Edwardian football and the Scottish seaside town: Rothesay, 1900-14



This essay focuses on Rothesay, isle of Bute, Scotland, during the period 1900-14. Specifically, it examines the perilous state of football in the royal burgh during period, utilising it to investigate popular culture and politics within the seaside resort. Municipal provision of sport is examined, as is the use of sport to reflect a specific kind of Celtic Scottish identity vis-a-vis shinty.

(This is the text of the pre-publication print of: Matthew L. McDowell, ‘Edwardian football and the Scottish seaside town: Rothesay, 1900-14’, in Recording Leisure Lives: Sports, Spectacles and Spectators in 20th Century Britain, ed. by Robert Snape (Eastbourne: Leisure Studies Association, forthcoming 2013). There may be small textual differences between this version and the published version. Any reference made to this paper should refer to the published version.)


This is an examination of Edwardian association football in one of the Scottish game’s peripheral regions, the eastern Firth of Clyde, focusing primarily on the town of Rothesay, on the Isle of Bute. The historiography of Scottish football is dominated by extraordinary sporting organisations, most notably Rangers and Celtic Football Clubs. It is therefore necessary to recalibrate the focus of historians, utilising the sport in other locations in order to understand the processes and relationships which shaped life in Scotland’s communities. The story of Scottish football, after all, cannot be complete if it is merely addressing “successful” organisations and regions. This paper will first discuss Rothesay in the context of previous historiography on British football, along with the basic structure of footballing competition in Rothesay, and the unique challenges faced by burgh footballers in building a viable football culture with limited available space. It will then investigate Rothesay football clubs’ relationship with mainland Scottish football, and the use of the Isle of Bute as a holiday destination by Scottish (and other) footballers. Afterwards, shinty’s challenge to regional football, and the discourse surrounding the authentic “Scottish-ness” of shinty, will be addressed in the context of developments in the wider world of sport. Then there is the necessity of municipal provision for Bute football clubs; their troubled relationship with Rothesay Town Council will thus be examined, placing the game in the context of electoral politics on the island. Accordingly, the role of the local press in reporting football will also be connected to partisan politics. Finally, this paper will examine Rothesay football in the years leading up to the Great War, a time when local clubs and associations were in collective meltdown, the culmination of years of systemic issues resulting from the aforementioned challenges. This paper is part of an ongoing effort to examine the international context of regional “Scottish” sport, and to examine the cultural and political forces which mould “global” Scottish sport.

An introduction to Rothesay football

The early organisation of codified association football in Scotland and the UK from the 1860s onwards took place largely along new and established railway lines (Vamplew, 1988: pp. 47-50; Burnett, 2006: pp. 232-233). It is natural, then, that the major academic texts on British football study the game in overwhelmingly urban and/or industrial contexts (Mason, 1980; Walvin, 1994; Russell, 1997). Meanwhile, as Alastair Durie and Mike Huggins note, seaside resorts faced conspicuous constraints on time and space, as well as demographic pressures, which moulded and often stunted team sports’ evolution in these locales (Durie and Huggins, 1998: p. 173-87). There is, at present, no literature that examines the effect of sea transport on the growth and participation of team sports like football, rugby, cricket or shinty. More challenging for the historian is the lack of any scholarly historiography examining post-1800 Bute, bar the works of Durie and Dyer, which briefly examine Buteshire in the overall context of Scottish tourism and politics respectively (Durie, 2003; Dyer, 1996a; Dyer, 1996b). So how, then, did football evolve on an island, sandwiched between the urban Lowlands, and the rural Highlands and Islands? The Buteshire Football Association was formed in 1878, a mere five years after the national body, the Scottish Football Association (SFA), first met in Glasgow. Unlike the SFA, the Buteshire FA collapsed in 1894, and a court case three years later in Rothesay Sheriff Court saw the association’s late committee members fighting over possession of the association cup, which the Buteshire Junior Football Association wanted as their own (Rothesay Chronicle 1897a). Bad blood, cliquishness and administrative incompetence came to define late-nineteenth century Rothesay football. As may have already been ascertained, this paper is not about what is termed in Scotland as “senior” football; any pretensions towards joining the mainland’s elite clubs collapsed along with the “senior” association in 1893. This was a region where the dominant classes were “junior” and “juvenile” football, terms not typically referring to players’ ages, but distinctly Scottish classifications which, at this point in time, existed somewhere between amateurism and semi-professionalism (Taylor, 2008: pp. 131-132).

