The 1881 Myth - You Decide!

Having fully researched the statistical record of Berwick Rangers from their entry into the senior ranks of Scottish football in 1951 to date, my interest turned to the early years, where I discovered an error with the date of the club's formation that remains somewhat controversial to this day.

It was thought by many that the club was formed in 1881, but no mention of the club or its formation could be found in the local newspapers of that year. I continued page by page, year by year, looking for the first mention of Berwick Rangers.

I reached the year 1884 at which point the early history of Berwick Rangers as told over the years began to unfold, but it was now obvious that the year of formation was 1884 not 1881, as quoted in the two previously written histories of the club.

Backed up with conformation from fellow Berwick Rangers historian Robin Murdie, the Club was informed of this error in 2006. They accepted the evidence, and from that point onwards, the 1884 date was universally used, including on the back of the shirts.

However, in late 2013, a member of the Supporters' Club Committee challenged the evidence, after viewing a copy of Rupert King's history of the club, for the first time, citing the fact that he and his book could not be wrong, despite him confirming that it was the after the 1884 New Year's Day game between North Eastern and Tynefield that Berwick Rangers "first saw the light." He said King was around at the time and must have known.

With the committee's "consensus of opinion" behind him, the committee member approached the Board of Directors (some of whom were also Supporters' Club Committee members at the time) in order to have the date changed back (even though the committee said it had never been changed - strange?).

After much deliberation, the Board approached the Borough Archivist, Linda Bankier, to investigate the matter further. If it could be proved that football was not played in the town in 1881 the club would accept 1884.

However, the report was inconclusive. It hinged on the fact that in a report printed in the Berwick Journal of January 24th 1884 it quoted "goalposts

used by the "last" football club in Berwick" (highlighted in report page 5) which could indicate that football was played in the Borough before 1884, although still not under the name of "Berwick Rangers Football Club".

As a concequence the Club issued the following statement on its official website.

Berwick Rangers Football Club, as we know it, came into being at a meeting held on 7th January 1884 after a New Year’s Day friendly match, played in the town between a team of millworkers from Dunbar and railway clerks from Newcastle, impressed the local youths. Although well documented at the time in local newspapers, some people believe that the club’s origins were in 1881, their view encouraged by the celebration of the Coming of Age Celebration in 1902, which itself was the basis for a Jubilee Dinner in 1931 and the Centenary Year in 1981. No evidence has come to light currently to explain the three-year difference between official records and consequent anniversaries, and while this discrepancy remains a mystery, the Club feels obliged to acknowledge the actions of its predecessors by accepting that a football club "may" have existed in some form from 1881.

View report.

The goalposts used by the "last" football club in Berwick is confirmed by the Berwick Advertiser newspaper report of 14th March 1902 as those used in the New Year's Day 1884 match between Newcastle North Eastern and Tynefield, the "last" football club(s) in Berwick, which "were left for the use of any club that might care to 'start' the game".

The supporters of 1881 will not accept the evidence in the newspapers of the day. It is therfore my aim through this webpage to give the reader the true facts, backed up with images of the original newspaper articles, to prove once and for all that association football was not played in the borough before Berwick Rangers Football Club was formed in 1884.

Alan Bell 2014.

Evidence for 1884

Berwick Journal: 27th September 1883

A letter to the editior of the Berwick Journal commenting on a article published the previous week on the merits of football.

Sir – I was delighted to read your article on Football in last week’s Journal and I sincerely hope that a good Rugby Football Club will be the outcome of your valued suggestions. I am really surprised that a town like Berwick, with its flourishing Cricket and Tennis Club, cannot boast a Football Club.

Berwick Journal: 20th December 1883

Announcment of the exhibition match to be held on 1st January 1884 which became the motive behind the formation of Berwick Rangers Football Club.

Dunbar v North Eastern (Newcastle) - We understand a match under Association Rules will be played on New Year’s Day, on the Berwick Cricket Ground, Pier Field, which has been granted by the Berwick Club for this occasion.

