Bainsford became a sports hub in the 19th century. Find out about the different clubs that formed and the types of sports they played.
Throughout the 19th Century Bainsford grew dramatically in size due to the influx of iron workers who came in search of work at the many local iron foundries in the village. It was into this environment that East Stirlingshire Football Club was born.
Sports and other activities had been played for a considerable number of decades at an organised level in Falkirk before East Stirlingshire FC were formed. The Falkirk Bowling Club and Falkirk Curling Club existed in the mid 1840s and likely before this time. In October 1848 a horse racing one-off event took place called the “Falkirk Races.” Then on 7th August 1851 the first report of a cricket match in Falkirk appeared: an Eleven of Stirlingshire having played an Eleven of East Lothian on the lawn in front of Callendar House. Eventually, in July 1856, a cricket club was formed in the town, though it didn’t survive long, and was superseded by Falkirk Cricket Club in 1862. A gradual shortening of the working week gave workers more free time, which meant sports were no longer just the preserve of the elite, as they had been for many years. The working classes took up various sports in increasingly large numbers and by the late 1860s cricket was the main summertime game in the town.
Bainsford did not miss out on the sporting boom and to begin with it was all about cricket. The first sporting event ever recorded in Bainsford was a cricket match when Burnhouse met Alloa on 1st June 1867. Cricket continued to blossom in Bainsford over the next decade, and the village also had its own Quoiting field in 1869, called the Bainsford Quoiting Ground.
New cricket clubs were coming on the scene all the time and on 27th December 1869 a meeting was held to form a new Cricket Club called the East Stirlingshire Cricket Club who went on to play their first game in the spring of 1870. The new club was no ordinary one as it included in its members William Forbes of Callendar (you can read about Forbes in our other stories). The club’s first ground was a field adjoining Callendar Road, nearly opposite Callendar House. Over the next few years, the East Stirlingshire Cricket Club’s star rose, and they regularly played the cricketing greats at the time from Edinburgh and Glasgow.
In 1875, football arrived in Falkirk District with the Grasshoppers from Bonnybridge leading the way. At the end of the 1875 cricket season, at their AGM on 5th October, Grangemouth Cricket Club took the step of setting up an offshoot football club the membership of which would be made up mainly of cricket club members though “not exclusively.” This new football club was actually a rugby club (at the time both codes were called football – occasionally “Association rules” was added to aid the newspaper readers as to which code the game was). The East Stirlingshire Cricket Club followed this immediately with an advertisement in the Falkirk Herald published one week later, on 16th October, 1875:
An initial game of the new East Stirlingshire Football Club was to be played on 16th October 1875 at Randyford. Unfortunately, the trail runs cold at this point with regards to the new Football Club, so we have no record as to whether more games were played or whom the players and officials were and even if it was a Rugby or Association Football club.
The First Game?
A remarkable co-incidence happened on that same day when the first verified recorded Association football game played in Falkirk District took place at Bonnybridge. The local club Grasshoppers played a friendly with Smith & Wellstood’s (the iron foundry) which ended 0-0. So, if the East Stirlingshire Football Club was an Association club then they, along with the Grasshoppers, had the honour of playing the first game in the district, and East Stirlingshire FC would have played the first game in Falkirk. It wasn’t until 2 years later that the Falkirk Herald recorded a game that took place on 8th December 1877 between Falkirk XI and Kelvinbank (result 0-5) which was declared the first ever football (Association) game in Falkirk. So, we have this later game as the main contender for the first game in Falkirk, and the East Stirlingshire Football Club game 2 years earlier. This later game was the catalyst for the explosion of Association football in Falkirk with Falkirk FC leading the way. Before the end of the decade football clubs had been formed in Camelon and Bainsford amongst other areas.
Although Grangemouth Cricket Club had gone down the rugby route when establishing their Football Club, other early cricket clubs in the area appear to have gone down the Association football avenue, though this is mainly conjecture with only circumstantial evidence. For example, there were football clubs playing in the 1870s bearing the same names of cricket clubs called Glengowan, Denny Standard, and Camelon Britannia.
The Blue Bonnets
On 19th July, 1879 the Falkirk Herald reported on a game played by a cricket club called Bainsford Blue Bonnets. A good number of members of this new cricket club were teenagers. It appears it was the first year the cricket club played, and they played their games at Bainsford before moving to Burnhouse in 1880. The name Blue Bonnets would have been taken from the Blue Bonnets that the Jacobite army had worn in the 1745 uprising and immortalised in song “All the Blue Bonnets are over the Border” by Sir Walter Scott in his historical novel The Monastery (1820). The song was about the Bonnie Prince Charlie’s campaign in 1745 into England.
In the autumn of 1880, several young men from the Blue Bonnets Cricket Club got together to form what was to be become the current East Stirlingshire Football Club and the cricket club was never heard of again. The new club was not the first football team to have played in the village; that honour fell to Gentlemen of Bainsford who lead the way with a game on 8th November 1879.
By Drummond Calder, Great Place volunteer 2020.