Rothesay, one of Scotland’s premier domestic holiday destinations, may have been just down the water from Greenock, Renfrewshire – a big football town with a well-developed supporter culture – but proximity was not the only determining factor in measuring Rothesay football’s relative “success” (Tranter, 1995). The population of Rothesay between 1901 and 1911 was stable: around 9,200 total, with roughly around 3,900 men. The primary industry for males in Buteshire in 1911 was agriculture, followed by house building and shipping, centred around Rothesay’s docks. The overwhelming majority of women, who on the whole greatly outnumbered men, were employed in domestic service (Census of Scotland, 1901: pp. 49-50; Census of Scotland, 1911: pp. 523-4, 546). Not, then, the traditional heavy industry of Scotland’s central belt that sustained early football’s popularity. The extension of the railways from Greenock to Wemyss Bay between 1863 and 1865 might have improved Bute’s land connections to Glasgow, but transport for football still necessitated at least two legs for local clubs’ participation in mainland fixtures (Buteman 1863). Clyde steamers, especially in this portion of the Firth, worked in concert with the railway companies on fares and timetables; nevertheless, this was still a long and complicated match-day journey for Bute clubs (Durie, 2003: p. 157). There were only so many other teams that an island side could take on, at least in the competitive realm of island cup and league competitions, and Buteshire’s tournaments often featured three, four or five clubs taking each other on in an endless cycle. Even at the very height of its membership, at the start of the 1905-06 season, only ten clubs were registered with the Buteshire Junior FA (Buteman 1905d). Pitches were scarce, and public space was often discouraged from being used for football by nervous town councillors and landowners. It is telling that Rothesay football by 1900 had become a frequent visitor in burgh minutes, most often as a nuisance rather than something invoking civic pride.

By 1900, Rothesay’s footballers had been banished to Ballochgoy Park, far away from the town centre. During the two previous decades, football was played solely on the town’s Public Park, but members of the town council, who included John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, the third Marquess of Bute, who doubled as the town provost, prohibited football primarily on account of clubs charging admission to a ground ostensibly controlled by the public (Rothesay Chronicle 1897a, 1897b). This 1897 decision was again upheld in April, 1901 by the Town Council for the same reason, but this time others were added to it: the wrecking of the ground by footballers, and their alleged bad language (Buteman 1901b). The Town Council was not anti-leisure, though, and at the same meeting proposed a subscription to the Rothesay Corporation Cup in yachting. Throughout the decade, much Council discussion took place on the building and opening of the municipal Rothesay Golf Club. There was, nevertheless, a lack of clarity as to where exactly football was allowed to be played, either on the Public Park, or in other open areas. The 16 September, 1905 Buteman reported that the Council ordered police to bar football playing along Rothesay’s coastal esplanade: confusion had apparently existed for years between the police and the local procurator fiscal regarding whether or not such games were permitted near the harbour. These seemingly arbitrary diktats, and the apparent hypocrisy of the Town Council in encouraging different forms of sport and leisure, were criticised in a letter to the Buteman by “An Old Footballer”, who stated the town council’s patronage of yachting was “dol[ing] out to the rich”, while denying the “young ones” from “indulging in their favour pastime” (Buteman 1905e).

