Footballers of yesteryear reminisce over times when goal was enjoyment

ALTHOUGH probably as far removed from the present Scottish and English top divisions as one could imagine, a Hawick football league of the past still managed to produce a conveyor belt of players of considerable talent.

They may not have been superstars like the players of today, but they could certainly play a bit and took part just for the sheer enjoyment of the game.

The league in question was the Hawick Schoolboy League, and while it was consigned to the history books long ago, memories of the team rivalries it threw up still burn brightly.

At a recent gathering of a few of these one-time schoolboys of yesteryear, Billy Hill, who managed Weensgate Swifts and was one the men who helped kick off the league, started the ball rolling: "The Swifts were formed in 1953, but they didn't belong to a league, it was just a case of getting a game of football for the laddies of Weensland and I'd been asked to be their manager.

"We played a few matches against boys' sides from Denholm, Newcastleton and Chirnside and we did quite well."

The seed for schoolboy football in Hawick had now been sown and a year after the Swifts' first season, the Hawick Schoolboy League began.

Looking back on this, Billy said: "Jack McCulloch and Archie McKellar, who were two football-minded men, and myself, got together to form a schoolboys league in the town, which was a bit of a surprise as Hawick was such a rugby stronghold.

"Weensgate Swifts, Teviot Hibs, Wilton Hearts and Burnfoot Rangers were the four original teams, with Odeon Rovers, Hawick Boys' Brigade, Denholm and Newcastleton joining the league later.

"The Swifts trained at the swings area at Weensland and had a lot of good players in the side.

"Their strip was an old one that had been handed down from Hawick Royal Albert. It was green and white hoops which were the Albert's colours in those days.

"The thing was, it was a man's strip, and it was far too big.

"However, this didn't bother the boys whatsoever. They just rolled up the sleeves, rolled down the socks, and got on with it."

West End side Teviot Hibs emerged as the first victors of the league. Their captain was Drew Cameron, who went on to play for Hawick Legion and top junior side Newtongrange Star.

Remembering his time wearing the green shirts of the Hibs, Drew said: "We trained at the Moat Park and my dad Andy was our manager. We had a good side, but most of them switched to rugby after they had left school and Charlie Renwick, Alex Graham and Colin Wright all played for the Greens.

"Our first game was against Weensgate Swifts and we got beat 3-0. It wasn't a great start but we improved after this.

"We met the Swifts again in what was a play-off to see who was going to win the league.

"Weensgate led 3-0 at half-time. I was centre forward and Kenny Graham had been playing inside forward and we decided to swap positions. Kenny went on to score a hat-trick and I got the winner from a corner kick. It was like something from a boy's comic."

A star of Wilton Hearts was Alistair Stewart and he remembers the league with great fondness.

"It was a great time and there were some good teams and some very good players in the league," he said.

"Wilton Hearts had a player, John Dickson, who went on to be a Scottish international, but it was as a heavyweight boxer and not as a footballer.

"Our manager was Jimmy McConnell, whose sons Brian and Davie turned out to be really good players.

"We trained on Sundays at the Bonnyburn fields, which was next to the convent at Stirches, but this was stopped by the nuns who didn't like us playing football on a Sunday.

"One of my greatest experiences was playing for a Hawick Select against a Berwickshire Select. I was really chuffed to be in that team."

Another Wilton Hearts player was Graeme Stewart who also played for Odeon Rovers.

Graeme revealed his greatest claim to fame was when, as a 14-year-old, he scored six penalties out of six against then Hibs goalkeeper Lawrie Leslie to win a penalty-kick competition at Ancrum 'Fives'.

He said: "Games never seemed to be put off, we played in all sorts of weather. Muddy pitches or frozen pitches, it just didn't seem to matter, we just played.

"One game I remember in particular was a friendly against the White Fathers at St Boswells. They were training to be young priests but they kicked us off the park!

"However, we didn't mind too much because we'd been promised a meal after the match, which we thought was a wonderful idea. But it turned out to be bread and jam!"

Eric Lyall also played for Odeon Rovers. And he revealed playing for the cinema's boys' side had its bonuses.

"We were the only side in the league that had a badge on their jerseys. It was the man hitting the gong that you saw at the beginning of a J. Arthur Rank film and we thought this was brilliant.

"We also trained indoors in what was the old 'Palais' dance hall, which was in the cinema building and that was different from other teams. But the best thing was that if you played for Odeon Rovers you got into the pictures free. Now that was really something.

"Jimmy McConnell asked me to go and play for the Wilton Hearts. They were a better side than the Rovers and I said yes, but I told him it wouldn't be until the 'Flash Gordon' serial, that was shown weekly at the Odeon, was finished."

Alex Jackson, who went on to play for Hawick, turned out for Burnfoot Rangers and the Boys' Brigade.

And he has two treasured memories of his playing days – winning medals.

Alex said: "My first team was Burnfoot Rangers and our training ground was where the Hawick PSA rugby pitch is now.

"I won a cup final medal with Burnfoot in 1956/57. We played Newcastleton home and away. The opening game was at Hawick and it ended 0-0, and for the second match we had to travel to Newcastleton. It was always great to go there because you travelled by train and for boys our age that was a really big thing.

"We won 1-0 and my brother Doug scored the only goal.

"I had another season with Burnfoot before moving on to play for the Boys' Brigade, with whom I also won a medal when we beat Wilton Hearts in the final.

"When I was 15 I stopped playing football as there was nowhere to go in that direction for boys of that age. My brother Doug, who was a very good footballer, and myself, both started to play rugby and Doug went on to be capped for Scotland.

"I enjoyed my rugby days, but I enjoyed my times in the Hawick schoolboys league a lot as well."

It has been a long time since any of the latter band last kicked a ball in earnest.

But at this recent gathering, the boots came on again. Times were relived and football was the better for it.