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Football Hooliganism and Family History in the Scottish Borders

by Familia Ulster Genealogical Review: No. 04, 1988


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by Dr. John A. Oliver

"The Olivers were keen on the footba' play in the Scottish Borders of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

They had no shortage of friends and accomplices amongst the Armstrongs, Eliots, Grahams, Nixons, Rutherfords, Trotters and Turnbulls who dominated the quarrelsome, turbulent areas of Hawick, Denholm, Jedburgh, Lustruther, Liddesdale, Southdean and Carter Bar (in what are the modern counties of Roxburghshire and Berwickshire).

The enthusiasts not only turned out to support their favourite teams but, would you believe it, travelled to "away matches". The trouble with the fellows was that they never knew when to stop.

The end of each footba' play (and "play" meant a match, friendly or otherwise) did not signal the end of the encounter by any means. The contest went on, across the countryside, and the fighting sometimes became so rough that it got out of hand.

Sir Walter Scott tells how Sir John Carmichael of Carmichael, Warden of the Middle Marches, was actually killed by a band of Armstrongs returning from a "footba' play" in 1600. Worse still, a "play" arranged at a venue in Kelso ended up as a raid into England, fully twenty miles off!

(Sir Walter Scott had a most useful habit of adding to a novel an "Author's Note" indicating some of his sources and reflecting on personalities and customs in the area and period being dealt with in the novel.)

Such unruly behaviour was not universal of course but only the result of hooliganism by a small minority of ill-behaved fans over-heated by some bout of 'revelry and rout'."

This article looks at football hooliganism and family history in the Scottish borders.