- David Potter
The Worthy Doctor
Very few Kirkcaldy people now will have heard of Dr John Smith of Brycehall, a man who practised medicine in Kirkcaldy with great distinction for over 40 years, and that was after he had made his mark as a football player with Queen’s Park, and was capped 10 times for Scotland between 1887 and 1884, was a reserve for the Scotland rugby team and in later years became the President of the Scottish Bowling Association. He was 6 foot 2 in height, and even in his later years was a singularly robust man, ceasing from active practice in medicine only a few months before his death at the age of 79 in November 1934. Clearly an all-round sportsman of some repute.
He retained until his death a reputation for benign eccentricity. He despised modern appliances like motor cars, and was seen throughout the 1920s visiting his patients in his “Victoria” – an open carriage pulled by his equally well known and loved white horse, a beast that had been retired after active service in the First World War, but was still able to do its bit in taking the kindly doctor to tend his sick patients. He both lived in and practised from a house called Brycehall at 33 Kirk Wynd, now the offices of Charles Wood, the lawyer. He had no children, and on his death in 1934 he was survived by his wife, one Beatrix (sometimes called Beatrice) Whitle whom he had married some time in the early 1900s. Beatrix herself died in January 1947.
He was born in Mauchline in Ayrshire on August 12 1855 Smith himself told the story about his first ever game of football. Ayr Academy specialised in rugby or “the Union game” or “the handling game”. They had invited a Glasgow school team to come down to Ayr to play “football”, but did not specify. The Glasgow team travelled with only 11 men – not enough for the 20 then necessary for “rugby” so they decided to play the “Association game” or the “dribbling game” instead. From them on, Smith preferred what we now call “football”, although he excelled at both games.
In the early 1870s Smith went to Edinburgh University to study Medicine. It was there that his footballing career developed, but he enjoyed rugby as well, so much so that he was chosen as reserve for Scotland in a rugby International in 1876. He did not play in that 20 per side game on March 6 1876 (the following year, it would be reduced to 15), but would have enjoyed his trip to Kennington Oval, (now the home of Surrey Cricket Club) a venue to which he would return many times.
In season 1876/77 he was offered the captaincy of the Edinburgh University Rugby Football club, but declined, because he had promised someone in a football team called the Edinburgh 3rd Royal Volunteers that he would create a football team in the University. This was to provide opposition in the new sport that was burgeoning in the capital with teams called the Heart of Midlothian, a club which had been formed from a dancing organisation and the Hibernians, a team created to give the young Irish immigrants something to do. Rumour had it that other teams were being founded, and games would be played on the Meadows.
Smith, a natural leader, went around the University persuading young men to join his new University side (sometimes provoking the ire of the rugby people, but Smith was bright enough to realise that with the reduction of teams from 20 to 15, there would be at least 5 frustrated rugby player who might want to try football instead) and very soon, in the words of whoever wrote Smith’s obituary in The Fifeshire Advertiser in 1934, the University team frequently beat Hearts, Hibs and St Bernards who “all fell victims to the slashing onslaughts” of Smith’s young and enthusiastic side.
But he was also very intelligent. It is probably true that, other things being equal ie. fitness and ability, intelligence will win through. Smith did research on his opponents, worked out weak spots, had a look at the pitch the night before and began to think about tactics, about dribbling and in particular passing the ball. Smith is described in A Scottish Soccer Internationalists Who’s Who by Douglas Lamming as “gifted in dribbling and shooting” and “superb in distribution and cool judgement”. Clearly, reports of his prowess had spread to the Scottish authorities for as early as 1877, when he was just 21, he was offered his first Scottish cap against England at the Kennington Oval.
International football was of course in its infancy, and the idea of Scotland playing England at anything other than war was a new and novel one. The two countries had co-existed peacefully for several centuries now (give or take the odd scrap like the Jacobites, for example) but there still existed a certain animosity. Now organised sport provided a channel for aggression and competition, but it was only a last minute decision by Queen’s Park before they played a team of Englishmen at Hamilton Crescent in 1872 to call themselves “Scotland” and the other team “England” that International football was born. Thus Smith arrived on the footballing scene just at the very birth of what we can call “football”.
On his International debut in 1877 Smith is described, surprisingly, as a Mauchline player rather than one of Edinburgh University. It was with the students that he was making his name, but of course there was nothing to prevent him from playing for his home town team as well now and again. The game being totally amateur, there were no registrations or signing forms or anything like that, and in any case, even if a team had decided to play a “ringer” from another club, what would there have been to prevent them? There were few photographs of players, and very few people could have said with any degree of certainty “Heh! That fellow plays for Edinburgh University!”. In any case, it seems to have been perfectly legal.