Berwick Journal: 10th January 1884

Report of the meeting, which was held in the Parade School, for the purpose of starting a football club.

Football Club for Berwick – We are glad to announce that the young men of Berwick have resolved to start a football club, and it is to be hoped they will have every encouragement. A meeting was held in Berwick on Monday night last for the purpose of starting a club and turned out very successfully. Office bearers and a committee were elected, and a committee was appointed to wait upon the Secretary of the Berwick Cricket Club, to try and arrange for the use of the ground. Twenty four young men gave in their names, and if the ground is obtained, as many more have signified their intention of joining, there will be another meeting on Saturday night to hear report from the Committee which it is hoped will be satisfactory.

Berwick Journal: 10th January 1884

Seasonal notes to the intention to start a Football Club – written by Veritas.

“I am glad to see that our young men have woke and intend to start a Football Club. I have often before hinted in this column that a club should be started and now that a beginning has been made, it is to be hoped that the matter will be gone the right way about, and we shall soon be able to boast of a first-rate football club. Whether they intend to have an Association or a Rugby Club, is not yet made public but I sincerely hope it will be Rugby.….

Berwick Journal: 17th January 1884

The search for a ground, naming of the club and club colours.

THE PROPOSED FOOTBALL CLUB; The adjourned meeting to hear a report from the Committee concerning the use of a part of the Berwick Cricket Ground for practise and matches, was held on Saturday evening at Wallace Green. The Committee appointed to meet the Secretary of the Berwick Cricket Club announced that the Cricket Club Committee intended to start a football club themselves, if possible and a meeting is to be held in the King’s Arms Assembly Rooms on Friday night, January 18 at eight o’clock for that purpose. The Committee also state that they were invited to join with them. After a few remarks it was resolved to let the matter lie over until the meeting on Friday night to see what might be proposed as regards subscriptions and other matters, In the meantime, it was agreed to call the club the “Berwick Ranger’s Football Club (Association)” and ground having been obtained through the kindness of Messrs Cowe Bros, fish merchants, it was resolved to begin practice at once. The colours of the club are to be black and orange. Several new names have been handed to the committee for proposal. The first game will take place on Saturday afternoon on the new ground which is situated at the foot of the Greenses, behind the Hospital.

Berwick Advertiser: 18th January 1884

Further conformation of club name, ground, and first “practice” match.

FOOTBALL CLUB – About thirty young men have formed themselves into the “Berwick Rangers” Football Club (Association) and the first game will take place on Saturday afternoon upon ground in the neighbourhood of the Greenses Hospital, kindly granted by Mr Cowe.

Berwick Journal: 24th January 1884

The referance to the goal posts used by the "last" football club in Berwick are confirmed by the Berwick Advertiser newspaper report of 14th March 1902 as those used in the New Year's Day 1884 match between Newcastle North Eastern and Tynefield. This item is the base for Linda Bankier's suggestion that there must have been a football club in the town before 1884.

FOOTBALL CLUB. – A meeting of those interested in the formation of a football club for Berwick was held in the King’s Arms Assembly Room, on Friday night. There was a good attendance. Mr H. Peters, solicitor, was called to the chair. Mr A, L. Miller, who along with Mr Geo. Moor, represented the Berwick Cricket Club, said that the club was willing if a football club be formed, to give the ground at a resonable rent. Goal post were now lying in the cricket house which were used by the last football club in Berwick, and those they would give gratis to the proposed football club, and he also stated that they were willing to do all in their power to promote football in the town.

Berwick Journal: 7th February 1884

FOOTBALL – A MEETING OF THE Berwick Rangers Football Club (Association Rules) were held in the club room, Woolmarket, on Monday evening, to hear the secretary and treasurer’s report. There was a good attendance. The report was very satisfactory and the club is now fairly started and promises to be very successful. At the meeting it was arranged to have a match on Saturday afternoon first (weather permitting) between teams representing the club. Kick off at half past two. Six new members were proposed. Young men desirous of joining can give in their names to the secretary on the field or at any other time.

