The Turnbull connection | An ancestry of passing acquaintance

A painting of the borderlands, copyright © 2001 William Turnbull.

Soon the wistfulness of Saturday mornings will return. Listening to Scottish-football broadcasts over the Internet—a new season in the Bank of Scotland Scottish Premier League starts on 30 July—puts us in mind of ancestry and separation. Sometime in the past, decisions of forebears cut us off from roots in the border country, from the history of deep-seated animosities and, ultimately, from the game Scots are said to have exported and transformed into a passing art from its beginnings as “dribble ’til you die.” The Turnbulls occupied land in the Rule Valley, and it is unknown if they attach or have attached themselves to a particular football team. Our queries in this regard went unanswered last year, although the local preference seems to be for rugby.

A Turnbull crest is available as a lovely piece of embroidery

Evidence exists from multiple sources, however, that Turnbulls traditionally were a troublesome lot—hooligan prototypes, if you will. The surname, recorded for the first time in 1315 (one year after Bannockburn), occurs frequently in the relevant editions of Pitcairns Criminal Trials. As for relations with neighbors, clan rivalries and the repulsion of border incursions make interesting reading in sources such as The Clan Turnbull:

It is recorded that twelve castles situated in the valley of the Rule were in 1545 burnt, plundered and dismantled by the English, to whom the Turnbulls were most obnoxious. With all their faults, they were deadly enemies to the English and whenever a raid took place on the middle marshes, the Turnbulls were always to be found.

In Scotland as a whole, the thread of distaste toward the English continues, although not on the order of blood and soil (note 1). Even though Scottish football moves on in a beleaguered state, pride of history and the spirit of one-upsmanship remain when eyes look south.

The spirit is well presented in a two-part documentary that aired on Radio Scotland last month, It Wes Us, hosted by Billy Kay (see podcast interview of 31 May 07). The title refers to the Scots’ claim to have been modernizers of association football, having advanced it in the 19th century from a crude dribbling game as practiced in England public schools to an aesthetically pleasing mix of players creating space and passing. Special notice in this development goes to Queen’s Park of Glasgow, formed in 1867 by members of the YMCA. Richard McBrearty, curator of the Scottish Football Museum at Hampden Park in Glasgow, tells Kay about the shift from an English to Scottish ethos:

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