The Glasgow Herald gives an account of the game in which Smith made his International debut, telling us that there was a large amount of spectators (about 2,000) at the Kennington Oval in London and that Scotland were well served by Smith although the goals in the 3-1 win were scored by John Ferguson of Vale of Leven (twice) and William Richmond of Clydesdale. “The cheering was tumultuous” when England scored, and we learn a few interesting asides that Scotland won the toss “for choice of goals and had to kick off” in a clear difference between the Victorian game and the modern one. But the jerseys were the same with Scotland wearing a dark blue vest with a white lion on it.
This was the third time that Scotland had beaten England, but the first time in London and we can imagine the celebrations among the players and Scottish population of London. Then on the way home – such was the excellence of the modern railway system, regarded not without cause as the envy of the world – the “Scotch men” were able to “call in”, as it were, to Wrexham and play a game against Wales on the Monday. The first Monday in Wales was traditionally a Welsh holiday because of St David and what was meant to be the start of spring.
Conditions of wind and rain belied the arrival of the Welsh spring, however, as Smith again donned the blue jersey and played a fine part in the 2-0 defeat of the Welshmen. “The Scottish team are so well known that to say they played well is superfluous” is the way that The Glasgow Herald sums things up, but there are also good things to be said about the Welsh, for whom a 0-2 defeat was an improvement on the 0-4 defeat in Glasgow last year.
The teams had a meal together at night and when the Scotland party returned to Glasgow on the Tuesday, there was a crowd to cheer them, for they were now undeniably the champions of the United Kingdom. Mauchline too had heard about the exploits and Smith’s return to his village provoked great scenes of celebration as well. Football had clearly taken a hold of the Scottish population. At long last there was something that we in Scotland were good at.
Smith wasn’t chosen for either of the Internationals in 1878 – perhaps he was injured, or more likely, his face simply did not fit with the Queen’s Park establishment – but reappeared in 1879, again at Kennington Oval. This time it was a very exciting, if ultimately heart breaking game for Scotland and for Smith. The game kicked off at four o’clock, the later time possibly because most of the 4,500 crowd had been at the Oxford v Cambridge boat race earlier in the day. The Glasgow Herald, nothing if not snobby, tells that a great deal of “fashionable” people were there, including “a fair number of clergymen”. This is of course significant to the Scottish readership because football had for a while struggled in Presbyterian Scotland, because it involved enjoying oneself, but in England there seemed to be less of a problem. It would be a decade or so yet, before the Scottish Kirk realised that if its young men were playing football, it meant that they weren’t doing anything worse, like visiting alehouses and whorehouses. “Muscular Christianity” and playing sports was possibly the least of quite a few evils.
Using the wind to great advantage, Scotland went in at half time 4-1 up, with Smith having scored one of the goals. But this England team was made of sterner stuff than some of their predecessors and levelled the score at 4-4. In “conditions of the greatest excitement” Scotland “charged forward” and Smith managed to get the ball “between the sticks” – but the English side appealed for offside and “the appeal was sustained by the Umpires”. This was a bad blow to Smith – and in later years in Kirkcaldy, at a quiet moment at the Bowling Club or in one of his chats to a terminally ill patient - he would insist that he was never offside, for the English Umpire simply did not understand the rule! It meant that he was deprived of the kudos of being Scotland’s match winner, but worse came a few minutes after that when William Mosforth scored a winner for England!
Scotland vented their frustration at this unfortunate loss when they visited Wales at Wrexham on the Monday, and Smith, now described as of Edinburgh University rather than Mauchline, scored a couple of goals in the 3-0 victory. The game was played on heavy ground for the rain in the morning had been absolutely torrential, and the win went a certain way to mollifying heavy hearts from the Kennington Oval defeat. It can readily be understood why the superbly fit John Smith revelled on the heavy ground which slowed down defenders but did not prevent the long legs of Smith (with the ball sometimes “glued to his shinpads” as it was eccentrically described) rampaging through the middle.
But if 1879 was a disappointment as far as England was concerned, the following 5 years made up for it, for between 1880 and 1884, Scotland beat England a record five times in a row. This of us who were alive in 1964 will recall the tremendous excitement in the country when Scotland, thanks to an Alan Gilzean header at Hampden, registered three wins in a row with “Scots Wha Hae A Hat-Trick” among the headlines. 80 years earlier, in totally different circumstances, the triumph was no less, and the boost to the game in this country was something that remained permanently on the national psyche. Those who say that Scotland is obsessed with football (to the detriment of other sports, perhaps) possibly have a point. The obsession owes its genesis to the years between 1880 and 1884.
The big difference that it made was the social one. Gradually through the 1880s, more and more employers began to see the advantages of giving their workers a Saturday afternoon off, on the grounds that what production was lost was compensated by having their workers a little happier and more contented, and it helped to put a spoke in the wheels of the annoying “combinations” or “unions” which could potentially cause a great deal of trouble. Some workers, sadly, headed straight to the alehouse when the whistle blew at 12.00 pm, but others, younger and more active, perhaps headed to a park or a piece of waste ground to hear another whistle, that of a referee.
