Alex Massie

The Flower of Scotland Lies Cold in Flanders Clay

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Back in the days when the Edinbugh Evening News printed a "Saturday Pink" edition, it used to be said that there were two headlines on hand for whenever Scotland played England for the Calcutta Cup. Occasionally the sub-editors could scream "It's Bannockburn!"; more often they were left to lament "It's Flodden". The latter, as always when the game is played at Twickenham, seems the more probable result tomorrow.

Still, talk of ancient battles is merely tabloid hyperbole. Other conflicts loom larger. Frank Keating had a characteristically lovely piece in the Guardian this week, recalling the terror of the First World War and the calamitous toll it took on rugby:

The war had left rugby with a grievous inventory. From these islands alone, 75 capped international players had been slain in the conflict – eight from Ireland, 11 from Wales, 26 from England and, almost unbelievably, 30 (two whole XVs) from Scotland. Of the 30 young men who played in the 1914 Calcutta Cup match at Inverleith, more than a third of them perished– six Scots and five Englishmen. Only six (two Scots and four English) would play in the next Calcutta Cup match, at Twickenham at the end of the 1919-20 season.

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Of course all the world's sports clubs were mourning their dead through the winter of 1918-19. In British rugby, no black-creped sorrows can have been heavier than those of the ancient and fabled London Scottish club based at Richmond Athletic Ground a mile or so up the road from Twickenham. On 13 April, the last Saturday of the 1913-14 season, London Scottish 1st XV beat Blackheath on a day when the club fielded a further three XVs, a total of 60 players. Of those, 45 died in the war.

Relatedly: the Kaiser and his war must carry some of the blame for the Celtic-Rangers duopoly that cripples Scottish football.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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