Leo Pieraccini: The Italian Saint


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I was quite taken aback to notice this week that St Duthus FC now have an Italian following! Modest though it may be in size, I found it quite a surprise to see that our little club in Tain had caught the interest of football enthusiasts in the heart of the Mediterranean sea. With that in mind, I felt a blog entry was long overdue, and that one which pertains specifically to the Saints’ Italian connections might be of interest to our new fans.

Overlooking a beautiful expanse of grape vines, chestnut trees and olive groves is the Pania della Croce of the Apuan Alps, a dominant yet striking mountain of over 6,000ft which towers over the Tuscan town of Barga in central Italy. It is home to buildings of attractive Romanesque architecture such as the Duomo cathedral and several historic pieces by Renaissance sculptor Andrea della Robbia. At the end of the 19th century, Barga was also home to a man named Florindo Pieraccini, and his wife Ida.

Barga, Italy, at the turn of the century.

From 1890 to 1915, it is believed that some three million Italians made their way to America in search of a better life. Changes in Italian politics and the economy had seen Northern Italy industrialize only to leave the rest of the nation poverty stricken. One alternative to poverty was to travel to the United States, where jobs and opportunity were aplenty. The majority of those who emigrated were farm labourers or “contadini”, or craftsmen such as carpenters, tailors or barbers. Florindo on the other hand went to New York to sell his wares, in the form of plaster statuettes. Like many who took the gamble though, he eventually found himself moving on again, this time to Scotland where he arrived in Glasgow prior to the onset of the First World War, making the city his home for many years.

Back home in Barga, a twelve-year-old Emilio (affectionately known as Leo) Pieraccini, son of Florindo, was preparing to make the move that would change his life forever. Accompanying his step-uncle Luigi Seraphini, he left Italy for Scotland to join his father in 1918.

After four years in Glasgow, the Pieraccini family moved north where they would make their home, and business, in the Caithness fishing town of Wick. Florindo became a shopkeeper, taking advantage of the thriving “take-away” culture, selling ice cream, confectionary and fish and chips in a style typical of many early 20th century Italian run cafes throughout Scotland. Florindo’s sons, Leo and his older brother Primo were able-bodied assistants, spending their teen years learning the trade. By 1928, Leo and Primo had gone into business of their own together, buying a café in Tain.

The Chocolate Shop, Tain.

That café was the “Chocolate Shop” and although the brothers retained the name, they mounted a nameplate above the sign outside the shop, which read “Pieraccini Bros”. The shop became known locally as “Pers” and Leo himself became something of a character in the town. In the following excerpt, Leo’s grandson Paul Donnachie wrote fondly of his grandfather’s love for the town in an email to me a few years ago.

He (Leo) was universally popular. Gregarious, kind-hearted, charming; people readily took to him. Leo happily spent most of his life in the Highlands rather than return to Italy. He loved the countryside, and genuinely appreciated the hospitality he received. He grew to think of Scotland as his real home. He had worked and raised his family there, and been warmly accepted by the local people who came to regard him as a ‘character’, a ‘worthy’; a high accolade in Tain. Being involved with and supporting the community was important to him, and he contributed enthusiastically to community life.

Leo took every opportunity to promote the Tain cause. He even went so far as to personally stamp the words “Visit Tain, the oldest Royal Burgh in Scotland” on paper currency as it passed through the till in his shop. An effective method of advertising no doubt, with the eyes of Britain’s money spending public on the notes as they passed through their hands. Or rather it was effective, at least until a visit from the Police who called a halt to the ploy. Visiting his establishment, they promptly warned him that, “despite the benefits to the local economy, this practice must cease!”

Among other things, Leo was an enthusiastic motorcyclist. He was known for demonstrating his riding skills on the parks of the Links at Tain and on one occasion won a silver medal in the Scottish 6 Day trials. In fact, while courting a young Roseanna in the mid 1920s, he could regularly be seen riding through the town with his wife-to-be in the sidecar!

It wasn’t until the mid 1930s, though, that Leo would begin a relationship with St Duthus Football Club that would span several decades. In February of 1934, moves were afoot to resurrect the defunct team, which had fallen into abeyance following their withdrawal from the Ross-shire League and the death of their long time president, the Count de Serra Largo. It was the hope of this latest group of well-doers that the new team could compete in the Ross-shire Junior setup once again. An article in the Aberdeen Journal from the time reported the first of their meetings:

A decision to resuscitate St Duthus (Tain) Football Club was made at a crowded meeting convened to discuss the matter and office-bearers were elected as follows:- President Mr Wm Ross; vice-presidents Provost Ross, Capt Dewar and Mr A Low; secretary, Mr Duncan Mackenzie, Rosebank; treasurer, Mr A Wilson; Committee – Messrs W. Wood, A. S. Fraser, J. Corbett, R. L. Benson, A. Mactavish, G B Davidson, and G A Davidson.

It was soon after that time that Leo Pieraccini became a committee member of the “resuscitated” Saints, before he was elevated to the office bearer’s role of Treasurer in 1936. His involvement with the club, and Tain football for that matter, began much earlier than that. An established business man and an ardent supporter of football, he was a regular sponsor of the team. In the early 1930s, a handsome trophy which had been donated by Leo quickly took its place as the local area’s premier football prize for young, aspiring juvenile footballers. Tain’s football youths were streets ahead of their Ross-shire peers at this time – despite their adult side being nothing special to speak of. The Tain Royal Academy team had been unbeaten for two whole years between 1932 and 1934 and was the envy of the other schools in the county. Not surprisingly, Leo had become a supporter of Tain’s talented young footballers. Just as the Mackay Cup had done between 1907 and the late 1920s, the Pieraccini Cup gave juvenile players the platform to compete for honours outside of the school system. The trophy was contested between teams of players under the age of sixteen on the pitches at the Links with Leo or his wife Roseanna presiding over the event. Known as much for their character as their generosity, they would award medals to the winning team along with the silver cup itself, often filled with milkshakes to be drunk by the victors!

