1888 - The Scottish Cup Final

There is an argument, a very good argument that this match, the 1888 Scottish Cup Final, has been the most important ever in today's global game of football. It was not a high quality encounter. Renton, the 6-1, winners were too superior for that. Where it mattered was as a turning-point. Match-reports from the time show that the winner was almost the club standing, in that it had continued to play a system based on the traditional 2-2-6 as those around, even in the West of Scotland had already or were adopting the 2-3-5, Pyramid with its flat-three half-backs. Indeed that was the formation with which opponents, Cambuslang, had taken the field.

However, whilst the Renton system of play retained it Scottish origins, 2-3-5 probably being best described as North Walian in source, it contained a twist, an innovation. A forward, in the Renton case an inside-forward, James Kelly, had been dropped back to a central position between but crucially in front of the outside-halves. He therefore had not a mainly defensive role, as Renton had in fact employed for part of the game in winning the 1885 Cup Final, but one with some defensive duties but mainly linking and pivoting defence into attack. In short Renton had created the mid-field, one-man admittedly and not today's three-, four- or even five- but nevertheless a start.

Confusingly this new, central mid-field role would be given the name of centre-half, a term enhanced to "Scottish" centre-half to distinguish if from the "Welsh" and, by adoption, English version. However, whilst at Renton its innovation would be outstandingly successful with the winning as well of the Glasgow Charity Cup and the defeats by what was essentially a village team of the English FA Cup holders and the following year's English double winners the adoption of its more widely would not be without its problems. For one the Renton team was soon to break up as Glasgow Celtic was formed, taking its Catholic players, and English clubs came in to try to buy the magic formula. They did it with varying result, probably the most successful being Aston Villa, even then post-1891 as start and 1892-3 as obvious and with a former, young Renton-reserve, James Cowan, as the fulcrum. And even Scotland struggled to absorb and adapt. With James Kelly, now at Parkhead, as the pivot the national team was inconsistent and only recovered when in 1896 the Scottish Football Association's ban on Anglos was finally lifted and none other than Cowan could step up. 

But what was most important was the timing of the games for outwith Britain. Organised football, soccer, had begun in the States four years earlier. In three years it would begin in Argentina, in five years in Brazil. And it was the same in Spain, in Sweden and points in Europe in between. And in almost every case the main movers were Scots, who took with them the style they knew tactically from the 1888 match and administratively more generally from the home country. Thus it was that the football adopted and again adapted world-wide to become the modern game, can be said quite simply to be a direct consequence of that hour and half on an early February afternoon at not today's Hampden but Cathkin Park on Glasgow's southside.

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