Ralph Allan Aitken was a man, who had itinerant childhood but finally a settled adulthood. His father and mother were married in Dumbarton, his father a shipwright, but when their son was born they were living in Kilbarchan, Renfrewshire his father now recorded as a weaver. However, Aitken Snr. would soon return to his former trade but in doing so first take the family to Northern England, finding work as a Ships Plater in Hartlepool in Durham, before returning back across the border and to his hometown.
By this time the young Aitken was eighteen, which raises the question of where he, a left-winger, had learned and played his first football. Was it in Scotland or England? The suggestion is the latter but whatever the answer with the wider Aitken family seeming to have returned to Dumbarton in 1883 Ralph rapidly joined the town's club. There he is said to have spent two years in the reserves before in 1885 stepping up to the First Team and by 1886 making enough of an impression to win a first cap and against England. It may also have been enough to interest clubs down South. Certainly later that same year he spent six months with Newcastle West End, one half of the future Newcastle United with no indication of terms but the likelihood they were at least shamateur.
However, the spell at St. James' Park seems not to have affected Aitken's amateur status at home. Indeed, on his return he was in the eleven that contested the February 1887 Scottish Cup Final, scoring the opening goal before a goalkeeping error and what was claimed to be an off-side goal led to defeat to Hibernian. And for a couple of seasons he stayed put, leading to a second cap. But in 1889 he was on the move once more. He spent the best part of a season at Alloa Athletic before moving on to the Dundee team, Our Boys, one half the future Dundee.
In fact the stay on the Tay was to be brief and for two reasons. In August back home he had married. His bride was Dumbarton-girl, Catherine Gillies. And clearly ship-building work came up down South not just for him but also for his elder brother, John, also a Ships Plater, and it came with extras. The new job was in Southampton, or in Woolston, across the river and the following year both John, his wife four children and Ralph and Kate were sharing a house in the then village. Moreover, Ralph was turning out for the Southampton Naval Works (SNW) team.
SNW had filled the shoes of the local Mordaunt yard that had imported a number of players from Scotland and England's North East for it works team but closed in 1889. And as it happened SNW would in 1893 go the same way, the Aitkens clearly sniffing the wind with Ralph returning to the town of Dumbarton but not the team. His playing days over he and Kate would raise five children, the eldest born in Hampshire. However, connection with the club would continue. Before his death in 1928 Ralph would see his eldest son, William, turn out for The Sons, at full-back. William would also be a club director.
Ralph Aitken would die aged just short of sixty-five. He is believed to be buried in Dumbarton Cemetery. Kate would outlive him, dying still in Dumbarton in 1943.
1881 - 41, Leven St., Dumbarton
1890 - 25, Leven St., Dumbarton
1901 - 17, Leven St., Dumbarton
1911-21 - 79, Glasgow Rd., Dumbarton
1928 - 83, Glasgow Rd., Dumbarton
1928 - 83, Glasgow Rd., Dumbarton
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