Gradually, football crept back onto the Public Park. After the third marquess’s death in 1900, negotiations were under way with John Crichton Stuart, the fourth marquess, and his factors to allow use of the Public Park – feued from the Bute estate by the town – at a reduced rate, especially after his gifting the Meadows to the Council “for light games, such as cricket, quoting, tennis, croquet, &c” (Buteman 1901d). To let the field recover after winters of football-playing and bad weather, the Public Park was closed during summer; and, after November, 1905, footballers themselves were charged for its use. Local club St. Blane were the first to test this fee-paying system; and, that same week in a Scottish Junior Cup match against Craigview Thistle, their players’ and officials’ names were taken down by the police (Buteman 1905f). In 1910, the amount charged for the Public Park’s use was six shillings per game; and, as anyone could then enter the park without payment, Bute clubs were forced to raise money through concerts and social gatherings (Rothesay Chronicle 1910a, 1910b). When Royal Victoria, whom the Buteman believed were Bute’s superior side in the mid-1900s, attempted to secure their own ground at Roseland Park, the venture incurred a heavy loss, and was abandoned in 1906 after three years (Buteman 1905c, 1906e, 1906f). This lack of space put severe limitations on the number of football clubs that could reasonably exist on Bute. Yet Buteshire – the county comprised of the isles of Bute, Great Cumbrae, and Arran, still retained the same structure of competition that was present on the mainland: county cup, league cup and charity cup. Arran clubs never played in county-wide competitions, and clubs from Millport, Great Cumbrae, took part in county-wide tournaments very rarely during the 1900s. Clubs situated along the Kyles of Bute, on mainland Argyll’s shores, meanwhile, took place in the odd Buteshire tournament, but were more interested in shinty than football.

Rothesay and mainland Scottish football

It was opponents from the neighbouring mainland that Rothesay clubs sought to play against most often. Not only did Buteshire clubs enter into the Scottish Junior Cup, they also participated in the Renfrewshire Junior Cup, and the Greenock and District Junior Cup; which, significantly, featured sides not only from Bute, but also from Dunoon in Argyll. This, then, was a competition that straddled the Firth; and, by the early-1910s, Rothesay and Dunoon newsboys were playing each other in a traditional New Year’s Day game, and being treated to hospitality, entertainment and burghal welcoming parties from the host town (Rothesay Chronicle 1911). One New Year’s holiday in 1906 featured both Royal Vics and Bute Athletic visiting the Kyles of Bute and Ardrishaig on the same steamer, the Grenadier, though on different tours (Buteman 1906a). But an inter-coastal tournament could sometimes be difficult to arrange, particularly if the whole region were to be included: when Kyles Athletic took part in the Buteshire Junior Cup in June, 1906, Millport clubs were noted as being disadvantaged, as direct ferry traffic between Great Cumbrae and Argyll was rare (Buteman 1906e). The normal SFA calendar put these clubs at a disadvantage as well, with extra steamers run during the summer holidays unavailable during the winter; the SFA, in 1891, had formally prohibited the Buteshire FA from bringing mainland “senior” sides to Rothesay during the closed (summer) season (Buteman 1891). When a rumour circulated that Rothesay clubs would be involved with the Scottish Junior League at the outset of the 1909-10 season, the Buteman rubbished it as logistically and financially impossible (Buteman 1909b).

Bute did have relationships with Glasgow’s major football clubs. Glasgow businessman and Bute native Alexander Bannatyne Stewart was credited with bringing the first association match featuring mainland sides to the island on 23 August 1879: Rangers and Queen’s Park did so largely through Stewart’s business affiliation with the former club (Finn, 1999: pp. 60-62). It was not just football that brought Glasgow’s elite athletes to Bute, however. The local papers advertised Rothesay as the venue of choice for Glasgow footballers’ vacations: one of Celtic’s festive holidays featured a charity match with St. Blane on New Year’s Day, 1901, and received considerable press attention from the press. Partick Thistle were similarly noted as preparing for Scottish Cup ties at Glenburn Hydro in January, 1905 (Buteman 1901a, 1905a). When the Irish national junior team visited Scotland for their March, 1908 international, they visited both Rothesay and the Bute estate as guests of the Scottish Junior Football Association (Buteman 1908a). Rothesay, a famed location for hydropathic tourism, was successfully attracting not just sickly city-dwellers to its clean air and water, but also the overworked, and these certainly included footballers (Durie, 2003: p. 103). Visiting naval vessels often took part in matches against landward teams, and when the Royal Navy’s cruiser squadron visited in September, 1904, the Buteman noted that sailors were keeping the Public Park busy with different football matches (Buteman 1904d). Rothesay even had some stereotypical working-class footballers, and the employees of Dobbie & Co. Nurseries were noted by company boss William Cuthbertson as having a “reputation… in football, cricket and musical circles” (Rothesay Chronicle 1902).

