On the eve of the Scottish Cup Final, John Linklater recalls the cautionary tale of how

cup glory led quickly to the end a century ago for the giant killers of Renton FC

They were the village giant killers whose final victim was themselves. The expulsion a cen-tury ago of Renton Football Club from the Scottish League was almost as unlikely as their emergence as a major force. Only nine years before they had been acclaimed as ''Champions of the World''.

The title was genuine. The footballing world was in its infancy in 1888, almost exclusive to Scottish and English clubs. It was a ''world'' club championship by default, like the world series in baseball. Nevertheless, Renton's claim was undisputed.

It was earned through an astonishing run of results. The Scottish Cup was lifted with a 6-1 thrashing of Cambuslang. Then they humbled English Cup holders West Bromwich Albion, who had prepared for two weeks in Scotland and were mighty poor losers. The score was 4-1 in front of a record 10,000 fans as lightning storms raged over Hampden Park. West Brom wanted the game abandoned. Afterwards they questioned the Renton team's credentials as ''gentlemen''. Renton shrugged that off by endorsing their title with an away win against ''The Invincibles'' of Preston North End.

It was their 33rd win in the 39 games they played in season 1887/8, with five drawn and a solitary defeat to local rivals Vale of Leven. A ''Champions of the World'' sign was displayed on the tiny pavilion at Tontine Park, which had become feared as the ''Tontine Drop'' - a bitter pill to swallow when ''The Rantin'' provided bruising opposition.

They were known as a physical team. Their trademark was the ''Renton Charge'' when the ball was lobbed into the goalmouth and five forwards arrived like a cavalry unit in their blue and red knickerbockers, jerseys, and hose, to persuade the hapless custodian to retreat over his line.

They were ahead of their time in training for stamina and strength. Their secret weapon was Renton's own famous ''chicken bree'', and the ingredients were never disclosed. The suspicion was it had little to do with chicken feed. An archive at Dumbarton Public Library reveals it was port wine switched with fresh eggs, administered daily to the players by the trainer, Peter Campbell, a wine merchant. The weekly ration was two bottles of port and two dozen eggs. Before big games two pounds of steak were added, presumbably for raw consumption.

''Maybe they were a wee club,'' recalled a former Rangers player, Mattha Dickie, in a 1940s interview. ''Maybe they hadn't much money at Tontine Park, but they did have chicken bree. One drink of that and you played your heart out.''

If this lends the impression that Renton were merely a bunch of alcohol-crazed hackers, it fails to explain the subsequent professional careers of the 1888 team. Football was still officially an amateur sport, but there were bigger clubs ready to lure the locally-reared Renton players with backhanders. It was base and tempting gold. Most of the team was gone within a year.

In the official ''Champions of the World'' team photograph the Renton players were, six in the front row, left to right: Neilly McCallum (arms folded), a ball-playing left-winger who went to Celtic; Harry Campbell, a hustling inside-left who went to Blackburn Rovers; James Kelly, a mobile centre-half who went to Celtic, captained their earliest side, became club chairman, and was the father of Sir Robert Kelly; Johnnie Campbell was a skilful centre-forward who went to burst nets at Sunderland; Jim McCall was an elegant inside-right who resisted all contract offers from a queue of English clubs; Jim McNee was a diminutive right-winger who dribbled his way to Bolton Wanderers.

In the middle row, five players standing, left to right: Bob Kelso was a star right-half who went to Newcastle, Preston and Everton; bull-necked Andy Hannah was the hard-man skipper of the team, a right back who went to Everton and Liverpool, and who once added to his medals by accepting a challenge from a travelling circus to step into the lion's den; John Lindsay was the goalkeeper who went to Accrington; Archie McCall was the veteran left-back who, like his younger brother, Jim, stayed with Renton; Drew McKechnie was a subtle left-half who joined the English professional game.

This picture betrays the puffed-up appearance of the committee members at the rear. Success had gone to their heads. The first sign was club's unexplained resignation from the Dunbartonshire County Association. The County had been the nursery of Scottish football, producing its strongest sides in the earliest years, and now Renton had decided that they had outgrown all of that.

