Archibald, "Archie" or "Baldie", McCall may have been the most important Scottish footballer ever. But there are problems. Firstly, there is no outside evidence, as he had only one club, Renton, the village where he was born, lived and died. Secondly, in team-mate, Alick Barbour, there is perhaps an alternative tactical innovator. Moreover Archie himself would not help the finding of any proof. A bricklayer to trade he in 1928 helped build the houses that now cover Tontine Park, Renton's ground, the site of some of the club's greatest triumphs and where he, as team captain, might have led the development of the system of play that from 1888 conquered the then footballing World. That year in three months his wee village team would easily take the Scottish Cup and in beating, with almost equal ease, England's successive Cup Winners, West Bromwich and Preston, could rightly be lauded as "World Champions".
Archie was born in 1861. He was the son of mason, but one born in Newton Stewart in Dumfriesshire, who had in 1859 finally married his mother, Renton-girl, Catherine Leishman. They had by then already had two boys, and would have two more, of whom Archie was the younger. But she was to die the following year and later that same one his father, George, remarried. His second wife was Mary Melville and their first child would be born in 1865. He was James McCall, who would play both with and for his half-brother at Renton and, like Archie, also for Scotland.
Remarkably both boys were also to lose their father in 1873, Archie aged twelve and James eight. But the family of six children in all plus Mary stayed together until the siblings began to leave home. Archie, working initially as a Calico Printer, did so when he married Maggie Bell in 1891once more in the home village.
They, Archie and Maggie, were to have four children. But on marriage he was already seven years into a stellar football career. He had joined his village club, Renton, in 1883, playing at right-back throughout what would be twelve-seasons of service, most as captain. He was a Cup-winner in 1885 and 1888 and a loser in 1895, after which he retired, aged thirty-four. And in 1888 he won his only Scottish cap in a team that contained six Leven Vale players, the same year Renton was by defeating English FA Cup winners, Preston North End and West Bromwich Albion, was to be crowned, albeit unofficially, World Club Champion.
Which raises two questions. Renton's success was due in part to a unique group of young players. Archie was an old hand at just twenty-six. But it was also due to a system, The Cross, including the Scottish, attacking centre-half. It may have been the result of incremental development but in those days the captain was often the on-field, indeed the off-field coach. If the latter is true or even largely true then Archie was he and thus the, or with Barbour, one half of a twin source of a system that would change Scottish, English and even World football forever. It is quite something for a man, who after football lived out the rest of his unpretentious life in his home village, happy to lay and cement clay bricks, as twenty years earlier he might well have quietly done with footballing ones. He would die at the age of seventy-four in 1936, whilst living close to Tontine Park, but the place of death would be in Dumbarton at the probable home of his second son, Andrew. Margaret had predeceased him by two years. As to Archie McCall's final resting place, it is believed to be in Vale of Leven Cemetery, but where exactly remains unknown.
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