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.