The Life and Death of James Dunlop

James Dunlop was born on the 17th of May 1870 in the Railway Tavern in Gourock, the son of spirit dealer John Dunlop and Isabella (nee Nicholl), who ran the pub which was located on Quay Street, now Shore Street in the Inverclyde town.

By 1873, the Dunlop’s had moved to Paisley and stayed at 82 Broomlands, just a few yards from where the ‘Witches Horseshoe’ is at Maxwellton Cross, infamous of course as the place seven alleged ‘witches’ were strangled and burned in a mass execution in 1697.

John Dunlop was secretary of the Paisley Beer Wine and Spirit Trade Association, and in the 1880’s the family moved a few hundred yards down Well Street to number 4 Greenhill Road.

Back then Paisley was a thriving place centered mainly around the world class thread industry based in the town, but work and manual labour was generally everywhere throughout the Burgh and young Dunlop grew up in a part of town where the industrial heartland was largely based; with factories, mills, and suppliers packed around the area between Love Street and where St Mirren currently play, the remains of which still exists today of course on a much smaller scale.

Current Day Location of 4 Greenhill Road, where James Dunlop lived most of his adult life.

Football was being played at this time, and clubs were being formed all over the country, however when Dunlop was born Queen’s Park were the dominant and exclusive club in Scotland, if not the world, but others particularly in the West of Scotland were taking initiative and creating rival teams. When Dunlop was seven years old a football club was formed on his own doorstep, when The St Mirren Football Club made the decision to break from rugby and play this new sport which was the craze all over Britain.

Saints were based in Thistle Park on Greenhill Road when Dunlop was just nine, home of Paisley Thistle Cricket Club, and it is not a massive stretch of the imagination to think that a young Dunlop went to watch the team play in their formative years as Saints moved to Westmarch in 1883, also in Greenhill Road. There are crowds as big as 4,000 recorded in the 1870’s when Saints met Abercorn, which is quite remarkable really as football was amateur and considered nothing more than a past-time or even a fad to many observers, who believed the working class men would soon return to rugby and cricket.

As a schoolboy Dunlop showed terrific promise on the football field as well as academically, and he signed for local club Blackstoun Rangers with James Hill, a younger boy from his street, and they impressed significantly enough that St Mirren signed both and put them into the third team and then almost immediately the second eleven, (Westmarch XI) in 1887.

Following a remarkable performance in the second XI Scottish Cup against Cambuslang the following year, Dunlop and Hill were so good that they were promoted to the first team and stayed there despite being only eighteen and sixteen years respectively.

Off the field, despite the heavy industrial possibilities on his very doorstep, Dunlop became a manager at the National Telephone Exchange branch within the town, and this alone would hint at Dunlop being an extremely bright and academically minded young man as not only did he take on a management position in his teenage years, but also within a relatively new technologically advanced area of expertise.

Dunlop was affectionately known as “Daddy” to his Saints teammates, and with this professional management career in the Telephone Exchange, it wouldn’t be a significant leap to suggest that despite his early years the youngster was a born leader, and he quickly became Saints captain as the 1890 start of league football was upon Scotland, having made his international debut a few months prior to this in the spring of that year.

This debut was on the 22nd March 1890, when aged just nineteen, Dunlop made his first appearance for Scotland at Underwood Park in Paisley a stone’s throw from his own home, and the ground of Saints rivals Abercorn FC during a 5-0 win. Little did young James know how significant this football ground and street would become in his short life.

Victorian Map of Paisley from around 1900. James Dunlop’s family home is circled, and the closeness of Underwood Park where Abercron FC played is shown. Other St Mirren grounds are also highlighted.

Although Saints had a difficult first league season finishing third bottom, Dunlop was blossoming into one of the best players in the country and was Saints top scorer with twelve goals from his favoured inside left position, which is roughy translated to central midfield in modern terms. It was his remarkable performance against Queen’s Park in the Scottish Cup however the season before that really caught the eye, when he and Hill terrorised a team that practically doubled as the Scottish National side, and this was remembered by the selection committee when Dunlop was called up to the Scotland squad for that home international against Wales and his international debut.

His great friend James Hill had already turned professional at that point and signed for Burnley the previous year, but despite multiple offers, Dunlop declared his passion for Saints and the town by refusing to speak to any interest clubs, and stated to the media in 1890 he would “live and die a Saint”; a rather haunting prediction. This fierce loyalty was extended to Scotland matches, when he opted to play for his club side as opposed to the national one against England!

