AFC Archive | “Aberdeen Football Amalgamation”
On this day, 14th April 1903, at the offices of Alex Clarke, a solicitors in Bridge Street, Aberdeen Football Club were officially formed after Orion, Victoria United and Aberdeen joined together.
The Red Matchday team look back at how The Dons began.
Pittodrie has been the spiritual home of Aberdeen Football Club since 1899. The original Aberdeen took up residence on the former dung hill much to the envy of local rivals Orion and Victoria United.
The opening game took place on 2 September 1899 and Aberdeen celebrated in style, winning 7-1. Alex Shiach became the first player to score at Pittodrie.
Pittodrie’s stature went up another notch when Scotland played Wales in the first full international to be played in the Granite City. On 3 February 1900, Scotland defeated the Welsh 5-2 before a record 11,000 attendance. Admission to the game was increased to two shillings for a seat in the stand, bringing in record receipts upward of £290.
However ever since the first talk of amalgamation of the three major clubs in the city in a combined bid to gain admission to the Scottish League, the serious activity was away from Pittodrie.
Several offices and meeting halls were utilised in what was a hectic time off the field. Amalgamation groups, public meetings and gaining support from other member clubs were all activities that were carried out around the town.
All this came about after Aberdeen, who had by now become the dominant side in the city, on 13th May 1900, made a bold attempt to gain admission to the Scottish League. The club’s cause was aided by sources in Dundee, who cited the fact that towns like Kilmarnock and Paisley boasted teams in the First Division, and that Aberdeen, being much larger in size and population, should be granted equal status. What scuppered the argument was the fact that the city had three major clubs in operation, and not surprisingly, the bid was rejected.
At that point, though no explanation was given for Aberdeen’s failed application, it became clear to all concerned that amalgamation in some form might open doors.
This perception became even sharper in November 1902, when Aberdeen resisted a proposal from Hibernian to relocate from their Easter Road ground in Edinburgh and take over Pittodrie.
The attractions of Aberdeen were obvious. It was Scotland’s only large centre of population without a team in the higher echelons of the game, and basically, it was an untapped resource. Hibernian went so far as to send a valuer to Pittodrie to assess the potential of such a move. Indeed, this was the second time that the Edinburgh club had made overtures in Aberdeen’s direction but, like the first, it fell on deaf ears.
Still, the point had been forcefully made.
Within three weeks – and no doubt partly prompted by the latest move from Hibernian – the first informal talks of amalgamating Aberdeen’s leading clubs commenced.
It was tacitly understood by all that no club within the city would gain admission to the Scottish League except through collective effort.
On Wednesday, 2 December 1902, the working representatives of Aberdeen, Victoria and Orion convened in the County Hotel.
There were important issues to be addressed, and George Alexander of Orion voiced one: existing debts would have to be wiped off and new funding sought for any new club. At the meeting’s conclusion it was agreed to send Mr H Wylie to the offices of the Scottish League, where he would gauge interest from the governing body to the proposed outline for amalgamation. In the meantime, all three clubs were urged to give attention to their respective financial positions.
The process was far from straight forward as months of negotiations and internal club squabbling had threatened to see the proposal collapse.
But following prolonged negotiations the Amalgamation Committee convened again on 14th April 1903 at the offices of Alex Clarke, the prominent solicitors in Bridge Street in the town centre.
Mr Clarke acted on behalf of all three clubs in settling their affairs. The agreement was approved and Aberdeen Football Club came into being. A new board of directors was appointed to manage the affairs of the new club.
Several official club references have stated that the Aberdeen FC we know today came into being on 18th April 1903. (As a side note, the 18th of April is still a significant date as on this day in 1887 saw the formal formation of the Aberdeenshire FA and it was also on the same day that Dr. Maitland Mackie donated the first Aberdeenshire Cup.)
And just too muddy the waters further Companies House have the date of incorporation as 27th May 1903, but it was definitely a done deal on 14th April.
However, the actual deed was completed and signed four day earlier on Tuesday 14th April 1903. A Daily Journal scan was from 15th April 1903 helped provide the evidence needed.
Although the local press the following day did not exactly go overboard about the news.
