Kilmarnock in History: Our shortest game and the toll of World War I
Welcome to the tenth installment of our Kilmarnock In History series, by club historian John Livingston.
The outbreak of war less than a fortnight before the start of the Scottish League season meant both the Scottish F.A. and Scottish League committees had to make major decisions.
Many players at clubs volunteered to serve in the army or navy, but the Scottish League decided to continue playing official Division 1 and Division 2 football, as it was anticipated that the war may well not last too long. However, the Scottish F.A. decided it was not suitable to continue with the Scottish Cup competition, and they suspended it until further notice.
The 1914-15 League campaign ended with Kilmarnock finishing in 12th place with 34 points from 38 games, but there were a few talking points during the season. The club held a number of fund-raising schemes on match days during the season, some known as “tobacco days”, where donations of cigarettes, lighters, pipes, tobacco and also money to purchase such items, were collected and sent to the troops abroad.
Andy Cunningham’s Benefit game against Ayr United still went ahead in mid-August despite the outbreak of war some 15 days earlier. It ended in a 4-4 draw and was attended by a crowd of around 2,000, but the supporters were shocked just before the end of the season when their favourite was sold to Rangers for just £800.
Andrew Neil, who finished as top scorer for the second season in a row, hit a new club-record total of 20 league goals, and also became the first Kilmarnock player to score four goals in a Division 1 game when they beat Dumbarton 4-0 on the 16th January 1915.
In 1915-16, the Scottish League Division 2 was suspended as the war intensified, but Division 1 carried on, and Kilmarnock enjoyed a decent campaign, finishing in 10th place with 35 points from the 38 games played.
Willie Culley finished top scorer for the first ever time, hitting a new club record of 23 league goals, which included a trio of hat tricks in home games against Aberdeen (5-0), Queen’s Park (4-0) and Airdrieonians (4-0). The club also had to play their final home game against Hearts at Somerset Park in Ayr because of the Ayrshire Agricultural Show being held at Rugby Park.
However, Kilmarnock won 3-1 – actually their first Division 1 win and goals scored at the home ground of county neighbours, since the amalgamated team from Ayr were elected to Division 1 in 1913. Kilmarnock had drawn 0-0 and lost 2-0 (twice) in their games against them.
Just three days after the “home” fixture against Hearts at Somerset Park, Kilmarnock travelled to play Clyde at Shawfield Park, and due to the weather on the Tuesday being very cloudy and overcast, it was felt that if the game was played over the regulated 90 minutes, it would probably have to be abandoned.
Thus, in accordance to the rules of the Scottish League at the time, both clubs and the referee agreed to play the game over 70 minutes – 35 minutes each half. (It is the shortest official Scottish League game played by Kilmarnock in their history).
The 1916-17 campaign saw a number of new faces from the junior ranks appear in the team. One of them, Mattha’ Smith became a favourite with the supporters, especially after scoring in Kilmarnock’s first ever Division 1 win against Ayr United at Somerset Park on 16th December 1916; the 2-0 success coming in the middle of an impressive run of five successive wins without conceding a goal until the end of the year. However, such was the inconsistency of Kilmarnock they then lost their first five games after the New Year!
The run of five successive defeats was brought to an end in style though, thanks to a superb performance that saw Aberdeen thrashed 7-0 at Rugby Park in late January 1917.
Another of the new players who also impressed was Walter Rutherford, an inside left, who had the distinction of becoming the first Kilmarnock player to score a hat trick against Rangers in a Division 1 League encounter, Kilmarnock winning 4-1 (still the club’s biggest winning margin over Rangers at Rugby Park). Willie Culley was top scorer again, scoring 16 goals, hitting a couple of hat tricks in home wins over Hamilton Academical (4-0) and Falkirk (4-1).
The season ended with Kilmarnock entering the history books as the club who finally halted Celtic’s undefeated run in the Scottish League. They had gone 62 games unbeaten (49 wins, 13 draws), which had ironically begun on 20th November 1915 with a 2-0 win over Kilmarnock.
Thanks to first half goals by Willie Culley and Mattha’ Smith, Kilmarnock won 2-0 on 21st April 1917, with the win being the club’s first-ever success at Celtic Park. The season finished with Kilmarnock in 6th place in Division 1 with 43 points from 38 games.
On a sad note, it was reported at the club A.G.M. that James McCurdie and James Maxwell (still registered as Kilmarnock players), had been killed in action in France. Later in the summer, it was found out that a couple of other Kilmarnock players, Charles Vickers and David Slimmon (who won a Military Medal), had also been killed in France and Belgium respectively.
In 1917-18, the war was beginning to take its toll on a number of clubs, with Aberdeen, Dundee and Raith Rovers dropping out of Division 1, with Clydebank coming in to make the numbers up to an 18-club League. Kilmarnock won at Celtic Park again, beating the reigning champions 3-2, and in doing so, they actually went top of the table, and remained there for almost eight weeks.
They also did the “double” over Ayr United for the first time, winning 2-0 at Rugby Park (first home League win over them) and 3-0 at Somerset Park. Indeed, the club’s 1,000th goal in the Scottish League since they joined it in 1895 was scored by David Fulton, when he completed his hat-trick in a 4-2 win over Clydebank at Rugby Park on 22nd December 1917. Kilmarnock eventually finished the season in 3rd place with 43 points from 34 games played. Willie Culley made it a trio of seasons as top scorer, hitting 16 goals once again.
A Scottish War Funds Cup was introduced in the second half of this season, but after beating St. Mirren in Paisley 3-2 a.e.t. in the 1st Round, Kilmarnock fielded a weakened team away to Morton in the 2nd Round, but unfortunately suffered a heavy 7-1 defeat, just a few months after earning a 2-2 draw there in the League.
Also, sad news was received from Sydney in Australia in late November 1917 that John Wallace, the leading light of the “founding fathers” of the club, had died at the age of 68 years.
He was the driving force behind the organisation of football in not only Kilmarnock, but also Ayrshire, being the main instigator in the formation of the Ayrshire Football Association in 1877.