemuir.
In March 1960 they played Dundee United at Links Park before a crowd of at least 6,000. Some United supporters unlocked one of the big gates and, although a number of supporters did go back to the turnstiles to pay, many hundreds more got into the ground without paying. If the Club lost some badly needed income that day they also lost the services of captain Jimmy Kilgannon for part of the game with a head injury. There were no substitutes in those days and, although Kilgannon eventually returned to the field, the Gable Endies lost 3-1.
Financially though the tide was turning and income from Pools Copyright fees and the Links Park Development Association meant that the immediate financial pressures were removed - meantime.
On the field, skilful players like Frank Sandeman, Jimmy and Bobby Kemp left Links Park and others such as Gordon Wallace, Joe Gilroy and Malcolm Slater arrived and, towards the end of his time at the Club, manager Christie signed a young player called Bobby Livingston.
After almost ten years at Links Park Norman elected to call it a day. He was replaced by Bill Ogilvie who was in turn succeeded by Alec Stuart.
If Norman Christie had been responsible for giving Montrose some credibility in the senior game Alec Stuart proceeded to shock the rest of Scottish football.
Bringing in players such as Jimmy McIntosh, Harry Johnston and a young centre half named Dennis D'Arcy he put together a squad which could compete at any level of the Scottish game.
In their first season under Alec, the Gable Endies drew Hearts at Links Park in the Scottish Cup. The home side lead by one goal for most of the second half before Hearts equalised in the last minute of the game. Although they lost the replay in Edinburgh by a single goal, Montrose had shown that they now feared no one.
Manager Stuart added more players to his squad, including Leslie Barr and Brian Third. In the 1973 Scottish Cup, Montrose managed to squeeze past Clyde, equalising in the last minute at Shawfield before almost surrendering a three nothing lead at Links Park. Clyde scored twice in the dying minutes to give the Dynamo an 'interesting' last couple of minutes.
They were then drawn against Hamilton, and after a two- two draw at Links park faced Accies at Douglas Park. The replay was watched by a crowd of 10,000, a record for an all-second division tie. Although Brian Third contrived to miss two penalties Harry Johnston scored the winner with just eight minutes left.
Montrose's reward was home tie against Dundee. A slightly smaller crowd, 8,983, the present Links Park ground record, watched the Gable Endies go down 4-1.
At the end of season 1974-75 there was to be League reconstruction. The new league was to consist of three divisions and the top six sides in the First Division would be 'promoted.'
The team had an excellent season and, with only two away games left, were on course to go up as champions. Alas, it wasn't to be. A 2-1 defeat at Hamilton, when Livingston scored the goal of this and any other century, and a 3-0 set back against Albion Rovers meant that they could only finish third.
Nevertheless they were in the First Division and beating Dundee United in the Forfarshire Cup final at Gayfield helped lift the gloom.
The following season saw the Gable Endies deservedly defeat Hibs over two legs before losing to Rangers in the League Cup semi final. Shortly afterwards, manager Stuart decided that his long-term future lay elsewhere and he left to join Ayr United.
His replacement was player/coach Kenny Cameron, who literally took over where his predecessor had left off, giving Hearts a real run for their money in the Scottish Cup. If Messrs Stuart and Cameron deserve credit for their managerial skills some credit must also to go to scout Ronnie Cross, who was producing a constant stream of good, young players.
The run could not last and with many players moving on and results beginning to go against him Kenny Cameron eventually stepped down in March 1979.
His replacement was Dynamo' favourite, Bobby Livingstone, who could do nothing to prevent the Club's slide into the Second Division.
Bobby had some good players at his disposal including Gary Murray, Dougie Robb, Stuart Beedie and Neil Forbes. With players such as Murray and Stuart Beedie being sold the team were unable to secure promotion under Bobby, and, before long, the Club were again looking for another manager.
The Board then looked to former Dundee and Celtic star Steve Murray to turn the Club around. The Scottish Cup campaign got off to a bad start when the Gable Endies found themselves unable to beat Brora Rangers home or away. The SFA ordered the Clubs to play their second replay at Inverness, giving them less than 24 hours notice. In blizzard conditions, Montrose lost 5-2 and manager Murray decided to part company with the Gable Endies.
His replacement was yet another former player, Dennis D'Arcy, with Chic McLelland as player/coach. Things never went right for Dennis and in November 1983 he stood down.
No time was wasted in appointing a replacement. Only days before, Arbroath had surprisingly parted company with their manager Ian Stewart. Approached to ask if he was interested Ian responded, "Very Interested."
Ian quickly made changes, bringing in Mark Bennet, Martin Caithness and during the close season, Premier League striker Doug Somner.
The new manager lost only three games during the remainder of the season. Nevertheless, at the start of season 1984-85 he announced, "I am pleased with the progress so far, but there is still a long way to go before becoming promotion hopefuls. The team will continue to improve and try for a respectable position in the league during the next season. Anything more than that will be a bonus."
These words certainly appeared to be prophetic when, having beaten Stirling Albion and Arbroath, the side then lost its next three games.
The team's form was soon restored, with manager Stewart's tactical skills, coupled with a virtually injury free season, enabling the Gable Endies to secure promotion in April by taking the necessary point from Albion Rovers at Links Park. A 4-1 reverse against Queens Park brought back memories of the 1974-75 campaign but a nil-nil draw against Stenhousemuir secured both the crucial point and the Championship.
Once again, finance was proving to be a problem. The strong financial position of the Stuart/Cameron era was long past and, despite winning promotion, the Club had little money. Life in the First Division would be tough.
Despite the financial constraints Ian managed to keep the Club up for season 1985-86. The following year began well with a surprising victory over Hearts at Tynecastle but the financial realities of the situation soon became all too apparent and the Gable Endies were relegated to the Second Division.
With little or no money at his disposal, Manager Stewart continued to wheel and deal and his efforts almost paid off in season 1988-89, when the Gable Endies just missed out on promotion.
The next chapter in the Club's history was one that no one would have anticipated, with Aberdeen businessman, Bryan Keith, taking over the Links Park side. Before season 1990-91 had even kicked off there was a further surprise move when the Club sensationally parted company with Ian Stewart, who was replaced by co-managers Chic McLelland and Doug Rougvie. The new partnership, chairman and co-managers, initially proved to be a success and the Gable Endies were promoted as runners-up.
The Club were unable to stay in the First Division and, after further League reconstruction, they were again promoted at the end of season 1994-95, before being relegated again.
Much has changed since then. Mr Keith no longer directly involved in the running of the Club, which is effectively back in a local hands. Normal service has been resumed in that, lack of money, the age-old enemy of MFC, remains a constant problem and, after a number of difficult seasons, the team is only now regaining some consistency under Henry Hall.
If there is one lesson to be learned from the last 125 years, it is that Montrose Football Club is a survivor. It has been poor, it has been relatively rich, it has had success, it has had failure, but it has always had people at the helm who believe in it and its future.
Hopefully, before long we will again see Montrose competing with the top teams in Scotland.
© Forbes Inglis 2004