Scotland 0 England 1(but don't worry, it doesn't count) - Past, present and future collide 150 years on from world's first international football match
Nevertheless, by squinting a little in the watery light of a chilly St Andrew's Day, it was possible to imagine the world’s first international association football match - or, indeed, foot-ball, as it was written in adverts at the time – taking place.
Such a significant day had begun a few hours earlier in a quiet, overgrown corner of Cathcart cemetery. Joseph Taylor was one of the 22 pioneers. He played as a defender for Scotland against England on 30 November 1872. He died too soon afterwards – in 1888 – having succumbed to pleurisy and tuberculosis at the age of just 37.
Colin Taylor learned only later in life about his great grandfather's deeds. He only discovered his final resting place even more recently. There was only one place to be yesterday.
"It is kind of spine tingling,” said Colin, who travelled up from Northamptonshire, accompanied by his cousin Alex. “The last day of November...in Glasgow...with a little bit of mist coming off the grass, the sun breaking through. It was eerie and atmospheric. It really was fantastic. We laid the wreath and stood there for a few minutes composing our own thoughts.”
They recovered sufficiently to take part in a ceremonial kick-off a few hours later. Both Taylors were joined by current Scotland 'keeper Craig Gordon at the centre circle of a specially-marked out pitch at the West of Scotland cricket ground at Hamilton Crescent in Partick, where the original match was held.
Volunteers from the West of Scotland Tartan Army helped direct operations. Passers-by without knowledge of the event, or the ground’s history, might have wondered what on earth was going on over the green corrugated fence.
There is much blithe talk of sacred sites in sport but this really is one. Even Fifa acknowledged the significance of the day in a post to nearly 18 million followers on Twitter. "On this day in history in 1872", they wrote, "history was made when England faced Scotland in Glasgow".
An article posted on the Fifa museum website left no one in any doubt about the ground-breaking nature of that inaugural meeting. Its influence is particularly relevant given something called the World Cup is ongoing.
“Every player who has pulled on a national team shirt, and every supporter who has watched their team play, all follow in the footsteps of those select few who were witness to that historic day,” acknowledged Fifa.
An illustrator depicted the English players smoking pipes and cheroots as they warmed-up in 1872. Yesterday's re-enactment did not stretch to that level of detail, which is just as well, really, since it involved schoolchildren from the nearby Hyndland primary school.
There were other minor departures from the original meeting, which finished goalless. A carrier pigeon must deliver news from the press box that ‘England’ triumphed 1-0 this time around.
Of course, how Scotland really should have celebrated the anniversary, or at least the eve of it, was by taking on England in Qatar, which would have been the case had they beaten Ukraine and then Wales in two World Cup play offs this summer.
There is at least what’s been described as an "anniversary heritage" game to come in September against England, who were otherwise occupied yesterday. It was impossible to watch Wales being brushed aside by Gareth Southgate's side the previous evening and not wonder what might have been. Ian Maxwell included himself in this number.
“I think everyone was wondering that," the chief executive of the Scottish Football Association said. “It’s disappointing not being there. The players and manager, in particular, will be sitting watching it and thinking, ‘what could have been?’ But hopefully that spurs them on to 2024 and (the next World Cup) in ‘26.”
A longer-term aim is to ensure what’s now known as "Football’s Square Mile", which includes all three Hampden Park sites as well as Hamilton Crescent, is recognised with UNESCO World Heritage status. That is set to prove an even longer process than qualifying for the next World Cup – or even the one after it.
It could take as long as another ten years, but, after overseeing yesterday’s success, Hampden Collection founder Graeme Brown is determined to see such an ambitious project through. “It is ridiculous to think we are here with two sets of teams from the generation that hopefully sees the 200th anniversary," he said. "That, I think, is what it is all about."
The future collided with the past and present to memorable effect yesterday. In a way, it made missing out on Qatar easier to bear, since the focus deserved to be on a well-preserved cricket ground in Partick, which is where it all started, rather than a desert state in the Middle East with a questionable attitude towards human rights.
“You have to pinch yourself watching Ian Maxwell and Craig Gordon walking across the pitch here," said Brown. “We put the ball down and re-enacted what they did 150 years ago. We timed it to perfection."
Although the original match was billed as kicking off at 2pm, it did not actually get underway until 2.15pm, which is around the time a faint cry of 'get intae them' could be heard on the breeze yesterday. It echoed from the moment some talented Scots, credited with inventing the passing game, helped launch what has - for Scotland at least - proved a century-and-a-half of joy and, well, abundant heartache. "The ghostly Scotch professors are around you whispering, ‘well done’," said Brown.
"That is what is amazing. It is that nod to history. This is the Scotch professors on their comeback tour. They are going ‘haud the bus’. We started this. And the world needs to know it. This is a global story. Let’s tell it to the world.”
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