Sectarian division, while not an explicit feature of local football in Rothesay, nevertheless existed in subtext. St. Blane were noted repeatedly as being a club linked to the League of the Cross, while the Rothesay Rangers, reconstituted from Albert XI in June, 1911, had as their patron the local Unionist MP, Harry Hope, one who regularly placed money into the club’s account (Rothesay Chronicle 1893; Buteman 1909b, 1911c, 1912c). Boys’ Brigades, a key exponent of muscular Protestantism, were active in island football, often with mainland competition. This, then, seemingly reflected similar sectarian divisions in west of Scotland football, albeit without the fever pitch of the “Old Firm” rivalry (Murray 1984, 2000; Bradley, 1995; Walker, 1990). It is impossible to fully understand sectarianism’s effect in sowing the seeds of discord in Buteshire football, but it is highly unlikely that it played any significant part in contributing to local football’s many challenges.

Football, shinty, and “Scottish-ness”

Buteshire was not merely a tourist addendum to life in the west of Scotland, rather sharing characteristics with Highland sporting culture; for, unlike in the west of Scotland, football had a direct competitor for the hearts and minds of sporting enthusiasts: shinty. From 1900, the Buteman itself sponsored a shinty tournament, the Buteman Challenge Cup, originally based within the programme of the Buteshire Amateur Sports (Buteman 1900). It was, however, Glasgow and Kyles clubs that dominated the tournament. No formal Bute clubs existed until September, 1907, when the fourth marquess and Colin MacRae, landed patron of Kyles shinty, together initiated the Bute Camanachd Club, to which Lord Bute defrayed the first £10 of expenses (Buteman 1907a, 1907b). Colin MacRae, who married Lord Bute’s sister Margaret in 1909, was noted as “speak[ing] the Highland language [Gaelic], wear[ing] the dress, and [being] a fine performer of the bagpipes.” “He is”, stated the Buteman, “a keen exponent of the national game of ‘Camanachd,’ and a good all-round sportsman” (Buteman 1909c). MacRae, however, did not have total control over his patronage’s beneficiaries, and in May, 1909 sent an angry letter to Bute Camanachd Club for failing to turn up for a Buteman Cup match against his home club, Kames (Buteman 1909a). Did shinty itself even have a message, and what did it hope to instil in Bute’s men? The Buteman’s shinty correspondent, likely to be Alexander Gemmell, secretary of the Kyles Athletic club (who offered largely uncritical accounts of Kyles’ matches) (Buteman 1904f), asked these questions to the islanders after the 1900 Buteman Cup exhibition: “Why has Rothesay not a Shinty Club? Have you forgotten the game of your forefathers?” Gemmell, in turn, criticises football as the true foreigner on Bute’s shores:

Rothesay folks are thoroughly Highland, and the old instinct for the game of shinty still courses with undiminished vigour through their veins. Football is a Lowland pastime, and to a Highlander is not at all to be compared with shinty… Indeed, if the Rothesay lads would give the same attention to shinty for three or four years that they have given to football for the last 20 years, they would take a leading position in the shinty world… (Buteman 1907b)

Reid believes that shinty is indelibly linked with Scottish proto-nationalism and late nineteenth-century land politics, as leading lights of the Crofters’ Party, amongst others, were keen shinty enthusiasts. But as she also notes, while radicals may have believed “Scottish” sports to exhibit a similar “anti-Britishness” to Irish sports, the contradiction at the heart of late-nineteenth shinty was the participation of landlords and army officers in the formation of the Camanachd Association (1893) and other early institutions of the game (Reid, 1998: pp. 107-130). Indeed, while Jackson believes that shinty and Highland gatherings in nineteenth-century Argyll represented a specifically “Gaelic” sporting context, patronage of these games and other events had much to do with the resilience of pre-industrial communal relationships between paternal landowners and the local populace (Jackson, 1998: pp. 95-106; Jackson, 1999: pp. 26-40). These relationships, then, existed on Bute well into the twentieth century.