It was at this time that Leo began to take an active role as an ambassador for the recovering St Duthus Football Club, while his shop became a prominent location for the display of trophies and articles of interest belonging to the team. By the time of his appointment as Treasurer in 1936, his friend and long-time committee member George B Davidson (not to be confused with George A Davidson who had taken the chair in 1934), a saddler by trade, had joined him on the list of office bearers as the new Club President. Under Leo’s watch, the club’s accounts grew favourably as a result of a number of fetes and dances, but were also managed with charity in mind, with almost £50 given away in 1938 to local organisations, including a provision for a treat for the town’s children at New Year.

Football-wise, recognising that the junior game in Ross-shire was in dire need of resuscitation, it was the aim of Leo and George to spear-head the formation of an Easter Ross League which would encourage local villages and RAF camps to enter teams in regular competition, such as Hilton, Edderton, Balintore, Fearn, Portmahomack and Inver. The idea never did come to fruition in that image, owing to the fact that conflict was soon to break out, although the Saints did once again become competitive, winning a number of Ross-shire based trophies during the late 1930s.

Back row: George Davidson, second from left, and Leo Pieraccini, fourth from left

Leo and George remained in charge of the club’s affairs until its disbandment due to the onset of the Second World War, at which time Leo had been holidaying in his native Italy. Had he been doing so just a year later, he would most likely have been faced with conscription! As it turned out, Leo’s brothers were interned on the Isle of Man, while he was removed from the “military zone” that was Ross-shire, to Pitlochry. He eventually ended up back in the North, in Inverness, but it would be a few years before he would be reunited with his family.

After the war, Leo’s legacy in football circles lived on, and in particular, the Pieraccini Cup remained a regular fixture for the town’s youth well into the 1960s and 70s.

But Leo’s legacy and the Saints’ Italian connection hasn’t altogether vanished since then. Those who know their more recent Saints history will be aware that one of our first signings last season was Paul Cowie, who is in fact the great grandson of Leo Pieraccini.

Having played senior football off and on for several clubs (including the last incarnation of Tain St Duthus) since the age of fifteen, Paul has given a great deal to the game in the local area, and has won his fair share of honours — but it hasn’t been without it’s price. Knee injuries have plagued him throughout his career and 2016-17 proved no different.

This season, it’s all change for Paul as he has agreed to take up the role of player/coach at St Duthus FC – and 80 years on from the very season Leo began to steer the Saints back on track, Paul now sets out to do his bit from the touchline to help the new “Saints” grow.

In this new role, we’ve no doubt that Paul will show the same dedicazione to the club shown by his great grandfather Leo all those decades ago.


Thank you to Ida Donnachie and Paul Donnachie for the photographs and information contained in this entry.


The Saints’ Revival


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Tommy Ross famously scored a hat-trick in just 90 seconds on Saturday, November 28, 1964 – a feat recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records.  The former Inver inside forward and future St Duthus FC manager scored seven goals that day for Dingwall’s Ross County in an 8-1 Highland League win over a hapless Nairn County.


Tommy’s son, Stu Ross, a prolific forward in his own right for Tain Royal Academy, I hadn’t seen much of in almost fifteen years. Since we left school in fact. Although we’d bumped into each other once or twice in football circles and sent the occasional text message back and forth, it’s not quite the same as sitting down for a pint and having a proper chat about the game. So, I was pleased when the opportunity arose for us to meet in the Saint Duthus Hotel on February 6th for a long overdue catchup, and at the same time, discuss the beginning of the Saints’ Revival.


Tain Royal Academy Seniors, Late 1990s

We were joined by Dale Finlayson, a second generation St Duthus committee man and the current Chairman of Tain Thistle Football Club, and Stu’s brother Andy, author of a number of football books and another former St Duthus man himself.  The only agenda item on the table – was it feasible to bring back one of the North of Scotland’s oldest senior football teams and reintroduce them to the winter football scene?

The St Duthus FC tale began in the most grandiose of fashions.  In 1884, while every other town in Ross-shire had adopted the “Rugby” code, Tain were insistent on playing by “Association” rules.  They were alone in their stance, and as a result of their choice, matches against rival towns were few and far between.  Instead, they organised matches between various combinations in the town.

In 1884, a writer to the Invergordon Times commented;

At Tain, players are very busy, although we think it a pity that in a district where all the clubs play the Rugby game, they should think proper to go in for the Association code.

The first, and most spectacular, competitive “Association code” fixture in Tain, was played for a richly sought after Challenge Vase donated by Robert de Graéme Graéme, then owner of Culpleasant House. Graéme welcomed two sets of teams and their officials to his estate for the game, treating them to a “sumptuous” meal prepared by his housemaid before they kicked off.  On the day, the “Lords” beat the “Commons” and they collected the reward.  The occasion whetted the appetite of Tain’s sportsmen and within a year, members of Tain’s St Duthus Cricket Club met to formalise a new committee and on October 9, 1885, Saint Duthus Football Club were born.

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St Duthus Cricket Club, most of whom went on to play for the first St Duthus Football Club in 1885.

Becoming accustomed to wearing red and white vertical stripes, the team grew in stature and by the 1890s, they had up to four teams of players available at any one time under the St Duthus Football Club banner, playing in challenge matches against neighbouring towns and villages.  In 1896, the Pattisons’ Challenge Cup was donated to the town by whisky distillers, Walter and Robert Pattison for competition within Ross-shire. Beating Victoria United of Dingwall (albeit controversially) in the final, Tain had now captured their first ever silverware.  The rivalry between the “Vics” and the “Saints” continued to grow well into the 1900s and more often than not, the teams would come up against each other in different stages of the major cup competitions.  After the First World War, St Duthus notched another “first”, when they pipped the Vics, Alness United, Invergordon and Black Rock Rovers (Evanton) to the first ever organised Ross-shire Junior League championship title.  They achieved their greatest pre-WW2 feat when they won the North of Scotland Junior Cup (later known as the North Caledonian Cup) four years later in 1924, defeating the North champions ‘Catch My Pal’ at Thistle Park, Inverness.  By this time, St Duthus could rightfully claim to be one of the best junior sides in the Highlands.

