Special day for schools football
A special place in history awaits the winners of tomorrow's Bank of Scotland Scottish Schools' Football Association Senior Shield at Hampden Park. St Ambrose High (Coatbridge) will face Craigmount High (Edinburgh) for the 100th final of the tournament, the oldest national schools'
football competition in the world.
Paisley Grammar was the first winner of the tournament in 1904, after Queen's Park donated the shield to the Glasgow Schools' Football Association to set up a national competition. The tournament was played throughout both world wars and has been dominated by schools from the central belt, although there are notable exceptions.
Morrison's Academy in Crieff won the second competition in 1905, Dumfries Academy won in 1956, in 1994 Dingwall Academy became the only Highland school ever to win the shield, and Aberdeen Grammar won it in 1995.
Stornoway's Nicolson Institute came desperately close this year to being the first school from the Western Isles to reach a final but lost to Craigmount High in a penalty shoot-out after their semi-final at Dingwall's Victoria Park.
The only Fife school to hold the trophy was Kirkcaldy High, which shared it with Dumfries Academy in 1981, the only time the honour has been shared.
"It was the days before penalty kicks decided games," recalls former SSFA president and general secretary Bob Docherty, formerly of Kirkcaldy High.
"It was my own team and Lachie Campbell's school, who was also on the president's committee of the SSFA.
"We had played four semi-finals with St Patrick's High of Coatbridge and there were three draws, all with extra time, before we won 4-0.
"The final against Dumfries Academy was just four days after we won through and that finished 1-1 after extra-time at Hampden. The replay, at Carluke Rovers' ground, was 2-2 after extra-time and by this stage we were into early June.
"Unbeknown to Lachie and myself, the other six members on the president's committee ruled that the shield should be shared!"
The only year the shield was not awarded was in 1957 when, after another drawn match at Hampden Park, between Motherwell's Our Lady's High (featuring future Celtic and Scotland captain Billy McNeill) and Glasgow's Holyrood Secondary, no agreement could be reached on a replay venue. Both schools were said to have wanted it at Hampden Park but there was no precedent for this. When the situation could not be resolved, the shield was not awarded.
Hampden Park has always been the home for the final, apart from 1972 when reconstruction of the stadium meant the Dalziel High v Eastwood High game was played at Motherwell's Fir Park.
The thrill of playing in the final of the SSFA's blue riband event has not diminished over the years. Wilson Kemp, who captained the Falkirk High team to a 2-0 victory over Greenock High in 1946, still has fond memories of the occasion.
"I remember that we took six busloads; almost the whole school went through to Hampden for the game," Mr Kemp, now 75, recalls.
"We had won the shield the previous year also but this was special as I was captain. My only regret was that we did not get a medal in those days. It was just after the war and all we received was a souvenir photograph."
Reminiscing about playing football, he says: "It is changed days now. We used to have to break our boots in. I still remember sitting with my feet in the sink to soften up the leather so that they moulded to your feet.
"We also had to dubbin our boots and the ball to soften the leather. We were fortunate in that one of the boys in the team had a father who was a saddler and he used to keep the balls in pristine condition.
"I've seen these stories about ex-players suffering brain damage from heading heavier balls. Maybe that's why I can't remember too much about the 1946 final!
"I think players nowadays are more skilful and are better prepared for games than in my day but I think the discipline of the players is shocking now.
"A friend, John Paterson, who is a retired referee, told me that if he was still refereeing today, then each team would be left with six players by the end.
"In my days, there was more a gentlemen's code of conduct; not that we didn't have the odd kick at players, but there was none of the jersey-pulling that goes on now."
Mr Kemp will attend tomorrow's final as a guest of the SSFA.
"I don't attend games now but I'm anxious to see Hampden again. I remember it when it held 140,000 and I know it's changed a bit since then," he says.
"We used to get decent crowds for schools matches. I remember playing in a Rest of Scotland v Glasgow Schools match at Ibrox in 1946 when 40,000 attended."
The last player to hold the SSFA Senior Shield aloft was Chris Townsley, captain and a central defender for St Augustine's High last year when it beat St Ambrose High 2-0. He has been taken on by Ross County as part of their Skillseekers programme and hopes to make good in the professional ranks.
He has vivid memories of the final. "It was such a great occasion. We took three double-decker buses with supporters from the school," he says.
"We'd been at Hampden the previous year and lost to Perth High, so we really wanted to win. We'd been together as a team since first year at school and this was our last chance to win it. We pretty much controlled the game and took the lead with a penalty before scoring a late clincher.
"It's every schoolboy's dream to play at Hampden and it was fantastic being in the dressing-room and thinking of all the great players throughout the years who had been there before.
"It's a much bigger pitch than we were used to and there were plenty of wide open spaces but the surface was great.
"Everything about the final was just so memorable."