Scottish Umpire (1884), Scottish Umpire and Cycling Mercury (1884-1888).

This is the text of the pre-publication print of: Matthew L. McDowell, ‘Scottish Umpire‘, 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.

Scottish Umpire (1884), Scottish Umpire and Cycling Mercury (1884-1888).  The Scottish Umpire was one of the first sport-only newspapers in Scotland.  Its entry into the Scottish media market was preceded by the Scottish Athletic Journal two years before.  The Umpire debuted as a weekly on Friday, 21 August 1884; and, after one month, the initial offering merged with The Cycling Mercury & Bicycling and Tricycling Messenger to form the Scottish Umpire and Cycling Mercury (still colloquially referred to by its shorthand title).  The offices of Scottish Umpire were based at 25 Jamaica Street, Glasgow, the offices of the paper’s printers, Hay Nisbet & Co., who also published the Scottish Football Association’s (SFA) Scottish Football Annual.  The paper first went on sale for 1d, from the outset a cheaper offering than the 2d Journal; the SAJ would eventually be forced to follow suit.  The content in the Umpire was not quite as exhaustive as the Journal; though, as a result, the layout was not nearly as cluttered.  Football, cricket, rugby and cycling were thoroughly examined; but, like with the SAJ, the demand for the Umpire was driven greatest by football, overwhelmingly the most popular team sport amongst the Scottish working class of the late-nineteenth century.

As was the case in early sport journalism, the Umpire’s staff seemed more sympathetic towards middle-class sport clubs and sensibilities.  There was clearly some tension evident in the language of the Umpire towards working-class sport clubs, especially successful ones.  Nevertheless, the Umpire differed from other British sport papers in its pragmatic support of professionalism.  This was a massive issue in football.  The English Football Association legalised professionalism in 1885 so as to accommodate the major clubs’ procurement of Scottish talent, and the SFA was considered blind to the ‘shamateurism’ that was rampant among its major Glasgow clubs (the SFA would not legalise professionalism until 1893).   The paper was vocal in its support of Preston North End, the English club who were the most transparent in their attempt to lure Scottish football talent south of the Border.

The Umpire were assertive in their rivalry with the Scottish Athletic Journal, a more conversational paper with a different editorial stance.  The arrival of Scottish Referee in November 1888, selling at the cheap price of one halfpenny, forced the two enemies to merge under the single title of Scottish Sport in time for the beginning of 1889.

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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