Berwick Journal 28th February 1884

A report from Berwick’s first-ever match. Note the final sentence: “The game throughout was most enjoyable, and both clubs showed good form, although most of them have not been very long aquanited with the game.”

FOOTBALL MATCH. – Berwick Rangers v. Royal Oaks, Berwick. – A friendly match between the above clubs was played off on the Football Ground, near the Greenses, and after a well contested game resulted in a win for the Rangers by one goal and two tries to nil. After the ball was set in motion, it was kept well in the centre of the field, but shortly after half-time, the Rangers got well away with the ball, and after a splendid run scored the first goal. The game throughout was most enjoyable, and both clubs showed good form, although most of them have not been very long aquanited with the game.

Berwick Journal: 18th March 1884

The “Berwick Rangers” is an Association Club, and numbers about 40 members, which is very good considering the time the club has been in existence. This club have already played one match, which they won (confirmed as Sat 16 Feb 1884, v Royal Oaks won 1-0) They journey to Alnwick on Saturday the 22nd (Sat 22 Mar 1884, result lost 0-3) to play the Alnwick club, against whom they should prove formidable rivals. For this event the “rangers” are practising very hard. This week they have been playing at night as late as half-past nine. The nights being moonlight they have been able to do some good work. There is the likelihood of a team coming here from Newcastle on Good Friday to play the “Rangers”.

Berwick Journal: 27th March 1884

Since the formation of the two clubs in Berwick – viz, the “Berwick Football Club” (Rugby) and the “Berwick Rangers” (Association – several practice games have been engaged in by both clubs, and the members having become thoroughly aquainted with the chief points in their respective games, matches were arranged, and on Saturday both clubs had opponents; the Rugby club being visited by a team from Duns, while the “Rangers” journeyed to Alnwick. (confirmed as Sat 22 Mar 1884, result lost 0-3)

Berwick Journal: 18th September 1884

Football bids fair to take a leading place among pastimes in Berwick. On New Year’s Day 1884, a football match under Association rules was played on the Pier Fields, between teams from Dunbar and Newcastle, and this seemed to act as a stimulus to those desiring of “following the ball” in Berwick, for within three weeks, a Rugby club saw the light, and in another fortnight the game as played under the Rugby rules was being heartily engaged in. The Berwick Rangers (Association) soon took the field, and now Spittal and Tweedmouth each have their clubs.

Berwick Journal: 18th January 1888

An article from the Berwick Journal of 18 January 1888. "Five years ago football was not played, was not even thought of in the borough." Association football was not played in the borough before 1884!

Five years ago football was not played, was not even thought of in the borough. In these columns we advocated the formation of a club. Play was soon started under the Rugby code, but was a ghastly and miserable failure. A few lads began Association and the Berwick Rangers Club was instituted. The flame spread, with the result that to-day scores of the youths of this borough are enjoying a noble and invigorating pastime.

Berwick Advertiser: April 1892

This article quotes “Football has now existed in the town for almost 'nine' years”. Again the match between North Eastern and Tynefield (spelt Tynecastle in this article) is quoted as the motive behind the beginning of Association football in the town, which has been proved was 1884.

REVIEW OF THE SEASON’S WORK. – Football has now existed in the town for almost nine years, and during that time its progress has been slow but sure. The Association game was introduced into the town by the Newcastle North-Eastern Club, who at the time were in the zenith of their fame, and a club from Dunbar, boasting the name of Tynecastle (sic). These teams met on Berwick Cricket Field, and soon afterwards a few of the young men of the town formed a sort of impromptu club to play the game. A public meeting was subsequently held, and an endeavour was made to form a club to play both under Rugby and Association rules. The followers of the dribbling code, however, did not care for such an amalgamation, and the outcome of the meeting was that a Rugby Club was formed to play on Berwick Cricket Ground. Straight away from that meeting the Berwick Rangers sprang into existence.