Throughout all of this time, their greatest benefactor had been their Honorary President of over 30 years, Peter Mackenzie, otherwise known as The Count de Serra Largo.  Serra Largo was a retired businessman, who had earned his fortune working with the Singer Sewing Company and was now living with his family on his estate at Tarlogie. The Count took a great interest in sport, contributing to shinty, curling, golf and above all, football.  Following his passing in 1931, it wasn’t at all surprising that St Duthus eventually fell into a state of hiatus in 1933.

The club was resurrected by a committee involving saddler George Davidson and confectioner Leo Pieraccini, the latter becoming a permanent fixture in the Tain football set up from then on, introducing his own youth football competition, the Pieraccini Cup, which became a much sought after trophy for young footballers in the area.  This new incarnation of the Saints wore Queen’s Park-esque black and white hoops and while not challenging for the regional honours of the previous team, they were holding their own in the Ross-shire set up.

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George Davidson (second from left) and Leo Pieraccini (fourth from left) standing in the back row of a late 1930s St Duthus FC team.

After the Second World War, St Duthus resumed competition as members of the Ross-shire Junior League before the new Ross-shire “Welfare” League replaced it in the late 1950s.  Under manager Christy Grant and now back in their more traditional red and white colours, the club earned a number of honours in the “Welfare”, most successfully in 1963 when they scooped all four cup trophies, only narrowly missing out of the league title itself.

It wasn’t until 1973 that the club would regain it’s regional status, playing as members of the “senior” North Caledonian Football Association – commonly referred to as the Highland League “second XI”.  The league had a buzz about it throughout the 1970 and 80s, with as many as sixteen member teams competing for honours at one stage.  It was with this association that St Duthus would remain until their demise in 2005.   During that era, the team won eleven trophies.

  • North Caledonian Cup (4 times) 1978-79, 1983-84, 1986-87, 1989-90
  • Chic Allan Memorial Cup (1 time) 1985-86
  • Football Times Cup (2 times) 1980-81, 1981-82
  • Morris Newton Cup (2 times) 1990-91, 1991-92
  • Ness Cup (2 times) 1978-79, 1980-81

The league championship eluded Tain St Duthus.


St Duthus FC in 1995

Eleven years have passed since St Duthus played a competitive game in any league; the old strips having been reserved only for occasional memorial matches, “old boys” get togethers or testimonials.


Andy & Stu join St Duthus having left Spey Valley JFC.

The four of us will meet again in March.  Immediately following that, a formalisation meeting will take place between us and volunteers who have come forward to join the new St Duthus FC committee, where the recent invitation from the North Caledonian League to rejoin their association will be presented, and the new committee will prepare the club’s case for re-election to the league.

On the park, Stu and Andy have already made significant strides towards putting a team of willing players together for the club’s first season, contacting a number of established players in the Tain area and extending that invite further afield too, having spoken with a number of ex-Highland League players and seasoned North Caledonian league campaigners.

Off the park, fundraising has begun.  The launch of a Supporter driven Saints’ Revival Fund has already seen the club raise £250 in just two days and that amount continues to grow.  The costs associated with playing in any senior league are much greater than that of summer, county based leagues such as the Ross-shire Welfare League – largely due to travel expenses for both the team and visiting referees.  The geographical spread of North Caledonian FA members now spans from as far North as the Shetland Islands all the way down to Fort William!

We’re also building from the ground up.  The club needs new kit, training equipment, balls, etc.  From March onward, it will be the job of the newly elected committee to attract a main sponsor for the team and seek out new fundraising options to ensure these costs can be covered.

With just six months until the start of the 2016-17 season, re-election may not necessarily be the tough part. Survival will be.  It is for that reason that the committee must appeal to anyone who wants to see the Saints’ Revival become a reality. If you can offer your help, your time or even if you can simply join our Supporters Club, please do so.

You can get in touch with the club via email to committee@stduthusfc.co.uk, via Facebook, Twitter or via mobile on 07527 134574.


Niall Harkiss is the author of the 2014 book Ross-shire Football’s Forgotten Pioneers. Synopsis – Long before the formation of Ross County, footballers in the Royal Burgh of Tain were rubbing shoulders with Dingwall’s Victoria United – playing on the same parks, sharing post-match stories over a drink and a meal, and more specifically, competing for the same cups, and vying for the same honours. But as one team was catapulted into the senior ranks, the other eventually faded into non existence.


Remembering Graham Jardine


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Since 2000, football sides from Balintore and Tain have continued the tradition of the playing of the Graham Jardine Memorial Quaich.


In writing this blog entry, my aim was to enlighten some of the area’s younger players and supporters as to who Graham Jardine was, while also writing a fitting tribute to his accomplishments.  In doing so, I contacted a few people who knew Graham throughout his life, and through their words and stories, I hope that this piece will offer both a reminder of his contribution as a footballer and an insight into just how highly regarded he was.

I grew up knowing Graham as my neighbour and a family friend. We lived in the same street across the road from each other, his mother Jean and my mother Linda worked together at Tain Royal Academy, while his father Jim and my father, also named Jim, worked together at WH Mackay & Sons Ltd.  He was nine years older than I was, and while he was playing football in the North Caledonian league, I was still a young lad at school, oblivious to the ins and outs of local football. But I knew he was a footballer.

I recall coming home one day from school, at about age 8 or 9, to find a collection of “hand-me-down” football tops passed down to me by Graham (and his brother Stuart). I’d never had a proper football top before so it was no surprise that these garments became the subject of much fascination! And so began my interest in football… As it went, they were Aberdeen F.C. jerseys, a mixture of home and away colours, and while I never became a fan of the Dons, I’ll always have Graham to thank for my first ever football top!

Graham began playing football at a very young age. Although their first Highland home was in Invergordon in 1974, Jim & Jean Jardine, originally from Motherwell, moved to Balintore in 1975 before they eventually settled in Tain three years later, where Graham attended Craighill Primary. Childhood friend Neil Skinner recalls playing football alongside him as children.

Before organised football it was all-day football on the pitches where the new health centre is. Graham was always one of the best players, especially at dribbling. He perfected the cross bar challenge before it even existed! I remember him practising hitting the bar from free kick range.

