How Scots took Football to the World

There is television-programme being made for the BBC just now on how Scots took and 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" being physically explored in it is unlikely to extend much beyond South Glasgow, perhaps on the basis that all Scottish football stems from a few feet from Hampden. But the story is far larger. It actually starts in Wales, takes in England, tantalisingly China, then Ireland, Canada and so on to Continental Europe, South America and The States. Australasia and Africa would follow on. And it would be in two waves, the Scots passion for the game itself, fuelled by international dominance, with the "shape", the tactically-innovative, pre-eminent, 3-D shape of the Scottish game following on. What in Brazil they would call "A Tablinha", the little chart. Moreover, it would rapidly become distinctively class-based, working-class Scots introducing as ex-patriots or permanent immigrants its joys to co-workers abroad. 

First off was Daniel Gray, an Airdrie-born, newly Glasgow-qualified doctor, who set up practice in the North Walian village of Ruabon. And he was also on the Wales left-wing, when in 1876 his adopted country, certainly using the Scottish 2-2-6 formation, perhaps its developing "passing combination game", played it first ever international in Glasgow. In England it began perhaps that same year too with Peter Andrew or James "Reddie" Lang, both Scottish internationals; indeed Reddie, a Clydeside shipyard worker, played against Gray. Both went to Sheffield. Both were born north of the Clyde. The same applies to the Partick players, Suter, and Love, who followed to Lancashire. However, it is perhaps China that is the more interesting. Football there began in 1878 in Shangh'ai. Its first club team, the Engineers, affiliated to the SFA, with its three major figures not just Scots but also demonstrating precisely the game's actual and not mythical distribution at the time at home. The first was John Prentice, a Beattock-born, Greenock-educated engineer so outwith Glasgow. The second was a Southsider, the former Scottish international and Queen's Park player, Fred Anderson. And the third was Archie Lang, also an international but from Dumbarton so Vale of Leven. 

And it was at this time, as the game became a monetarised, working class passion, crowds meant income, the distribution of players became more general. In fact fewer and fewer of the players in its top flight were from amateur, middle-class South Glasgow with those rising to the top doing so for money, football offering a perceived better source of income than the mine, the mill, the dock, the field, the factory or the ship-yard. An example is, immediately after 1888,  the working-class Vale of Leven clubs emptying, to found Celtic, to England and even to other Scottish clubs. From Renton F.C. alone thirty players would be enticed away over a decade and a half, nine initially to Merseyside, then seven to Sunderland and five to Newcastle, remarkably overall somewhere between 5% and 10% of the village's male population aged between twenty and thirty. Only with official professionalism and the seriously better money offered by the increasing commercialisation of the game did the class differentiation begin to change, but only somewhat. And then there were the sheer numbers. To 1880 a handful from all Scotland were going South yearly. By 1884 it was in the mid-forties annually. The SFA even counted them in order to issue a completely ineffective ban. A decade later it was two hundred and fifty. Believe me. I have laboriously counted them, team-by-team, one by one.   

Moreover, the geographical spread of players, professional and amateur, at home and on emigration, would change locally and also widen. Examples of the former were South of Clyde Tradeston, The Gorbals, Hutchesonstown replacing Crosshill and Hampden and North it was the railways of Springburn and the East End. instead of Glasgow Green. Of the latter it was the lace-makers of Newmilns and Darvel who took the game and its officiating to Sweden and Barcelona, Perthshire to Canada. The cotton-spinners of Paisley carried it to Catalonia, New Jersey and Rhode Island in the USA, to Brazil, to Italy. The courier to Denmark was from Dundee as were probably with jute the equivalents to Mexico. To Andalusia the mix was Caithness and Paisley, to Prague it was Dumbarton and Eaglesham. Arbroath and Angus are there too, whilst to South America it was eclectic. To Uruguay it was again Caithness now to Cathcart, to Chile, Ayrshire, The Borders and Moray. To Argentina it was, via Edinburgh, The Gorbals, Glasgow more generally and Easter Ross, to Venezuela Ayrshire once more, as it was twice over, plus Busby and Johnstone, to Brazil. This was very largely gritty, industrial football with Glasgow's middle-class, southern suburbs hardly getting a mention. 

And in many of these countries, forty-six at the last count, these players are venerated, statues erected, streets and stadia named, their memorabilia preserved in club and national museums, graves meticulously maintained, plaques placed, whilst here there is Omerta, the oppressive, fact-free silence of a footballing, broadcasting, media and political establishment that is at best acutely myopic.

For more background and stories see: Scots Football Worldwide

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