Berwick Advertiser: September 1893

More proof that Association football did not exist in the town before the start of the Rugby code which started in January 1884.

When the Association game was started, a Rugby organization was also floated, but the popular favour followed the dribblers, and in a very short time the other club died out.

Berwick Journal: 26th December 1901

The sentences “The senior club this season celebrates its majority, and that should not be allowed to pass over without a tumult. Twenty-one years of football: think ye, is it a fully-grown man or a puny infant?” is the first reference to the club being possibly formed in 1881, which is proved by the articles above to be impossible.

Secretary Bob Scott had moved to Berwick from Tyneside, where he had good contacts with football clubs in the area, and he would probably not have been aware of the early history of Berwick Rangers.

Good luck to Secretary Scott of the Rangers. The senior club this season celebrates its majority, and that should not be allowed to pass over without a tumult. Twenty-one years of football: think ye, is it a fully-grown man or a puny infant? There have been, true enough, greater days in local football, but there is a lot of the old spirit left, and football for ought I know may have a life in front of it yet. At anyrate, I hear that the Secretary has hit upon away of making the game more notable in the borough, on this interesting occasion. He has secured promises from Celtic and Newcastle United to play an exhibition game at Berwick, on a Thursday. Unfortunately, neither team could fulfil a Saturday fixture, but even a Thursday would be a great day, and thousands may be drawn to Shielfield. Excursions might be run for the half-day with advantage. It is unnecessary for me to say everything about either of the promised clubs – they are too well-known to need comment – and their names would be magnets to any crowd.

Berwick Journal: 6th February 1902

Berwick Rangers claim to be the oldest club in the district – Selkirk Football Club was formed in 1880 and is the oldest club in the borders.

Berwick Rangers claim to be the oldest established football club in the District and in celebration of the Club’s Majority, Glasgow Celtic and Newcastle United have been induced to play a match at Berwick in the second week of March. A guarantee fund of £40 is being raised.

Berwick Journal: 13th March 1902

This article appeared along with an “account of the game” between Newcastle United and Celtic.


The Rangers Club was started twenty- one years ago. The inspiration might be said to have come from W. Bald, a stranger who was working in the town at that period. When he mentioned the possibility of a permanent football club, he had many contending elements to consider, the game being then practically unknown in the borough, and doubt being very considerably expressed if such a craze as football would last over a season. The success soon justified the hopes of the promoter, and with Bald at the wheel, the club was launched and the first match played against Alnwick (confirmed as Sat 22nd Mar 1884, result 0-3). The Ducal town was then running one of the strongest working men’s clubs in the north, and naturally on the Alnwick enclosure, the Rangers went down. It is interesting to give the first team that stripped for the Rangers in a match :

Patterson, H Payne, T Lindsay, W Bald, W Craig, J Gilchrist, J Aird, A Biggs, T Renwick, J Campbell, D Grant.

Of these, Harry Payne became the Captain a few weeks from the commencement of the Club and held the office for the long period of eight years. T Lindsay who became the Club’s first treasurer was like Payne, one of the players for years, and Jas Campbell (the proprietor of the Black Swan) was long a playing member, and a loyal supporter of the Club till the time of his death. J Ord was the first Secretary of the Rangers FC. The Club had up and down times for many years, as it had all through its history; and the regret is that at twenty one it is not so live and kicking as it was in its younger days.

Berwick Advertiser: 14th March 1902

This is an extract from the match Newcastle v Celtic match report in the Berwick Advertiser.

It was on a New Year’s Day, one and twenty years ago (This was reported at the time – 1st January 1884), a match was played in Berwick Cricket Field between Newcastle North Eastern, at that time one of the best of the Tyneside Clubs, and West Barns, a Dunbar eleven. Whether the match was arranged for the purpose of endeavouring to cultivate it locally, or whether it was only a fixture decided mid-way, we cannot recall. It is sufficient, however, for our purpose here to record that the meeting of these teams created great interest in Berwick, and it was witnessed by a considerable crowd of people, to the majority of whom, we fear, it was quite unintelligible. The goal posts used in the match – or to speak more correctly, the sticks made to serve as goalposts, and the ropes which did duty for crossbars – were left for the use of any Club that might care to start the game.

