Falkirk FC, established 1876 - or were they?

Are the Bairns 142 or 143 years old?
Are the Bairns 142 or 143 years old?

“Falkirk Football Club has had a long and honourable career since the date of its institution in the year 1876”. 
This was the opening paragraph in a book entitled “Falkirk Through the Years” which was published in the early 1950s.
These exact words have been copied in various booklets since then, and of course the 1876 logo has been widely promoted on club memorabilia ever since.

But was Falkirk really founded in 1876, asks club historian Michael White?

The latest Falkirk badge dropped the established date from the crest. Picture: Michael Gillen.

The latest Falkirk badge dropped the established date from the crest. Picture: Michael Gillen.

The key question is probably the definitions of founded, established, started playing and registered.

Interestingly enough, the club celebrated its Silver Jubilee in 1902 - on Saturday March 14. ]

Club President Murdoch McIntyre made a speech highlighting the achievements of the club “since its inception in 1877”.

Back in the 1870s, football was very much in its infancy and we might struggle to recognise it today. It was in many ways more akin to rugby and there are references to points in many accounts.

1876 has always been viewed as the club's formation date and included on much of club memorabilia. Picture: Scott Louden.

1876 has always been viewed as the club's formation date and included on much of club memorabilia. Picture: Scott Louden.

The name “Falkirk” first appears in a game on December 8, 1877, when a Falkirk XI lost 5-0 at home to Kelvinbank. There may have been several guest players, probably from Glasgow, in a type of exhibition match.

The first real Falkirk match is generally held to be an away friendly to Bonnybridge Grasshoppers on March 9, 1878.

The Grasshoppers had been established earlier and won comfortably 7-0. Among the Falkirk players were Cowan, Fleming and Malcolm.

Football was spreading rapidly, and clubs sprang up all over the Falkirk district.

The Brockville gate included the 19th century date. Picture: Michael Gillen

The Brockville gate included the 19th century date. Picture: Michael Gillen

At national level, a Scottish Football Association was formed in 1873 and it started producing a Football Annual for each season.

In the 1878/79 annual there is the first reference to a club called Falkirk. It states that Falkirk was “formed” in 1878 and it had at that time 53 members.

They played at Rondyford (sic) “which was a 15 minutes’ ride from the station, coaches at every train.” The clubhouse was on the grounds.

Interestingly, the club colours were a royal blue and white jersey, with a one-inch stripe, white shorts and blue and white socks. They were listed as having played four matches, losing two and drawing two. The Secretary was George Richardson of Marine Cottage, Falkirk.

Other Stirlingshire clubs were listed with earlier formation dates, notably Grasshoppers (Bonnybridge) and Shaughraun (Milton of Campsie) who were both formed in 1875.

Falkirk first entered the Scottish Cup in September 1878 when they won 1-0 against Campsie Glen.

The debate will continue about the date when Falkirk really became Falkirk, but it looks like the 1876 date was incorrect.

Somebody somewhere might have played the new popular sport in the area, but Falkirk as a club started out in 1877.

In later editions of the Scottish Football Association Annual, the date of formation was altered from 1878 to 1877.

Those at the Silver Jubilee dinner confirmed the date.