Forgotten Cricket/Football International Rediscovered

26 Feb

From David Gordon

David Gordon offers a fascinating feature piece for the Cricket Scotland website after discovering proof that the first such double-international pre-dates Scot Symon by some 50 years!

Different ball games

When Rangers’ wing-half Scot Symon represented Scotland in a 3-1 friendly football international victory over Hungary at Ibrox in December 1938, it was widely accepted that he was the first sportsman to be ‘capped’ for Scotland at both cricket and football. 1938 was certainly the annus mirabilis of the Perthshire all-rounder, as in August of that year he took five for 33 against the Australians for Scotland at Forthill, followed up with three for 44 at Hamilton Crescent against the same opposition. 

Symon’s place in history was further highlighted some 50 years’ later when Andy ‘The Goalie’ Goram, then of Hibernian and already a Scottish football international, received the first of his five cricket ‘caps’, in a NatWest Trophy match against Yorkshire at Headingley. 

Donald Ford - West Lothian Captain

A third ‘double-international’, often unfairly overlooked, is Donald Ford, the former Hearts striker and West Lothian batsman. Ford, whose father and elder brother were both ‘capped’ at cricket, played three times for Scotland at football during 1973/74 and was a squad member at the 1974 World Cup Finals in West Germany. Six years’ later he was a member of the cricket squad selected by Brian Close to undertake Scotland’s inaugural foray into the Benson & Hedges Cup. He played in a warm-up match against Worcestershire, and then came on as a substitute fielder in the opening game against Leicestershire at Titwood in May 1980. 

Unfortunately, unlike football, cricket does not recognise a twelfth-man appearance with the award of an international cap. That technicality notwithstanding, Ford to all intents and purposes represented Scotland at both football and cricket and should be recognised as the ‘third man’ of Scotland’s select band of cricket/football double internationals. 

This elite group, however, has now increased in number, with recognition at last for its long-forgotten founding member, Inverness-born John Macdonald.

Ayr-based cricket and ice hockey historian David Gordon explains: “Scotland’s cricketing footballers have long been an interest of mine. As someone who played for my secondary school at both football and cricket in the 1970s, I was fascinated by those who were able to combine both sports at professional and international level.” 

Andy Goram in his youth

David in the 1990s wrote a series of historical features for Terry Brennan’s Scottish Cricketer magazine, several of which focused on Scottish cricketer/footballers: “I was fortunate and privileged to interview a variety of Scottish cricket internationals who had also played football at a high standard: Jimmy Brown, Len Dudman, Sandy Brown, Donald Ford and Guy Willatt, among others.” 

Understanding that Symon, Goram and Ford were the only members of Scottish cricket and football’s exclusive double club, David was amazed to discover in 2012 that the name of John Macdonald might have to be added to the list! 

“I was reading football historian Andy Mitchell’s excellent Scottish Sport History website  and noticed his reference to John Macdonald winning a cap for Scotland against England at football in 1886, having already played cricket for Scotland against Australia in 1880 and the Gentlemen of Philadelphia in 1884. The Cricket Scotland archive confirmed to me that he had been born in Inverness in 1861 and died in Edinburgh in 1938, but no mention of his football career. Unfortunately, the SFA archives contained no birth/death details, so I was wary of making the connection without corroboration, John Macdonald (and any spelling variations) being a not uncommon name in Scotland.” 

J Symon going out to bat

Fortunately for David, the corroborative evidence arrived this month (February 2014) through the on-line British Newspaper Archive, as he describes: “The digitisation of newspaper archives, and their online availability, is a wonderful gift for the sporting historian. I was therefore pleased to discover an obituary of John Macdonald in both the Dundee Courier and Aberdeen Press and Journal, from August 1938, which confirmed that he had, indeed, played both cricket and football for Scotland in the 1880s.

“Macdonald died on 29 August 1938, aged 76, ironically just three months before Scot Symon became a double international. While it’s a shame that Symon loses his claim to be the first of Scotland’s cricket/football internationals, his magnificent football career as both player and manager ensures his sporting immortality; it’s fascinating, though, for the history of cricket and football in Scotland, that we have been able to confirm John Macdonald’s wonderful achievement, which predates Scot Symon’s by more than half-a-century.” 

