One of the many stories that fascinated me as a young Spur was this competition and the various myths that surrounded it. Different sources will tell you it was competed for in the 1955/56 season and ran for three years. Others claim it started the following year and operated for either one or two, and every other combination of dates over that period. Players talk about playing in it, the press refer to it and some clubs discuss it in their programmes and even produce league tables, there is talk of it being shown on TV. There are even stories about the trophy and sponsors. Of all the many tales in football that are confusing and contradictory the Anglo-Scottish Floodlight competition (to give it its most common name) is one of the most tangled webs. There is however one very simple fact that everyone does agreed on…… The competition never actually existed.
Before I try and unravel the competition’s story I should state that when I set out to research the story I discovered that everyone involved has their own slightly different perspective on the competition. There are varying chronological orders and dates of certain events vary greatly. I’ve presented the story how I think it unfolded. The story seems almost incomprehensible to us now but these events nearly sixty years ago went a long way to shaping the game as we know it today and take for granted.
What we can be certain of was in the 1950’s ‘floodlight friendlies’ were becoming more important to clubs and attracted large crowds (1) despite the official reluctance to embrace the idea a number of clubs realised that before long fans would tire of exhibition games. The next step was clear, competition. The majority of sources feel the driving force for the proposed competition was the Hibernian chairman (2) who even missed his teams trip to Germany to play in the first European Cup (under floodlights) to attend a meeting in September 1955. The Glasgow Herald having previously reported on August 10th ‘that six clubs are forming an "Anglo-Scottish Midweek Cup.” The clubs at the meeting were Hibs, Heart of Midlothian and Patrick Thistle from Scotland. They were joined by Tottenham, Newcastle and Manchester City with the idea of setting up a Midweek Floodlight League. Glasgow Rangers and Arsenal both indicated they would be interested but took no further part. As Arsenal had been strong supporters of floodlight football till that point it’s slightly mystifying and when approached they declined to comment. Glasgow Celtic declined to take part, but they had no lights at that time (3).
The initial plan was for eight teams to play each other home and away. There are some minor sources that talk about Irish clubs becoming involved but I have disregarded the idea and consider it arose as apart from the competition various teams also played ‘other’ friendlies at the same time. Indeed Tottenham had regularly played Hibernians, and to a lesser degree Hearts, over the seasons dating back to 1949 and continued to do so after the ‘competition’ ceased (4, 5, 9).
Several sources I found suggest that Harry Swan of Hibernian was elected President of the competition and a Spurs director being VP, (he is never named.) and the word floodlight was dropped from the title. The clubs would meet home-and-away between September and December and each club would only meet the teams from the other country.
There was a problem from the outset in that the Scottish FA had previously discussed the idea of floodlight competition and in line with the English FA were opposed to the plan. The English League also made it clear they were against the competition. The Times reporting on 11th August that the Football League 'may oppose' its clubs playing in the competition. Then on 13th September they reiterated its opposition to the clubs. The clubs needed the official sanction of the two Football Associations and as we have seen previously (6) the English authorities were not keen on encouraging any games they did not have total control over.
That season 1955/56 out of the eighteen planned games only eight were played. Those that were are classed as friendly games. The only game involving Tottenham was their trip to Partick Thistle. I need to point out that Partick stress this game as a friendly in their records. The game was in fact the first played under floodlights at the Firhill ground. It ended in a 0-1 defeat for Spurs. In the press match reports there is no mention of a competition nor were they impressed by the standard of football played claiming the players seemed to struggle under the lighting. One other note from that year was in the November, the last thirty minutes of the game between Hibs and Manchester City was shown on TV in Scotland. The first game to be shown live from the Easter Road ground. With the press mentioning that people turned up in their best clothes in case they were shown to the rest of the country.
The ‘second season’, 1956/57, is the one that the various sources agree the games in the ‘competition’ actually took place and the fixture list completed. As we will discover later not without even more confusion. The three Scottish clubs remained the same. Newcastle and Tottenham represented England. Manchester City withdrew claiming fixture congestion, although they did play a friendly with Hearts during that period. Preston were invited to take their place but declined. Thus the two English teams played two more fixtures than the Scottish sides.
Tottenham’s games in 56/57 started with a trip to Hibernians and a 5-1 win. Blanchflower, Harmer, Dyson and Bobby Smith with two, for our goals. The following week we beat Patrick Thistle 4-1 at home. This season was the only one in Partick’s records as being in the competition. Medwin, Stokes 2 and Smith being on target in front of 26,210. We then traveled to Hearts and lost 2-3. The Scottish press shows that Dyson gave us the lead in the first half. Hearts hit back after the break with three goals before Harmer from a penalty finished the scoring. Their second goal came from one Dave Mackay. The press felt we were good in midfield but lacking in attack. Dyson played on the left wing as our usual winger George Robb was an amateur and had work commitments. Into October and Hibernian come to the Lane (7) and earned a 3-3 draw in front of sixteen thousand. Hearts were our next visitors and we gained our revenge 4-2. Bobby Smith scoring a hat trick and Stokes adding the other with seventeen and an half thousand inside the Lane. This without four players on international duty for an England V Wales game the following night
(10, 11). The last game of the season was a trip to Partick and a 0-2 defeat.
