Berwick Rangers Football Club was formed in 1881 when an enthusiastic group of players, led by local businessman and town councillor Peter Cowe, came together regularly on an informal basis for training on the Bull Stob Close pitch before getting their first taste of competitive action with home and away matches against Alnwick, both of which ended in draws.
Founding member Cowe, whose funeral in 1936 was said to have been the largest ever seen in Berwick, was aided in establishing the club by his brother James, Willie Bald and Thomas Lindsay among others. Bald, from Dunfermline, had a sound knowledge of the laws of the game and became the team’s first captain while Lindsay was the club’s first secretary and was also said to be one of the finest full-backs in the area, playing at Berwick for 10 seasons and receiving a cap for Northumberland County in the process.
The club was officially constituted as “Berwick Rangers Football Club (Association)” in early 1884 and successes came with wins over newly formed sides Tweedside Wanderers and Seaside Borderers before Berwick tasted defeat for the first time in February 1885, going down 1-0 against Royal Oaks. That same year, with the Pier Field now considered a temporary home, Berwick joined the Northumberland Association and they were beaten by Shankhouse Black Watch in the first round of the cup. They then faced Newcastle East End both home and away in order to gain some more experience and the team pulled off a draw in the away encounter, a fine result against a club who would later become Newcastle United FC.
A few years after the club’s formation in 1881, Alexander Darling became the club’s first president, a post he held for more than 40 years. Like Peter Cowe, Darling was a recognisable figure around the town, twice being appointed mayor and also known as a Justice of the Peace. A keen sportsman, he was heavily involved with almost all athletic and sporting clubs in the district and Berwick Rangers in particular were indebted to him, calling the president “one of the very best sports and one of the very best men” at the club’s Jubilee Dinner in 1931.
As the club continued to find its feet in the region, success was largely confined to more local tournaments as the Gers claimed the Short Cup in 1889 and 1891, the Borough League Competition in 1890 and the Shielfield Cup, also in 1891. A major breakthrough came in 1892 though when Berwick won the Northumberland Minor Cup – a competition open to every team in the county with the exception of four large town teams – by beating Godfrey 6-2 in the final at Alnwick.
After being refused re-entry into the Minor Cup the following season, Berwick entered the Senior Cup and were defeated four seasons in a row in what was a barren few years for the club but the turn of the century saw a change in fortune though as the Gers won the Northumberland League Competition. A constant problem for Berwick in their early years though was finding a suitable home ground and after a time at Shielfield in the 1890s, they began playing at the Meadow Field in Tweedmouth and went through the season unbeaten to claim the North Northumberland League title.
In 1902, Berwick Rangers celebrated their “Coming of Age” to signify 21 years since the club was founded. To mark the occasion, on Thursday, March 13, an exhibition match was arranged between Newcastle United and Celtic and the match captured the imagination of people in the local area with a crowd of 2,000 turning up to witness a 4-2 win for the Scottish side.