In addition, the effects of the 1872 Education Act (Scotland) were beginning, slowly, to have an effect. By 19th century standards, literacy had always been higher in Scotland than elsewhere, but now more and more people could read and were able to hear about and enjoy the exploits of men like John Smith of Mauchline as Scotland regularly took on the English (and the Welsh) and beat them. A whole collection of sporting newspapers like “Scottish Sport” and “Thr Referee” began to appear in newsagents.
Smith played in all of Scotland’s 5 triumphs over England except 1882, where it appears he was injured (not that he was much missed, for Scotland won 5-1) and he scored a famous hat-trick at his favourite ground Kennington Oval in 1881 (which must be his “annus mirabilis”, for he had another great moment that year), two (or were there three?) at Bramall Lane in 1883 and also the one and only goal at Cathkin in 1884 (before a massive crowd of 10,000) in the famous game which established Scotland’s supremacy over England for five years in a row.
The 1883 game has an unresolved argument about Smith’s contribution. The Glasgow Herald is curiously emphatic that Smith scored all three goals, whereas most journals and books say only 2 and the other was scored by Malcolm Fraser. The Glasgow Herald’s report, which seems to have been lifted from an English report, for it keeps taking about the “Scotch” and the “Caledonians” states quite clearly at the end that “it will be noticed that Smith scored all three goals for Scotland”. The game played at Bramall Lane, Sheffield, was a thrilling affair, played on a frosty but thawing pitch and Smith, whether he scored 2 goals or 3 in the 3-2 victory was the hero of the hour.
The first goal came from a free kick which McPherson sent over the heads of the defenders and “Smith came rushing in to score the first goal for the Caledonians amidst vociferous cheering”. The second was a more mundane tap in by Smith from a good run and cross from John Kay, but then with time running out and the teams locked at 2-2,” the Scotch got up in a body”, Kay once again got the cross over and Smith put the ball “between the sticks” to “deafening plaudits” from the astonishing crowd of nearly 10,000 “eager enthusiasts”.
Smith, thus, may or may not have score hat-tricks on two successive trips to England in 1881 and 1883 but the 1884 game was the more famous. This game, played at Old Cathkin in Govanhill, Glasgow on 15 March 1884 was the first game to provide any strong indication that interest in football was spreading geographically. Tales are told of trains arriving from Edinburgh and Dundee, and people asking at the station for a cab to take them to “the International”. Up to that point, football (at least organised football) had been confined to the Glasgow middle class, the Dunbartonshire villages and towns of Renton, Alexandra and Dumbarton itself, and of course Smith’s Ayrshire. Now more and more people were flocking to football matches, all eager to see the famous John Smith, variously described as of Mauchline, Edinburgh University or Queen’s Park.
All football fans love a goal scoring personality. Smith, tall and angular, hard-working and “clever with the football in his distribution and speed” was just that. The genteel ladies who attended football in large numbers in those days (compelling the SFA to erect a “ Ladies Rest Room” at International matches lest they needed a respite from some of the coarser language or sexual approaches of the lower orders!) were known to swoon at this tall, well-built man with his rugged features, now a general medical practitioner, who had the ability to score goals against the English. He was also famously sociable and genial, being seen frequently talking to supporters as he walked to and from the games, discussing the game and indeed more general topics of conversation. A couple of days after this game in 1884, everyone in Scotland had heard of the man with the ordinary name of John Smith and he was to all intents and purposes an ordinary man, but whose achievements had been anything but ordinary.
He was sometimes called “Doctor John” or “Scotland’s Doctor”. His latter name owes its genesis as a riposte to “England’s Doctor”, the famous cricketing WG Grace of Gloucestershire and England. Stories abounded about Grace’s cricketing abilities and quirky eccentricities including how an “amateur” managed to make so much money out of cricket! “Scotland’s Doctor” however had no such baggage, he just had the ability to score the goals that beat England.
1881 had been the year in which he had made his name. His hat-trick that he scored at the Kennington Oval was not the first for Scotland, but it was the first against England and various journals have accounts of Smith’s goals in the 6-1 triumph. His first and third were scored by charging through on his own (a recognised skill of Victorian football being the ability to charge opponents off the ball) and his second was a “crisp drive” from a Charlie Campbell pass. These goals were scored to “wild applause”, something which indicates that there was a sizeable amount of Scottish supporters in the 8,500 crowd, or that English supporters were a great deal less partisan than they are now. That was on March 12 and Smith also played in the game at Wrexham on the way home, but although cheered every time he kicked the ball, Smith did not score that day. The return to Scotland was one of a hero, with “bagpipes skirling” and the authorities having to erect s few “fences and barriers” to control the widely excited crowd.
In truth, they had little else to cheer about in many cases. Smith, a humanitarian man and far too intelligent a man to believe the traditional Presbyterian nonsense coming from Churches that it was all either predestined or their own fault, was appalled to see the poverty and deprivation of Glasgow with these bedraggled, thin, ill-clad but happy urchins cheering the return of the train and stretching out their arms to welcome the team home. But all that society could do was shrug their shoulders, take refuge in the clichés of “someone should do something about that”! Smith however felt a thrill of satisfaction that he had had given them, temporarily at least, something to be happy about.
