The Harley Bust

There is a small part of Scotland that is forever Uruguay. It is in Cathcart in South Glasgow, a few stones throws from Hampden. Cross the Snuff Mill Bridge from the old village, follow the road up and round to the right to cross-roads, lean back on the wrought-iron gates, almost the same gates that were there one hundred and forty years ago, look left and it is there. You are in Braehead, the birthplace of a certain John Harley, a fact that few but you will know, at least for now.

But let us cross for to almost the other side of the World, to Montevideo. In its Cimiterio Britanico, its British Cemetery, is a beautiful grave that is kept pristine, almost a shrine, although the passing of its occupant was more than half a century ago. It is the last resting-place, as he was and still is known in Uruguay, of El Yoni, Johnny.,the man, the Scotsman, who did not take football to the country but gave it a distinct style; one that would win two Olympic Gold Medals and two World Cups, both in two attempts, in 1924, 1928, 1930 and in Rio de Janaeiro in 1950, this last in what Brazilians still call the Maracanaco,, the Debacle of the Maracana.

And it is Brazil that I will use to take this story further. My late father was born in Rio de Janeiro, of Scots parents, who went to South America for relief from actual and potential poverty at home and never came back. In that they paralleled John Harley almost exactly. And from my father I learned about Brazilian football, from there about its origins and that they were at least three-fold. As Brazil is a large country at more or less the same time the game arrived in Sao Paulo at the feet of the half-Scot, half-Brazilian Charles Miller, in Sao Paulo state at those of Tom Scott, an Ayrshire laddie, and in Rio de Janeiro with the arrival of Scots-Irish Tommy Donohoe. Charles Miller is honoured in his home-town with the naming for him of square in front of the Pacaembu Stadium in the centre of which stands a replica of the statue of David. Tom Scott is ignored. Tommy Donohoe has a golden statue thirty feet high in the Rio suburb of Bangu, where he lived, worked and died. In fact the statue stands in pride of place front of the former factory he helped to create, now a shopping-centre. And more recently a bust of him was placed in Busby, where he was born and grew up. 

But Uruguay is at the other extreme to Brazil, 2% of its area, 1.6% of its population and of that 3.5 million, two thirds that of Scotland, 40% is in Montevideo itself. So with regard to football at least there was no room for more than one source, and whilst the game was taken to the country by the half-Aberdonian, William Leslie Poole, John Harley was it.  

Although there is so far no formal record of him in football at home he had clearly learned the game in Glasgow, no doubt to start with in Cathcart itself and then probably in Springburn or thereabouts, as he became a railway engineer to trade. And it was that which took him on his first essay abroad. In 1906 he travelled to Argentina, to Bahia Blanca, there employed for a year or so by the Bahia Blanca and Great Western Railway and after a brief return home in 1907 he was back again, this time to Buenos Aires eventually to work the Western Railway, Ferrocarril Oeste. 

John Harley was not a big man, which perhaps had held him back in Glasgow but in the Argentine capital he was in his element becoming an integral part of Ferrocarril Oeste's company team in the position of Scottish, attacking centre-half. And it was there that he was spotted, perhaps even preciously recommended by team-mate, James Buchanan, by CURCC, the Central Uruguayan Railway company team, for which Buchanan had previously played. It was in the process of re-building, Johnny was persuaded to join by the offer of a job at the Penarol company headquarters and railway yard just outside Montevideo and he made, as it transpired, the permanent move across the River Plate.    

At CURCC, or Penarol as it would later become, John Harley became the fulcrum of a team that had already been heavily influenced by Scots but now adopted the Scottish game as its own. But Harley's genius was not only coaching the increasing numbers of native, Uruguayan or Crillo players in the club to it but also to adapt that same style to local conditions. And the success that his Uruguayan version of the passing-game, played on the floor, led first to him being selected for the Uruguay national team, for his style of play to become increasingly that of Uruguayan club football in general and finally that of the national team itself. John Harley ceased to play for Uruguay in 1916 but he did not fully step down from the club game until 1920, aged thirty-four. He captained CURCC/Penarol for ten seasons, in that time bringing through many and influencing all of the players that made up the Olympic squads in 1924 and beyond. He shaped Uruguayan and therefore World football into the modern era, a fact recognised and lauded in the country he adopted and adopted him but largely ignored in the country of his birth.     

So what can be done about it? The Donohoe bust is both fitting and appropriate for a footballing pioneer. It marks his birth. We know John Harley's too. A contemporary photo shows it as it was then, a picture of the poverty that drove so many Scots to a better life elsewhere. The iron-gates it was suggested you lean on are still there and although the houses might have changed the corner, bottom left has not. Moreover there is place for at the very least a plaque and, whilst perhaps not a Bangu style statue, then a Busby-like bust for a man, who not just Domohoe-like but more, an innovator of the game on a World scale.   

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