Rosebery Colours

Lord Rosebery's Colours - by Alistair Firth

Article first appeared in the Scotland Epistles Fanzine - August 2020

Andrew Watson wore the Rosebery colours in his first game for Scotland. He has been selected as captain and would lead the Scottish National team to a 6-1 humbling of the English at the Oval in London. This remains the worst defeat England has ever suffered on home soil.

Alistair Firth explores the history of the Rosebery colours in Scottish Football...

This story behind Scotland wearing what is known as the Rosebery colours arose due to the global pandemic. Reduced opportunities to leave the house meant that I finally began to tidy up my programme collection. One of these was in poor condition (home v England 1984), and upon delivery of a better copy purchased online, browsing through this, I was interested in reading an article, supposedly from an SFA book entitled “One Hundred Years of Scottish Football”, in which was the following paragraph –

“There were 60000 at the Rosebery international in Celtic Park in 1900. The Scotland team wore the primrose and pink racing colours of Lord Rosebery, the Hon President of the SFA. His horse Lada had won the Derby the previous year, and Scotland marked the win and the new century by beating England 4-1.”

I immediately thought that this contains either a misprint or is a misquote of the book – you see, the streets in the area of Belfast in which I now live are named after Derby winners, and the one parallel to the road I live in is called ‘Ladas Drive’.

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To clarify this, the first stop was to look at the list of Derby winners. Ladas won the Derby in 1894 and, “his career attracted an unusual amount of attention as his owner, Lord Rosebery, became PM of the U.K. at the height of his success” (so the date of the Derby win in the article is also incorrect).

In fact, in 1895, whilst PM, another of Rosebery’s horses, Sir Visto won the Derby (and Cicero in 1905, another street in the area). There is a picture of Ladas and the jockey in the racing colours. The 5th Earl of Rosebery on the far right.

So the Rosebery colours were worn in honour of the SFA Honorary President, a former Prime Minister. But before this role and before the 1900 match?

Further research into the man and the family was fascinating – Archibald Philip Primrose (1847-1929) was the 5th Earl of Rosebery, 1st Earl of Midlothian, a lineage going back to Archibald Primrose, 1st Earl of Rosebery (1664-1723).

As a young man, he apparently boasted that he would marry the richest woman in England, become Prime Minister and own a Derby winner; he succeeded in all three. The 5th Earl of Rosebery was a wealthy man. His fortune increased hugely when he married Hannah de Rothschild, who had inherited her family fortune in 1874 and became the richest woman in Britain. Upon the death of the 6th Earl of Rosebery, the de Rothschild ancestral home was sold. The family has since been settled in the Primrose family home on the Dalmeny estate, later becoming Midlothian.

He entered the cabinet in 1885 and served twice as foreign minister, paying particular attention to French and German affairs. He succeeded Gladstone as prime minister and leader of the Liberal Party in 1894. The Liberals lost the 1895 election, and he resigned from the party leadership in 1896 and never again held a political office.

But what is the connection to the Scottish National team and colours?

Archibald Philip Primrose 5th Earl of Rosebery

(Elliott & Fry, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Earl of Rosebery’s horse-racing colours (registered with the Jockey Club in 1868) are often inaccurately described - they are primrose and rose, which are puns derived from the family name, ‘Primrose’, and the title ‘ Rosebery’. The 5th Earl of Rosebery developed a keen interest in association football. He was an early patron of the Scottish F.A., although the family is not sure how he got involved in football governance. In 1882, he donated a trophy, the Rosebery Charity Cup, to be competed for by clubs under the East of Scotland FA jurisdiction. The competition lasted over 60 years and raised thousands of pounds for charities in the Edinburgh area. This trophy now resides in the museum at Hampden.

He became the Hon. President of the SFA and of Hearts F.C and his colours were worn on 9 occasions between 1881 and 1951. In 1900 when Scotland defeated England 4-1 (at least that is correct in the original article), he apparently told the Scotland captain Jacky Robertson, “I have never seen my colours so well sported since Ladas won the Derby.” Queen’s Park’s Robert S. McColl (who went on to set up a chain of sweet shops, earning the nickname ’Toffee Bob’) scored a hat-trick.

However, the first time the Rosebery colours were worn by the Scottish National team was in March 1881, a date which has a considerable significance in Scottish football history. They were worn that day at the Oval cricket ground, and Scotland’s 6-1 win over England still remains England’s heaviest home defeat. More importantly, it marked Andrew Watson’s debut, captain for the day – the world’s first Black international footballer. He is pictured below in 1881 wearing the Rosebery colours. The story of his life and his influence on the Scottish and international game not be overstated.

The badge on the strips has also been subject to change throughout history. In 1900, the Scottish thistle was worn, and against England, in 1901, this was embroidered next to the English rose. Other national emblems were possibly added in the games against Wales and Ireland. The lion rampant, worn for most of this period, had the teams’ initials above the crest and the year printed below the lion.

Most recently, the colours were used for the 2014-2015 away kit and were also used for a Hearts away kit in 2016-2017. The Scotland kit is depicted left– this was hardly an attractive kit and not popular, despite the tenuous link to the Rosebery colours.

Strangely, his support and involvement with the SFA would enable a change of the jersey colours for the team. However, as an early patron of the game, his colours may have been used in acknowledgement of his support (perhaps sponsorship) of the game. Maybe it was merely in tribute to someone who was at the time something of a celebrity. Immense crowds attended his daughter’s wedding, with thousands wearing primrose as a gesture to the family name, and that day’s London Evening News was printed on primrose paper. A complete change of a national team’s home jersey colour is highly unusual. I cannot imagine that this would happen now (although who would rule out this happening as long as the money was right, and that would be another nail in the coffin of international football).

During research into this article, I discovered that a long-standing Scotland supporter and collector of memorabilia, Sandy Riddoch, has an original Rosebery jersey that belonged to Willie Lennie of Aberdeen, who played, and scored in a 2-1 win v Wales in March 1908. This story about this jersey could fill another article, and it is pictured with his kind permission – he thinks that there are further examples in the Scottish Football Museum.

The 5th Earl of Rosebery died in 1929, is the wealthiest British PM that has ever lived, and is buried in Dalmeny. The family home at Dalmeny House is open to the public and contains an incredible range of artefacts, as would be expected from a marriage of members of the primrose and de Rothschild families, and is open to the public.

How bizarre that living in Belfast and seeing an article in a programme from 36 years ago would lead to researching the fascinating life of the man behind the occasional colours of the national football team, and it can now be definitively stated that the colours are primrose and rose.

Any errors in this article are entirely my own, and I am happy to be corrected. - AF

Credits –

Sandy Riddoch