While researching a book on classic Old Firm matches I came across the strange story of Fred Kirkham, the Englishman imported to referee a potentially explosive match between Celtic and Rangers.
The match was the league decider of 1905, the only time the Scottish League Championship has been decided this way. Sectarianism had only just started to rear its ugly head within the Old Firm - egged on, it must be said, by irresponsible sections of the press, but the main reason for bringing in an outside referee was because Celtic fans had rioted when their great hero Jimmy Quinn had been sent off in the Scottish Cup semi-final against Rangers. A referee who was known for strictness was needed, and crucially, he had to be a foreigner.
Kirkham was a native of Preston in Lancashire, hotbed of the English game. He had played the game and then taken up refereeing with considerable success due to his unfailingly disciplinarian attitude. He was chosen to referee 11 international matches and the 1906 FA Cup Final. In a bizarre move, he was appointed manager of Tottenham Hotspur in 1907, but his authoritarian ways did not sit well with the players or fans and he left after a poor season, returning to refereeing and making trips to the Continent to referee international and other matches there.
Kirkham died in 1949, and has his place in history as the last foreigner to referee a Scottish League match.
The following is an edited version from my book, Hail Hail.
"As the season neared its completion, trouble erupted when Celtic met Rangers at Parkhead in the Scottish Cup semi-final. A pitch invasion when Jimmy Quinn was sent off while Rangers were leading 2-0 caused the match's abandonment and the SFA duly convened an inquiry. Celtic manager Willie Maley conceded the abandoned match and, despite Rangers' injury victim Alex Craig testifying that Quinn was innocent, the SFA suspended the Celtic legend until the end of the season.
"Rangers' quest for the Double ended with Third Lanark soundly defeating them in the Scottish Cup Final and, when Celtic beat Motherwell 6-2 away from home, they and Rangers had ended up jointly topping the table with 41 points from 26 matches. The rules back then still did not encompass goal average or goal difference - Rangers would have won the title on both counts - so a play-off was arranged to decide the championship.
"A sign of the league's concern about the match was the appointment of a referee from England, Mr Frederick Kirkham of Preston.The League and the SFA were both concerned about the obvious bad blood caused by the events of the Cup semi-final, and wanted none of Scotland's umpires to be put into the position of seeming to be less than impartial. No such accusations could surely be levelled at the Englishman, as long as he got the decisions right. Given the events of season 2009-10, it makes you wonder whether the idea is not worth trying again.
"Kirkham did not have much to do, because the game was largely a bore. It was Celtic who briefly rose above the mediocrity, (beating Rangers 2-1]. The response outside Celtic's fan base was underwhelming, but that victory proved the catalyst for one of the great periods of the club's history. With Young, Loney and Hay usually at half-back and McMenemy, Quinn and Hamilton providing the threat up front, a great side had emerged."
• Hail Hail, Classic Celtic Old Firm Clashes, by Martin Hannan (Mainstream, 9.99).