They had their sights on the formation of a Scottish league. An 1890 circular, inviting the leading clubs to combine for league football, was sent from Renton, a classic instance of signing your own death warrant. The ''league agitators'' were seen as promoting professionalism, and simple demographics should have warned that the ''plucky villagers'' of Renton could never hope to compete.

When the first Scottish League season got under way in August 1890, Renton had managed to re-build. Only one member of the ''Champions of the World'' side was present. Jim McCall scored in a resounding

4-1 win at recently-formed Celtic, but Renton's troubles were about to begin.

First came an indefinite suspension for McCall for receiving a Renton benefit match, which perhaps explains his loyalty. The SFA, regulating the league and perhaps resentful of Renton's role in forcing it upon them, implemented the rule which stated that only players who were retiring could receive benefits.

Worse was to follow. The club suffered a blow to pride and finances in a first round Scottish Cup exit and hastily arranged a home friendly against a side called ''Edinburgh Saints''. Few doubted this was a thin disguise for the St Bernards team, who had already been outlawed over allegations of payments to players. Renton were brought into disrepute for entertaining the rebels. Without a hearing the club were summarily banned by the SFA, their fixtures scrapped, their players outlawed and forced into English exile.

A crisis was met headlong by Renton taking their case to the Court of Session, and claiming #5000 in damages from the SFA over failure to give notice of the move to ban the club, or to provide an opportunity for the club to defend themselves.

The SFA were already losing the legal battle when they were forced to climb down to reinstate Renton and provide legal costs of an estimated #300. The #5000 claim was dropped as a compromise. The Lennox Herald report of the SFA meeting, May 8, 1891, gives a flavour of the acrimony. The SFA were accused by Greenock Morton of fighting the case on ''side issues - and with the view of killing off the Renton''.

Undoubtedly, the SFA had been throwing their bureau-

cratic weight around, but not just with Renton. Cowlairs and Celtic both had four points deducted in that first season for allegedly fielding unregistered players. Cowlairs folded, as would another four of the original 11 league members. Celtic survived, but it was close.There was also considerable hypocrisy and backstabbing over the professionalism issue, with strong parallels to the worlds of athletics and rugby a century later.

Renton could pose briefly as champions of the small guys, but the damage had already been done. They had lost more players and were never the same force. They reached another Scottish Cup Final, losing to reinstated St Bernards in 1895, but by this time Renton had been relegated to the Second Division.

The end began as a protest over an 1896 Scottish Cup semi-final defeat to Hibernian. Renton claimed before the SFA that the Edinburgh club had fielded an ineligible player. It was a technical point, but Renton's case was undermined by what they later claimed was ''fraudulent'' testimony. Presented with hopeless contradictions in the evidence, the SFA dismissed the appeal.

Renton should have left it there. Instead, they appeared to pursue a vendetta against themselves. The club took out a Court of Session interdict in an effort to

prevent the Hibernian v Hearts final from being played. What had begun as a question of principle was escalating out of all proportion. Maybe they had acquired a taste for litigation. Maybe they were looking to compensate for failures on the field. When they lost the case there was no compensation, no recovery of expenses, and little future.

They lasted a few games into season 1897/8 in the Second Division before they were found unable to meet the minimum guarantee of #5, equivalent to a crowd of 400, payable to visiting opposition. Bankruptcy was the Victorian sin for which there could be no rescue. The club were forced to make their ignominious exit.

Tontine Park became a housing estate in 1928. It is said that Archie McCall, the elder of the two brothers who remained faithful to the club, was one of the bricklayers. One relic of the club is preserved. In a garden on the Tontine council estate is the original centre spot of the Renton pitch. For a century it has waited in vain for the home side to make another kick-off.

What Renton won on the football park, they lost by their own pride and through politics that would shape Scottish football

as a major business in which crowd potential dominated. There would be no room for sentiment, or for the battling endeavour of the former club champions of the world.


n Many people attributed Renton FC's success to the stamina of the players. It was believed their strength was augmented by their daily diet of ''chicken bree'', a concoction for which the recipe was a closely guarded secret. However, according to archives, it consisted of port wine mixed with fresh eggs. The weekly ration for each player was two bottles of port and two dozen eggs. Before big games two pounds of steak was added.