Shinty’s local battle with football was not just a political expression of “Scottish-ness”. As in previous decades, when both football and rugby had been seen as a continuation of traditional “folk football”, the correspondent likewise labels modern shinty as an improvement of a previous version of the game:

Were it as well-known a game to the public as football, it would draw crowds of immense proportions… Modern shinty is a great improvement on the game as it used to be played in olden times. Then as many as 500 took part in a game, and there were no goals. The hails were hedges or dykes or streams at the ends of the field. There was no combination. It was simply drive on, and sometimes the ball got lost in a crowd of one or two hundred players in the centre of the field. (Buteman 1907b)

The correspondent, meanwhile, glossed over debates that may have been going on within the Kyles camp itself, as shinty was one of many athletic events engaged by the group, including football. This was made possible not just through Highland-themed patronage, but also through work being available to villagers in the Kyles (Reid, 2000: p. 164; Thornburn, 1996: p. 18). More research must be done into pre-1900 shinty on Bute. But, if the presence of “Highland” culture is an indicator of shinty’s continuation, as the Buteman’s correspondent seemed to imply it was, then shinty should have existed for a long time on the island in various forms. Thomas Pennant, during his tour of Scotland in 1772, described Rothesay as an entirely Gaelic-speaking town (Pennant, 1998: p. 153). The New Statistical Account of Buteshire, in 1841, noted that it was only in the last forty years that “Gaelic has rapidly fallen into disuse” (NSA, 1841: pp. 105-106). The participation in shinty on the island in the ensuing decades went largely unrecorded in the local press; and, even as matches were well-recorded occurrences on Argyll’s neighbouring shores, the Buteman in February, 1911 stated that Bute Camanachd Club, in its third year of existence, “received only a moderate share of public patronage, probably owing to the popularity of football” (Buteman 1911a). The absence of popular shinty in Rothesay was especially glaring on New Year’s Day, historically a crucial date in the Highland sporting calendar (MacLennan, 1999: pp. 83-99).

Football and electoral politics

In cities such as Glasgow, football flourished not only due the presence of railways and heavy industry, but also in part due to generous municipal provision for sports and outdoor leisure. Football clubs which never escaped the public pitches, however, were at a severe disadvantage to those able to secure private grounds (Bilsborough, 1983: pp. 158-180). Understanding local municipal and parliamentary politics, then, is crucial towards unlocking the political discourse surrounding said sporting accommodation. In the 1900s football and shinty were well-covered by the Liberal Buteman, but not so by the Conservative/Unionist Rothesay Chronicle, which did include football in its “Sports and Pastimes” column from 1906 onwards, but had better coverage of bowls, curling, golf and yachting. There was a reason for this: while not a universal truth, many of Rothesay football’s top officials were Liberals: this included town councillors Samuel Thompson, George Hill (president and vice president respectively of Royal Victoria, at different times), and John Paterson (secretary of the Buteshire Junior FA) (Buteman 1904a, 1904e, 1906b, 1906h, 1908b). At a Council meeting in September, 1904, the town treasurer made a revealing slip of the tongue, causing laughter when he mistakenly referred to the Buteshire Junior FA as the “Buteshire Junior Liberal Association” (Buteman 1904c). John Walton has shown that English seaside resorts, during the twentieth century, were “assumed to be natural Conservative spheres of influence”, in no small part due to preponderance of retirees and the middle class, and a desire to utilise the state to maximise amenities, and therefore the profitability, of these locales (Walton: 2000, pp. 169-194). Liberals gained control of the Rothesay Town Council from 1901 to 1905, an oasis in local contests typically dominated by the Unionists. The primary obstacle in obtaining the Public Park for footballing uses was influential Unionist Councillor and future Provost, William Fisher. In 1904, Fisher was critical of the expenses used for levelling the Public Park into a regulation football pitch, but his criticisms did not solely express concern over public finances:

He enjoyed a pastime for recreation, but he thought it went without saying that the game of football had degenerated into a kind of professionalism, which was now having very painful results in many quarters… Young people scarcely knew how much their surroundings had got to do with their actions, and he was bound to say that football in Rothesay had been the cause of more drinking, rowdyism and bad behaviour than anything else they could point to (Buteman 1904b).

