From The Vaults

25 March 2021
Spotlight on Raeburn Place

It all began at Raeburn Place on March 27th, 1871, when an English Twenty arrived to meet the challenge of Scottish footballers. A series of 'international football' matches had taken place in 1870 and 1871 but none of them has satisfied the Scottish sporting public, firstly because the players selected to represent them were local to London not Scotland and secondly because they were playing the wrong football.

SPRY1289, Scotland v England, 1871 contemporary illustration of the first international rugby match, played in Edinburgh and narrowly won by the Scots, this picture drawn by John Ralston and published in The Illustrated Newspaper

The association rules were far less known north of the border at the time and so the five Scottish club captains who issued their challenge to England were precise in their instruction that the match be played in accordance with the rules of Rugby School.

So, the first 'official' international football contest was a rugby match at Raeburn Place, Edinburgh. But why Raeburn Place? Located in the Stockbridge suburb of Edinburgh, Raeburn Place takes its name from Henry Raeburn, the orphaned son of a local industrialist, who became a portrait painter of great renown.

The street, bordered by playing fields, is a mixture of four and five story housing and retail that was completed shortly after Raeburn's death in 1823. An independent school, the Edinburgh Academy, was founded in 1824 and acquired the Raeburn Place playing fields in 1854. The Edinburgh Academical Football Club was established in 1857.

Edinburgh Academy quickly became a finishing school for young rugby footballers, many of whom would go on to play for the Accies. Of the five Scottish captains who issued the challenge in 1870, Francis Moncreiff who captained Edinburgh Academicals and Alexander Robertson who captained West of Scotland, were both former pupils. So too was Benjamin Burns, secretary of Blackheath, who played for England.

In the 1990s, Raeburn Place made history again by hosting the first ever encounter between Scotland and Ireland women, which was also the first international test for either side. In 1994 it hosted the second women's Rugby World Cup final in which England became the first British winners by defeating USA, 38-23.