Borders hockey players who triumphed in Scotland’s unique Olympic outing

Ernie Wall (Peebles) scottish hockey historian. jan 1999
Ernie Wall (Peebles) scottish hockey historian. jan 1999

IT IS a truly unique tale – the Hawick hockey player who scored the first ever Olympic goal more than 100 years ago.

The 4-0 victory over Germany at the 1908 Olympics in London was the first and only appearance of Scotland as a separate nation in sport’s largest platform.

And it was Ivan Laing who notched the historic first strike, with Melrose’s Hugh Walker claiming the fourth.

On the eve of the return of the Games to London, the iconic match and the men involved have been recalled by historian and former international hockey official Ernie Wall OBE, of Peebles, who noted the story in his book to mark the 100th anniversary of the game in Scotland.

Ernie, 88, told TheSouthern this week: “It is a remarkable story with two Borderers at the heart of it.”

Now one of the key sports in the Olympics, hockey was present at the 1908 Games only because the French governing body persuaded the reluctant English association to organise the competition.

It was agreed that, to make it a proper tournament, the remaining three home countries should be invited.

The Scots also displayed apathy towards the idea but eventually sent a team by train to play Germany in the opening match.

It took place in Shepherd’s Bush stadium on October 29, well after the summer Games had finished and on an atrocious pitch, which probably suited the Scots.

Debutant Laing’s historic strike came after only two minutes but it was not until the end of the game that Walker, whose club at the time was Edinburgh University, added the last goal.

Scotland went on to lose 6-1 to England and then, amazingly refused to play Wales – both teams were awarded the bronze medal.

Ernie, who attended five Olympics himself during his 33 years on the International Hockey Federation’s rules board, as well as holding various roles in Scottish hockey, said: “Instead of playing they travelled home after the official dinner.

“It was the old days when they were all amateurs. The Scotland players all had to get back to work and the Olympics was not as big a deal as it is now.”

After the tournament, Walker went on to win 25 caps and taught at St Mary’s School in his hometown.

Laing’s story was dramatic. A talented rugby player, he earned his only two hockey caps during the Olympics. He later faced the Germans again, on the battlefield – he won a Military Cross in 1916 during the First World War. A year later, The Coldstream Guard died in action and he is buried in northern France.

Discussing how he discovered the story, Ernie told us: “I put together the centenary book with two women.

“The Olympic 1908 story was well known but when I looked at Scottish hockey’s 50th anniversary book they only had about three paragraphs on it.

“I checked with the British Olympic Association in 2000 when writing the centenary book and they could find no other sport which has seen Scotland represented.

“Five Scots got in the silver-medal-winning Great Britain Olympic squad for the 1948 London Games, one of whom was Neil White who played for St Mary’s in Melrose before playing adult hockey for Cambridge University.

“Before the Second World War, Melrose, Selkirk and Hawick had men’s clubs – and provided some international players. Quite a number were retired rugby players who took up hockey to keep fit.

“Other clubs were Coldstream, Duns, Jed-Forest, Kelso, St Boswells, Peebles and Gala Reivers.”

Ivan Laing’s story is also included in Henry Gray and the Heritage Hub’s Border Olympians and Paralympians: A Learning Resource.

The match report from 1908

Scotland 4

Germany 0

Although Scotland won easily, and were generally attacking, they did not show to any great advantage, and, more particularly in the second half, their forwards were lacking in dash.

At the beginning of the game Scotland attacked, and from a pass by Stevenson, Laing quickly scored the first goal.

A beautiful shot by Laing missed the net by a few inches, and then from a corner hit, A. B. Burt scored with a hard shot from the centre half.

Just before half-time, A. B. Burt took a pass by Laing on the run, came clear and made no mistake, so that Scotland were leading by three goals to none.

The Scots were nearly always attacking without much method or vigour (in the second half), and it was not until the game was nearly over that a goal by Walker enabled them to win by four goals to none.