James Tennant: the ex-Arsenal man who signed for East Stirlingshire by mistake

By Tony Attwood

Although this site has by no means covered every Arsenal player with an illustrious record, we are getting to the stage where we are starting to look at players for whom virtually no information is available at all.

One such is James Tennant – who played outside left for Woolwich Arsenal in 51 league matches, scoring 8 goals.

And when we come to him we find one of the most curious stories of all that we have yet covered on this site.

We know Tennant was born in Parkhead, Glasgow in 1878, and his clubs are listed as Linton Villa, Parkhead, St Bernard’s, Woolwich Arsenal, Middlesbrough, Watford and Stenhousemuir.   But we also have a story of him in a strange escapade relating to Falkirk and East Stirlingshire – which I recount below.

However, I’ll start with Woolwich Arsenal FC before moving on to the Falkirk tale.

In 1899/1900 he played in 26 league games and scored 6 goals, and in the following season 25 games and scored 2.

On 2 September 1899 Tennant made his first appearance (along with James Jackson).  It was the first game of the season – Arsenal’s seventh in the league and the first under Harry Bradshaw – the man who gave Arsenal promotion.  

Although the match resulted in the club starting the season with a 0-2 defeat at home to Leicester Fosse, Tennant kept his position for the first four games (the fall guy was another Glaswegian, Hannigan at outside right, for whom that match was his first and last).

But Tennant returned at the end of the year and then kept his place until the end of the season in which Arsenal finished 8th.

His second season was much the same – in the starting XI for the first five games, then a few intermittent appearances, and then a run from January to the end of the season, in which we came 7th.

And that is it, except to say that on Monday 12 March 1900 Tennant scored two in the record win over Loughborough

27 April 1901 saw his final game, a 0-1 defeat to New Brighton Tower. He also made three cup appearances, all in his second season, and scored two goals.

But there is one more thing – and I found this on the Falkirk Football History site and for which I have taken the information mostly verbatim from the site.  I am writing to them today to express my thanks.

It goes into some detail and uses 19th century language, and if you want to cut to the chase, the issue is, a couple of players spent a bit of a boozy night a couple of Falkirk players mistakenly signed for East Stirlingshire.  Then on waking up the next day realised what they had done, and tried to rectify their drunken error!

Now I must say that Dean Hayes’ book of Arsenal players does not have Tennant playing for the two clubs mentioned in this case.  But the era fits, and so does the player’s position, so I am taking it that the player is the same man throughout.  At least for the moment.

See what you make of The Tennant-Macfarlane Case – a Scottish legal case which was settled out of court in 1893. and was the outcome of somewhat prolonged negotiations and conferences between representatives of both clubs.

It all startled with the news on the 26th August that the previous night Thomas Macfarlane, right back, and James Tennant, inside left, of the Falkirk team, had signed on for East Stirlingshire.

They were afterwards duly registered as Professionals by the Scottish Football Association. Both players, through the secretary of the Falkirk club (Mr Robert Bishop) desired East Stirlingshire to release them, which E.S. refused.

Macfarlane and Tennant afterwards made application to the Scottish Football Association for reinstatement as amateurs, which was rejected on the ground that it was the duty of the players to get the professional forms reduced.

Then followed an action by Macfarlane and Tennant in the Court of Session against E.S.F.C., and several of the office bearers, members of committee, and two of the members, to have the professional forms reduced, in which action defences were lodged and expensive and prolonged litigation was in prospect.

A strong desire was felt and expressed on all hands to have the dispute between the two clubs amicably adjusted, and the subsequent agreement was the outcome of the intervention and efforts of the friends of both parties.

The ultimate agreement stated….

First The Falkirk Football Club shall unreservedly withdraw and apologise for, in writing, all insinuations and imputations contained in the various letters sent by their Secretary to the East Stirlingshire Football Club anent the circumstances and others, under which the said Thomas McFarlane and James Tennant signed foresaid professional forms; and the said Thomas McFarlane and James Tennant and the said Falkirk Football Club, for their Interest, shall unreservedly withdraw and apologise for, in writing, all insinuations and imputations contained in foresaid summons and reduction against the East Stirlingshire Football Club and their members.

Second- In consideration thereof the East Stirlingshire Football Club shall, so far as they can competently do so, grant release to the said Thomas McFarlane and James Tennant of their professional engagements with them.
Third- The Falkirk Football Club and the East Stirlingshire Football Club shall play a friendly game at football at Brockville Park, Falkirk, on the afternoon of Saturday, ninth December, eighteen hundred and ninety three, at half-past two o’clock; the game to be suitably advertised. The price of admission shall be sixpence per head. The members of both clubs shall be admitted free on showing their membership cards. The free proceeds of the gate money shall be divided equally between the two clubs. Out of the share falling to the Falkirk Football Club there shall be paid to East Stirlingshire Football Club the sum of seven pounds ten shillings sterling.
Fourth- Both parties shall concur in having the action of reduction before referred to taken out of court with all convenient speed. The pursuers and defenders in said action shall each pay their own expenses.
Fifth- The Falkirk Football Club and the East Stirlingshire Football Club shall pay the expenses of this agreement equally.

The agreement is signed by Messrs Murdoch McIntyre and James Halley.
It may be mentioned that in addition to the above, Falkirk receives the money drawn for the stand.


The Falkirk web site that reprints this, adds

“The thing to keep in mind when it comes to this, is that even though Falkirk effectively lost the case and had to publicly withdraw all allegations as to the ESFC getting them to sign ‘under duress’, neither Tennant nor McFarlane EVER played for ‘shire [whereas John Pray, Alex Gillespie, Alex Stark, the brothers Gibson, and many other Falkirk regulars often turned out for ES, and vice versa Laurence McLachlan, Peter Steele, Alex Kennedy, etc for Falkirk], and both players trained with Falkirk throughout the three months in which they were only eligible to play for ‘shire. The ES board maintained that it was all above board and they were Compos Mentis when they signed, but all the circumstantial and peripheral clues point to the fact that you should never spend a drunken Friday night in the Blue Bell Inn, Bainsford, else you might wake up Saturday morning a ‘shire player.
There were many fall-outs between the two clubs at the time, but by and large the relationship was amicable.

The Arsenal history anniversary index can be found at www.blog.woolwicharsenal.co.uk.

3 Replies to “James Tennant: the ex-Arsenal man who signed for East Stirlingshire by mistake”

  1. Don’t think this is the James Tennant involved in the Falkirk v Shire boozy goings on.
    If it was the Arsenal man, he’d have been 14-15 at the time.

    Falkirk did have an Inside Left (James Tennant) b 1872 though

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