Scottish Athletic Journal (1882-1888)

This is the text of the pre-publication print of: Matthew L. McDowell, ‘Scottish Athletic Journal‘, in Dictionary of Nineteenth Century Journalism, ed. by Laurel Brake et al (ProQuest, 2012). 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.

The Scottish Athletic Journal was the one of the first Scottish weekly newspapers to cover sport exclusively.  The Journal’s appearance coincided with the emergence of codified sport not only in Scotland’s central belt, but also in England.  South of the Border, the popularity and commercial viability of association football, rugby and cricket during the 1860s and 1870s led to increasing – but not yet sustained – coverage in local and national newspapers.  Recreation-only titles came to exist in England in the 1870s, addressing a growing niche in the media marketplace.  The weekly SAJ was born on Friday, 1 September 1882, initially priced at 2d.  The content on sport in the Journal was exhaustive.  The two tiers of Scottish football, ‘senior’ and ‘junior’ (not referring to the ages of players) were covered in depth, with an emphasis on the former.  Rugby, cricket, swimming, athletics, Harriers, cycling, lawn tennis, as well as athletic activity at the private schools, and even amateur dramatics, were covered.  There was a lively correspondence section.  Advertisements, especially with regard to upcoming matches, sport apparel and health products, also appeared in the paper, and were largely responsible for keeping the price of the paper affordable for labourers.  Throughout the mid-1880s, the paper waged a protracted editorial struggle against Glasgow’s Rangers Football Club, ostensibly for their rough play and dodgy finances, but more likely for their refusal to buy advertising space.

On the other hand, the provenance – at least at first – was overwhelmingly skewed towards middle-class authors.  This was despite the fact that Scottish sport newspapers’ sales were essentially driven by the popularity of football above all other sports, since rugby (outside of the Borders) and cricket had little working-class support.  The class bias was shown in the softer language used to treat Queen’s Park Football Club, an amateur club from Glasgow’s South Side who were heavily influential in the founding and initial administration of the Scottish Football Association.  Sectarian-tinged class criticism of players and supporters was implied, if not always explicitly stated.   The SAJ, like other sport newspapers, relied on a series of correspondents (often club secretaries) around the country – mostly from the central belt – to submit articles, stories and scores to their Glasgow offices by publishing deadlines.  The usual weekly columnists wrote under aliases, and created unique ‘characters’ to match.

Two firms printed the SAJ:  Maclaren & Sons (1882 to 1886, and in 1887), and Frederick Wicks (1886, 1888). The SAJ struggled with the arrival of competition.  This competition came mainly in the form of another weekly sport paper, the Scottish Umpire and Cycling Mercury, which arrived in 1884 for the lower price of 1d; the SAJ would eventually be forced to follow suit, and drop their prices.   The SAJ and the Umpire were bitter rivals, criticising each other’s journalistic rigour, and taking opposite editorial stands on issues such as professionalism (the SAJ was strictly opposed to amateurism, as was typical in Britain at the time).  With the arrival of the Scottish Referee in November 1888, a more comprehensive sport paper selling for one halfpenny, the SAJ and the Umpire were nevertheless forced to combine their operations under the title Scottish Sport.

Matthew L. McDowell


Andrew Aird, Reminiscences of Editors, Reporters and Printers During the last Sixty Years.  Glasgow:  Aird & Coghill, 1890.

Mike Huggins, The Victorians and Sport.  London:  Hambledon and London, 2004.

Matthew J. McIntire. ‘“The news that sells”:  Sport and the press in British society, 1855-1914’. Ph.D. dissertation, City University of New York, 2003.

Bill Murray, The Old Firm:  Sectarianism, Sport, and Society in Scotland.  Edinburgh:  John Donald, 1984, 2000.

Ed. John S. North, The Waterloo Directory of Scottish Newspapers and Periodicals. Waterloo, Ontario:  North Waterloo Academic Press, 1989.

Scottish Athletic Journal, Mitchell Library.

Scottish Umpire, Mitchell Library.

John Weir, ‘The Press and Scottish Football pre-1914’, Scottish Football Historian 55 (October 1994), 22-28


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