In November 1914, Heart of Midlothian comfortably led the First Division, having started the 1914–15 season with eight straight victories, including a 2–0 defeat of reigning champions Celtic.
This streak coincided with the start of the First World War and the beginnings of a public debate upon the morality of continuing professional football while young soldiers were dying on the front-line. A motion was placed before the Scottish Football Association to postpone the season, with one of its backers, Airdrieonians chairman Thomas Forsyth declaring that “playing football while our men are fighting is repugnant”. While this motion was defeated at the ballot box, with the SFA opting to wait for War Office advice, the noted East London philanthropist Frederick Charrington was orchestrating a public campaign to have professional football in Britain suspended, and achieving great popular support for his cause. The prime tactic of Charrington’s campaign was to shame football players and officials into action through public and private denouncement. In response, sixteen players from Hearts enlisted in Sir George McCrae’s new volunteer battalion, joining en masse on 25 November 1914. The battalion was to become the 16th Royal Scots and was the first to earn the “footballer’s battalion” sobriquet. The group of volunteers also contained some 500 Hearts supporters and ticket-holders, 150 followers of Hibernian and a number of professionals footballers from Raith Rovers, Falkirk and Dunfermline.