The following season Dunlop was again in fine form, scoring five times from the opening fifteen league matches and was well on course to be top scorer at Saints once more. On Boxing Day 1891 after a narrow defeat at Parkhead, the league took a break for four weeks allowing the clubs to play challenge matches, and the Paisley Charity Cup final was scheduled for New Year’s Day 1892 against Abercorn at Underwood Park, a nice leisurely walk for Dunlop to put on a show in front of his friends and family on a beautiful but crisp winter afternoon on the very ground he became a Scotland player.

The modern day entrance to Underwood Park, where Abercorn FC played. James Dunlop made his Scotland debut here and also sustained the injury that resulted in his death.

Using home advantage, the Abbies raced into a two goal lead in front of what was described as the largest attendance in Paisley that season, but in the second half before Saints could mount a comeback, James Dunlop was cut on the leg by a piece of broken glass lying on the pitch, which is widely accepted to be thrown onto the playing surface by a supporter and was part of a shattered bottle.

The Abercorn support had a reputation for being “boisterous” and on a number of occasions that season newspapers reported trouble at their matches, in fact after a 4-2 victory over Celtic nothing short of a riot took place when the opposition players were assaulted in the aftermath. Whether the bottle was flung by an Abbies supporter of course will never be known for definite, but as I have detailed before the theory at the time pinned the blame on Abercorn for this.*

Dunlop was attended to at the scene by a Dr Bruce in the clubhouse, and although this injury would seem trivial today and easily treated, these were the days before vaccination and readily available antibiotics, therefore potentially any deep cut could be very problematic.

The match finished 5-1 to Abercorn, with Saints keeper John Fleming rather harshly singled out for criticism by the press in the aftermath, however having watched his captain leave the field in distress with a deep cut to his knee, it is understandable if his attention was elsewhere in the second half.

After the match, Saints travelled by train to Yorkshire to take on Sheffield Wednesday, but Dunlop was excused by the club to allow him time to recover from the wound, and his place taken by Joseph Kinloch during the 2-2 draw. In the days that followed, everything appeared well and Dunlop was spotted around the town, probably even returning to work bandaged up and continuing with his life.

On the eighth of January however, a full week later and with little hint anything serious was wrong other than headaches, Dunlop was admitted to the Paisley Infirmary with tetanus or ‘Lock Jaw’ as it was more commonly known back then. This was a direct result of the cut sustained on the football field, where tetanus bacteria attacked the wound and got into the nervous system, eventually leading to muscle pain and spasms, hence the locked jaw.

For many decades tetanus has now been prevented by vaccinating children and even if ‘lock jaw’ sets in today, standard ibuprofen available in the supermarket will clear it along with a little jaw exercise. In 1892 however, it was a potentially lethal disease and as feared as leprosy.

Despite the attentions of Dr Bruce, his colleague Dr Andrew Richmond along with a Dr Fraser and Professor Buchanan of Glasgow University, the medical experts were unable to save young James Dunlop and he passed away on the Monday morning of 11th January, choked to death as the locked jaw was unable to swallow or breathe at the end, a horrific end to a brilliant young life.

The death certificate of James Dunlop. Thanks to Kenneth Blair for providing this.
Report from the Glasgow Evening News on the 11/01/1892 following the death of James Dunlop earlier that day


Despite being during a period when the mortality rate in Paisley was far above the national average, the passing of James Dunlop hit the town hard; and a period of mourning followed.

St Mirren immediately asked for postponement of all their forthcoming matches until 6th February 1892, a requested initially accepted by the SFA, Scottish league and Renfrewshire FA, but would be overturned on appeal from Third Lanark who insisted on league fixtures being completed on time.

James Dunlop’s funeral was planned for only two days later on the 13th January 1892, and due to the popularity of the Saints captain and high regard he was held within the town despite his young age, the funeral was a public one held in St James Parish Church in Underwood Road, where 300 people packed the pews for this service provide by Reverend Dr Flett who had also performed a private equivalent in the family home in Greenhill Road.

St James Church in Underwood Rd, where the service took place.

Thousands more lined the streets as his coffin was carried on horse and carriage along Underwood Road, up Well Street and finally onto Broomlands Street and Woodside Cemetery.

The Glasgow Evening News the following day described events as so:

This afternoon the remains of the late Mr James Dunlop of the St Mirren FC were laid to rest in the Paisley Cemetery in presence of a large concourse of mourners. The members, who turned out today for the last sad rites, amply testified to the esteem and affection with which the deceased was regarded………….many of those present were visibly affected.

