BERWICK Rangers fan Alan Bell has recently made an amazing discovery during research for a new book on the history of the club.
It has always been believed that the Berwick Rangers Football Club was formed in 1881 and accordingly they celebrated their centenary in 1981.
However, Alan, from Spittal, has now uncovered irrefutable evidence that the club was not formed until 1884. This means that the two previously published books on the club were inaccurate and the centenary was marked almost three years too early!
The confusion has arisen due to a notice being published in the Berwick Journal of 10th November 1881, calling a meeting to discuss the possibility of starting a football club in Berwick. Shortly afterwards, it was announced that a club had been formed but there is no evidence in the following newspapers to suggest this club lasted for very long.
The interest in starting a club under Association Rules began after an exhibition match was play on the Pier Field Cricket Ground on January 1, 1884 between a team of North-Eastern Railway clerks from Newcastle and the Tynefield Club of Dunbar. There was a distinct lack of winter sports opportunities in Berwick at the time so a large crowd gathered to watch this new game.
Afterwards, a group of impressed young men asked the Vicar of Berwick, Rev Charles Baldwin, for permission to use the Parade School, to hold a meeting to consider starting a local football club. He agreed and the meeting took place on Monday, January 7, 1884.
Office-bearers were elected and 24 young men signed up as members with many more indicating a wish to join when a suitable ground was found.
One week later, on Saturday, January 12, after another meeting, this time in Woolmarket, it was announced that the club would be known as the 'Berwick Rangers Football Club (Association)' and that a practice match had been arranged for the following Saturday between two representative sides.
Alan made his discovery after deciding to write a book to mark the 125th anniversary of the club, which was believed to be in 2006. He then found that he had a much longer deadline, as the real anniversary is not until January 2009.
Although a Yorkshireman by birth, Alan first became interested in Berwick Rangers as a young boy after a family holiday at Stephenson's Holiday Camp on Magdalene Fields in 1970. Two years later the family moved to Spittal permanently and Alan attended his first Shielfield match on November 25,1972; the result was Berwick Rangers 0 Stranraer 3.
"Later, I began to collect match statistics and have now built up a database of over 850 players and the statistics of nearly 2400 matches since 1950," he said. "This total is constantly being updated. Most of the information has been collected since 1987 when I first started researching in earnest."
Apart from spending an average of four hours a week in Berwick Library scouring the old editions of the Berwick Advertiser and Berwick Journal, Alan's research has also sent him travelling to find elusive information in other publications.
His visits have included the Scottish Football Association Archives at Hampden Park, The Mitchell Library in Glasgow, both the National Library of Scotland and the City Library in Edinburgh, the Wellgate Library in Dundee, Newcastle Central Library and many other town libraries.
"It has cost me a fortune, including several updates of computer equipment to cope with the growing archive." he admits. Yet he is adamant that he doesn't want any money from the book; "I am more concerned with putting the record straight."
Discussions have been held with the Berwick Rangers Supporters Trust about publishing the book when it is finished. All the proceeds will go to the Trust.
Another possible reason why the founding date of the club may have become confused is that on the night after the first match, Saturday, January 19, 1884, a severe gale began.
Those who remembered the match will naturally have also remembered and associated it with the gale. The story was probably recounted many times through word of mouth. As is the way of these things, over time this gale became confused with the great gale of 1881, which caused the Eyemouth fishing disaster.
After negotiations with the Cricket Club, the newly formed Berwick Rangers found they could not afford the rent for the Pier Field and so had to find another suitable field.
Eventually, they were offered the use of a stubble field at Bull Stob Close, in the Greens, by local businessman and fish merchant Peter Cowe, who became a driving force in the club.
The fishermen of the Greens also formed a football club around the same time, called the 'Royal Oaks.' They shared the field with Berwick Rangers. The first ever competitive football match in Berwick was a local derby between these teams on February 16, 1884. The result was 'a win for the Rangers by one goal and "two tries" to nil.' - proving that the rules of this new game were still not very clear.
On April 25, 1884 it was announced that another football club had been formed in Tweedmouth, to be known as 'Tweedside Wanderers.' They played on the Meadow Field, now part of the Ladywell housing estate.
A few weeks later, on May 10, a meeting was held at Spittal National School to form the 'Seaside Rovers Football Club' who were offered the use of land at the Sea Cutting on which to play.
Alan Bell's book is to be called An International Every Week: A History of Berwick Rangers. The plan is to publish the first volume, covering the years 1884-1945, in December 2008 and the second volume, 1946-2009 at some point afterwards.