ENGLAND may or may not win the World Cup this summer but they are rightfully considered heroes for inventing football. However there is growing evidence that reveals the true pioneers of the game are from Scotland.
Research conducted by the Scottish Football Museum consistently shows how many of the true creators and ambassadors to today's style of play were coaches and players north of the Border. The museum's curator, Richard McBrearty, offers a compelling account from his seven years of evidence-gathering:
"It was only after we did a lot of research that we started looking into these so-called English or British pioneers (of football) and we found out that these were actually Scots," he says. "That's a story that hasn't been told – a story that actually surprises even ourselves. We knew Scotland had an important role, but we didn't appreciate how important Scots were.
"The playing style of football - the passing game - is unquestionably a Scottish invention," he says. "The traditional English game was a dribbling game; that dies out because it's supplanted by the Scottish passing game."
Fast factIn 1863, the FA rules were very basic: 20 players to a side, no goalkeepers, no crossbars, touchdowns could be scored by going to the side of the goal posts. If the ball bounced above knee height, you could catch it out of the air. It was a hybrid game, like a mixture of rugby and football.
The first set of rules for the sport were established in London in 1863 and led to the birth of the Football Association (FA). The style of play was quite different then, McBrearty explains:
"When England's dribbling game developed in the 1860s, people playing the game at Harrow, Eton and Charterhouse were young gentlemen of the aristocracy. They were being trained to be leaders in the British Empire. Their whole training – whether in the classroom or on the playing field – was to show your own individual worth as a leader. When it comes to the playing field, passing the ball was seen as a cowardly act – passing away responsibility. If you look at it from that perspective, you didn't pass the ball."
The passing style of play had its awakening on a late November day in 1872 when England faced Scotland in the first-ever international. Some 4,000 people witnessed the match at the West of Scotland Cricket Ground in Glasgow. Whilst a host of clubs contributed talented individuals to the English squad, Scotland deployed the full contingent from Queen's Park – a five-year-old club from the south of Glasgow – to fill its roster. Queen's Park players knew each other, regularly trained together and, most notably, passed the ball to each other. Despite a scoreless draw that day, the sport slowly grew in popularity to become a people's game and overshadow the sport of cricket and rugby.
"Scotland was actively interested in the British Empire, which covered about a quarter of the world's population," McBrearty says. "And we find in all these other countries Scots take with them their greatest interest – football.
"The Scots professors – that's what the English commentators refer to Scottish players as, or the Anglo-Scots - took the Scottish game to England. That's probably the first country that Scotland pioneered its passing game."
These Scottish ambassadors – players, coaches and even groups of Scots workers living abroad – introduced the passing game (if not the sport itself) to a host of nations: Ireland, Wales, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Hungary. That was followed by countries further afield: Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Mexico, Canada and even China.
"There is a theory that I devised," McBrearty says, "and it looks at how world football all comes back to Scotland."
He points to three scenarios of how the game developed through "Tartan professors":
Scots who directly introduced the sport to another nation – China (John Prentice) and Argentina (Alexander Watson Hutton)
Scots who came to a country to improve the style of play from a very rudimentary game to the passing game – such as in England and Brazil (Jock Hamilton)
Non-Scottish coaches who learned the passing game from Scottish coaches and then took it abroad. The best example of that was Englishman Jimmy Hogan who developed the passing game in Austria and Hungary.
"We've looked at the theory and we've looked at the various countries, and so far it has stood up," McBrearty says. "It's not important for us to say it ourselves. It's important for these other people to say that."
The English-based FA, perhaps not surprisingly, isn't so convinced. A spokesman responded to the findings with a reminder: "Sir Bobby Charlton wrote in the forward to a new book by Melvin Bragg that the first-ever rules emanate in 1863 in a smoky pub in London. I don't think we want to add to that."
From the archive
Football. International (Association) Match.England v. ScotlandThe Scotsman2 December 1872
On the web
Scottish Football Museum
After developing Scots Away, an exhibition on the subject in the Scottish Football Museum, McBrearty now hopes to turn his research into a book. Some of his findings are currently part of a football exhibition in Hamburg, Germany, home of this year's World Cup.
And who among the many in Scotland should receive credit for devising the passing strategy? McBrearty offers a diplomatic response:
"I think the wonderful thing about Scotland's development of the game was that it was very democratic. It was almost a Socialist thing. It's the idea of coming together and achieving together. So, there was no one person who can take credit for developing Scottish football.
"If there has to be a beginning, it has to be Queen's Park. They invented the passing game."
So when you watch the World Cup and witness the wonderful team-orientated play that often features crisp passing, remember where it truly found its legs: Scotland.
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