Friday, November 30, 2012

Scotland v England: 140 years

"Business in the city being then as usual on Saturday afternoons, was almost entirely suspended in legal offices and commercial houses. There was great demand for locomotion to Partick, and the home of the West of Scotland Cricket Club."
30 November 1872. St Andrew's Day. Glasgow.

The birth of international football.

Scotland v England, 1872, the first international (Wikicommons)A 140 year journey that would bring us Pelé, Maradona, Puskás and Kirk Broadfoot.

The West of Scotland Cricket Club was hired for ten pounds. Over 3000 supporters turned out.

Scotland v England.

Challenge matches had been held before but all took place in England with the Scottish side drawn almost exclusively from Scots living in London, with both teams selected by the hosts.

The match in Glasgow was to be different.

With no SFA (such heady, heady days) the task of selecting the Scottish side fell to Bob Gardner, goalkeeper and captain of Queen's Park, the pre-eminent and all conquering team of the time.

Denied the services of a pair of highly rated Anglos, Arthur Kinnaird of The Wanderers and Henry Renny-Tailyour of Royal Engineers, Gardner stuck to what he knew.

The Scotland team was made up exclusively of players from Queen's Park:
"The Scotland team was Mr Gardner at the goal, Mr Ker and Mr Taylor at the back, and Mr Thomson and Mr Smith at half. Forward, Mr Leckie, Mr Rhind, Mr Weir, the other Mr Smith, Mr McKinnon and Mr Wotherspoon."
England, with players representing nine different clubs, didn't have the comfort of familiarity:
"Individual skill was generally on England's side, but the Southrons did not play to each as well as their opponents who seemed to be adept at passing the ball."
Jonathan Wilson writes:
"The spread of passing itself - that 'united action' - can be traced back to one game, football's first international, played between Scotland and England..."
From the Glasgow Herald:
"The Englishmen had all the advantage in respect of weight, their average being about two stones heavier than the Scotchmen, and they also had the advantage in pace. The strong point with the home club was that they played excellently well together."
Other contemporary accounts praise the dribbling exploits of players on both sides. It's likely that Scotland's 2-2-6 formation offered a better blend than England's 1-2-8.

It was Scotland's style that English teams would later attempt to emulate. The Scots, in the blue shirts of Queen's Park and red hoods, played a game that seemed innovative and pioneering.

Where did it all go wrong?

Whatever the tactics, England arrived as favourites but were held to a goalless draw with Scotland coming closest to scoring. A Robert Leckie shot hit the tape (there were no crossbars) in the second half, while a first half attempt was adjudged to have gone over the tape by the umpires.

Having hoped to cover their costs, the large crowd allowed Queen's Park to return a handsome profit.

The idea of international football seemed immediately amenable. It was also a catalyst for greater organisation of the game in Scotland.

In 1873 Queen's Park took the lead in forming an association of Scottish Clubs.

Billy McKinnon, a forward against England, scored the first goal as Queen's Park won the first Challenge Cup final in 1874. The first Scottish Cup final.

Within 18 months of the goalless draw at Hamilton Crescent the game had a structure that is recognisable today.

Clashes between Scotland and England remained on the calendar for over 100 years. It took until 1970 for the two teams to play out another 0-0 draw.

The fixture returns next year to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the English Football Association.

That, largely, is the only status this game can hope to attain in modern football. A historical curiosity, wheeled out on special occasions or when coincidence shines on an international draw.

A nice reminder of when were kings. We might never be again. But amid all the arguments, the bickering and the negativity, it's surely a heritage worth fighting for.


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