We were part of the Craighill team which won the Cummings Cup in 1984 when we were in Primary 7. Ten games played, with nine wins and one draw that year! Graham was a key member of a very attacking 2-3-5 formation favoured by our headie. Always loads of fun to have in the team. I also remember it being the mums that came to support us as games were always in the afternoon.

While playing for the school teams as a pupil with Tain Royal Academy, Graham also played with Balintore F.C. throughout the Seaboard club’s youth football teams, most notably for the Under 16s. It wasn’t long after that, at the age of just sixteen, that he made his debut for the Balintore first team in the North Caledonian League.

Regular visitors to the North of Scotland during the late 1980s, Jim Leishman’s Dunfermline Athletic travelled to Balintore for a pre-season friendly in 1989, and a young Graham turned out against the Scottish First Division side. His parents remember well the moment when Graham rubbed shoulders with one of his childhood heroes.

It was definitely a highlight for him being that young and meeting Doug Rougvie. The fact that he spoke to him and complimented him on his play, he was chuffed to bits.

Graham left Balintore for Fearn soon after, but returned for a season in 1992-93 during which he collected a winners medal as part of the Chic Allan Memorial Cup winning side of 1992.

Graham (front row, third from left) with the Balintore F.C. team of 1992-93, after winning the Chic Allen Cup.

Graham (front row, third from left) with his Balintore F.C. teammates, after winning the Chic Allan Cup in 1992.

It was while he had a job with WH Mackay & Sons Ltd that Graham would go on to sign for Fearn Thistle F.C.  Graham had been working alongside a “true Fearn addict” in (the late) Malcolm McGougan, who at the time was the Chairman of the village side.  Jean Jardine recalls the season Graham left Balintore for McGougan’s Thistle.

Malcolm was a lovely man. They worked together in the workshop at WH Mackays and I think that was the decider. He told Graham that he would be Fearn’s first million pound player, but to this day we’ve never seen a signing on fee!

Billy Read played with Graham at both Fearn Thistle and Balintore. In his opinion, it spoke volumes that Graham had been involved with both of these clubs, each of a very high standard and filled with good players. He remembers fondly a goal Graham scored while they played together.

Graham was a very talented left sided attacking player. I recall a wonderful goal from some distance that he scored for Fearn against Inverness Caley. It was a left foot dipping curling shot from 25 yards – top corner. There are very few goals I can remember from 20 plus years ago, but that remains as one I do.

One of Graham’s idols as a young player with Balintore was Gordy Lowe. A prolific goalscorer and long serving Balintore player, Gordy was strong and fast on the ball. Graham always wanted to play like him and knew he had a tough job when playing against him. Gordy recalls Graham joining the team on both occasions.

He was on the fringes as a youngster but quickly ended up playing for the first team at Balintore for a couple of years before he went to Fearn. When he returned to the club in 1992, he did very well to break into that Balintore team, as they had won the North Caledonian League championship the previous year in 1991.

While the “Second XI” league was off-season during the summer, Graham also played for Portmahomack and the Railway Hotel, competing in the “Ross-shire Welfare League”.  His latter years, though, as a player in the North Caledonian League, were spent with his hometown club, Tain St Duthus F.C.

Graham in action for St Duthus at the Links in the early 1990s.

Graham in action for Tain St Duthus at the Links in the early 1990s.

Graham’s keenness to play football was unquestionable. Such was his commitment to the cause while playing for Tain St Duthus, Graham would travel all the way from Stornoway (where he was working for a time) just to play for the team on a Saturday. Working backshift on a Friday evening, he would get the first ferry home on Saturday morning to Ullapool, followed by a bus to Dingwall, where his father Jim would collect him to return to Tain for the game.

Affectionately known as “Jobbie”, he enjoyed every aspect of the game, socially and as a player on the field and was as much a fan as he was a player, as Neil Skinner describes.

He went to the World Cup with a few of the boys in a people carrier in 1998, and I remember he had his hair dyed blonde like Gazza! He had a love of Manchester United, and Ryan Giggs in particular. In the early days of the Champions League, we used to gather in a house or go down to the Railway to watch the matches. It was a real shame he was gone by the time they won the Cup in 1999.

Graham was just a great guy and with a brilliant sense of humour. He loved his cars as well and he always seemed to be up to something!

Alan Ross was on the St Duthus committee at the time Graham played for Tain, and shares fond memories of him.

He was always smiling and was always such a happy player on the pitch. He really enjoyed his football with Tain.

James Rice, another Tain teammate of Graham’s echoed Alan’s comments.

He was a comedian! Famous for his Walter Smith impressions in the changing room before games. These were the days of being at the ground a good hour and a half prior to kick off!

Like many footballers, Graham had his match-day customs and superstitions, as his mother Jean testifies.

Graham was very superstitious about the towels he used at the football. He had a green towel and a purple towel. If he scored a goal at a match and he had the green towel that day, he had to take the green towel with him the following week. Same story with the purple towel.

Although he never won a league medal with Tain, he did enjoy a number of cup successes.  Graham’s season with Tain in 1996/97 turned out to be his personal best. This was the year Graham was recognised for his individual talents, winning the Star Inn Shield as Tain’s Player of the Year in 1997.  Jean recalls the year he was presented with the award.

He was so chuffed, as he always felt there were others far better than him. We were so pleased for him.

Graham (third from left) with the Tain St Duthus F.C. squad for the opening of Grant Park in 1995.

Graham (third from left) with the Tain St Duthus F.C. squad for the opening of Grant Park against Huntly F.C. in 1995.

Graham remained a Tain St Duthus player until the time of his passing in August 1998.

When he died, they (Tain St Duthus) presented us with his shirt. Alan Duff brought it to our house the week following Graham’s death. The club had to ask for special permission to play without the number 11 shirt for the rest of the season as a mark of respect. The permission was given. We still have the shirt.

The back of the number 11 shirt worn by Graham Jardine for Tain, presented to Jean & Jim in 1998.