It was not long before there was a severe outbreak of football fever, which culminated in the formation of the organisation now celebrating his majority. ………….

Goalposts: Proof that the goalpost left at the Pier Field by the “last” football club in Berwick were actually the goalpost used during the 1884 New Year’s Day match between Tynefield and North Eastern. This is the item that Linda Bankier based her 1881 decision on.

Edinburgh Evening News: 10th October 1908.

Edinburgh Evening News - interview with Peter Cowe. This article was reproduced in the Berwick Advertiser and was used by Rupert King as the base history for his book printed in 1946 - A History & Reminiscences of Berwick Rangers Football Club.

It was in the year 1881 that the Rangers saw the light in the old Border town, and its manner of its coming into being was in this wise. A football club in Newcastle, comprising of railway clerks on the North Eastern Railway, met a team hailing from Dunbar – the Tynefield – the players of which were connected with the paper mills then in existence at West Barnes. They were possessed of the missionary zeal, and played an exhibition match at Berwick (This was reported at the time – 1st January 1884). The enthusiasm of the younger generation of Berwickers was aroused, and eager consultations among the more enterprising of the spirits resulted in the late Canon Baldwin being approached for the loan of the school on the Parade for the purpose of holding a meeting to consider the advisability of forming a club. The Canon cordially met the wishes of the would-be footballers and a meeting was held.

A Dunfermline chiel named Willie Bald was the Club’s first captain, and Thomas Lindsay was made Secretary. Full of enthusiasm, the members of the Club set to work, and in four weeks after the Club’s formation a match was held with Alnwick at Alnwick (confirmed as Sat 22 Mar 1884, result 0-3) and a return on the soldiers flat (Tue 15 Apr 1884, result 1-2). Home and away matches were played with Tynefield (Dunbar) and resulted in drawn battles (Sat 8 Nov 1884, away, 0-0; Sat 21 Feb 1885, home, 2-2).The difficulty experienced in getting a field was great, but the brothers Cowe came forward in the nick of time and offered one gratis.

“Yes, I mind the time fine”, said Mr. Peter Cowe on being interrogated on the matter. The field, which was just stubble, was at the Bull Stob Close. My brother James and I joined the club, which started practicing at once. The committee meetings were first held in an old shed on the field, but latterly were adjourned to the fishhouse.”

The above article would suggest that Peter Cowe is correct in his recollections in everything but the year in which they took place.  As evidenced by the newspapers of the time, the above events happened in 1884, not 1881.

Berwick Journal: 6th February 1913

Thomas Lindsay recalls the early days of football in the borough, and the institution of Berwick Rangers.

The presentation last week to Mr Thos. Lindsay of an umbrella and purse of sovereigns in recognition of his 25 years’ service as assistant master at Berwick Boys’ National School, recalls the early days of football in the borough, and the institution of Berwick Rangers.

Mr Lindsay was one of the band of youths who, after seeing their first football match between Newcastle N.E.R and Dunbar Tynefield at Berwick, were enthusiastic about starting a club of their own. Vicar Baldwin, who was approached, helped forward the project by granting the use of the Parade School, in which the inaugural meetings were held. Mr Lindsay, who was then only 17, (He would have been if the date was 1881, but the match was in 1884 and he was four months short of being 20 (see pdf link below). was chosen as the first Secretary of the Club, and he held the office for a number of years, being followed by Mr Hy. Payne.

Berwick Advertiser: 9th April 1931

More conformation by Peter Cowe that the club was formed after the New Year’s Day 1884 game. Therefore, the Jubilee Dinner on Wednesday 8th April 1931 was held three years too soon!