Smith was also very much involved in the Scottish Cup final that year. He had now joined Queen’s Park (one hesitates to say “signed for”, for football in 1881 was, theoretically, a gentlemanly, amateur pursuit in which one’s word was one’s bond). Playing for Queen’s Park in the 1880s was like playing for Real Madrid today. They were big in every sense of the word, the founders of the game in Scotland, and even prepared to play games in England. Their ground, Hampden Park (there have been three Hampdens, and this one was the first), was the centre of the game in Scotland, and they had won the Scottish Cup for its first three seasons, had lost out, to their extreme distress, to the Vale of Leven side for the next three seasons, but had won the Cup back in 1880.
Impressed by the Mauchline man’s performances for Scotland, they had persuaded him to join them. Whether there was any money offered to Smith we cannot say. It would have been hotly denied, for it was indeed illegal, but one might suspect that there may have been some “expenses” money changing hands, and certainly payment in kind in the shape of meals at the best hotels etc. To reach the final Queen’s first disposed of a team with the unlikely name of “John Elder”, then Possilpark, Pilgrims, Beith, Smith’s old team Mauchline, and Campsie. We cannot be sure whether Smith played for them in the earlier rounds, but he certainly did in the Scottish Cup final against Dumbarton at Kinning Park. This was on March 26, and Queen’s Park won, but then Dumbarton protested on the grounds of crowd encroachment (a recurrent motif of Victorian football) and the game had to be replayed on April 9.
Contemporary newspapers sometimes give the impression of being more interested in the peripherals of the game rather than the game itself. We have accounts of platforms being erected for the spectators to stand on, old railway stock being deployed for the same purpose and enterprising householders in the vicinity of Kinning Park leasing out their front rooms with a view to the field at 1 shilling per head. Such was the enthusiasm of “upwards of 10,000 people” to see the mighty Queen’s Park, and the man who had set all Scotland alight with his London hat-trick a month earlier, the “second greatest man to come from Ayrshire” (as one journal described him) John Smith.
Queen’s Park again won 3-1, and some people claim that Smith scored all three, which would have made him the first hat-trick scorer in a Scottish Cup final. Sadly the evidence, scant and unclear as it is, certainly in The Glasgow Herald’s account, does not support this contention. Smith certainly scored two, but it seems that a man called George Ker scored the other. Possibly the idea of a hat-trick in the Scottish Cup final arises from confusion with the Scotland v England international of that year, in which he certainly was presented with a hat for his achievement. One feels that if he had scored a hat-trick in the final as well, there would have been more fuss about it. As it is, the first Scottish Cup final hat-trick was not scored until 1904 when the great Jimmy Quinn of Celtic completed that feat.
He didn’t seem to play in 1882 – injury presumably, or perhaps too busy with his medical commitments – but 1883 saw his two goals (or possibly three) against England at Bramall Lane, Sheffield. They were good ones too, “the fruits of good Scotch running and passing” and Smith is given the added compliment of being called “Dr Smith” in The Glasgow Herald’s account of the game. Queen’s Park however had a less happy season, losing to Dumbarton in the Scottish Cup at an early stage in February, with Smith, for some reason or other, (another injury?) conspicuously absent.
He was not exactly “playing” for Queen’s Park either in the 1884 Scottish Cup final, but he won a winners’ medal for them! The game was scheduled for February 23 at Cathkin and the finalists were Queen’s Park and Vale of Leven. Vale of Leven suffered an injury crisis on the Wednesday before the game. They asked for a postponement but neither Queen’s Park nor the SFA would consent. Vale of Leven, alleging collusion between the “establishment” of Queen’s Park and the SFA, (indeed there were quite a few men on the committee of both) failed to turn up, and the Cup was awarded by default to Smith and Queen’s Park, who proved the point by playing a friendly against Third Lanark instead and winning 4-0. It was not incidentally the first time that the Scottish Cup had been won that way, for Vale of Leven themselves had benefitted in 1879 when Rangers, having drawn the final on April 19 when they felt they would have won but for a wrongly disallowed offside goal, simply refused to turn up for the replay! John Fairgrieve in this book “The Rangers, Scotland’s Greatest Football Club” (sic) states laconically that the “affair did not reflect well on Rangers”. Nor did 1884 do Vale of Leven a great deal of favours. They never won the Scottish Cup again.
Smith had several other big games in 1884. One was the game against England, already referred to, in 1884 at Cathkin in which he scored the only goal of the game. In scoring it, he was fortunate, however, in that Cathkin had cross bars rather than the rope which still had to suffice on other, less well-appointed grounds. The goal is well described in the contemporary press. Wattie Arnott punted a long ball forward, it was headed on by another forward to Smith (or “Doctor John” as the fans now called him) who beat a few men and crashed an unsaveable shot above the head of goalkeeper William Rose. The ball then hit the bar and bounced into the goal. Had there simply been a rope, the ball would have kept soaring upwards! As it was, the goal was given and the cheering and clapping continued for minutes afterwards!