The back of the number 11 shirt worn by Graham Jardine for Tain, presented to Jean & Jim Jardine in 1998.

In the year 2000, a Memorial Quaich was introduced to celebrate the life of Graham and to be played for between two of his former teams, Tain St Duthus and Balintore. The match was played year-in year-out on the date of the Tain fixture between the teams in the North Caledonian League.  This continued to be the case until 2005, at which time St Duthus sadly folded.

In 2008, the trophy was resurrected when Tain Thistle, the town’s only remaining football team, joined the North Caledonian League, and with Jim and Jean’s blessing, they represented Tain in the Quaich match. In 2011, Balintore F.C. also folded, leaving the village’s Ross-shire Welfare combination to continue the tradition. Now in 2015, Tain Thistle and Balintore Welfare contest the Quaich under the banner of the Ross-shire Welfare League for what will be the third year in a row.

Jim Jardine (right) presents the Graham Jardine Memorial Quaich to Balintore captain Ross Powell in 2009.

Jim Jardine (right) presents the Graham Jardine Memorial Quaich to Balintore captain Ross Powell in 2009.

The game is scheduled to be played to a finish on Saturday, July 18th at 3pm at Tain Thistle’s Links Park.

Thank you to the following people for their information, comments and photographs: Jim & Jean Jardine, Gordy Lowe, Billy Read, Neil Skinner, Alan Ross, James Rice and the microfiche archives of the Ross-shire Journal.

Niall Harkiss is the author of the 2014 book Ross-shire Football’s Forgotten Pioneers. Synopsis – Long before the formation of Ross County, footballers in the Royal Burgh of Tain were rubbing shoulders with Dingwall’s Victoria United – playing on the same parks, sharing post-match stories over a drink and a meal, and more specifically, competing for the same cups, and vying for the same honours. But as one team was catapulted into the senior ranks, the other eventually faded into non existence.

Who Were The Eastern Rose? (An Addendum)


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At the start of the new Ross-shire Welfare season, I wrote a blog entry about “The Eastern Rose” – a war time team comprised of local footballers and Polish servicemen. Although, at the time of writing, it wasn’t distinctly clear where the Poles would have been based.  I wrote the following, using the limited information I could find at the time:

Polish artillery battalions and anti-tank regiments had been stationed in Ross and Cromarty throughout the war, and in 1945 in particular, with several noted to have stayed at Mansfield House in Tain.

Thanks to the exhaustive research of Margaret Urquhart of Tain & District Museum and the memories of her husband Forbie, I now have some additional information to share on exactly where the Polish forces were based. Forbie recalls that around 60,000 Polish troops were based in the North of Scotland, as far east as Nairn and as far north as Tain. There were a lot of them based in Tain. Some, those who were staying in the Mansfield Hotel (then Mansfield House) were Commissioned Officers and NCOs.  The rest, we now know, were stationed in camps at Newfield, near Nigg.  This would explain the reason for the first Eastern Rose get-together at Newfield, and puts to bed my earlier suggestion that the team first played there purely because the Links was not in a fit state.  I had previously written:

The Town Council were no further forward with the repair of the Links, and as a result, all football activities were taking place elsewhere. Thus, this September match, which was to be the first reported post-war game of association football in Tain and its surrounding area, eventually took place at Newfield, Nigg.

It now appears more likely that the game was played at Newfield simply because the majority of the team’s players were living there.

A group of Polish forces attending mass at Newfield

That is not to say that their activities were kept to Nigg.  It would appear that The Eastern Rose’s first game was something of a novelty anyway, and that the “field” used at Newfield was unlikely to have been a permanent home for a football team. We also know from newspaper reports that The Eastern Rose went on to play at the Links on a number of occasions during their eight month existence. orbie also recalls seeing the Polish forces going on route marches, coming back from the north in 3 files through the town, singing a Polish marching song (pictured below). They also ran dances in the Drill hall and had their own band.

Polish troops marching through Tain High Street

Polish troops marching through Tain High Street

The 120 year old Pattisons’ Challenge Cup


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The destination of the Pattisons’ Challenge Cup will be decided this Saturday, June 6th. Seen as the “big one” in every Ross-shire’s club’s summer season, the cup returns to Tain for the first time in several decades, some 120 years after it first arrived in the hands of St Duthus FC.  Introduced in 1895, the Pattisons’ Challenge Cup was the product of pomp and the expanded chests of two extravagant, and in the end, very controversial brothers.

From humble beginnings as dairy wholesalers in Edinburgh to making a fortune as distillers, the Pattison brothers were unrivalled in their meteoric rise to the top of the whisky blending business. Robert Pattison broke into the whisky trade as the leaseholder of Teaninich Distillery (just a few miles south of Tain at Alness), before starting his own blending business in partnership with his brother, Walter. Such was the early success of their trading, the brothers made close to £100,000 when their company was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1896.

Based in Leith in Edinburgh, the brothers’ lavish lifestyles offered proof of great success, living in mansions at Clovenfords and Peebles and owning large properties on Leith Walk, while operating out of glamorous marbled offices on Constitution Street.

The Pattisons’ awareness of self-image and a keen eye for promotion was their greatest asset, reportedly spending over £20,000 in one year advertising their worldwide brand. Their advertisements could be seen on the front pages of newspapers up and down the country, boasting their superiority with a sly style of promotion, as shown in an “article” sent to the Sheffield Daily Telegraph on December 1896:

A UNANIMOUS VERDICT – It was not at the Law Courts, but at a gathering of men, eminent in every rank of life, statesmen, soldiers, sailors, doctors, lawyers, scientists, artists, authors, actors etc. met to discuss the merits of the various Scotch whiskies, that a unanimous verdict was recorded in favour of Pattisons for its purity, flavour and unrivalled quality generally. Sold everywhere. Sole proprietors: Pattisons (Ltd), Highland Distillers, Ballindalloch, Leigh and London.

