Scots footballers’ history with London

At THE opulent 1,000-room Regent Palace Hotel, just off Piccadilly Circus, Scotland captain Jimmy McMullan addressed the team and issued the famous instruction to ‘pray for rain’.
Scotland fans gather in Picaddilly Circus before the 1953 match at Wembley and the English capital will be swarming with Tartan Army members again next weekScotland fans gather in Picaddilly Circus before the 1953 match at Wembley and the English capital will be swarming with Tartan Army members again next week
Scotland fans gather in Picaddilly Circus before the 1953 match at Wembley and the English capital will be swarming with Tartan Army members again next week

His call was answered and a steady downpour the following day contributed to the legendary 5-1 victory of the Wembley Wizards in 1928. Only the façade remains of the Regent Palace, which closed in 2006, but it is one of many London landmarks which are a crucial part of Scottish football’s heritage.

Next week, Gordon Strachan and the Scotland players will stay out of the city in St Albans, which is just as well as London’s bright lights have tempted many a Scottish star. A five-minute stroll from Piccadilly Circus takes you to Stringfellows, a ‘gentleman’s club’ in Upper St Martin’s Lane which rose to prominence during the hedonistic 1980s.

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Charlie Nicholas, resplendent in white leather suit and gold earrings, was first to discover its delights while at Arsenal but claimed he stopped “because whenever I went in the door the flash bulbs were going. I need peace and quiet when I go out”. Frank McAvennie, starring for West Ham, had rather more of an appetite: “These days when I’m back in London, I only ever go to Stringfellow’s, so I’d certainly recommend you head there. Mention my name.”

They were not the first Scots to be seduced by London life, the swinging Sixties witnessing Chelsea’s Charlie Cooke as one of the ‘King’s Road carousers’, then Peter Marinello, seemingly more interested in appearing on Top of the Pops than playing for Arsenal.

Other legends were not quite so lively: Frank McLintock was once staying at the Dorchester Hotel and spotted Elizabeth Taylor in the lobby, only for the actress to lean over and tell him he had forgotten to remove his bicycle clips.

Not all the Scots who played in London ever returned home. I’ll be laying flowers next Wednesday morning on the grave of Andrew Watson, who captained Scotland to their highest ever away victory over the auld enemy, a stunning 6-1 win in 1881. The first black man to play international football, his last resting place was only recently discovered in Richmond Cemetery, and this is an opportunity to mark his unique place in our football heritage.

Another Scotland pioneer buried in the city is James Thomson, who played up front for Scotland in the first international match in 1872. Thomson gave up the game in 1874 for a career in the frozen meat trade and went on to make a vast fortune before his death in 1915; he is in East Finchley Cemetery.

The brilliant career of John White, who won 22 Scotland caps, was tragically cut short in 1964. He had just played his first ball at Crews Hill Golf Course in north London when a storm struck and he was hit by lightning while sheltering under an oak tree by the fairway. His grave is in Enfield Cemetery.

A more central monument to an influential early Scot is the statue of Quintin Hogg, who played for Scotland in the unofficial internationals of 1871 that inspired the ‘real thing’. A prominent philanthropist who died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty heater, his larger-than-life effigy now sits above a traffic island in Portland Place, next to the BBC’s headquarters.

But perhaps the largest named memorial to a Scotland player is just round the corner from Trafalgar Square, a traditional Tartan Army gathering place. Kinnaird House in Pall Mall East commemorates Arthur Kinnaird, Scotland international and five-times FA Cup winner, whose house was on the site.

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Many London football teams have strong Scottish connections, but none more so than capital’s very own team for exiled Scots, London Caledonians, a top amateur outfit who twice played Celtic in the 1890s. Their ground was at Tufnell Park in north London before they disbanded in 1939.

Another with Scottish roots is Millwall, formed in 1885 by workers at Morton’s food processing factory on the Isle of Dogs, many of them of Scottish extraction, which helps to explain the club’s blue and white colours. Their first captain was a Dundonian called Duncan Hean.

Of the current major clubs, Chelsea has perhaps the strongest Scottish heritage, having been founded in 1905 with a backbone of Scottish talent, a link reinforced in the 1920s as Wembley Wizards Alec Jackson, Tommy Law and Hughie Gallacher played at the club, and in more recent times they have had Eddie McCreadie, Steve Clarke, Gordon Durie and Pat Nevin.

Spurs also have Scottish links, their first manager being the international John Cameron, while the modern era has witnessed Dave Mackay – he ran Dave Mackay (Club Ties) Ltd on Seven Sisters Road – and Steve Archibald. Not everyone settled so well at White Hart Lane: a teenage Graeme Souness was famously so homesick that he packed his bags for home.

Back in the 1930s, Alex James supplemented his wage at Arsenal by working as a sports demonstrator at Selfridge’s flagship store in Oxford Street, still going strong. You can see his FA Cup Final shirt at the superb Arsenal museum at the Emirates Stadium, but sadly not his trademark baggy shorts.

Footballers need a stage on which to perform, and the great Scottish architect Archibald Leitch – ‘engineering Archie’ – was responsible for the original stands at Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and Millwall. While those have gone, surviving examples of his distinctive style can still be seen at Fulham and Crystal Palace; both stadia offer guided tours.

Those with a more historic leaning should visit Kennington Oval, which hosted seven early England-Scotland matches, and was also the venue for two FA Cup finals involving Queen’s Park. There are weekly tours of the ground, although strongly geared towards cricket.

Wembley Stadium, of course, also runs tours but not on matchday or the day before. Since the first England-Scotland match there in 1924 it has been a place of pilgrimage for Scots, and a few have even lived the dream of scoring the winning goal there: Tommy Walker, Jim Baxter and most recently Don Hutchison. One other Scot who did so but for the ‘wrong’ team was Joe Baker, a rising star with Hibs who hailed from Wishaw but happened to have been born in Liverpool. When first selected for the country of his birth he arrived at Heathrow Airport and hailed a taxi for Hendon Hall Hotel. “But that’s where the England team stay” said the driver. “Aye, I’m playing for them on Wednesday night” came the heavily accented reply; to which the driver reacted by calling the police to check out the lunatic in the back.

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If Scots are looking for inspiration ahead of Wednesday’s game, and can’t really bring themselves to pray for rain, they could do worse than join the Tartan Army members paying homage at the site of William Wallace’s execution at Smithfield Market. His memorial states that his “example, heroism and devotion inspired those who came after him to win victory from defeat”.

• Sports historian Andy Mitchell runs the website