Within a few seasons, Main had developed into one of the best defenders in the league and at the time was regarded as a mainstay of the Easter Road side.
National team Scotland
International debut 15th March 1909 (versus Ireland (1882–1950))
Born in West Calder on the 29th May 1886, James Main spent his early playing days with local juvenile side Mossend before signing as an amateur with Motherwell. Playing as a centre half at the time, he failed to make the breakthrough into the Fir Park first team and was released at the end of season 1903/04.
After signing for Hibs at the start of the following season, on the recommendation of former Easter Road player James Hogg, then with Portsmouth but originally hailing from West Calder, he quickly became Hibernian's established right back. His first appearance in a green jersey was in a friendly match against Bathgate at Mill Park on the 12th September 1904 with his first team debut coming seven days later in a 1-1 draw with Dundee at Easter Road.
Within a few seasons Main had developed into one of the best defenders in the league and at the time was regarded as a mainstay of the Easter Road side. Furthermore, his impeccable conduct and sportsmanship on the field of play, allied to his kindly disposition and retiring nature made him extremely popular with team mates and fans alike. It is said, although strong and robust in the tackle, he never once resorted to questionable tactics and he was held in high esteem even by his opponents.
Main's consistent and dependable form was finally recognised at international level when he was selected to play for the Scottish League against the Football League in 1908 and he won the first of what would surely have been many more full caps for his country when he lined up at right back in Scotland's comprehensive 5-0 defeat of Ireland at Ibrox on the 15th March 1909.
In only a few seasons, with Main's reputation going from strength to strength, Hibernian were finding it increasingly difficult to retain his services, turning down a bid from Newcastle United for the by now experienced defender the previous close season. The 18th August 1909, saw Main facing Dundee Hibernians, later known as Dundee United, in the Angus side's first ever game, arranged to inaugurate the new Tannadice Park. Little did he know at the time, his short life only had a few more months to run. Tragically, on Christmas Day 1909 during a game between Partick Thistle and Hibernian, Main was injured in an accidental clash with an opponent, his resulting injuries ultimately proving fatal.
In photographs taken at the time, the tall and upright Main is shown as an extremely handsome individual sporting a neat well trimmed moustache - his excellent athletic physique befitting an outstanding all-round sportsman immediately apparent. Curiously, on the 7th January 1910, the local newspaper The West Lothian Courier reported Main was not particularly fond of football, but was extremely keen on cricket, playing for the local Burnvale Cricket Club. A member of his local golf club, he also showed great promise as a golfer where, despite only recent introduction to the game, he was already regarded as an extremely accomplished competitor.
In just over five seasons at Easter Road, James Main made 133 league appearances, scoring 4 goals, as well as making numerous other appearances in local and national cup ties.
The Death of James Main
Hibernian's form in the first half of the 1909/10 season had been indifferent to say the least. With the year's end approaching they lay sixth in the table, three places ahead of their local rivals Hearts who had played three games less.
The Edinburgh side's visit to Firhill on Christmas Day 1909, to face a weakened Partick Thistle side in what was Hibernian's first ever appearance at the new Glasgow ground, started badly. On the train, while travelling to the match, captain Willie Duguid complained of feeling unwell and was not considered for selection. On their arrival at the ground it was immediately apparent to all the conditions were far from ideal as, underfoot, the heavily sanded pitch was ice bound and treacherous, despite the fine overhead weather. Many of the players were of the opinion the game should be cancelled, but with the directors of both sides deciding if the ground was playable rather than the referee, and several thousand spectators already inside the stadium, both sets of officials were keen the game should go ahead.
After the players had inspected the pitch, defender James Main was reportedly overheard telling trainer Dan McMichael, 'You are risking life and limb asking anyone to play out there.'
Sam Allan, the Club's vice captain, led the side out before being withdrawn before the start after twisting a knee during the pre-match warm up. In the absence of first Duguid and now Allan, McMichael had no hesitation in appointing Main captain for the day, his first such honour. With a replacement for Allan not yet ready, Hibs managed to open the scoring after five minutes, despite started the match with only ten men, outside right Sharp scoring from close range when he finished off a move started by Collins.
After ten minutes, with Callaghan having entered the field of play to even up the numbers only seconds before, the home side equalised. Now well on top and handling the atrocious underfoot conditions better, Partick were relentless in their endeavour to take the lead. With only minutes of the half remaining Hibs appeared to have weathered the storm when Main and his immediate opponent, outside left Frank Branscombe, clashed in a fierce tackle which according to one newspaper report of the time seemed destined to leave one or other of the opponents in trouble.
Unfortunately for Hibs it was the visiting player who came off worse. John Sharp, Hibernian's goal scorer that day, was firm in his belief that it was a simple but freak accident, later recalling: 'Branscombe slipped on the treacherous surface, his foot catching Jamie in the groin as he fell'. After receiving attention on the field, it was obvious Main was in no fit state to continue and he was assisted to the changing room. With Hibs once again reduced to ten men, Partick Thistle took the lead in the remaining few minutes of the first half.