A couple of weeks after that, Smith returned to Kennington Oval to play in the FA Cup final. We in Scotland are prone (incorrectly) to name this trophy “the English Cup”, but the correct name is indeed the Football Association Cup and it was certainly not “the English Cup” in 1884, for Queen’s Park participated. (They would do so in future years as well, as did Rangers). Queen’s Park had had a great run to the final, the most famous game being the 6-1 defeat of Aston Villa on January 19 at First Hampden in which a “goodly concourse” of about 12,000 crammed the primitive enclosure to see a great Queen’s Park performance in which Smith scored at least twice. (Reports as always are obscure). Amazingly to 1884 eyes, many trains of Birmingham supporters came to see this game – such was the effect of football! They “Brummies” were all very friendly and left impressed with Scotland, Glasgow and Dr John Smith.
The town of Blackburn, like Glasgow, Birmingham and Dunbartonshire, a famous centre of football provided opposition to Queen’s Park in the latter stages of the FA Cup. First Queen’s Park disposed of Blackburn Olympic at the neutral venue of the Trent Bridge cricket ground on March 1. They won 4-1 and one of the goals was scored by “Dr. Smith” who ran through and scored with a shot that the “goalkeeper could not possibly have stopped” In the final at Kennington Oval on March 29, Queen’s Park were less successful. The opponents were Blackburn Rovers, a fine side, who won 2-1. Smith, although “conspicuous among the Scotch forwards” was well policed and failed to score.
In spite of this reverse, Smith in 1884 was on top of the footballing world. But then things get rather murky. But before we can begin to understand the passions involved, we must appreciate the difference between professional and amateur. Being paid for playing sport was considered in polite, genteel, Glasgow society (and in the 1880s it was exactly this breed of people who controlled both Queen’s Park and Scotland) to be, if not totally beyond the pale, certainly “infra dig”. You would not, if you could help it, allow your daughter to marry a professional football player, in the same way as you would move heaven and earth to prevent your son marrying an actress!
Fortunately, the situation in Scottish football was resolved as early as 1893, but in other sports, notably cricket and rugby, problems associated with this issue lasted a great deal longer. But in the 1880s, of course, Smith was an amateur. In the absence of any system or registration, he could play for whomsover he wanted to and there was little or nothing that Queen’s Park or the SFA could do to stop it.
Along with his good friend, Andrew Watson a West Indian half caste from British Guyana, Smith would go to England and play for several teams like the Corinthians, the London Swifts and the Liverpool Ramblers. Often he would play openly as Dr John Smith, the famous Scottish goal scorer, and would attract a large crowd to see this famous man of whom much was known, notably the hat-tricks in 1881 and 1883 against England.
Other times, however, a man looking remarkably like him called JC Miller would play. This immediately rouses our suspicions. Miller was, of course, Smith’s mother’s maiden name and there is the possibility that Smith was using this device for sinister reasons. Perhaps he was in fact being paid as a professional, and did not want the very amateur Queen’s Park to know about it, lest it prejudiced his chances of playing another game for Scotland, something was very important to him.
Now, Smith did not need the money. He was of a wealthy family, had a job as a doctor in any case, and was certainly not the type of “professional footballer” who aroused such contempt in Victorian society – a working class ragamuffin who really should have been earning his money in some factory, mine or shipyard.
This is not to say that he would say “no” to filthy lucre when it was offered. It may be that he was actually playing as a professional for some teams, and using the pseudonym JC Miller as a cover, lest it prejudice his chances of more caps for Scotland. Certainly JC Miller and Dr John Smith looked very like each other, and scored the same sort of goals! Yet such things are hard to prove.
Using one’s mother’s maiden name has a distinguished parallel. In the 1890s, (even after professionalism had been legalised in 1893) a player called Willie Montgomery played for Celtic. This was no less a person that Willie Maley who would become Celtic’s manager in 1897 but was then working for an accountancy firm at that time, and simply did not want his employers to know that he was also earning money for playing football for Celtic.
In England, it would very soon be no problem in any case, for in 1885 professionalism was recognised and in 1886 legalised. But Scotland and Queen’s Park in particular, backed up by The Glasgow Herald, persisted in pursuing their absurd policy of persecuting professionals. They would eventually themselves be the losers, for the rise of Celtic brought the legalisation of professionalism in 1893, but Queen’s Park eventually were able in 1885 to get Smith banned, not because he played professional football (they could never prove that) but because he had played a few games for the Corinthians who did play a few games against an openly professional team! This was petty and vindictive but it effectively brought an end to Smith’s international football playing career. He had played 10 games for Scotland and scored (although the evidence is sometimes contradictory) 10 goals.
