There are few subjects the exercise, in vex, albeit quietly, the minds of the members of the Scots Football Historians' Group than the subject of The "Scotch" Professor. So first a definition. The "Scotch Professor" is in the past. It is axiomatic that he was Scottish. That is not the problem. It is the "professor" part that is. For some, and I am one, professor implies someone with a high level of knowledge of a particular subject, in this case the kicking of a round ball around an oblong field with the aim of placing a ball in a net at the far end in the direction you have been instructed to kick. The knowledge can be theoretical but, as with most things in life, knowledge combined with practice is far better. Pep Guardiola is a "professor of football". I am not. Nor could I even pretend to a "lecturer" or, at my age and with my creaking bones, barely a "demonstrator". Frankly all such aspirations have long gone to hell in a handcart, leaving perhaps only a reputation for some knowledge of football past not present.
So why the vexation? To my mind two interpretations of the theory of the Scotch professor have emerged and they are dependent on the amount of understanding of the game held by those involved or, put another way, on the distinction between know-how and knowledge. A pertinent example is perhaps the difference between a mechanic and an engineer. There is also an element of dependency on age or rather young blood against maturity or at least prime. And finally there is timing, which is where I intend to start.
One side of the "professorial" discussion asserts that the flow of of such began at a point in the late 1870s.The assertion is not unreasonable. The first players to move club for possible or probable financial reasons did so in 1876, both from the game in Glasgow. In the former category was Peter Andrews, actually Andrew, and in the latter, James "Reddie" Lang. Both went, albeit slightly circuitously in the former case, to Sheffield, where there was a thriving, shall we say, "footballing scene". The latter itinerant is even quoted as saying "I crossed to England to play football and for no other purpose" and since, as a ship-yard" worker he had no obvious private income, it is unlikely he was on an unpaid internship.
However, two does not make an "academia" and, whilst much is made of the 1878 story of Partick's Fergus Suter and James Love moving to Darwen, Lancashire, nor does four, especially since, certainly in the latter's case it might have been "needs-must". There was for Love the prospect back home of impending bankruptcy. So, at this point let us move on a few years. That an increasing number of young Scotsmen went south to earn or at least supplement a living by playing football in England is incontrovertible. We can say that because in 1884 they were counted by Scottish Football Association with the aim basically of "excommunication". Thus, according to the SFA, here were fifty-seven in all BUT only four came from Scotland's top clubs, all from Vale of Leven. Moreover, only one, Sandy McLintock, had really been an established First Team player and he by then was, at thirty-one and having only just made the move, already well past his playing- but. I admit, not his coaching-prime.
In fact the real number of Scots playing down south was actually by my count more like seventy-eight but, and hence the SFA's action, had just jumped from twenty-nine the previous season, so not just but almost trebled, having been steady at about twenty since 1880, and with several of that score getting into the English game by being fortuitously there at the right place at the right time in addition to other non-footballing factors. Moreover, analysis of the those, who had come South shows a further trait, that a remarkable number of them were just turned twenty-one years old, added to which should be the frequently used methods of recruitment. There were agents, even then, no doubt with silver tongues. Additionally clubs would place advertisements in local papers North of the Border inviting aspiring recruits to trials, at their own expense. So what was happening was neither academic or romantic. Those being attracted were young men from a country where football had become an importantly working-class passion, who, with often little more than a bit of often local-gained footballing savvy, were at the then age of maturity free to up sticks and leave a life of manual labour. They were lads trying to better themselves. For a few it would work, for some, perhaps many, through lack of talent or injury it would not but they were, I maintain, young "mechanics" having only just earned their ticket.
However, this was to change. And here for evidence we crunch not simply surmise. This is not romance but numbers. So, remembering that "professional" football existed but was not legitimised in England until 1885, the count might have been expected to shoot up after that date. In fact the figure for 1885-6 and, indeed, 1886-7 and 1887-8 did go up but only by ten or so on eighty. The real difference came the following year, when there were, of course, two external factors, both new. The first was the formation in 1888 of the Football League South of the Border at the instigation of a Scot from Braco in Perthshire, William McGregor. The idea was genius and laid the foundation for not just football leagues but sporting-leagues worldwide. However, it meant greater competition and therefore the search for better, indeed, the best resources. The second was the emergence of the all-conquering but nevertheless village team of Renton. It would take the Scottish Cup and the unofficial but still Championship of the then footballing World with a tactical innovation that would change the game forever. In wee Renton the "mid-field" was invented and with it the first effective link was forged between defence, in Scotland's case the Block-Four, and attack. It also, in my opinion, created modern football or at least the tactical base, on which it is built even today.
And, whilst the Renton example was replicated astonishingly rapidly in Scotland itself, if not always immediately successfully, the up-take in England, now not just Northern but also Southern in the form of Scots-founded Arsenal, was hardly a step behind. In part it was because of the simple truth that already a remarkable number of the leading lights, as founders, administrators and team "managers" and trainers in the game South of the Border were Scots. However, the net effect was that Renton and the neighbour clubs of Vale of Leven and Dumbarton were first sucked dry. In the last years of the 1880s and the first of the 1890s almost fifty, four full teams' worth, went South. Furthermore, the number of players in England from Scotland more generally doubled and then tripled. In 1890-91 it was around one hundred and seventy-seven. In 1892-3 it was two hundred and forty-four. Moreover, this time the itinerants were neither from smaller teams but better ones and nor were they just achieving maturity, physical and legal. They were aged from maturity to experiential prime. In other words all over the park these were qualified AND practised "engineers" or better not spanner-monkeys. They were in many cases professors, proper "Scotch Professors", e.g. Jimmy Cowan, Johnny Campbell, Ned Doig, Dan Doyle, the best literally at the top of the and their game not, as with the previous, lesser surge, the to my mind forerunners, the misnomer-ed Profs, good, better certainly than their English peers, but nevertheless still work-in-progress.
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