A small column in the Aberdeen Daily Journal declared;
“Aberdeen Football Amalgamation”
A meeting of the Aberdeen Football Amalgamation Committee was held last night in the offices of Alex Clarke in Bridge Street.
The report also announced that the new club had reached agreement with the Crescent Cricket Club over the lease of Pittodrie. Also the board of directors would be chaired by Councillor Baillie Milne and the club prospectus would be issued within a week. The Amalgamation Committee also ceased to continue as the appointed board duly took over the running of the new club – Aberdeen FC.
A new era dawned, and with it, fresh challenges arose.
In June 1903, Aberdeen FC appointed Jimmy Philip as manager. Pooling the resources of the three amalgamated clubs, Victoria United’s trainer Peter Simpson was recruited to assist him.
Having failed repeatedly to breach the ramparts of the Scottish League, the sad reality was that the new club would contest its first season in the now anti-climactic Northern League. Stenhousemuir visited Pittodrie for the inaugural fixture on August 15th 1903 and captain Willie MacAulay had the distinction of scoring the Whites’ first goal in a 1-1 draw before an 8,000 crowd. The Aberdeen team on that historic day was:
Aberdeen: Barrett, McGregor, Willox, Sangster, Henry Low, Ritchie, Mackie, Strang, MacKay, MacAulay and Johnston.
It was presumed that Aberdeen would blow away all opposition in the Northern League, but events off the park overshadowed mediocre performances on it. Aberdeen could do no better than finish third, behind Angus rivals Arbroath and Montrose. Disappointment in the Scottish Cup and Qualifying Cup (second only at that time in prestige to the Scottish Cup) further unsettled the expectant supporters. Those who had opposed the merger thought themselves vindicated and made sure their opinions were heard.
Perhaps it was this unease that contributed towards a pervading sense of gloom, for it soon became clear that only League status would appease the warring factions.
With only the Aberdeenshire Cup to show for their inaugural season, the club’s efforts to secure League status seemed to be little stronger than before.
Nevertheless, Jimmy Philip, renowned for his forthright manner, was despatched once again to the League offices to champion the Aberdeen cause.
At a League meeting in May 1904, the club put forward their latest bid. Dundee failed with a proposal that Division One be increased from fourteen to sixteen clubs.
As was the practice in those days of no relegation, member clubs had the final say on such matters. This closed-shop mentality worked against Aberdeen, for the votes cast determined that the bottom two clubs, Kilmarnock and Motherwell, would retain their First Division status.
However, on this occasion a further vote was taken on the question of Aberdeen’s admission to the twelve-team Second Division, whereupon Ayr Parkhouse, who had propped it up, were voted out by fourteen votes to six.
Aberdeen would take their place.
In those bygone, pre-radio, pre-television days, the only way news could carry was via the local newspaper offices. The Aberdeen Journals office in Broad Street was the focus of hectic activity whenever a big story broke.
Now, as news filtered through that Aberdeen had failed yet again to join the elite, it provoked howls of outrage. Second Division football was second-rate football.
Being asked to play teams of the ‘calibre’ of Leith, Abercorn, Raith and East Stirling meant Aberdeen would hardly be jousting with the giants.
But wiser heads were quietly satisfied.
Given the team’s lack of quality, it may have been a blessing that Aberdeen did not dine at the top table too quickly, for instant relegation might have ensued, in which case, today’s proud record of never having been relegated would have died at birth.
Whichever division the club found itself in, it was abundantly clear that the team required an injection of talent.
To celebrate the arrival of League football, the club gave itself a thorough overhaul.
The traditional white strip was discarded for black and gold, hastening a new nickname – the Wasps. It was also decided to put the reserve team into the Northern League.
Aberdeen was the last major population base without a team in the top division and evidence of the potential support came in November 1904 when a new club attendance record – 12,000 – was set against Clyde in the semi-final of the Qualifying Cup.
Aberdeen’s baptism in Scottish League football was a home fixture with Falkirk on August 20th 1904. John Knowles scored the Wasps’ first League goal in a 1-2 defeat, watched by a 6,000 crowd.