Perhaps there were a few other issues at stake, other than “playing football against a professional team”. The trouble with being a national hero is, of course, that there is often a reaction. Jealousy is often a terrible thing, and possibly quite a few in the Glasgow “mafia” that was Queen’s Park felt that the jumped-up Ayrshire doctor was getting a disproportionate share of the glory that had been heaped upon Scotland, with even the English Press wholesome in their praise and admiration of Scotland and of Dr John Smith, the idol of so many people. Therefore the less than heinous charge of “playing football against a professional team” might have been a peg on which to hang a great deal of grievances.
Smith, of course, but no means an unintelligent or insensitive man, realised what was going on, and in any case, now that he was nearly 30, may have realised that the good days had gone. He accepted that he could not go for ever. It did not however bring an end to his interest in the sport, nor did it curtail his involvement in another sport. He had played rugby concurrently with football (as did many players) and although he was never chosen to play for Scotland at rugby, he was at one point nominated as reserve in 1876. Now that he was banned from playing football, he took up rugby, but also in football, bizarrely for a man who had been banned, he became more interested in refereeing or umpiring the game.
His contribution to football was enormous. Football is all about scoring goals, and a player who can do just that will be very popular and rapidly become a cult hero. In later years men like Jimmy Quinn, Hughie Gallagher, Jimmy McGrory, Denis Law, Joe Jordan and Ally McCoist would become great Scottish cult heroes for doing just that. But the prototype was John Smith.
He still had other sporting fields to plough, however. In 1888 Alfred Shaw and Arthur Shrewbury, two professional cricketers who had seen various cricketing teams from 1877 onwards visit Australia and New Zealand, thought it would be a good idea to try a similar thing in rugby. They obtained a reluctant blessing from the Rugby Football Union, who feared that it might open the doors to professionalism (that old obsession, again!) but could find no real reason to stop it, which they couldn’t have done anyway, but a bigger problem turned out to be the recruiting of players who would need to be away from March until November. Smith was approached and agreed. He was a valuable recruit for he could perform several functions. He could play, referee (the Australian and New Zealanders might not know the rules!), could be the tour doctor, but his main attraction was that he was a well-known sportsman who could lend an air of respectability to this somewhat dubious idea.
On his return home, Smith now 33, decided that with all his degrees and qualifications, (he was an MA, MD and a MRCS) it was time to start working and to practise at last the medicine that he loved studying. In about 1890, the Brycehall practice in Kirk Wynd needed a partner for Dr Proudfoot. Smith, already a celebrity, applied and got the job, and a long relationship with Kirkcaldy began. One can imagine the excitement in the town at the arrival of such a personality.
But he had not, by any manner of means, given up sport. He seems to have refereed rugby matches, but also football matches as well, and we find him refereeing the Scotland v England football match at Ibrox on April 2 1892. The appointment of referees for even big games like International matches was a haphazard quixotic affair, and we are surprised, for several reasons, to find the Kirkcaldy doctor (as he now was referred to) appointed to take this game. The Glasgow Herald says he was appointed “by mutual consent”, as if England had agreed that he was a man of such status that he was the best referee around. It certainly seems to have been a late decision, because when the Scottish team was announced a week before the game, Mr Sneddon was appointed as linesman (in 1892 each time would supply a linesman), but no announcement of a referee!
It is not unparalleled (indeed it was common practice) for a Scotsman to referee Scotland games, but it was more common for a Scotsman to referee the game when it was played in England and vice versa. Moreover, it was not all that long ago that Smith’s conduct as a player and his dealings with the world of professionalism had led to severe disapproval and effectively a ban. Yet here he was, clearly very much in favour and handling a game of this magnitude. Ironically, he was refereeing a game between an amateur team and a professional team, for England were now professional, and Scotland were still amateur - at least in theory.
Amateurism did not last long, and a clear indication of the way in things were heading was the formation in 1890 of a Scottish League, whereby each team had to play each other twice, rather than the gentleman’s agreement to play friendlies on the days when there was no Scottish Cup. Queen’s Park, fearing that this would lead to professionalism, stayed aloof but everyone else joined the Scottish League and, under the counter, paid their players. The crowds that came to football were more than enough to allow teams to do this, and the official recognition of professionalism in 1893 was merely an official acknowledgement of what had gone on for some time. Stopping professionalism was like “trying to stop Niagara with a kitchen chair” in the graphic description of John H McLauglin of Celtic, one of the leading proponents of professional football.
Clearly the persistence with amateurism was not doing Scotland much good, for in the game that the worthy Kirkcaldy doctor refereed, they lost 1-4! Smith disallowed two Scottish goals, one for offside and one because he did not think that the ball had crossed the line, but no-one in the Press blamed the referee for the defeat (some of the disgusted crowd did!), the Press centring their criticism on the Scotland team who were 0-4 down at half time and described as “spineless” and “feckless”. Some of the crowd showed their disgust by not coming back after half-time, and The Scotsman in an attempt to cheer up its readers, concentrates on a detailed description of the Highland Fling exhibition at half-time, the music of the Dumfries Industrial Band and full credit being paid to Rangers for the fine job they had made in decking out their ground!
