On the 12th September 1885 a new football record was set. Dundee Harps beat Aberdeen Rovers 35 – 0 in the newly formed Scottish FA Cup. In its early years, the Scottish FA (Football Association) allowed pretty much anybody to field a cup team and test their skills against the established big clubs. (Younger readers will have to believe me when I say that in the olden days Scotland did have some big clubs.) Their generous invitation was willingly accepted by tragically hopeful Scotsmen across both the highlands and the lowlands. It led, predictably, to grueling thrashings being dished out in the competition’s early rounds as the wheat got separated from the chaff. In the example noted at the start of this piece, Aberdeen Rovers were very much the chaff.
Aberdeen’s first-round drubbing at the hands of Dundee was so large that even the referee lost count of the number of goals scored. He declared that the final score was 37 – 0. In a charitable act akin to Bill Gates tossing 9p at a drowning tramp, the club secretary of Dundee kindly informed the referee that their team had actually only scored 35 goals.
‘Och,’ laughed the ref, ‘whatava nixt?’
Thus the score was marginally downgraded to 35. Aberdeen’s 12 fans could now hold their heads high, knowing that they hadn’t been completely embarrassed.
Far from upset by the altered scoreline, the record breaking Dundee Harps team happily went out that night knowing that their place in football history was assured. Their popular full-back, Tom O’Kane, whom the club had poached from lowly Arboath FC, treated his team mates to a celebratory dinner of ‘tripe and potatoes.’ (If this was the victor’s share of the spoils, you have to wonder what kind of hellish concoction the losing Aberdeen team chose to eat that evening.)
They had gone one better.
Arbroath, as their telegram no doubt said, were themselves now looking forward to being record breakers – and, if Dundee and O’Kane, too, wished to be record breakers, dedication is, in fact, what they would need.
‘This is unpalatable tripe!’ cried Tom O’Kane, this new telegram shaking in his hand.
As he said this, le Cordon Bleu chef overheard and wept bitterly at the criticism.
‘Did I use too much of le butter?’ he asked the reserve goalkeeper in a mess of tears. (By the way, I haven’t got a clue if you are supposed to ‘butter the tripe.’ It just sounds right.)
Tom O’Kane and the rest of the Harps team refused to believe the telegram. They thought that Arbroath were merely trying to spoil their party. So, with the much-missed confidence of Victorian Britons, the Harps team continued their wild celebrations until the last orders had been called and it was time to go home i.e. about half-seven. O’Kane caught the last train home, back to Arbroath. He arrived in good time to have his darkest fears confirmed by everybody he met. It was all true. Whilst his new club Dundee had been dismantling Aberdeen, his crappy old club, Arbroath, had been dismantling Bon Accord with a touch more vigour.
Whilst the rain made brown bubbling puddles on the pitch, the Arbroath boys had gaily sloshed around, smashing the ball through the net-less goal a world record breaking 36 times. The Arbroath goalkeeper even borrowed a spectator’s umbrella and took shelter in his goalmouth for the second half. He could have started work on a summerhouse without too much interruption.
According to reports, the supporters on the sidelines began to keep track of Arbroath’s incessant scoring with pencils and paper, as though watching a gentle game of county cricket. Maybe they did so out of habit – as Bon Accord FC usually went by the name Orion Cricket Club.
Bon Accord’s infamous appearance in this historic match only occurred after the Scottish FA had mistakenly invited them to play. (Their invitation was actually meant for the Orion Football Club. An easy mistake to make, I’m sure you’ll agree. Again, in another stunning coincidence, the correct Orion FC were based in Aberdeen. With what we now know about that particular city’s amateur footballing prowess, this incredible story could have resulted in two record scores against two teams from the same city on the same day.) With heartbreaking optimism, the Orion Cricket Club simply accepted the FA’s invitation rather than questioning it. They made their way to Arbroath full of good cheer. They didn’t even have a kit.
The cricketers decided to call their brand new football team Bon Accord. The rough translation of this is ‘Good Agreement.’ This is the equivalent of the English national football team changing its name to ‘Accurate Penalties.’
Bon Accord’s match on the 12th September 1885 was, as far as I can find out, both their first and last foray into the beautiful game. After the final whistle they were understandably eager to once again concentrate fully on cricket – a far kinder sport where 36 for 0 isn’t necessarily a bad score. Retiring from football was the only bon accord that Bon Accord ever came to.
The two scorelines achieved on that same day in 1885 had stood as world records for almost 120 years. That they should have happened within such close geographical proximity of one another, and with such a strong link in the case of Tom O’Kane, is staggering. Many football fans know of Arbroath’s 36 – 0 victory, but too few know how close their Dundee rivals came to overshadowing it.
Such was the extent of the Aberdeen and Bon Accord drubbings, the Scottish FA swiftly began to question the ‘welcome one, welcome all’ policy for its primary club cup competition. Especially after rumours began to circulate that Arbroath had actually been denied seven additional goals for offside. Decisions which, in the referee’s own words, were ‘very doubtful.’ It could have been 43 – 0.
After a short while many part time and amateur teams were forbidden from entering the cup. As a result, the gut-churning, pantomime spankings as discussed in this piece all but disappeared. The overall quality of FA Cup participants improved as regimented professionalism took over. This is why, today, you’ll very rarely see a goalkeeper standing under an umbrella whilst his team of hardened pros tear apart some warm-hearted local cricketers. It is also why today’s arguments are about FIFA introducing goal-line technology for analysing the one decisive goal in a match – and not for goal-counting technology for referees who lazily give seven offside goals or miscalculate 35 goals as 37.
To be honest with you, I’m not convinced that the game is better for these developments.