Promotion on “a scale previously undreamt of” had seen the Pattisons catch the attention of consumers with the most bizarre publicity stunts. One performance the brothers were fond of was the “Missing of the Train”. Fully aware of train departure times, the brothers would purposefully turn up late in front of an assembly of reporters and onlookers, before parading their wealth by hiring a private train at the cost of five pounds and a shilling to transport them with urgency to their destination. But perhaps their most notable stunt involved a consignment of five hundred grey parrots, each expertly trained to recite the phrase “Buy Pattisons’ Whisky”, before being sent to vendors across the country to perform their trick.

The Pattisons were equally extravagant in their commercial development. The great phylloxera epidemic of the 1880s had devastated the French vineyards, bringing the region’s brandy production to a standstill and the Pattisons, quite the opportunists, took advantage of the resultant growth in the whisky market. In 1896, they quickly acquired a half share in the Glenfarclas distillery in Ballindalloch along with interests in the Oban and Aultmore-Glenlivet and Ardgowan Lowland Grain distilleries. As distillers and now brewers (they had acquired the Duddingston Brewery soon after), Robert and Walter Pattison had built a whisky empire.

Rather abruptly, their success was suddenly cut short. In December 1898, the veil was dramatically lifted from Pattison, Elder & Co Limited to reveal a company in crisis, laden in debt, corruption and fraud. They filed for bankruptcy while the company moved into liquidation in 1899 and by May 1901, Robert Paterson Pattison and Walter Gilchrist Gray Pattison had been arrested on several charges connected with their company. Worries of unsustainable financial outlay such as the building of new distilleries and overproduction of stock had previously been ignored amidst the industry’s greatest boom period – that was until the Clydesdale Bank refused to further cover the brothers for a bill of £9,000, thus beginning what became known as the “Pattison Crash”.

Nine other companies went under as a result of the crash and a number of small suppliers of Pattison Whisky were also forced to fold. In 1901, Walter Pattison was sentenced to nine months in Perth Penitentiary. Robert, following his declaration that his brother, Walter “is entirely innocent of charges two and four”, received a custodial term of eighteen months, to be served at the same prison. As was noted in the Western Gazette in July that year, “the crowd in court indicated that they considered the sentences very lenient”. All told, the Pattisons were believed to have owed £743,000 to their creditors at the end of the investigation, sending the whisky industry into a downturn for several years.

Among the customers of Pattison brothers during their short-lived success was Mr George Harvey, the proprietor of the Crown Hotel in Tain. Since the early 1890s, the small but busy watering hole on King Street had become a regular haunt for the now established footballers of Saint Duthus Football Club and “Pattison” was now on the menu, in more ways than one. At the height of the whisky distilling brothers’ extravagant climb to infamy in November of 1895, Pattison, Elder & Co made a donation of a solid silver trophy to Mr Harvey, which was duly presented to his beloved Saint Duthus Football Club.

The “handsome” cup was photographed for display in the window of wine merchant Donald Macleod’s shop on the High Street, resplendent in all its glory for the town to see, inscribed with the following text:


Presented by Pattisons Distillers, Leith

To The St Duthus Football Club

For Annual Competition

Between the Ross, Cromarty and Sutherland Association Football Clubs


To G Harvey, Crown Hotel, Tain

Under the auspices of the now defunct Ross-shire Junior Football Association, the trophy was contested every year until the advent of war in 1914, and featured as a prominent fixture in the football calendar from 1919 until the mid 1930s.  Each time the final was played at the home of Saint Duthus FC, at the Links.

The Ross-shire football landscape changed considerably after the Second World War, and along with many other trophies, the Pattisons’ Cup fell into abeyance.  It was resurrected for play a handful of times during the 1940s and 1950s until it disappeared again in 1957.  Thereafter, the trophy was not played for again until 1981, when the latest formation of the Ross-shire Welfare League brought it back into contention.

In recent times, the trophy had found a season by season home at Inver Football Club, where it would be played for on Inver’s pitch and sponsored by the hosts, The Inver Inn. Now, in 2015, Inver FC are no more, and the sponsorship has moved on to that of the Railway Hotel, former sponsors of the Bruce Cordiner Cup.

This year (2015), the finalists are Alness United and Fortrose & Rosemarkie Union. Both teams are still relatively new to the Ross-shire Welfare FA set up, so it may surprise a few to hear that both Alness United and Fortrose Union first captured the Pattisons’ Cup long before the Second World War.  In fact, both have had a long and storied history with the much sought after recreational trophy.

The “Alness Star” were the first team to compete in the Pattisons’ Cup, in 1897, and they continued to represent the Easter Ross town for several years thereafter.  Alness “United” had their first brush with the Pattisons’ Cup in 1919, immediately after the First World War, and in their first year they reached the final, losing 1-0 to St Duthus.

Alness waited just two years for their next final, and against Fortrose Union, they secured the cup for the first time, winning convincingly by 4 goals to 1 at the Links.  United followed that victory up by defending the trophy a year later, beating Victoria United (who just six years later would become Ross County) by 5 goals to 2.  Alness would win the trophy a further three times between then and 1957.

Over on the Black Isle, Fortrose & Rosemarkie Union had begun a relationship with the Pattisons’ Cup almost as long as that of St Duthus. They first played for the trophy at the turn of the century, and in 1906, a two year period of dominance by Brora Rangers had been broken, when Union beat Dornoch Rovers to win the cup.  Unlike 5 time winners Alness United, the name of Fortrose Union has been etched on the solid silver body of the Pattisons’ Cup just once.

Unlike Alness United, Fortrose have already had two cracks at the trophy under the Ross-shire Welfare banner. They had no Pattisons’ Cup luck in their first year as members of the Ross-shire Welfare FA in 2013, losing to another Alness combination, the “Athletic”, in the first round of the cup. It was so near yet so far for Fortrose just last year, as they lost out again to Athletic in semi final this time, having confidently beaten Contin 4-0 in the first round.  Maybe it’s a case of third time lucky, as they have now reached the final, and once again meet a team from Alness.

Written by Niall Harkiss.

Niall Harkiss is the author of the 2014 book Ross-shire Football’s Forgotten Pioneers. Synopsis – Long before the formation of Ross County, footballers in the Royal Burgh of Tain were rubbing shoulders with Dingwall’s Victoria United – playing on the same parks, sharing post-match stories over a drink and a meal, and more specifically, competing for the same cups, and vying for the same honours. But as one team was catapulted into the senior ranks, the other eventually faded into non existence.

