William McDonald

Pte. William McDonald R.S.F.

William Walker McDonald was born on 14th August 1883 at Pathhead, New Cumnock. He was the fourth child of coal miner Ronald McDonald from Sorn and local lass Margaret Walker. In his adult years William joined his father working in the New Cumnock coalfield, while above ground he developed a passion and skill for playing football. 

Afton Lads (1900/01)

By the turn of the century the McDonald family was living at the Castle Meadow cottages and 17 year-old William was playing centre-half for Afton Lads, based at Mosswell, one of three Junior clubs in the parish. The other two were Craigbank who played at Furnace Park and Lanemark Athletic who shared the ground at Connel Park with Lanemark, the parish’s only senior side at that time.

William earned rave notices at the heart of the Afton Lads defence in back-to-back cup games. The first an Ayrshire Junior Cup 1st round tie away to Mauchline Thistle on Saturday 8th September 1900. Afton Lads ran out 5-1 winners with McDonald scoring the 4th goal.

Young McDonald was also playing a great game for his side. Time after time he took the ball from his opponents and his played was loudly cheered. The Afton Lads never had a better centre half. He is a cool player, and will be heard of yet

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, Friday 14 September 1900

The following week Afton Lads played hosts to Glenbuck in the 1st round of the Irvine and District Cup. The home side raced to an early two goal lead over the favourites –

Thereafter Glenbuck had more of the play, but could not break through the opposing defence – young McDonald playing a fine game.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, Friday 21 September 1900

The Lads went on to record another 5-1 victory.

Nithsdale Wanderers (1902/03-1903/04)

William McDonald joined Sanquhar’s senior side Nithsdale Wanderers in Season 1902/03, and was listed of one of the retained players at the start of Season 1903/04. [Scottish Referee August 10, 1903]. The Wanderers comprised a host of former Lanemark players and perhaps William McDonald had stepped up from Afton Lads to Lanemark prior to his move to Sanquhar. Joining Nithsdale at the beginning of that season was John McDonald from Craigbank juniors. Both William and John greatly impressed Kilmarnock that season after Wanderers took Killie to a third game in the 1st round of the Scottish Cup before Killie scored a winner in extra-time on at Rugby Park on 6th February 1904. [See Appendix]

Kilmarnock (1903/04-1905/06), Lanemark (on loan)

William and John McDonald impressed Kilmarnock so much that they signed both players the following month and both made their debut in a 3-2 home defeat to Hearts in a Division One fixture on 5th March 1904.  It was a difficult time for Killie as they ended the 1903/04 season bottom of the 14 team Scottish Division One, although they were successful in seeking re-election.

While at Kilmarnock William McDonald was recognised as a “strong, forceful half-back with a powerful shot”. In season 1904/05 he made 25 appearances and scored one goal, against Port Glasgow. Although Killie improved with a 9th place finish in the league they had to suffer the embarrassment of exiting in the 1st Round of the Scottish Cup to Beith of the Scottish Combination League. The following season Killie slipped to 14th place in a 16 team league and were knocked out in the 2nd Round of the Scottish Cup. McDonald made 19 appearances and scored 1 goal, in a 5-3 league win over St. Mirren. 

While playing at Killie William McDonald married Jessie Wilson from Bank Glen, the daughter of James Wilson, pithead-man and Elizabeth Good, and soon after their daughter Elizabeth was born.

William McDonald made 51 appearances in his time at Kilmarnock before being loaned out to Lanemark in April 1906.

Nithsdale Wanderers (1906/07)

McDonald’s return to Nithsdale Wanderers was short-lived and before the Season kicked-off he was transferred to Brighton & Hove Albion. [Scottish Referee, August 17, 1906].

Brighton and Hove Albion (1906/07-1907/08)

Brighton were formed in 1901 and played in the Southern League. In 1905 Frank Scott-Walford was given a 5 year contract to manage the club but within a few months he was left with 3 players and had to rebuild the team. His ‘desperate acts’ to secure players saw him suspended on 2nd April 1906 from management by the FA for four months. Unsurprisingly Brighton finished 16th in an 18 team league, which was won by Fulham.

The rebuilding of Brighton included signing William McDonald and they finished 3rd in the league, six points behind Fulham, champions again.

Willie McDonald middle row 4th from left, 
next to manager Frank Scott-Walford manager

Fortunes changed the following season as Brighton & Hove Albion slipped to 17th in the 20 team league. McDonald made 68 appearances for the club and scored 6 goals.

While at Brighton, William’s wife Janet gave birth to a son Ronald, however the young family would soon be on the move. Manager Scott-Walford was successful in his application for the vacant Leeds City managerial position and five Brighton players followed him to Elland Road, including William McDonald, for season 1908/09.

Leeds City (1908/09)

Leeds City joined the English League Division 2 at the start of season 1905/06 and finished a creditable 6th in a 20 team league but slipped to 10th and then 12th in following seasons.