Although his injury was not thought to be serious at the time, Main did not reappear after the break, leaving Hibs to play the entire second half short handed. The visitor's position now seemed hopeless, and so it proved, although it was not until a few minutes from the end, when Gardner scored a third, the home side could be assured of victory. Midway through the second half Thistle's outside right, Ballantyne, was forced to leave the field after an accidental clash with a Hibs player, but thankfully, unlike Main, he was able to return to the action a few minutes later.
In the dressing room after the game Main appeared to have recovered somewhat and he was able to take tea with the rest of his team mates. The injured player, feeling fit enough take the train back to West Calder, was even capable of walking the half mile or so from the station to his home at 45 Front Street, Mossend, which lay on the outskirts of the town. Later that night his condition took a turn for the worse and he was attended on two separate occasions by the local Doctors Young and Gordon, both of whom diagnosed severe bruising, the imprint of Branscombe's studs clearly visible on Main's stomach.
In the morning his condition had deteriorated further and he was rushed to the Royal Infirmary Hospital in Edinburgh. Despite an emergency operation to repair the player's ruptured bowel, with everything possible having been done, it was obvious Main's life remained in severe danger. After showing slight signs of improvement the following day, his condition took a turn for the worse and he died at 10.40pm on Wednesday, 29th December 1909. It was reported, although in severe pain, on the evening of his death Main could be heard singing from his bed in ward 16, the hymn He Died of a Broken Heart, leaving everyone present close to tears.
A week after the tragedy Thomas Birrell replaced Main at full back as the players of Hearts and Hibs took to the field at Tynecastle, wearing black armbands, for the Edinburgh New Year's Day Derby. In the circumstances, most of the players lacked any appetite for the game and, such was the grief felt by several of Main's colleagues including goalkeeper Willie Allan, they had to be encouraged to play. Hearts won the game 1-0 to leapfrog their Edinburgh rivals in the table on goal average, but in truth the result mattered little to most of those present. Meanwhile, in Glasgow Queens Park defeated Partick Thistle 2-0 at Hampden. Although initially listed in the Thistle line up, the unfortunate Frank Branscombe did not play any part in the game.
Hearts played Dundee at Tynecastle in the afternoon of the following Monday, the 3rd January 1910, with Hibs earmarked to play Morton at Easter Road in an 11am kick-off, an arrangement which was usual when both of Edinburgh's principle sides were at home on the same day. Main's funeral, at West Calder Cemetery, was timed accordingly for 2.30pm to allow the Hibs players and staff time to attend the ceremony. Morton claimed the early start did not allow them sufficient time to travel through to Edinburgh on account of the train times, but in the circumstances, the original kick off time stood. On the day, however, with several thousand spectators already inside the ground for the anticipated 11 o'clock start, the Greenock side did not arrive at Easter Road until 11.40, the kick off taking place shortly before noon.
After a 2-1 victory for Hibs, the directors, players and fans of the Easter Road side barely arrived in time to attend the service at West Calder. A short service was held in the player's home, conducted by the minister of the local Parish Church where Main had been a well respected member of the congregation, before the party made their way to the local cemetery. As befitting such a solemn occasion, the day was overcast and gloomy, but this did little to prevent a huge crowd, one of the biggest ever seen in the district, attending the graveside. In addition to the Hibernian staff and players, representatives from most of Scotland's leading clubs, including a large contingent from Partick Thistle, were present to see the mortal remains of a young and energetic sportsman who, only days before, had been so full of life, laid to rest. It is not known if Frank Branscombe was among those present at the graveside but he did not feature in Partick's 1-1 draw with Aberdeen that afternoon. Branscombe would miss only one other match before the end of the season, perhaps understandably being absent from the side which lost 3-1 in the return league match at Easter Road later in the year.
At the start of the following season Hibs played Hearts in a benefit game at Easter Road, the proceeds going to the player's family.
After Main's sad demise, several players were tried in the right back position including the long serving Matthew Paterson, but none were found to be totally suitable. At the beginning of the following season, a player with the potential to be the answer to the problem was recommended to Dan McMichael. On arriving at the player's home in Prestonpans, the delegation from Hibs discovered he was out but expected back soon. Invited in to await his return, things were going well until the potential new signing's mother discovered the fate of the previous incumbent of the position. With his suitors thrown out of the house, the player arrived just in time to placate the situation and Peter Kerr went on to give the club many years of loyal service before joining Hearts in 1926. During his sixteen seasons at Easter Road, Kerr was the captain of Hibernian's great side of the 1920's, and was capped by Scotland against Ireland in 1924.
James Main Memorial Stone
Today, a slightly weather-beaten but still impressive nine foot tall granite memorial in West Calder Cemetery marks the last resting place of James Main. The memorial was originally surrounded by a small enclosure of granite posts, but all that remains of this enclosure is a solitary pillar bearing the legend: This enclosure was subscribed for by a few friends and supporters of the Hibernian Football Club as a token of respect to the late Jimmy Main.
The teams for the fateful day were:
Partick Thistle: Howden, McKenzie, Bennett, Wilson, McDonald, Lyle, Ballantyne, Graham, Robertson, Gardner, Branscombe
Hibernian: W. Allan, Main, S. Allan (Callaghan), O'Hare, Paterson, Lamb, Sharp, Dixon, Peggie, Halley, Collins
Referee: R Riddle (Edinburgh)
Full name James Main
Date of birth 29th May 1886
Place of birth West Calder, Scotland