Who were The Eastern Rose?



I was recently asked to appear on an STV news item to talk about the history of one of the more interesting teams in the history of Tain football, The Eastern Rose. In a slightly different guise, they have been reborn as members of the Maclean Electrical Ross-shire Welfare League this year and many different stories of just who the Eastern Rose were have emerged.  Having spent five years researching the history of local football in this area before writing my book, Ross-shire Football’s Forgotten Pioneers, the “Rose” in particular became something of a fascination.  I decided against appearing on STV, as I didn’t feel I could really do the history of the club justice in what would have been a short piece.  Instead, I’ve written this blog, and for those who have an interest in the origins of this club, I hope it answers enough questions.

March 1945. Tain’s football enthusiasts were growing concerned over the state of the Links playing fields and their attention had turned to what could be done to repair it. The let of the ground had been taken over by the Town Council towards the end of the Second World War, prior to which, Saint Duthus Football Club had maintained it impeccably. When it was first laid down, the ground was unquestionably one of the best in the North and thanks to the frequent activity and fund raising efforts of Saint Duthus and it’s local clubs and teams, many improvements had been made to the pavilion and the playing fields to ensure it remained one of the best. The years of war, however, had played havoc with the ground and it’s facilities, and as common ground it had been open to all and sundry for several years. Saint Duthus had not kicked a ball in anger since the conflict began and given the state of the pitch, it had become obvious that an alternative private ground would have to be sought out in order for the former North of Scotland champions to play competitive football again. Alas, the Saints were on hiatus.

Meanwhile, VE Day celebrations were underway. In the weeks that followed, Leo Pieraccini, the former treasurer of Saint Duthus FC and patron of the Chocolate Shop, welcomed groups of returning Prisoners of War home in his own unique way. A “most enjoyable” programme of indoor games and dances took place, as another former Saint Duthus FC committeeman, George Davidson, acted as compere. Known for his abundant selection of confectionary, Leo treated his guests to ice cream and sweets. That same week, members of the local RAF service personnel played against select teams from various towns in a 5-aside football tournament at Kirksheaf in aid of Red Cross funds, Mr J Bruce putting in a solid performance as the afternoon’s referee.


(VE Day celebrations in Tain High Street)

Mr Bruce was again the referee for what would prove to be a history-making match later that year in September. The Town Council were no further forward with the repair of the Links, and as a result, all football activities were taking place elsewhere. Thus, this September match, which was to be the first reported post-war game of association football in Tain and its surrounding area, eventually took place at Newfield, Nigg.

On June 26, 1940, the first bombs to be dropped in the Highlands landed in the grounds of Tulloch House at Nigg, before attacks intensified, and Scotland’s Northeast became an almost nightly target for German aircraft. How fitting a location it was to be for the rebirth of the area’s sporting camaraderie, given the magnificent part the North of Scotland had played throughout five long and weary years of conflict.

Polish artillery battalions and anti-tank regiments had been stationed in Ross and Cromarty throughout the war, and in 1945 in particular, with several noted to have stayed at Mansfield House in Tain.  The game at Newfield featured eleven of these Polish servicemen on one side and on the other, a team of well known British senior players stationed in the area. Curiously, the latter adopted the name of “The Eastern Rose” for their team. For the Poles, the game was the finale to an afternoon of festivities which had begun with a religious service at Mansfield House, before a parade of over 1,000 officers and men were played through Tain High Street by the Polish Band.

The game itself was described as a ‘teethy’ affair, won by the Poles by four goals to one, but any disagreement or ill feeling had been put to bed by the evening, when both parties were in attendance at Station Square where the Polish band, in their entirety, delivered an open air concert of classical and light Scottish music. Provost Fraser closed the evening by showing his and the town’s appreciation.

While the seniors who took to the field for “The Eastern Rose” had returned home in the months that followed, the team itself had continued and they were establishing themselves as a regular attraction during the winter months. They played the first of their friendly matches at Dingwall, drawing 2-2 with the local Thistle. The experienced senior players had been replaced by a number of pre-war players from the area who had returned from service, and local football enthusiasts were beginning to pay attention to the Rose as “more than a useful combination”.

Long time Tain resident Wattie Louden, a schoolboy at the time the Rose were formed, recalled some of his memories of the Eastern Rose to me in 2009.

They were run by a man named Jack Ross (or Jackie Coogan as he was known, or by the name ‘Garrick’ a pseudonym he often used when he used to write in to the North Star). Jimmy Andrews, formerly of Dundee, was among the Scottish seniors who played.

Invergordon born Andrews went on to become a Scottish league player with Dundee, West Ham, Leyton Orient and latterly with Queens Park Rangers before he retired to become a coach. He later managed Cardiff City for a spell in the mid 1970s. Aged just 18 in 1945, he’d have most likely been a Scottish amateur either as a scholar or on Dundee’s books as a reserve player when the Rose were active.

By the turn of the year, the Town Council had all but washed their hands of the responsibility of repairing the Links pitch and facilities, and the onus was once again on the yet to re-emerge Saint Duthus FC to either fix it themselves or find a new home. Indeed no football was being played in Tain, and while the Eastern Rose were recognised as a Tain team, they had yet to play in front of spectators in their hometown. By the turn of the year, that would all change.

The Ross-shire Junior FA, for many years the governing body where it concerned recreational football in Ross-shire and the Black Isle, wasted no time in re-introducing a league system as the year came to a close. Five teams from the area registered for competition in November 1945 – Invergordon, Black Rock Rovers of Evanton, Caberfeidh of Maryburgh, Dingwall Thistle and in the absence of founding members Saint Duthus, the aspiring Eastern Rose represented Tain.  The season was set to be short and sweet – eight games home and away and no cup games scheduled during the campaign.  The immediate aim of the FA was to ensure that football matches were scheduled and played in the area, and while the 1945 league was a hastily arranged one, it had achieved what it set out to do, as Ross-shire Junior football was underway once again.