William McDonald
( Courtesy  http://www.mightyleeds.co.uk )

Under Scott-Walford’s management they finished 12th again in 1908/09, however William McDonald only made 14 appearances in an injury hit season and returned to Scotland.

LEEDS CITY 1908/09 ( Courtesy  WAFFL.com)

Back Row: W.Preston (director), W.Robinson (director), Frank Scott Walford (secretary manager), Shotton, Child, Williams, Rickard, Murray, Burnett, Simpson, A.Eagle (director). Middle Row: T.Thrupp (director), White, Guy, McDonald, Gemmell, McKeown, Bromage, Naisby, Kennedy. Front Row: Dougal, Rodger, Watson, Bowman, McAllister, Hamilton, Joynes. Bottom: Cubberly, Mcleod.

(N.B. In the years ahead Leeds City was expelled from the league in 1919/20 and the newly formed Leeds United took over at Elland Road.)

Nithsdale Wanderers (1909/10)

The timing of the William McDonald family’s return to New Cumnock in November 1909 may have been influenced by the fact that his wife Jessie was expecting their third child, a son James, who was born on 30th November at Afton Buildings. William was back working in the pits again but these were changed times in the New Cumnock coalfield following the collapse of the Lanemark Coal Company earlier that year. The leases to work the pits under its control were acquired by a local competitor the New Bank Coal Company, hundreds of jobs were saved and a new company was formed to be known as New Cumnock Collieries Ltd. William played briefly for Nithsdale Wanderers before returning to the ranks of Lanemark.

Lanemark (1909/10-1914/15)

Lanemark Football Club continued to play at Connel Park, now under their new landlords New Cumnock Collieries Ltd. and William McDonald returned to their half-back line. At that time Lanemark competed in the Scottish Qualifying Cup, Scottish Consolation Cup , Ayrshire Cup, Ayrshire Qualifying Cup and briefly in the ill-fated Scottish Combination League as well as playing the seasonal serving of friendlies.  Some records suggest he retired playing football in 1913 and others two years later.

World War I

Following the out break of World War I, William McDonald served with the Royal Scots Fusiliers and sadly was killed in action in France on 23rd April 1917, aged 35 years. He lies buried in the Canadian Cemetery Neuville –St. Vaast about 4 miles north of Arras.

The Cumnock Chronicle records his last day –

The  company moved forward at nine o’clock in the morning that day, to attack the post of Marchy-le-Preux on the road from Arras to Cambria. The struggle was fierce and the fighting was about the hardest of the whole war. Machine guns rained on them, and a bullet  wounded Pte. McDonald in the leg. As he fell another struck him on the head, and thus another gallant soldier went down with his face to foe. Private McDonald was 35 years of age, He was married and leaves a widow and three children, as well as a mother and brothers and sisters to mourn for him.

His name is on the New Cumnock War Memorial that stands on a crest of hill in the Afton Cemetery and on the family headstone within the cemetery, as well as a memorial tablet in what is now the New Cumnock Primary School.

On the conclusion of the Great War Lanemark Football Club reformed briefly competing in the Scottish Qualifying Cup in Season 1919/20 and although they appeared in the draw for the following season they scratched from the competition. In August 1921 Lanemark failed to pay their annual subscription to the SFA and ceased to be members and folded. 

New Cumnock United junior team was formed in 1919 and played at Connel Park and after several successful seasons folded in 1928. Two years later Glenafton Athletic were formed and played at the Connel Park pitch until to they moved to their ground Loch Park, in the heart of the village of New Cumnock

References and Acknowledgements
“Who’s Who of Kilmarnock F.C. “, Bill Donnachie (1989)
The Official History “, David Ross (1994)
“Killie till I Die”, Richard Cairns and Gordon Allison (2011)
Leeds United web-sites 
WAFLL | www.wafll.com/leeds-statistics/leeds-1908-09.html
Mighty Leeds| www.mightyleeds.co.uk/players/mcdonaldwillie.htm
Mighty Leeds www.mightyleeds.co.uk/managers/scottwalford.htm
Cumnock Chronicle
British Newspaper Archive
Commonwealth War Graves Commission | Pte. William McDonald


In a number of Kilmarnock club histories it refers to William and John McDonald as brothers. Although William did have a younger brother called John, he was born at Pathhead on 2nd June 1891, and would have been a few months shy of his 13th birthday, when the ‘other’ John made his Killie debut! .

The most likely candidate is John Paulin McDonald born on 8th December 1882 at Craigmark, Dalmellington. By 1891 this McDonald family was living at Craigbank, New Cumnock and by the turn of the century in his adult years John was working in the pits and he is probably the John McDonald that played for Craigbank juniors. Outside right John would only make 6 appearances for Kilmarnock and apart for a short spell at Maxwellton Volunteers spent the rest of his football career with Lanemark.