David’s initial researches have provided a rudimentary biography for Scotland’s ‘Double First’: 

John Macdonald was born in Inverness on 24 December 1861, the first of eight children to Donald Macdonald, a house painter, and Harriet Macdonald (nee Robertson), a farmer’s daughter from Nairn. As the family’s painting and decorating business became well-established locally, his father served both as a local magistrate and an Inverness Town Councillor for many years, 

The young John Macdonald grew up in the family home, Muirfield, on Inverness’s Old Edinburgh Road. He was educated at Irvine Royal Academy and developed his cricketing skills with the Northern Counties club at the Northern Meeting Park. An all-round sportsman, he was champion of Inverness Tennis Club and played rugby at school, switching to football when he went to university. 

He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, graduating M.B., C.M. in 1886, aged 24, and his cricket blossomed on the then University ground at Union Park, Corstorphine. 

John MacDonald of Edinburgh Uni

Macdonald contributed 154 not out to Edinburgh University’s 432 against Glasgow University at Hamilton Crescent in June 1880, and in September of that year – aged only 18 – he played for Scotland against the Australians in a three-day match at Raeburn Place. The tourists won by six wickets, with Macdonald, batting no 8, contributing 9 runs in the Scots’ first innings’ total of 143 all out. He was scoreless in the second innings, being the second victim of an H F Boyle hat-trick, when Scotland were dismissed for 130. He bowled a solitary over during the Australian second innings, conceding 3 runs.  (Curiously, contemporary press reports of this game list him as ‘R Hughes (Edinburgh University)’.) 

His performances saw him selected to play for Scotland against the American tourists, the Gentlemen of Philadelphia, in a three-day match at Raeburn Place in June 1884. The Scots won by five wickets inside two days. Batting no 7, Macdonald was out for a duck in Scotland’s first innings (79 all out). In the Scots’ second innings he was 7 not out as the home side reached 136 for five to secure victory. He bowled four overs in the Philadelphians second innings, one a maiden, conceding five runs, without taking a wicket. Macdonald’s best season as a University cricketer was 1884. He captained the side and scored over 1,000 runs at an average of 54. This was a considerable feat, given that the accumulation of a thousand runs in a season had only been recorded by four other batsmen in Scotland prior to 1900.

A prominent association footballer with both the University and Queen’s Park, he played for Glasgow in a 5-2 win over London at the Oval in 1885, and the SFA selected him to represent Scotland against England on 27 March 1886. The match was played at the second Hampden Park (later Cathkin Park) in Glasgow during heavy rain and watched by a crowd of 12,000. It finished 1-1, and Macdonald played at left half-back, in the formation of the period (a goalkeeper, two full-backs, two half-backs and six forwards.) 

Dundee’s Courier was fulsome in its praise for his performance: 

“M’Donald (sic), it is no exaggeration to say, was the best half-back on the field. Too much praise cannot be accorded the Edinburgh University man. He fairly mashed up the combination of the English right wing. Time after time he pulled Bann and Spilsbury up short, and robbed them of the ball. He, too, turned up at unexpected places and where most wanted. He tackled splendidly, kicked strong, and capped the high reputation he has so long enjoyed by a splendid performance.”    

On completing his medical degrees, he returned to Inverness and set-up as a general practitioner, ultimately becoming Chief Medical Officer for Health for both Inverness Burgh and Inverness County Council. He married Elsa Mackintosh, and they had five children.

Macdonald had a lengthy cricket career after returning to Inverness, captaining Northern Counties for many years. His cricketing swansong came in his hometown in 1911, when he played for a North of Scotland XI against the Indian tourists at the Northern Meeting Park. The visitors won by an innings and 139 runs, but the 49-year-old John Macdonald contributed 24 not out and a second innings top score of 23 in the losing cause. 

He also maintained his interest and involvement with football in the north, and in June 1932 he was made a Patron of the Highland League. 

Dr Macdonald was also interested in music, and was a member of the Choral Union Orchestra. 

The ‘rediscovery’ of John Macdonald has provided David with a pleasant problem, as he was nearing completion of a book on Scotland’s cricketing footballers, Different Ball Games, which will now be delayed to allow him to complete research on the life of Dr Macdonald. As he is currently involved in co-authoring a history of the Great Britain ice hockey team at the Olympic, World and European Championships from 1910 to date, entitled Lion in Winter, and with a day job in Human Resources consulting (as well as an understanding wife and two school-age daughters to consider) it is little wonder that David is reluctant to set a deadline for completion of his cricket/football work!  

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