There was still some doubt over where exactly the Rose were going to play.  Some friendlies were played at Kirksheaf. Some again at Nigg.  In the end, the Rose committee elected to test the water with their opening league match against Maryburgh’s Caberfeidh team at the Links.  The damaged facilities meant that the team had to get changed at neighbouring buildings, among them the large building later owned by Ronnie Ross Furniture & Carpet Centre, where there now stands some renovated flats.

Combined with poor weather, the match ended as something of a failed experiment, not much of a spectacle and a clear indictment of the work that was still to be done at the Links. It would be a good few months before they would play there again.  Despite the conditions, the Rose impressed, and they beat their Maryburgh counterparts by 5 goals to 2.  The team had evolved further from the one that had first played at Nigg in September. The Rose was now an amalgamation of the Polish XI and the town’s experienced footballers.  The fitness and footballing abilities of the Polish lads was clear to see and the superiority of the Rose on the day was largely attributed to their inclusion.

Any hope the Rose had of winning the league competition was quickly dashed a week later though, as they failed to appear in Invergordon for their next game, forfeiting both points along the way. Invergordon proceeded to run away with the competition, winning every game. Masters on the field of play the Rose may have been, but behind the scenes – the organisation of the team left a lot to be desired! How the Eastern Rose went about their business as a club remains largely unknown, although they were noted to have held a whist drive at the Masonic Hall during the start of the season, with committee member Hugh Gibson, manager of the British Linen Bank, named as a speaker, expressing his hope that the standard of football Tain once enjoyed before the war should return very soon.

The Eastern Rose lost out again to Invergordon, this time quite legitimately on the park at the Links in the spring of 1946, but following that, they won all of their remaining games, beating Caberfeidh 2-1 in Maryburgh and trouncing Black Rock Rovers by 8 goals to 2 in Evanton.  The resounding victory at Evanton was to be the last game the Rose played.

Their mixed fortunes seemed largely down to the variation of players available to them at any one time. No fewer than eight Polish players were named in the eleven they fielded for their home game against Black Rock, in which they won 10-1, the centre forward “Krysav” hailed as the highlight.  Had they had the use of the Polish lads in every game, there is every chance they could have won the league!

The post-war Ross-shire Junior League came to a close and soon after, Tain’s football enthusiasts made moves to reassert themselves in the Ross-shire setup by resurrecting the Saints. In an article to the North Star and Farmer’s Chronicle in May 1946, a contributor wrote:

Football is on the upgrade – or will be if plans now preparing meet with success. St Duthus has been revived; Eastern Rose – a war-time carry on – has joined bands, and finance is favourable. At a meeting of enthusiasts held to discuss the chances of putting new life into the game locally, the following office bearers were appointed:- President – Mr Hugh Aird, St Duthus Hotel, vice-presidents – Messrs. R L Benson and R Sutherland, secretary – George B Davidson, treasurer – A R Halliday.

While it would be a couple of years before Leo Pieraccini would resume his role at the club, George Davidson was amongst those to make a return with a role as an office bearer in the second re-incarnation of Saint Duthus (the first taking place in 1933), and Hugh Aird – the newest President – would take a more active role in the club’s business than that of previous Presidents. In addition, Norman Ferguson, a former goalkeeper for the Saints during the 1930s was elected as “Trainer” and “Groundsman”, becoming the first recognised “football manager” to guide the Saints into battle.

It was all change. It had been some seven years since a Saint Duthus committee had existed, and now with the united fronts of the pre-war Saints and the Eastern Rose, the post-war Saint Duthus football club were born.

13.1 - frankie martin's photo from 1947

(St Duthus FC, 1947. Hugh Aird is pictured in the centre of the back row, wearing a hat.)

There is no doubting the influence and importance of the Eastern Rose in the timeline of Tain’s footballing history.  They were first to bite the bullet, and while other teams were put off by poor facilities and playing surfaces, the Rose went undeterred and played the game regardless.  Their whirlwind nine month existence had reignited the interest of Tain’s football supporters.

Now, in 2015, we have a new incarnation of The Eastern Rose, and the parallels are there for all to see.  Although playing out of Portmahomack, the support they have received from the Tain community has been considerable and their community is largely made up of people based in the Royal Burgh. Most encouragingly though, and what they should be celebrated for, is how they have engaged the Polish population once again, which, albeit not through the advent of war this time, has increased dramatically in the past decade.  Throughout their friendly matches in March and April they have welcomed the involvement of Polish footballers, and they should be recognised as being the first team in recent years to do so (in such numbers at least) as members of the Ross-shire Welfare League – the association which replaced the Junior setup in the 1960s.

The Eastern Rose committee, through their efforts on social media and in the local press have brought a lot of attention on the new club, and on Wednesday night, April 29th, they will play their first game on the Links in 69 years, against two time Ross-shire Welfare champions Tain Thistle FC.  For Messrs Colin Burry and club committee member Brian Macangus the game should act as something of a homecoming, given their long time association with “the Jags”.  Chairperson David Purvis, another former Tain man, freely admits that not much is known of the history of the club, however his vision for the new club is clear, as he explained when speaking to the Ross-shire Welfare FA website in March:

We decided this year to re-live the history by reforming the team with a mix of youth and young adults. We’d also like to play our part in giving the Ross-shire Welfare League a publicity boost, one it should rightfully get, as we feel football at this level within most communities is a dying breed, whether it be due to lack of funding with financial climates making things harder and harder or due to difficulty getting dedicated folk within communities to join committees. We thought very carefully when selecting our committee and through that care, we have the determination to thrive from one year to the next and be around for a very long time playing out of Portmahomack.

Written by Niall Harkiss.

Niall Harkiss is the author of the 2014 book Ross-shire Football’s Forgotten Pioneers. Synopsis – Long before the formation of Ross County, footballers in the Royal Burgh of Tain were rubbing shoulders with Dingwall’s Victoria United – playing on the same parks, sharing post-match stories over a drink and a meal, and more specifically, competing for the same cups, and vying for the same honours. But as one team was catapulted into the senior ranks, the other eventually faded into non existence.