The Bain of Their Lives

Just one Shirburnian has played international football for England down the years and his was a controversial selection. For John Bain was not an Englishman at all, but rather a Scot studying at Oxford University. After studying at Sherborne, he was to play in the FA Cup Final too, worked for many years as a Classics teacher and finally became a father at the age of seventy-three.

A family of Glaswegian bankers, the Bain family was described as “bookish”. John Bain and Isobella Todd’s eldest son Joseph Bain was born in Tranent, East Lothian on 19th June 1826. Having read Law at both Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities, he married on 4th October 1853 Charlotte Piper (1832-1920), the daughter of Edward Piper and Charlotte Mary Feather and they had six children. The international footballer John Bain was their eldest.

Abbey Grange, Sherborne, Dorset.

John Bain was born in Bothwell. Lanarkshire on 15th July 1854. There followed two sisters and three brothers, the youngest being Walter who played football for Scottish club Invercargill in the 1890s. Francis (1863-1940) was a keen amateur footballer, a classical scholar and an author working for the British government in India. Sport, scholarly research and story-telling appear to have been genetic traits passed down through the family and the sporting gene certainly came the way of John.

It is quite feasible that Sherborne School had already played a role in the Bain family’s life. The school register records that Joseph and James Bain, sons of John Bain of 137 Bath Street, Glasgow, attended Sherborne in 1841-42 and these may well be John’s father and uncle. Either way, Walter’s baptismal records on 14th June 1866 show the family living at Abbey Grange, now the Headmaster’s House, where they appeared to have taken over the lease from Major Thomas John Hammond.

So it was that John Bain came to Sherborne School as a day boy in the Christmas Term 1864. He was to remain for a period shorter than two years, though, leaving at the end of the Midsummer Term 1866. His brother Edward (1855-1924) was also at the school during 1866 before serving in the Royal Navy from 1869 and rising in 1894 to the rank of Commander. John Bain went on to Winchester College, where his name can still be seen, carved into the oak panel beneath the list of benefactors, and he was listed as living at Warden’s House in Winchester in the 1871 census.

Sherborne School in 1865.

Heading as a Scholar to New College, Oxford on 10th October 1873, John Bain received a second-class degree in Classics in 1877 and an MA in 1882, before serving from 1880 as a barrister-at-law at Lincoln’s Inn from 1880 and teaching Classics at Marlborough College from 1879 to 1883 and again from 1886 to 1913. He was remembered there for the verse elegies he wrote to his former pupils lost in the First World War, poetry written after he had retired shortly before his sixtieth birthday.

Oxford University FC, 1876-1877 (John Bain is standing in the centre at the back).

However, university life also opened sporting doors for John Bain. He earned a blue for football in 1876 and, in an era when connections counted for a great deal, he helped Oxford University reach the FA Cup Final the following year. This brought him to the attention of the England selectors who, overlooking his place of birth, named him as the first Scottish-born player to represent England when they faced the Scots at Kennington Oval on 3rd March 1877; it was to be his only cap.

“In weather of a most disagreeable kind” (The Scotsman), the international was officially kicked off at 3 pm by the Marquis of Lorne, with Mr Anderson, MP for Glasgow, in attendance. Despite the “dull, stormy weather” (The Glasgow Herald), “the ground was in good playing order” (Edinburgh Evening News). England lined up in white shirts, fielding six forwards as was the pattern at that time. Bain was one of these forwards for an England side which “tended to be chosen on availability rather than skill alone” (Philip Gibbons). Single tickets costing a shilling apiece were available from three separate shops on South Bridge in Edinburgh and the fixture drew a crowd of 2,000.

The dark-blue-shirted Scots proved too strong for their southern rivals. After a string of passes, John Ferguson (1848-1929) of Vale of Leven opened the scoring after twenty-two minutes and Clydesdale’s James Richmond (1858-98) added a second goal three minutes after half-time. Alfred Lyttelton of Cambridge University (1857-1913), an England international cricketer who later served as Secretary of State for the Colonies, fired home England’s consolation goal off the crossbar after fifty-five minutes, but Ferguson’s second goal twenty minutes from time secured a comfortable 3-1 Scottish victory.

Three weeks later, on 24th March 1877, John Bain played at half-back for Oxford University in the FA Cup Final. Oxford had benefitted from three byes, including one in the semi-final and were due to play Wanderers, an amateur side which had won the cup in 1872, 1873 and 1876. The university side featured players born in South Africa and Canada, whilst Bain’s team-mate Arnold Hills (1857-1927) was later a co-founder of West Ham United and served alongside Mahatma Gandhi in the London Vegetarian Society. However, before a crowd of 3,000 at The Oval, the holders retained the trophy.

In “a stubbornly contested game” (The Scotsman), Wanderers took the lead after fifteen minutes when, following a corner taken by Evelyn Waddington (1857-1928), goalkeeper Arthur Kinnaird (1847-1923) stepped over his own line with the ball to concede the first own goal recorded in an FA Cup Final. Four minutes from time, Oxford’s Hubert Heron (1852-1914) set off on “a splendid run” (The Field) and set up Jarvis Kenrick (1852-1949) for the equaliser. Extra time ensued and the decisive goal came seven minutes in; when his first shot was cleared off the line, Surrey cricketer William Lindsay (1847-1923), an Indian-born left-back, fired home what proved to be the winning goal.

In retirement, John Bain met Frances Preece (1898-1952), a farmer’s daughter from West Wales and they married in 1922, when he was sixty-eight. Their son, Joe (1922-2011) was to teach English, French and German at Stowe from 1954 to 1973 and at Winchester from 1974 to 1988, where he too was known for his poetry, his story-telling and his sharp wit. John did not have many years with his only child, though, as he died at Mount Pleasant, St David’s, Pembrokeshire on 7th August 1929. Frances died there too, though many years later, and was buried alongside her husband, the Shirburnian who played football for England, three days prior to Christmas 1952.

Stephen Byrne

Further reading:
Shirburnians who have represented their country in sport
Shirburnians & the Olympic Games
History of the School playing fields and pavilions
Team photographs
Sherborne Pilgrims (website)

For further information about the Sherborne School Archives please contact the School Archivist.

Return to the School Archives homepage.