Scottish Sport says “Dr Smith who refereed, represented Scotland against England on six different occasions. In spite of the demonstrations which he occasionally met with, he showed he could manipulate the whistle as well as he used to manipulate the ball. We wish we had more of his kind on the referee list”. Athletic News is even more complimentary “ Dr Smith was a wideawake referee and did his duty bravely despite the hostility displayed towards him in the second half. I am sure he will appreciate the compliment of being selected to officiate on such an auspicious day and England’s trust in his honesty was thoroughly justified” while The Fife Free Press purrs its satisfaction that a Kirkcaldy man has been so honoured “…no greater honour can be conferred in the football world than that of refereeing the International…”.
It was his one and only International appointment, and he never refereed a Scottish Cup final, but presumably he kept refereeing lesser games. He refereed at Scott’s Park, Pathhead a couple of days later (the Holiday Monday) a friendly between Kirkcaldy and the mighty Queen’s Park, and it was through Smith’s influence that the fixture was arranged. This game attracted a crowd of 2,000 to see the pioneers of the sport, Queen’s Park, but whether it was wise of the Glasgow Amateurs to play this game is open to question, for they lost the Scottish Cup final to Celtic the following Saturday.
Smith played other sports as well, and was a great believer in keeping himself fit by running and cycling. Having taken up his residence in Brycehall in Kirk Wynd, as an assistant to Dr Proudfoot, he soon made himself a well known character, (if he was not before) being seen running round the town in a way which would have shocked, one imagines, some of the genteel Victorian ladies of the Old Kirk. Bits of his body might have been showing! Other ladies perhaps looked at him with slightly different thoughts, for he was still a bachelor and, not yet 40 when he first came to Kirkcaldy, a fine figure of a man. Being intimately examined by such a man would be no unpleasant experience.
But hero of Scotland though he had been a decade previously, and now on paper at least an eminent physician, he now had to re-train, as it were, to deal with the mundane practice of dispensing medicine in Kirkcaldy. He would have been reasonable unshockable as far as diseases and their treatments were concerned. Medicine degrees in Victorian Scotland were not easy to come by, especially at Edinburgh which had a deserved reputation for turning out the best doctors in the world. They did not do so by making life easy for their students.
So we may safely assume that Smith could cope with blood, gore, operations, deformities and everything else that would come his way in a medicinal capacity. What he would not have been prepared for, one imagines, would have been the extent of the poverty, deprivation, filth, neglect and all the evils of a society which had industrialised too quickly over the past 100 years, and in which those who made a colossal amount of money did not see the need to spread it around for the benefit of those who had produced the wealth.
Smith, of course, was a very humane man. In politics it is difficult to imagine him being anything other than a Gladstonian Liberal. He went to Church, but never became sufficiently involved in it to become an Elder, as far as we can see, and was probably still too obsessed with his varying sporting activities to be too interested in religion or politics to any great extent. But he must have been shocked as some of the things that he saw in Kirkcaldy in places like the Links, Rose Street, Pathhead and other areas of the town. Possibly the biggest problem for a man like Smith would have been the sheer filth and the stench in which so many families had to live.
The alienation of the working class was something else that he would have found difficult to comprehend. “Doctors are no’ for the likes of us” was a common opinion expressed in working class circles, and of course there was the undeniable fact, that with the National Health Service still 50 years away and only the tiniest gleam in the eye of a few luminaries like Keir Hardie or Ramsay MacDonald, people had to pay for the attentions of a doctor. For this reason a visit to a doctor would be a very rare event indeed, and the doctor would only be summoned in the direst of emergencies.
There were insurance schemes of sorts, but this involved paperwork and bureaucracy and most working class people simply had no cover at all, and relied on the good will of the doctor to attend a patient in dire emergencies without any guarantee that he would ever be paid. Often a case of something like scarlet fever would be allowed to happen by a family unable to pay a doctor, the fever would naturally spread to other members of the family, and before anyone realised what was happening, there was an epidemic involving such an unnecessary loss of life.
This all comes as a shock to us more than 100 years later and after several generations of the National Health Service which has gone such a long way to improve the quality of life for everyone, but to someone like Dr Smith, it must have been a real shock. He must have realised that something was wrong about this way of life, yet what could be do? He would write various learned papers to medical bodies on subjects like obstetrics and ophthalmology – and he very soon became a respected doctor in the area, but the basic problem needed a political solution, and this was still a long way in the future. Victorians are often described as “the great improvers” and one recent Prime Minister once talked about the excellence of “Victorian values”. One must beg to differ.