The large procession moved along Underwood Road, Well Street and Broomlands Street to the Cemetery, the streets being lined on either side by thousands of people. Arrived at the grave, the coffin was lowered into its narrow bed, and in a few moments was lost to sight. Dark, threatening clouds overspread the sky as the procession proceeded, and as the mourners stood around the open grave snow began to fall. This caused the crowds soon to disperse, and the grave diggers were left alone to complete the sad task”

Among the mourners were obviously representatives of St Mirren as well as Abercorn and Dykebar FC from the town. Dignitaries from other football clubs such as Ayr, Cambuslang, Clyde, Celtic, Hearts, Third Lanark, Port Glasgow Athletic, Rangers and Sheffield FC were also in attendance, and were joined by senior figures from the SFA and Renfrewshire equivalent.

His employer and work colleagues from the Telephone Exchange are also noted as being present, as was his oldest friend, James Hill of Burnley FC. In the days that followed, William Paul of Dykbar FC, a club seemingly drenched in culture, wrote a touching lament about the fallen Saints captain which was published in multiple newspapers:

Rest, thou brave heart, from worldly trials free
Rest thou in peace – in immortality
Thy kind face on earth we’ll see no more
Yet thy remembrance in our heart we’ll store
As treasure deep; and thy sweet winning way
Shall e’er remain to cheer us by day
Gone art though in the flesh, but in the spirit thou
Amongst us still remains, and e’er will reign from now.

The lament published in the Glasgow Evening News 16th January 1892

The following week after Third Lanark had complained about the postponement of the scheduled league fixture between the clubs, Saints played their first match since the death of their captain, and won 3-2 at Westmarch. In time, things returned to normal around the club, but the board and people of Paisley were determined to remember James Dunlop and a permanent monument was commissioned and paid for in his memory, which has stood proudly on Dunlop’s grave since December 1892.

The 30/1/1892 Paisley & Renfrewshire Gazette report of St Mirren commissioning the memorial stone for James Dunlop
Sketch of the James Dunlop memorial from ‘The Scottish Referee’ weekly newspaper on 28/12/1892

The James Dunlop monument in Woodside Cemetery, taken on the 2nd August 2019.

The life and subsequent death of James Dunlop is a story we should never tire of telling. It doesn’t matter if it was well over a century ago; his passing was an extremely rare event in football. The 11th of January 1892 is when the town of Paisley and Scotland lost forever a twenty one year old international footballer as result of an injury received playing football in the town; the first ever of only five recorded cases in Scotland, and only the second in the history of football.

*Special thanks to Andy Mitchell for information regarding the birth of James and early years of the Dunlop family.

MR JAMES DUNLOP, ST. MIRREN

To the fame already possessed by Paisley as the haunt of bards and the centre of bobbins must be added that of the home of brilliant football players. The soil seems suited to the lads that chase the bounding ball. They grow up like mushrooms. The St. Mirren is especially favoured, and within the ranks of the club there are several young players who have rapidly risen to fame. The subject of this sketch is one of Paisley present prides and future hopes. Mr Dunlop has graduated from the third to the first eleven of his club in a remarkably short time and at an unusual age. His club’s career, however, has been eclipsed in the wider sphere of representative matches. He is one of the youngest players ever chosen for international honours. He wears his first cap with a blushing pride that befits his youthful veers, and is in harmony with his great ability.

To watch Mr Dunlop play is to witness an artist of the game. He works without effort and has the knack enjoyed only by genius of making art conceal art. In his play there is an entire absence of force; he goes through the field like the walking gentleman in the drama. On the left wing he poses and passes to his partner with the neatness and accuracy  of a piece of mechanism, and he sends in some posers to the goalkeeper as often as he gets the chance. His cool, methodical style is as unique as it is useful. He delights his clubmates by his play, for he baffles their opponents. Mr Dunlop is of the school of graceful Eddie Fraser, and those who witnessed the play of the young Saints, Hill and Dunlop, recently against the Queen’s Park witnessed a display that recalled to memory the famous Fraser and Anderson combination. Mr Dunlop has lost his “alter ego,” (James Hill to Burnley) who has been wooed across the Border. He himself has been induced to follow, but to the wiles of the charmer he has remained obdurate, and has nobly resolved to live and die a “Saint.” It is an apt epigram to say of Mr Dunlop’s style of play that it is beauty without the beast.

From the Scottish Referee 24 March 1890 just after Dunlop made his Scotland debut.

* Subject was covered briefly in this article about Abercorn FC.

https://cairterscorner.com/the-natural-order/abercornfc-the-death-of-a-paisley-football-club/

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