If we devise (just for fun) a league table then the two English clubs both finish on 7 points ahead of the Scots led by Hearts on five (5). We have a goal difference of 18-12 and Newcastle 12-8. Remember however at this time goal average was commonly used when teams were equal on points. I couldn’t discover what the organisers had planned in this situation.
This extract is taken from Tottenham’s programme for the game V Hibernian on 31st October 1956. “We offer a cordial welcome this evening to our old friends and rivals, Hibernian F.C. from Edinburgh, with whom we have had some we have had some thrilling matches in the past, and we look forward to another such encounter. It is our second meeting with them in the newly formed series of Anglo Scottish floodlit Challenge Matches, the first match having been played in Edinburgh on Monday September 17th when we were winners by 5 goals to 1” (7, 8).
If we now turn back to the politics for a moment. Eventually the Scottish FA gave permission for a tournament with a trophy cash reward. The Scottish League however took offence at this and threatened expulsion from the league for any of the Scottish sides ignoring their ruling banning the competition. The clubs felt they had not broken any rules. Patrick Thistle then asked that Glasgow Rangers be forced to withdraw from that seasons European Cup as they great difficulty in understanding why it was permissible for one floodlit tournament to proceed and not the other. The Scottish FA said the League was exceeding its powers with its threat. The clubs were caught in the middle of a major power battle. At this point Hearts withdrew from the competition until such time as the two bodies could agree and stated that they would only proceed with friendly matches. Under the circumstances it seems amazing that any football was actually played but eight of the eighteen scheduled games did kick off. Hibernian playing the most, four, whilst Spurs and City managed three each. Partick Thistle managed only one. Newcastle and Manchester City both claiming (most likely for diplomatic reasons) the suggested dates for their games were inconvenient. For the record Spurs would have finished top with four points and a goal difference of 10-6. City and Hibs also had four points but with goal differences of 7-7 and 8-9, (4).
It seems strange to us now, but even trying to see it through the eyes of the authorities fifty years ago exactly why they were so reluctant to accept this idea is a mystery. As we saw in The Flying Down to Rio series both FA’s had strongly held views on what they would sanction or not. My personal view is, as we discussed previously at the outbreak of World War One the authorities were deeply concerned about competitions they did not have total control over. This I believe is supported by this quote from Bob Crampsey the SFL Centenary Historian who said "the Scottish League would have nothing to do with Johnny-come-lately tournaments. Thus those Scottish clubs, who had agreed to take part in a floodlit Anglo-Scottish League, were ordered to withdraw. It may be noted that quite a few of the scheduled matches went ahead anyway, but as friendlies, to which no exception was taken." If we add to this possible fear of loss of control the suggestion of sponsorship. Once again at this time when other major sports had embraced sponsorship football had declined to do so and it would be some years before it did. There are suggestions that Schweppes had been involved in discussions.
Many thanks to everyone who helped me, I now understand why everyone wished me luck when they replied, the findings are my own and I hope the picture is clearer than when I started, but as the competition never existed…
In no particular order, Tom Wright, Hibernian Historical Trust, David Speed, Club Historian Hearts FC, Robert Reid, Partick Thistle FC, Patrick Thistle Supporters, The Scottish Football National Archive. The Times, THFC, Glasgow Herald, The Scottish League, The non-league forum, Bob Goodwin and anyone I have forgotten.
t- Keith 16024542
f- peter shearman (old non de plume)
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Notes – 1 – Hotspur Towers - Under The Lights.
2 – Although a least once source claims Newcastle first proposed the idea of a midweek televised competition.
3 – Having no lights did not stop Hearts from becoming involved. They had no lights until October 1957 and hired Hibernian’s Easter Road ground.
4 – These games are discussed in ‘Connections – Scotland part 4.’
5 – Results of all these games over the three seasons are shown on the website – The Scottish National Football Archive.
6 – Hotspur Towers – The First European’s
7 – The complete programme including the competitions league standings are featured in Hotspur Towers – Hibernian.
8 – You will notice Spurs did not use the word competition, but talk about a series of challenge matches. At various times the competition was referred to as a League, a Cup, a Challenge and the Midweek league. The use of the word floodlight or floodlit appears in various combinations of these.
9 – Tottenham had met Hibs in the Coronation Cup and played Hearts in a friendly on the same trip. See – Hotspur Towers – The Coronation Cup.
10- It was certainly not unusual for major fixtures and club games to be played at the same time in that era. For the record – Johnny Brooks made his debut and scored alongside Ted Ditchburn for England whilst Wales played Terry Medwin and Mel Hopkins. They also had a Swansea winger called Cliff Jones in the side. England won 3-1.
We also had skipper Harry Clarke missing from the Hearts game having been injured at the weekend.
11 - Watch out for the forthcoming ‘ Hotspur Towers - What the Papers Said.’
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