The tragedy that be­fell Heart of Mid­loth­ian foot­ball club in WW1

Scottish Field - - CONTENTS -

On Wed­nes­day 25 Novem­ber 1914, John McCart­ney got am­bushed by his­tory, in the form of an Ed­in­burgh city coun­cil­lor named Sir James Leish­man.

There was lit­tle chance the man­ager of Heart of Mid­loth­ian FC was un­aware of Leish­man’s in­ten­tions when he en­tered his Ge­orge Street shop: for days the

Ed­in­burgh Evening News and The Scots­man had car­ried news of the bat­tal­ion Leish­man and fel­low lo­cal busi­ness­man and politi­cian Sir Ge­orge McCrae hoped to raise in Scot­land’s capital.

‘Un­der the aus­pices of the Heart of Mid­loth­ian Club half a bat­tal­ion of ex­cel­lent sol­diers could be raised with ease,’ the Evening News opined four days ear­lier. That morn­ing The Scots­man re­ported that Leish­man and McCrae planned to make an ap­peal to Hearts and other clubs so ‘a sports­man’s com­pany may be made up’. Such a bat­tal­ion would help solve two prob­lems that were very much in the pub­lic eye that au­tumn.

The first was that Bri­tain des­per­ately needed men to fight the war against Ger­many and its al­lies that it had en­tered that Au­gust.

The sec­ond was that foot­ball it­self was threat­ened by grow­ing sen­ti­ment that too many young men were play­ing and watch­ing the game in­stead of sign­ing up. The an­swer to the first prob­lem was to al­low men to serve in ‘pals bat­tal­ions’ that would al­low them to go to war with peo­ple from the same pro­fes­sion, town, or class. The an­swer to the sec­ond fol­lowed the same logic.

‘Might I sug­gest that while the “Heart of Mid­loth­ian” con­tinue to play foot­ball, en­abled thus to pur­sue their peace­ful play by the sac­ri­fice of the lives of thou­sands of their coun­try­men, they might adopt, tem­po­rar­ily, a nom de plume, say, the “White Feathers of Mid­loth­ian”,’ some­one call­ing them­selves ‘A Soldier’s Daugh­ter’ wrote in a letter in the Evening News pub­lished on 16 Novem­ber 2014. ‘By this sim­ple de­vice the taint of rot­ten­ness im­puted to the “Heart of Mid­loth­ian” by their use of this clas­sic ti­tle would be re­moved, and at the same time they would se­cure a pe­cu­liarly ap­pro­pri­ate badge for an or­na­men­tal body of ath­letes and their fol­low­ers.’

McCart­ney, a sea­soned player and coach with lit­tle pa­tience for those he con­sid­ered ‘hum­bugs’, had an­tic­i­pated a call might come. That Au­gust he’d ar­ranged for Hearts play­ers to take part in weekly drill ses­sions on grounds be­hind Usher Hall on Grind­lay Street.

An­nan Ness, a mem­ber of the club’s re­serve team who’d had some mil­i­tary ex­pe­ri­ence be­fore he joined, ran the

Main image: Sir Ge­orge McCrae and the 16 Hearts play­ers who joined his bat­tal­ion.Left: McCrae, a for­mer MP and prom­i­nent Ed­in­burgh busi­ness­man, was 54 when war broke out. Be­low: A poster ex­tolling Ed­in­burgh’s young men to join McCrae’s Bat­tal­ion.

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