IT’S fair to say Scottish football is no longer viewed as being at the forefront of the global game.
The national team’s failure to qualify for Euro 2016 was another painful experience for fans and players alike, and prompted the usual searching questions of how performances could be improved.
But the popularity of the game remains undiminished, and there is a growing awareness of the role Scots have played in shaping the modern sport.
Despite a reputation as conservative, Scottish football was once a crucible of ideas.
Richard McBrearty, curator of the Scottish Football Museum, said: “We would never claim to be the original founders of the game – there are many countries over many centuries who can make that case – but what we are claiming is that the modern game, which is now the global game, begins in Scotland.”
THE FIRST FOOTBALL CLUB
In 1824, a law student at the University of Edinburgh by the name of John Hope founded a ‘Foot-ball Club’ to play in the summer months. It remains the earliest recorded club to play the game in any form - although modern fans would struggle to recognise the sport as it was played then, with players still being able to pick up the ball at times. The Foot-ball Club kept accounts, wrote rules and organised regular matches until at least 1841. It had more than 70 players at its peak. Sheffield FC remains the oldest FIFA-recognised club with an unbroken history, following its foundation in 1857.
A series of matches between England and Scotland, organised by Charles Alcock of the Football Association, took place in London between 1870 and 1872 but are not recognised as official internationals. Most of the Scots players involved lived in London and were not affiliated with clubs north of the border, leading to criticism they were far from the best available. Stung by this, Alcock announced an English team would travel north to face a new Scots team. The resulting game was organised by Queen’s Park, Scotland’s leading club at the time, for November 30, 1872. It took place at Hamilton Crescent in Partick, the home of the West of Scotland Cricket Club, and a crowd of more than 4000 turned out to see it. The 0-0 result was the last goalless game involving the two teams until 1970.
THE PASSING GAME
When England arrived at Hamilton Crescent it was the first time two contrasting styles of play were displayed. The Scotland team that day was comprised entirely of Queen’s Park players. Invites had been sent to two Scots players based in England, but their absence meant the visitors were taking on a team already familiar with each other’s style of play. “Queen’s were already very keen on the passing game,” said Bruce Gilmour of the Scottish Football Museum. “The English team effectively dribbled with the ball until they lost it or got close to the goal and took a shot.” This ‘scientific’ passing style led to the Scotland teams of the era being dubbed the ‘Scotch Professors’.
SOUTH AMERICAN PIONEER
Thomas Donohoe, a Scottish engineer, helped establish football in Rio De Janeiro while another Scot, Charles Miller, did the same job in Sao Paulo. It wasn’t just in Brazil that Scotland’s influence was felt. Alexander Hutton, a schoolteacher, introduced the modern game to Argentina and was the first president of their association. By way of underlining the Scottish influence, the first Argentine championship in 1891 involved a play-off between clubs called St Andrews FC and Old Caledonians. There was a similar story in Uruguay where Scottish teacher William Poole founded the first club, Albion FC, and went on to become the first president of their association.
When Queen’s Park decided in 1899 to build a new Hampden Park - the third ground to carry the name - they knew something special was required. Both Celtic Park and Ibrox had been used by the SFA to host international games and Queen’s were anxious to win back the honour - and profits - of hosting Scotland games. They instructed the noted engineer Archibald Leith, the man responsible for Ibrox and Goodison among others, to carry out their plans of a gigantic new ground capable of handling crowds of more than 100,000. The finished stadium, opened in 1903, held the record for greatest capacity until the opening of the Maracanã in Rio de Janerio in 1950.