By Craig Stephen
The links between Scottish and New Zealand football are relatively strong through the various journeymen players who have come to Aotearoa, or the occasional All White who’s landed in Scotland, such as Chris Killen or James McGarry.
But the Scottish Cup final throws up — rather literally — a connection between the nations that evolved through wartime comradeship and the battle against fascism.
That connection is a coin which each May, the referee for the cup final tosses up to determine the ends at Hampden Park.
The reason behind this unusual 70-year tradition harks back to World War II and recognises the bravery of the actions that united Kiwi and Scottish servicemen during the conflict.
At the end of the war, a plaque and a one-dollar coin was presented to the Glasgow Referees Association by its New Zealand equivalent, as a token of thanks for the generosity and hospitality shown to Kiwi servicemen stationed close to Glasgow during the war.
As the (Dundee) Evening Telegraph notes in an article from its March 4, 1946 edition:
“Made by the referees who used to play in Scotland, the plaque contains silver mountings of the North and South Island and the British Isles, with a silver mounted replica of a football in the centre.
“In the ball is a New Zealand penny, and a letter accompanying the plaque asks that the penny be used for the toss in the Scottish Cup final.”
The paper also noted that a tunic badge carrying the inscription of the New Zealand Referees’ Association was also forwarded, with the hope that it would be worn by the referee controlling the final at Hampden Park.
According to Gary Hilland, secretary of the Glasgow Referees’ Association, this connection is likely to have been made at the end of the war.
“My understanding is the tradition was started when New Zealand servicemen were stationed in Glasgow at the end of World War II.”
The Glasgow Referees’ Association, along with the other 12 associations in the country, was formed in 1945 following a breakup of the Scottish Football Association Referees (SFAR).
Mr Hilland says that as silver dollars are no longer in circulation in New Zealand, they have to be bought from NZ Post.
“We have kept the tradition going all these years, purchasing a few coins every three or four years due to the costs involved. The referee keeps the coin used for the match, although I’m not entirely sure they are aware of the actual value of it!”
Main photo: Aberdeen captain Jimmy Mitchell (right) tosses the New Zealand coin high, for referee Charlie Faultless and Celtic skipper Jock Stein. Photo credit: British Pathé News.
New Zealand joined the war when Britain did. The nation provided personnel for service in the RAF and the Royal Navy. New Zealanders were particularly involved in the battles in Egypt, Italy and Greece.
New Zealand soldiers are also known to have landed in Scotland nearer the beginning of the conflict, in 1940.
The soldiers, part of the Second Echelon of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force, were diverted to Britain en route to Egypt due to the imminent threat of invasion by Germany which was in the minds of Churchill and his generals following the fall of France.
The Second Echelon, which included the 28 (Māori) Battalion, initially landed along the Clyde and was to spend six months in the UK, including in England, and during that time, they received training for frontline duty.
However, by October 1940, the threat of a cross-Channel invasion had abated and the men engaged in extracurricular activities, including sport, interacting with the locals and participating in Christmas festivities.
For many of the Kiwi soldiers, it would be the first and only time they experienced a white Christmas.
Among the Scots thankful of Kiwi intervention were the villagers of Cowie, near Grangemouth. Royal New Zealand Air Force pilot Carlyle Gray Everiss was sent to the UK in 1941 and posted to No. 58 Operational Training Unit at Grangemouth.
Everiss and another pilot were returning from an air combat exercise on October 2, 1941, when the engine of his Spitfire stalled over the mining village.
With his crippled plane heading straight for a row of houses, Everiss made a desperate attempt to gain altitude.
While he managed to clear the village, his plane was thrown into an uncontrollable tailspin and crashed into railway sidings.
Villagers pulled Everiss from the burning wreckage but the young pilot died shortly afterwards and is buried nearby.
The inspiration for the plaque and coin could be attributed to George Jackson, long the doyen of the New Zealand Referees’ Association who left Glasgow in 1926 at the age of 19 for New Zealand.
Given his role in the NZRA, it is conceivable that he could have been involved in the idea of sending the plaque to his birthplace where he refereed before emigrating.
A New Zealand coin – a penny – was also used by the referee in the first post-war FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium between Derby County and Charlton Athletic on April 27, 1946.
With thanks to the Kippenberger Research Library of the NZ National Army Museum Te Mata Toa, NZ football historian Barry Smith, QSM, the Professional Historians’ Association of New Zealand, the Scottish Football Museum, and Gary Hilland of the Glasgow Referees Association for providing information for this article.
Craig Stephen writes about football for a number of publications, and for RNZ. He is the author of Bombs and Boots, a book that tells how New Zealand football came of age in the 1960s and 1970s.