There was also the “sinful” diseases and conditions. It was hardly surprising that so many people took to the ever present alcohol. Churches were right to rail against this evil, but it was a symptom, not the cause. And there were the sexual diseases picked up from prostitution, a phenomenon which (although no-one will accept this) has actually declined in modern times! In Victorian times, no-one would even mention it or if they did, they used euphemisms like “ladies of the night” or “fallen women”, but everyone knew that it happened. It was indeed very common, and Smith would have definitely seen the effects of this.
For relief from what would have been undeniable a hard job, Smith turned more and more to sports. In Kirkcaldy, he had the occasional round of golf, indulged in the “roaring game” (curling) but his main interest became bowls. In 1900 we find that he was president of the Kirkcaldy Bowling Club, and was good enough to play several times for the unofficial Scotland bowling team from 1903 until 1905 before becoming President of the Scottish Bowling Association in 1925. In 1948, some time after his death and that of his widow Beatrice, a couple of trophies were donated to be played for, one to be called the Dr Smith Cup and one to be called the Beatrice Smith Cup.
His wife Beatrix Alice Whitle was 12 years younger than John. He is listed in the 1901 Census as living in Bryce Hall, a bachelor, with two lady servants. (No doubt there were the customary nudges and winks about that!). But by the 1911 census when John is 55, Beatrix has appeared, aged 43 and with the other description than “wife” and born in “England”. In fact, she may have been Welsh, for other sources tell us that her father was a Colonel and that he came from Old Colwyn in North Wales. They had no children, but had a long and happy marriage with Beatrice seeming to live the genteel and (to modern eyes) somewhat boring life of drinking tea with other doctors’ wives in the winter afternoons and possibly a “spot of gardening” in the summer.
It was the fortune of Dr John Smith to live in Kirkcaldy through interesting times from 1891 until 1934. He saw the introduction of things like the National Insurance Act in the era of the Liberal Reforms of the Edwardian era, something that did a great deal to improve health in that poor families would now be less reluctant to summon doctors when someone was ill. He saw a gradual improvement in medical techniques, a few more hospitals appearing on the scene and he was always well to the fore in urging the authorities to improve housing. Gradually, he felt that things were improving, but he knew that there was a long way to go. Possibly towards the end of his life, he began to feel that men like Ramsay MacDonald and Tom Kennedy (whom he met several times and who impressed him by his sincerity), dangerous radicals though they were in some ways, might yet have some solution to the awful health problems which prevailed in the town.
He must have had mixed feelings about the Great War. Yes, it was perhaps necessary if the Kaiser was hell bent on taking over Belgium and France, but Smith (now nearly 60 in 1914 and too old for any active part in the conflict, even as a medical officer) would see soldiers after they came home on leave or if they had been invalided out. He would, at first hand, see the results of wounds and gas, and the perhaps less obvious but possibly more insidious effects of shellshock and stress. He would see the stress of the grieving widows, and the lack of support offered by a so-called triumphant nation.
The end of the war would see a dramatic increase in trade, as it were, for there was the Spanish flu outbreak to deal with. It developed in the last year of the war – and little wonder with all that poisonous gas in the atmosphere – and ravaged the civilian population throughout 1919 as soldiers came home to spread the illness to wives and children who hadn’t necessarily been starved or under-nourished in the war but had certainly been lacking in the proper vitamins of a healthy diet. Smith, himself still a strong and robust man, was tireless in his attention to his patients, but there was little that he could do in circumstances like, for example, the story of Sapper Dryburgh who came home on leave in February 1919, played football with his friends in the Beveridge Park, then died of flu 12 hours later!
Medical science did eventually get the better of the flu epidemic, and to an extent society settled down in the 1920s but then came the General Strike and all its problems. Smith, now 70 and still in practice but now with a younger doctor called Dr Beveridge with him, was distressed by all this, particularly when the miners themselves continued their strike long after the General Strike had collapsed. In this context, we might consider the words of Philip Hodge, one time agent of the Miners Union “I always found him a true sportsman; he had developed the spirit and letter of fair play and justice to a very high degree, and when examining my miners and reporting (on their condition), he was patient, tolerant and sympathetic. He was independent and incorruptible, and in my opinion, he was the ideal medical referee”. Smith was clearly looked upon as the doctor who would spot a malingerer, as distinct from the miner who was ill and needed to go “on the sick”. There were of course a huge amount of them, for mining was a dreadful job, and one suspects that Smith sympathised with the militant miners as distinct from the “fat cats” of the Wemyss Coal Company.
In his old age, Smith continued to practice, feeling that he still had something to offer. He was a frequent sight in his horse-drawn carriage going round the town, often pipe in mouth, nodding genially to all he met, and a few of the older people in Kirkcaldy would tell their grandchildren that that man scored goals for Scotland against England just like Jimmy McGrory and Hughie Gallacher did now. He still played his bowls and went every week to see Raith Rovers, even in the early 1930s when things were not so good. On a Sunday morning he would take the short walk across the road to the Parish Church. He died in 1934.