John Caldwell
John Caldwell
John Caldwell
● John Caldwell, 1891 (SFW)

probably born in Scotland

John Caldwell was born on Thursday, 9th April, 1863, in Govan, Glasgow.

The defender joined Thistle in 1884, having most recently been with Cowlairs.

Aged 21, he made his first known appearance on Saturday, 20th December, 1884, in a 4-4 friendly draw away to Dundee Harp.

There were no known goals for John during his time with Thistle.

He played his last known game for the club on Saturday, 25th February, 1888, in a 3-2 friendly defeat at home to Battlefield, having appeared for the Thistle on at least 29 occasions.

His club-list included Partick, Cowlairs, Partick Thistle and St Andrew's AC.

John died on Friday, 6th February, 1942, in Knightswood, Glasgow, aged 78.

Bio Extra

The feed below comes from our “Partickle”, Campeones: The John Caldwell Story →

Campeones: The John Caldwell Story

by Iain Campbell Whittle, William Sheridan & Joe Kelly
Sometimes when researching the pieces on my (Iain's) site external-link.png it has been necessary to journey to the countries in question and those information-gathering trips have taken me to some wonderful places and allowed me to meet just as wonderful people. But sometimes the information has come to me. It has simply landed in my lap and and this, the story of John Caldwell, is one of them. My thanks to William Sheridan and Joe Kelly for added information. They are co-authored here on my insistence!
● John Caldwell at St Andrew's AC in 1891. (SFW)

One evening, indeed overnight, an e-mail came in and when in the morning I opened it I found a treasure-trove that had been sitting in Glasgow for a century. It, the e-mail, had been sent by John Caldwell's great-grandson, Kenneth, and it contained not just material John had brought back with him after forty years working on the railways in Argentina, but his memories of the role he had in the Scottish game both before he left for Buenos Aires, Rosario and the Argentine interior and glimpses of his continued involvement on his return.


In an interview recorded in a local newspaper article in 1934, when he was over seventy years old, he recalled almost the earliest days of football not just in his home burgh of Partick, but in Scotland in general. He was at the time of publication one of the oldest surviving members of Partick Thistle F.C. But his memory goes back further, to Partick F.C., formed in 1875 and not just the team of, amongst others, Fergus Suter and James Love, but also the original, senior club in the area. Caldwell, who was first a member of Partick F.C., played at least once against Partick Thistle, and can therefore be classified as true a Partickonian as they come. John played with Partick Thistle at Muir Park from late 1884 and then at Inchview in 1885, when Partick, whose ground that had been, folded.

John Caldwell had been born in April 1863. His father, Robert, came from Houston in Renfrewshire and was a Brass Finisher. His mother, Catherine, was a Partick native. It was there too that she died in late 1871, aged 32, at which time John, aged 8, with his brothers, seems to have been taken in by their paternal aunts. Certainly, with their father nowhere to be seen, in 1881 he, aged 17, and brother Archibald were in Glasgow and in their care.

When John took to football is unknown but it's clear from simple dating that he would have been in his early teens when both the Partick and the Partick Thistle clubs came into being, and in his early twenties when Scottish (then amateur) football had its first golden era. 1881 and 1882 saw the national team trounce England home and away by large margins. Initially, Caldwell played as a forward, a left-winger, or rather in the 2-2-6 formation of the day, one of the left-wing pairing, although he turned out to be a left-back in the fullness of time. It was on the left wing that he made his first first team debut for Partick Thistle on 20th December 1884 in a 4-4 draw away to Dundee Harp. He was thus twenty-one years old and by then had also previously played for Cowlairs.

In fact, he was to make a total of five appearances for Thistle that same season in a squad that also included Jerry Suter, Fergus's brother, and Tom Maley, brother of Willie and later a Scottish Cup winner with Celtic and a notable manager, particularly at Manchester City and Bradford Park Avenue. But then he seems to have dropped off the radar. The following season there were no appearances. Perhaps he returned to Cowlairs in the fluid way that was often the case in that era. Yet he would be back. In 1886-87 he would make twenty appearances, almost half of that season's fixtures, alongside Suter once more and also the great Willie Paul.


Season 1886-87 was a very enjoyable for John, full of interesting experiences. In November, he got to play against two of the top sides in the country, although Thistle lost 2-1 at Dumbarton and 4-1 at home to Queen's Park. He'd face up to his old Cowlairs mates home and away, losing 3-0 at Gourlay Park but winning 3-1 at Inchview. A New Year trip to Liverpool would have been exciting and Thistle gave a very good account of themselves, drawing 1-1 with Everton in front of 5,000 at Anfield. Disappointingly, there was to be no place for him in the famous FA Cup run that term (Thistle reached the last 16), but he did have the fine consolation of featuring in all three of the Rangers games. The home and away derby fixtures between rival clubs would often be looked upon as occasions of honour, where local bragging rights were at stake. When the 0-0 draw at Kinning Park (December) was followed by a 1-1 draw at Inchview (April) a "decider" was fixed to be played at Second Hampden on the 30th April 1887; Partick Thistle 5 Rangers 1. 3,000 were there to see it - Thistle were on the rise. 4 weeks later, John had a chance at a gold medal but had to settle for silver as Thistle lost by 5 goals to 2 against Morton at Cappielow, in the Greenock Charity Cup final.

At that point, aged twenty-three, John Caldwell might have thought that for him a career in professional football in England might have been a possibility, as it would be for many of those he played both alongside and against. But he was clearly not regarded as permanent by the club, never mind others. In the 1887-8 season, recorded as having returned from a long injury, he once again became a bit-player. Once more he featured on just five occasions, playing what would be his last game on 25th February 1888, a 3-2 home defeat to Battlefield.


