How Football Came to Scotland - Fact not Myth

There is television-programme being made just now on how Scots gave football to the World. The face of it has certainly star-quality, probably expensive, but otherwise it is being done on the cheap, the very cheap. In fact "the World" is unlikely to be anything more than a handful of countries, no ideas and no background, "Scots" to be "Scotland" and "Scotland" to be South Glasgow seemingly on the basis that all of any import in Scottish football derives from within spitting distance of Hampden. There is even a group said to be taking part called "The Hampdeners", the take of which on Scottish football history is precisely that. But as a thesis, a story, it is easily demonstrable by counting and fact that it is myth, indeed an increasingly pernicious one that has and continues to poison Scotland's actual position at the apex of the pantheon of the World's game.   

It is fact that Association Football is a game invented in England, in 1863 in a tavern in London's Covent Garden. It is also true that just one club in Scotland and for somewhat obscure reasons adopted it. The year was 1867. The place was Glasgow's expanding southern suburbs. The club was Queen's Park, at outset a lower middle-class blend of muscular Christianity, clerks and haberdashery founded by Non- or more generously New Glaswegians, notably from an academy, a school, in Fordyce in the north-eastern extremities of Moray.

And to begin with Queen's Park found no other club, indeed team, to play this Caledonianianly novel pursuit. But, with some encouragement from the "English" Football Association, it persisted. In that it was greatly aided by two of its founders, the Smith brothers, Robert and James, moving to London, turning out there for South Norwood and providing critical liaison, Robert from about 1869, playing in three of the five unofficial "Test Matches" between1870 and 1872 and having to drop out of the fifth, that is until emigration to the USA in 1873 and James until his death in 1876.    

A consequence was that in 1871 London invited Queen's Park to enter its fledgling FA Cup. The club agreed, one of just fifteen to do so, and was then hugely fortunate firstly in Rounds 1 and 2 being drawn at home and secondly that as a result it opponent did not have the money, as perhaps the desire, to come North. Then in the 3rd Round it received a bye and without playing a game reached the semi-final to be played in London in February and March 1872. Moreover, Queen's Park managed to get the finance together to travel South, where it did well, drawing 0-0 with The Wanderers. The match and its result was covered by The Glasgow Herald. Interest was created. And even more resulted when Queen's Park themselves could not afford to travel South once more, the game was forfeited and The Wanderers went on to lift the trophy, with the tantalising possibility that it might have been the Glasgow club.     

Meanwhile, however, whilst Queen's Park's potential opponents in Scotland had gone from effectively zero in 1867 to in 1868 a maximum three, two actually in Glasgow, and in 1871 to potentially eight the distribution is notable. Three now were outwith Glasgow, one was in Govan and two more were north of the Clyde and, although growth Southside had been exponential, it was with the addition of Dumbreck from one to two. In other words there was as much potential football to be played north of the river as south.

But here came the actual genius of Queen's Park. On the basis of its FA Cup "success" it continued to play demonstration games and, probably in October 1872, one was played in Alexandria in the Vale of Leven in eastern Dunbartonshire. Moreover, it received and accepted an invitation from the English FA to host an "international" match in Glasgow. It was not first but it was to be outwith London, official and have a Scotland team with non-Anglo-Scots in it; in fact an eleven, including both Smith brothers, provided by Queen's Park.                   

The international match took place in Glasgow on 30th November, St. Andrew's Day, still in 1872. The result was again 0-0 but the match was good, a spectacle, the crowd was reasonable and it all added to the cumulating interest in the sport. Indeed the result of the cumulation was that by the end of the year Scotland had twenty-one clubs. But again the distribution is indicative. Within Glasgow six were in Southside but six were not. And five were now in Vale of Leven. Simply-put by any measure Glasgow Southside did not predominate and from then on never did. Indeed within three seasons, and but for some machinations it might have been earlier, Alexandria's Vale of Leven club itself had scored against Queen's Park, then beaten it and finally taken the Scottish Cup from it for three consecutive finals. Queen's Park, the epitome of Glasgow Southside had been eclipsed.  

Moreover, something else had happened, something essential to taking football to the World. Vale of Leven F.C., as were all the teams from its part of the our land, was working-class. Its and their players were dyers, print-field labourers, tanner, smiths, fitter and shipwrights. Football had made the first steps toward becoming the proletarian game it is globally today. Its future would be working-man pass it on to working-man. Furthermore, Vale of Leven, indeed the Vale of Leven teams in general, brought two more bottles to the party. The first was fitness, gained from hard, hard graft. The second, probably from other sport, notably shinty, was more tactical innovation. To defence Queen's Park had in 1872 brought shape in the form of the box-four and organisation through "combination". They worked together. Now in attack, whilst the controlled running-dribble remained, continuing to be cherished as the pinnacle of flair, again  "combination", now from and therefore with defence and in the form of the intentional pass, would be noted as replacing, or at least beginning to replace, the random up-field punt and combinational movement to supersede the unthinking scrimmage.          

© Copyright. All rights reserved/Todos los derechos reservados.


Any use of material created by the SFHG for this web-site will be subject to an agreed donation or donations to an SFHG appeal/Cualquier uso del material creado por SFHG para este sitio web estará sujeto a una donación acordada o donaciones a una apelación de SFHG.

We need your consent to load the translations

We use a third-party service to translate the website content that may collect data about your activity. Please review the details in the privacy policy and accept the service to view the translations.