135th Birthday Today! - 13th October 2014We can’t go any further back into the Tunnel this week but we can, and should go back to the very beginning to record what research tells us about the origins of our football club. We all know that the club was founded in 1879 and those of you who donated for a copy of ‘The Journey so far’ will also know the exact date was 13th October 1879. That book was a limited edition to 100 copies however and sold out very quickly so we should repeat as much as we know about the full story here in the Time Tunnel for posterity and all those in the future who would not get a copy of the book.
The inaugural meeting leading to the formation of Montrose Football Club as we know it today took place in Montrose Town Hall on Monday 13th October 1879. Football in the town was not a big deal in those days unlike Rugby Union and Golf so the meeting to discuss soccer style football was not front page or even back page news. It was however reported several pages in purely as a routine local news item in the Montrose Review. Here is the exact wording of the report :-
‘On Monday a meeting of Montrose Football Club was held in the Town Hall and it was agreed unanimously to change the rules of the club to those of the General Association. The following office bearers were appointed for the ensuing season:- G J Lindsay, Captain, D P Davidson, Secretary and Treasurer, and also on the Committee were Robert Johnstone, John Skene, John Smith, A Wadie and Thomas Johnstone.
The Johnstone brothers Robert and Thomas are largely credited with the idea of creating a soccer style football club in Montrose. They were rugby players and played for the local club which existed and played many games and for several years previous. Those games were almost always reported fully in the local newspapers and one of those newspapers suggested some time after October 1879 that it was rugby players who started to play training games by simply kicking the ball rather than handling it and using the lower section of the rugby posts as football goal posts. Soccer style football was already being played elsewhere in Scotland and Queen’s Park we founded in 1867 – even Arbroath were founded in 1878 so maybe those rugby players were just larking around in training or maybe those soccer style kick abouts were intended to be more meaningful. We will in all probability never know.
That inaugural meeting in October 1879 however said ‘it was agreed unanimously to change the rules of the club to those of the General Association.’ That was the significant starting point. It looks clear that some form of football club existed in the town before 13th October 1879 and the Montrose Review first mentioned such a thing by including a short reference to a game between Montrose and Arbroath Rovers on 6th January 1877 which Montrose won 1-0. They then also reported on another game against the same opposition which took place on 1st December 1877 and ended early in darkness at 0-0. Several other games were played in 1878 against already established sides visiting the area such as Kelvinside and a Windsor Xl but by changing to and adopting the General Association rules, meaning those of the Scottish Football Association Montrose could now get involved in playing other clubs from the local area and further afield and in a more organised manner. They would also have to play with a round ball, football style goal posts (without a net or crossbar in those days) and with eleven a side instead of fifteen. For ‘official’ games within Association Rules there would be a neutral ‘umpire’ assisted by goal line officials who would adjudicate in the event of a dispute regarding whether the ball had passed between the posts and also if it was too high. One assumes the latter became such a point of disagreement that eventually tape was used and strung across the top of the posts until more sensibly crossbars were introduced in 1875.
Anyway, back to football in Montrose which took off in great fashion after 1879 with huge crowds flocking to the Links for every game and even just to training sessions where the local lads reached stardom proportions. We all know I’m sure that the first official game was played against Arbroath Wanderers on 8th November 1879 although games after that against other teams were either not so regular or were not reported until the popularity of the game and the size of the crowds dictated that the local Press turned up to report what exactly was going on. By the mid 1880’s however full fixture lists of friendly games were constructed and Montrose were by then playing in the order of 50 games a season with a great deal of success and to quite huge vociferous crowds. By 1891 they had entered a formal league structure, the Northern League and those early seasons are currently being recorded in more detail in another feature article in each MFC programme.