Keen to play, John re-joined Cowlairs, the team of the Springburn railway works and this was pertinent to what was to come. As John Caldwell's interviewer puts it, in 1889 “he secured an appointment with the railways in Argentina”. Presumably there he first worked in Buenos Aires, for it was there that quickly he became involved in football in the country's capital. Amongst its British community, the game was embedding. Games are recorded from 1890 with, by the Southern Hemisphere winter of 1891, enough teams to allow the formation of a first league. It consisted of five teams; Buenos Aires FC, Belgrano, the Buenos Aires and Rosario Railway, St. Andrew's AC and Old Caledonians. And it was these last two named teams which finished the season equal on points, the former that of the Presbyterian church that still exists in the city and was the source of one of the Argentine's major universities, the latter that of the company, Bautaume and Pearson, that had been contracted to install the local water and sewerage systems.

● St Andrew's football team of 1891. This squad was the first Argentine champion ever, defeating Old Caledonians FC in the final game that same year. From left to right… Top: Francis, Caldwell, Alexander, Waters, Wilson. Middle: J. Buchanan, A. Buchanan, Smith, Piuman. Bottom: Carter, Lamont (secretary of the Association) and Morgan. (WIK)


The Scots influence in St. Andrews is obvious. Bautaume and Pearson employed a large number of Scots too, hence the team name. And the connections with Scotland were strong and surprisingly current. The first Scottish Football League had, in April 1891, finished with a similar impasse. Dumbarton and Rangers both had twenty-nine points. A play-off match was decided upon. Played on 21st May it too finished undecided, a 2-2 draw. The title was shared. And just months later, eight thousand miles away, the solution was replicated. On 13th September, Argentina's first champions met and this time there was a victor. St. Andrews defeated Old Caledonians 3-1. Gibson, Scott. Riggs, Angus, Phillips, Smith, White, Clark Sutherland, Wilson and Corsner were defeated 3-1 by Carter, Penman, Waters, Francis, Barnes, A. Buchanan, Moffat, Alex Lamont (one of the three most important figures in the foundation of the Argentine game), Morgan, J. Buchanan and a final player of some note back in the old country, twenty-eight year-old John Caldwell. As the picture above told, he had played the match not in defence but as one of the right-wing pairing. Charles Moffat, from inside-left, had scored a hat-trick.

It was a special bit of history to be making indeed. In September 1891, Argentina became the first country outwith Europe to return a League champion, and was only the 5th country worldwide with a formally recognized Football League. England (Preston North End) and Netherlands (VV Concordia) had championships in 1888-89, with Ireland (Linfield) and Scotland (Dumbarton/Rangers) following suit in 1890-91.


How long John Caldwell stayed in Argentina is unknown. Contracts at that time to South America were normally four years. Certainly my grandfather's to Brazil was. It meant that the Glaswegian may have returned home in 1893, which seems to be corroborated by his seeming non-appearance when the Argentine League resumed after a pause that same year, and also by the fact that in 1895-6, back with the Jags in Partick, he was club secretary!

However, John Caldwell's association with Argentina was not at an end. In fact he was to spend much of his remaining working life in the country, only returning to Scotland on retirement in 1923 this time from the Central Argentine Railway, based in Rosario, the Argentine second city of two clubs, Newell Old Boys (Messi's first club) and Rosario Central, the first president of which was Colin Bain Calder of Dingwall. Indeed John Caldwell might already have been on his way to the River Plate that same year or shortly after for a second four years, returning in late 1901. He does not seem to be recorded in the census earlier that year. Yet he was without doubt in Scotland in 1902 since in that year, in Kilmacolm, he married Margaret Moore, although appearing to leave almost immediately, for either Buenos Aires first or directly to Rosario. The reasoning is simple. In 1903, Margaret gave birth to a son, Robert Reid Caldwell (he named for his grandfather and one of those aunts to have raised his father), but she did so in Argentina. And it would be Robert Reid with his parents who can be seen travelling to and from Britain over the next twenty years and would return to Scotland, to marry there and resume the family connection with home. Robert Reid Caldwell, after a working life as a Radio Operative on merchant ships, would die in Glasgow in 1974. John Caldwell himself died in 1942 and back in Partick, recorded as a retired Railway Traffic Inspector but for the moment nothing more, although the house is still there and deserves a plaque.

● Early 1920s in Argentina, a Mr. Buchanan to the left and an older John Caldwell to the right. (SFW)

But there are a couple of stories of Caldwell in Scotland and South America. The first is his continued association even on retirement with Glasgow football. When a Peruvian party visited Celtic, Willie Maley, brother of Tom, called on John Caldwell to interpret. Secondly, the adjacent photograph shows in Argentina an older Caldwell to the right and and a Mr. Buchanan to the left. One wonders if it were J. or A. from that first St. Andrews team or perhaps Walter or Charles from the largely Scots Diasporan first Argentine national team of 1902. And finally there is Caldwell's jacket. It looks as if in the Argentine national hues of light blue and white and he told the story of, on being asked to design a footballing flag, one that was adopted widely, he did so by combining those same national colours with the Cross of St. Andrew. It might be a tale too far, I admit, but fun nevertheless, particularly as John Caldwell, noted footballer on not one but two Continents, might well have had tongue firmly pressed in cheek.

Publishing date Originally published on 24-Feb-2021 (SFW).
Thistle Archive publishing date Republished here on The Thistle Archive, 04-May-2023.
Latest edit date Latest edit version 04-May-2023.

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