IT was a game that threatened to incite a full-scale riot at a time of growing discontent with British rule in Ireland
George Clarke Robertson, an outside left for Motherwell and Scotland, was pursued by a 1,000-strong mob at the end of a fixture against Ireland, amid rumours he had severely injured a fan in a scuffle.
The player could only escape the Dublin stadium by disguising himself, while a decoy was sent out wearing his football strip.
The incident, which prompted an investigation on both sides of the Irish Sea, is revealed in a new biography of Robertson by his great- nephew, Iain Paterson, who has spent the past 20 years researching the player’s life and times.
Recalling the flashpoint just three years before the Easter Rising, Paterson said his great-uncle considered himself “lucky to escape with his life”.
The fixture at Dublin’s Dalymount Park on 14 March, 1913, was billed as a fundraiser to help fill the coffers of the Irish Football Association. Scotland won the game 2-1, but not before events at the final whistle threatened full-scale civil disorder.
As the referee signalled the end of the match, Robertson attempted to claim the ball as a souvenir, only for it to be knocked out of his hands by a spectator and taken by an Irish player.
A fight ensued in which the fan, Patrick Gartland, was injured, and rumours quickly spread around a crowd already agitated by the legitimacy of Scotland’s second goal that Robertson had broken his leg.
What followed was one of the most shameful episodes in international football. The Scotland players were trapped in their dressing room, with around 1,000 angry Irish fans trying to confront them, smashing windows, with one man brandishing a wooden stake.
The only way the team could escape was when a young Irishman, believed to be a police officer, pulled on Robertson’s strip and ran out of the stadium as a decoy.
Robertson, in turn, wore his own disguise of a hat, overcoat and walking stick, making good his escape.
The unsavoury scenes did not end there, however. The crowd pursued the Scotland team to their hotel, where full-back John Walker was attacked outside.
Robertson later recalled: “If they had got at me, I would have been done for.”
Paterson did not even know of his great-uncle’s existence until he inherited his grandmother’s collection of postcards and photographs after she died in 1974.
Her mementoes included a number of pictures of a young man in vintage football kit and Scotland cap, dated 1910. The photograph stirred Paterson’s interest and before long he was contacting relatives to find out more about Robertson’s feats.
One of those feats was being the man responsible for the “Owls” nickname adopted by English league club Sheffield Wednesday, for whom he played in the early 20th century.
Wings Of Steel: My Great Uncle, George Clarke Robertson, A Left Winger in the Steel Towns by Iain Paterson is published by Pitch Publishing.