Indeed, Fisher considered the mere act of clubs charging for entry to matches on the Public Park “professionalism”, especially with regard to bringing mainland senior clubs there during the holiday. Provost Walker, at this same meeting, agreed that the Public Park would be used for boys and youths, keeping the “outside element” from influencing who played on the pitch (Buteman 1904b). Visiting footballers and spectators, then, were effectively treated as separate from other outsiders, whose approval of tourist and leisure facilities was actively sought by the Rothesay brain trust. The Rothesay Chronicle, which at the time hardly covered football, the previous year had stated that: “People whose recreation is cricket or golf, or quoits, or lawn-tennis, or even croquet, have as much claim on the ratepayers to have the expenses of their recreation paid by the public as footballers, but they never ask” (Rothesay Chronicle 1903). Essentially this echoed Fisher’s argument of football’s monopolisation of public space, to which Councillor Thompson replied: “Any man who knew the trend of the times knew that it was not hockey, nor tennis, nor ping-pong, nor anything of that kind” that was driving interest in the Public Park (Buteman 1904b).

Unionist Councillors enjoyed football too: Councillor James McMillan, also the vice president of the Bute Camanachd Club, was thanked by Bute Athletic at their March, 1906 social for being the driving force behind the reopening of the Public Park for footballers (Buteman 1906c). Unionists in general became savvier about using sport and leisure to win local votes possibly out of necessity. The 1900s were a brief period of Liberal ascendency in Buteshire. After two nasty general election/by-election cycles in 1865 and 1880, previous to the extension of the farming and labouring franchise, Buteshire had a reputation as a safe Conservative/Unionist Westminster seat that typically housed the parties’ parliamentary lawyers (Craig, 1974: p. 532; Craig, 1977, p. 576-77). Liberals, including those in the Buteman, attributed this to the influence of the Bute estate’s factors (McDowell, 2012). The 1905 by-election between Liberal Norman Lamont and Unionist candidate Edward Salvesen, the solicitor-general, produced two of the trophies fought over by Bute footballers. Lamont’s Knockdow Cup, named after his family’s Cowal estate in Argyll, was the local charity tournament, and existed since his first candidature for the seat in 1900. The Salvesen Shield, meanwhile – the local league competition – was donated after Salvesen’s failed by-election 1905 campaign, in the expectation that he would fight the seat the following year (he did not). The Buteman stated that “the shield [was] presented by the late Tory candidate, Mr. E.T. Salvesen, in his wooing of Buteshire” (Buteman, 1906e). Rumours in the Buteman attributed to a Port Glasgow correspondent, which need to be examined further due to the viscerally-partisan nature of Rothesay’s newspapers, attributed the Unionists’ 1905 defeat to the scrapping of the Buteshire Rifle Volunteers in favour of the Territorial Army. The paper stated that: “Country young men are not afforded the same amusements in the evening as the young men of large towns, and they resented their evening’s amusement at drill being taken away from them” (Buteman 1905b). Football, too, had begun to figure in the Buteman’s coverage of municipal elections. In 1901, town councillors who denied the use of the Public Park to footballers were warned that “November is coming”, a reference to the usual period of Rothesay burghal elections (Buteman 1901c). Nine years later, ahead of November, 1910’s elections, the Buteman stated that in order to effect changes in the state of the Public Park’s turf and fees for use, Rothesay footballers should enquire as to each councillor’s opinion on the subject (Buteman 1910).

Whither Rothesay football?

