Falkirk lose out when the league is stopped early... a flashback to Scottish football in 1939

Cinemas closed. Theatres closed. No football. No travelling. No gathering of large crowds. Emergency measures. Could the league be stopped and second-placed Falkirk miss the prize? 
These are unprecedented times... or are they? It’s happened and Falkirk were the losers then, as club historian Michael White explains.

Brockville saw some great results in early 1939 - but then the football stopped.
Brockville saw some great results in early 1939 - but then the football stopped.

Falkirk fans are starting to worry given some of the rumours flying around about what might happen to the league season during the current medical emergency measures. Could the season be over and current standings are in fact the final places?

Falkirk are sitting in second place and have still to play leaders Raith Rovers at home. It is quite possible that Falkirk could win the league, either through their own efforts or by Raith dropping points.

The parallels to the last time, in 1939, are uncanny and serve as a reminder that these things can happen and in the great scheme of things, football is not that important when lives are threatened.

The summer of 1939 had been a good one, weather-wise, and the people of Falkirk and district enjoyed the chance to take their minds off the increasingly ominous news from Europe.

The front page of The Falkirk Herald showed that these were not normal times. A record crowd enjoyed the Airth Games and there was a real optimism for the coming football season. Training resumed on Tuesday July 18 under the watchful eye of manager Tully Craig and his trusted lieutenant, trainer Ernie Godfrey and 14 signed players reported for duty.

The new season couldn’t come soon enough for Falkirk fans and the first League match was against Clyde, the Scottish Cup holders, at Shawfield on August 12. Special trains were laid on for supporters and the fare was 1/7d. return (8p.) There were plenty of takers, and the crowd saw an absolute cracker of a game which ended 6-4 in Falkirk’s favour.

Falkirk had started the season as the only team to win away from home, and as the League’s top scorers. In the first League table of the new season, Falkirk were sixth top, level on points with leaders Albion Rovers.

The next opponents were newly promoted Cowdenbeath and a crowd of 12,000 saw Falkirk totally destroy the newcomers 7-1.

Alec Carruthers was the undisputed Man of the Match in this rout of the promoted side, scoring four of the goals and causing havoc every time he touched the ball. Bobby Keyes too was in great form and the Fife side had no answer to the wing play of the Bairns.

Falkirk had started the season well and faced Clyde again in a full midweek programme. Only Falkirk and Rangers had 100 per cent records. Falkirk faced Clyde at Brockville on Wednesday evening August 23 knowing a win would take them to the top of the league.

They beat Clyde 4-2 and had played some tremendous football, deservedly sitting first– the only side with three wins from three games. They lost 2-1 at Douglas Park and drew 2-2 at Pittodrie in the Dewar Shield Final.

By now it was a matter of when, not if, war would overshadow the lives of the people of Falkirk district. Preparations were now at an advanced stage, and the first Glasgow evacuees arrived at Falkirk High station.

The Infirmary was to be evacuated and Air Raid advice was published in all the papers. Gas masks were issued to everyone, even babies, and lists of Air Raid Wardens gathering stations were revealed.

Posts included the Ice Rink, The Steeple, Mitchell’s Dairy in the Howgate, Rosebank Distillery, and Callendar Foundry.

The 103 rd Light Anti-Aircraft Battery were looking for new recruits and the fear of an aerial bombardment was real.

Football was proving an important distraction and the next League encounter saw Falkirk take on sixth place Queen of the South. Falkirk won 2-1 in front of 12,000.

This was to prove the last Saturday of League football for some time, and the League tables stood, as if frozen in time as a record of what was, and what might have been.

Falkirk were a strong side and Tully Craig had strength in depth. The reserves, too, were sitting near the top of their League, challenging Rangers. They signed off this all too brief season with a 4-1 win at Palmerston Park.

This was undoubtedly a great side in the making, and one destined to repeat the challenges of the years before the Great War. It is ironic that the onset of hostilities on both occasions proved to be the end of an era for the club and was to ruin many a promising career.

In the great scheme of things, however, football mattered little.

The mood of the crowd was one of apprehension, and the last Saturday of peacetime was a strange one. The talk in the pubs was of impending war and possible invasion. The fate of football was incidental.

An immediate ban on football was expected and so it proved to be.

As of September 3 professional football was banned. All contracts and agreements between clubs and players were suspended. The government had banned all forms of indoor and outdoor entertainment and the Council of the S.F.A. took the inevitable decision to cancel the League programme” until further notice.”

The evacuation of cities, the dangers of large congregations and unnecessary travelling meant that if football was to return, it would be on a regional basis.

It had been a swift reaction, but in hindsight perhaps too quick. The provision of entertainment could have a positive effect in war-time as a boost to morale.

Cinemas were closed, the Ice Rink was shut down and many found themselves at a loose end during that strange period of the “Phoney War”.

The early restrictions were soon lifted, and by September 15 some sense of normality returned.

There was to be a Scottish Ice Hockey League consisting of six teams-Dundee, Perth, Kirkcaldy, Dunfermline, Ayr and Falkirk.

The cinemas reopened, skating resumed, and Falkirk Baths continued in business.

The parallels are uncanny and serve as a reminder that these things can happen and in the great scheme of things, football is not that important when lives are threatened.