Mr Peter Cowe, one of the members of the original team, in replying, said he considered a very high honour had been placed on him that night in being asked to reply for the “old hands.” In the first place some of the younger members would like to know how the club was formed. Well, an exhibition match took place on the Pier Field between Newcastle East End (sic.) should read Newcastle North Eastern) and Dunbar West Barns (Tynefield) to try and foster enthusiasm in the game in Berwick, and two or three days after that his brother and he were in the fish house – there was some fish then (Laughter.) – when in came their old friend Tom Lindsay. He was indeed sorry that “Tom” was unable to be present that night, for he thought that if any man should have the honour to reply to the toast, it should have been Tom (Applause). “Tom” asked them if they would like to join a football club and without hesitation they replied in the affirmative, and their names were put down amongst others. Two or three days later they raised a good many supporters. They were, however, faced with the difficulty of a field, but they started playing on where was now the Bull Stob Close, and they might depend upon it that the field was level in a fortnight’s time, sometimes playing till 12 o’clock in the moonlight. (Laughter.) “Tom” Lindsay was secretary at that time, while among the players were “Bill” Bald, John Ord, Jas Aird, Dick Murphy, Jimmy Cleghorn, Andrew Dixon, and the Manuels, “Jimmie” and “Alec,” two good rattling half-backs, with some weight about them. Their first game against Alnwick was played on the “Soldiers Flat,” a ground which they applied to the Duke for, and which if there had not been a through road they would have got. Referring to matches with Newcastle East End, he said that they played the team the week after they won the Northumberland Cup, the second years (31st October 1885, away, 0-0) of the Rangers existence.

From the same newspaper article: Evidence from a respected member of the club and establishment regarding the start of the Berwick Rangers at the "Greenses", which is proved by articles above was not in use until 1884.


Proposing the toast ”The players: Past and Present,” Alderman D Redpath said that he could well remember going up to the Greenses Field, as a very small boy, and watching the matches there, and following the Rangers from almost the start.

And Finally

Berwick Advertiser 6th June 2019

A letter printed in the Berwick Advertiser by a local historian and writer verifies the above.

Berwick Rangers might take the unfortunate occasion of relaunching itself in the Lowland League to readjust its claimed date of origin. Its insistence on 1881 has no justification. All that happened in that year was that a group of people got togeter to talk about the formation of a football club, but nothing happened.

Evidence for 1881

Berwick Journal 10th November 1881

A report of a meeting to form a football club in Berwick. It does not state whether it was to follow the Rugby or Association code and nothing happened.

FOOTBALL CLUB – It is reported that a football club will be established in Berwick shortly, but there are as yet no signs that this will take place.

No evidence can be found in local newspapers or eleswhere but.........

Other reasons/excuses given:

Somebody must have known.

They couldn't have got the date wrong.

The club was formed in 1881 but it wasn't reported in the newspapers at the time.

The club was formed in 1881 and playing as a team but not constituted until 1884.

The club was formed in 1881 but didn't play any matches until 1884.

The newspapers got the date wrong.

The concencus of opinion is that the date should be put back to/kept at 1881 as it is making the Club look a fool.

The club celebrated its Coming of Age in 1902, so it must have been 1881.

The club celebrated its Jubilee in 1931, so it must have been 1881.

The club celebrated its Centenary in 1981, so it must have been 1881.

You've photo-shopped the evidence.

And finally - Who are you to question this.


There is not one single piece of evidence, in local newspapers or otherwise, to support the idea that football under any kind of recognised rules was being played in the town before 1884, let alone that it was being played under the name of Berwick Rangers.

The presumption that it was, is based on a newspaper report published in 1892, in which someone got their sums wrong, resulting in the 1902 game being 'badged' as the club's 21st anniversary and that those involved could not possibly have got the dates wrong.

In Rupert King’s book, compiled in 1946, he does not offer one single date of a match played before February 1885, and explains this as “The exact dates of certain matches in this period are a subject of controversy among those who are old enough to remember the encounters.”

I rest my case!