THIRD LANARK v DUNDEE
ON CHRISTMAS DAY
by Bob McPherson
 
In his centenary history of the Scottish Football League, the late Bob Crampsey claimed that “the death of Third Lanark in 1967 is perhaps the most painful of all losses sustained by Scottish League football”. 
 
It’s easy to see what Bob Crampsey meant. Thirds had been founder members of the Scottish Football League in 1890, Scottish Cup winners in 1889 and 1905 and Scottish League champions in 1904. They had also been original members of the Scottish Football Association in 1873 and only Vale of Leven were also able to boast of being founder members of Scotland’s two main football organisations.
 
Thirds had many other claims to fame during their ninety-five year history, as detailed so well in John Litster’s thoroughly researched and beautifully produced Life and Death of the Hi Hi but the purpose of this short article is to (belatedly!) look at a question raised in these pages by the always informative Jim Stewart on page 15 of SFH 120. As a footnote to an item entitled Christmas Day 1909 Jim asked: 
 
“Does any SFH reader know why Third Lanark and Dundee chose to play their League fixtures at Cathkin Park during this period on Christmas Day? Thirds always had a large Jewish following, which may give some clue as to why they, alone of the League cubs, chose to play at home on this public holiday, but why Dundee as the opponents?"
 
The Thirds v Dundee Christmas holiday series began in 1904. Christmas Day in that year fell on a Sunday so that on December 26 “Glasgow was”, to quote the Dundee Courier “very largely on holiday”.  This offered the two clubs an opportunity to experiment with playing on Boxing Day. “Had the weather been more favourable,” the Courier explained the following day, “the experiment of playing the match on a Christmas holiday would have proved an unqualified success. Instead of keen, clear air, one associates with the merry Christmas season, the atmosphere was charged with a dense yellow fog. In the city day was practically turned into night. The suburbs, however, fared better, and although things were cheery enough out Cathkin way, the depressing conditions generally made the spectators hold off. Financially the game was a failure, the total drawings amounting to only £52 but from the point of view of real good football it was a great success.”
 
Part of the Courier’s enthusiasm for the idea of Dundee FC playing on Christmas Day was no doubt influenced by the realisation that a preview, report and review of a Dundee league match would help fill up some space in the sports pages over three days’ editions. 
 
Details of the next four matches in the series are as follows: 
1905-06 Monday 25 Dec 1905  1-2        2,500
1906-07 Tuesday 25 Dec 1906  2-0       4,600
1907-08 Wednesday 25 Dec 1907  1-1 8,000
1908-09 Friday 25 Dec 1908  2-1          7,000
  
The Christmas Day 1908 edition of the Dundee Courier carried the following observations by “Critic”:
 “When Dundee and Third Lanark ventured to play a Scottish League match at Cathkin Park on Christmas Day four years ago there were many head-shakings as to its success financially. Each year the "gate" has increased in size, until to-day it is equal to that of a Saturday match. Christmas Day football will soon be more general in the cities, where large numbers are on holiday. The days of friendlies are past, I regret to say, and it is but right that clubs should take advantage of the holiday to wipe off a delayed or unfinished game. Everybody who is anybody in the world of football will be at Cathkin witnessing the battle between Dundee and Third, and if the game is anything like its predecessors it will be one worth witnessing.”
 
The subsequent sequence of Thirds’ Christmas matches with Dundee is shown below: 
1909-10 Saturday 25 Dec 1909 0-2     12,000
1910-11 Monday 26 Dec 1910 2-0         7,000
1911-12 Monday 25 Dec 1911  1-0      10,000
1912-13 Wednesday 25 Dec 1912 4-1  8,000
1913-14 Thursday 25 Dec 1913   2-1  10,000
1914-15 Friday 25 Dec 1914  7-0          4,000
 
On Christmas Day 1915 Dundee played Hibernian at Easter Road whilst Thirds hosted the visit of Hearts on the same day. We can only speculate whether the ending of the Thirds v Dundee sequence was at the behest of the Scottish League’s fixture compiler or a Dundee FC decision due to the 7-0 drubbing experienced by the Dens Parkers in 1914!
 
By that year, playing football matches when large numbers are on holiday was recognised by many clubs as eminently sensible. From 1914 onwards both Thirds and Dundee played on Christmas Day against other teams but occasionally, when the fixture list permitted, they resumed their innovative holiday rivalry.
 
If that, in part at least, deals with Jim’s first question it’s more difficult to be precise in response to his “Thirds always had a large Jewish following” contention, which John Litster also refers to in Life and Death of the Hi Hi . With the greatest of respect to both Jim and John, I can find no evidence to substantiate that claim at any time in Thirds history and, as the following figures show, it certainly didn’t apply in 1904.   
 
In Scotland’s Jews – A Guide to the History and Community of the Jews in Scotland author Dr. Kenneth E. Collins includes the following in his chapter on Jewish immigration:
 
“Migration to Scotland in significant numbers did not really get under way until the 1890s.  There were about 2,000 Jews in Glasgow in 1891, and this number increased to about 7,000 a decade later. By 1914 there were about 12,000 Jews in Glasgow.
 
The above figures and the districts of the city where most Jews lived at the time should be borne in mind when considering Jim’s “large Jewish following” assertion. Before the beginning of the twentieth century most of Glasgow’s Jews lived in and around the city centre but there were the beginnings of a Yiddish-speaking community in the Gorbals, just south of the River Clyde. 
 
After 1901 the establishment of synagogues to the south of the Gorbals is the best indicator of the Jewish community’s pattern of movement in Glasgow’s south side and their proximity to Cathkin Park. Eventually there were three Orthodox synagogues in Thirds’ immediate catchment area plus a small Reform synagogue, but there were none in 1904, when the decision to play football on or around Christmas Day was first taken by Third Lanark. 
 
The Queen’s Park Synagogue was founded around 1906 and probably had around 500-700 members at that time. A second place of worship, of similar size, was established in Langside around 1915 and a third Hebrew congregation was created in Crosshill, the area of Glasgow containing Cathkin Park, but this was not until around 1933. This is also the year that the Reform synagogue was set up in nearby Strathbungo. 
 
So there were probably around 2,000 to 2,500 Jewish people living in the combined Govanhill/ Crosshill/ Langside/ Strathbungo area in the 1930’s but it is likely there would have been no more than half that number living in these districts in December 1904. 
 
During Season 1904-05, despite being reigning league champions, a typical league fixture at Cathkin Park attracted attendances of around 4,000. Admittedly this figure is based on newspaper estimates and is probably understated but in any case it would have required a significant percentage of the immediate local Jewish population, estimated at no more than 1,000, to have been regular attendees at Thirds’ home matches for their effect on the size of the Cathkin crowd to have been worthy of consideration at any time of the year. 
 
It should also be pointed out that Shabbat (Sabbath), Judaism’s traditional day of rest, begins at nightfall on Friday and lasts until nightfall on Saturday, thus the number of orthodox Jewish people who would regularly watch Saturday football at Cathkin in the early years of the twentieth century is at the very least open to question. 
 
In all probability the very small size of any Jewish support for Third Lanark in 1904 is unlikely to have been a consideration when the boards of Third Lanark and Dundee discussed the advantages and disadvantages of playing football on 26 December 1904. More plausibly, the very small size of Third Lanark’s total support in 1904, from all quarters, may well have been the reason for experimenting with holiday football.  
Bob McPherson, 30 Holly Road,
Broughty Ferry, Dundee DD5 2LZ
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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