THE previously untold story of how Scotland spread the word around the world about the revolutionary gospel of football as a game of short passes rather than mazy dribbles makes a persuasive case in a new publication for celebrating Scotland as the birthplace of the modern game.
Ever since the Enlightenment of the 18th century, Scots had proved adept at exporting ideas around the world. This turned out to be as true in sport as it was in philosophy or economics. Wherever the true origins of association football lie, the reason Scotland's football heritage deserves greater prominence today rests on the short passing game pioneered in this country in the 19th century.
At a time when footballers ran with the ball until they were tackled and the sport was largely about individuals, it was the Scots who devised the tactics of team work and combination play which remain at the heart of the game's success today.
Richard McBrearty, the curator of the Scottish football museum at Hampden, observed yesterday: "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 story has not been told before because, according to McBrearty, the game's early historians were Anglo- centric and had a vested interest in promoting the English viewpoint of events. In the Scottish football museum's first published document – it was handed out to delegates when Fifa's international board met at Gleneagles last weekend – the case for upgrading the prominence of Scotland's role in the development of the modern football rests, in part, on the remarkable work of the 'Scotch professors' who revolutionised the game in England and then throughout Europe, South America and Asia.
The success of Scottish club sides such as Queen's Park and the national team against English opposition in the years between 1870 and 1890 was so overwhelming that the Corinthians club in London was founded with the sole purpose of emulating the Scottish passing game.
The emergence of this innovative tactic at the world's first international between Scotland and England in 1872 came about because the Scots (who all played for Queen's Park) were not as physically strong as their opponents and needed to devise a style of play which would enable them to compete. They practiced in pairs and fielded a 2-2-6 formation against the 1-1-8 line-up of England in order to combat their opponents' individual superiority.
These tactics would develop over the years into an intricate and influential system of play. Between 1878 and 1882, Scotland defeated England 7-2, 6-1 and 5-1. When Preston North End became the first 'double' winners in England, there were seven Scots in the starting XI.
The first Liverpool team in 1892 consisted entirely of Scots while the Sunderland side founded by Scottish teacher James Allan relied mainly on Scots to win three titles in four years.
The museum's pamphlet also demonstrates how the first football club was not formed in Sheffield, as is generally believed, but in Edinburgh where John Hope, a student at the university, founded a 'foot-ball' club for fellow students and lawyers. The club made rules and kept accounts. "I can't overstate the significance of this," enthused McBrearty "To have a club which goes back that far and was so highly structured is remarkable. This was a milestone in the game."
Further afield, 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. John Harley, a railway engineer, was said to have an influence on the style of football which would go on to help Uruguay win the first World Cup.
John Prentice, a Scottish marine engineer, introduced the modern game to China in 1879, while textile worker John Lawson and his colleagues formed a football section of the Gothenburg sports club in 1892.
Scottish coaches were also influential in Prague, Vienna and Budapest.
It was no coincidence that so many Scottish engineers, teachers and scientists – the professors – were involved in promoting such a technical style of play: these educated men brought intelligence to football and imposed structure on the development of the game around the globe. It was a scientific approach and players would chart their progress down the pitch.
"Scotland's almost fanatical enthusiasm for the short passing game ensured this popular form of football would spread out across the world," explained McBrearty. "From Manchester to Montevideo and from Shanghai to Sao Paulo, Scottish pioneers helped to shape football across the world."