A historian’s picture of regional football is often only as good as the newspapers covering it, and this leads to questions of how big Rothesay’s football world truly was. One answer would be however big the Buteman’s correspondents wanted it to be. Its correspondents freely admitted that the allure of local clubs did not compare to the pleasures of the Scottish Football League (SFL), noting on 6 January, 1911 that: “There was the usual exodus of local enthusiasts to the New Year game between Rangers and Celts” (Buteman 1911a). Ibrox and Parkhead no doubt held more attractive New Year’s fixtures than those held on the Public Park; by the 1910s, competitive football on the island was in a dire state, and the paper could no longer hide it. At the outset of the 1911-12 season, the Buteman stated that Rothesay’s footballing season had always necessarily been shorter, due to the fact that: “during the summer months [Rothesay’s inhabitants] are kept fully engaged catering for the numerous visitors, so the local football season does not usually commence until the middle of September” (Buteman 1911d). Lateness, in the literal sense, had always been a problem. Booking for the Public Park was often tight; and, at a Knockdow Charity Cup tie in October 1906, two teams famously had to wait for the Saturday afternoon’s foal show to clear up (Buteman 1906g). Clubs were routinely criticised throughout the decade for starting their games late, but by 1911, this was attributed to footballers’ lack of interest in playing. The Buteshire Junior Cup ties of 1912-13 were especially bad, five attempts were made at playing cup ties between Bute Athletic and St. Blane; the score was 7-1 to St. Blane, but the match was called due to darkness, having started half an hour late. Even juvenile football in the region was thought to struggle with similar issues at this time, and by 1912 its members publically voiced their anger at the Town Council for charging the same six-shilling rate for the Public Park charged to junior clubs (Buteman 1912b). The Knockdow Charity Cup was never regularly played for in the 1900s, as clubs often could not agree on the amount going to charity, it being necessary to pay for their expenses when little gate could be charged for (Buteman 1906d, 1913b). The Salvesen League was discontinued in 1912, similarly, with low gate money (Buteman 1912a).

This was more than simply indifferent management of the sport going: the Buteman held out-migration and emigration responsible for the decline of local football. In January, 1911, it noted that local clubs were losing players, and credited various “situations in Paisley” for luring Rothesay footballers away from the island. More drastically, the Buteman blamed emigration after the local clubs registered for no mainland tournaments in the 1913-14 season (Buteman 1913b). There certainly was a lot of chatter in the paper regarding families leaving Rothesay for abroad. In July, the Buteman gave the account of a football match in Boston, Massachusetts featuring an eleven made up entirely of Rothesay emigrants, who wore on “R” on their uniforms (Buteman 1913a). In Rothesay, football was losing a generation even before the outset of the Great War.


The arguments made within this paper show that sport on Edwardian Bute existed at an uneasy crossroads within previous historiography on Scottish and British sport. Rothesay’s raison d’être during the early twentieth century revolved around its status as a location for the west of Scotland’s tourists; and, as such, Bute football necessarily had links with mainland clubs and organisations. At the same time, the challenge of shinty also stressed Rothesay’s historical links to Celtic Scotland. By 1914, however, sport in Rothesay had not fully integrated into either world comfortably, and this stresses the need for further examinations of not only the Firth of Clyde’s sporting culture, but many other areas currently left unexamined by the present literature in either Scottish history, or sport and leisure histories. Rothesay’s experiences point to new ways of understanding the connections between Scottish sport, the land, and the sea – connections hitherto unexamined with regard to sport’s utilisation of sea transport. There is also the need to understand towns such as Rothesay away from the tourist contexts with which they are solely associated in the modern period; and, when historians do so, they can begin to analyse the politics and relationships that help to define the “permanent” community outside the summer months. Football, in this case, has been used to exactly this end.


I am grateful to my partner Kayleigh Hirst for her assistance in proofreading and editing the final draft of this paper. I am also grateful to the following libraries and archives for their aid: the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh; the University of Glasgow Library; the Rothesay Library; and the North Ayrshire Heritage Centre, Saltcoats.



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