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History of football in Scotland

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Title: History of football in Scotland  
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History of football in Scotland

Part of a series on the
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This article details the history of football in Scotland.


  • Early history (pre 1867) 1
  • Early modern history (1867–1900) 2
    • League football and professionalism 2.1
  • 1900–1946 3
  • 1946–1975 4
  • 1975–1998 5
  • 1998–2013 6
  • References 7
  • See also 8

Early history (pre 1867)

The first official football international, Scotland versus England. Once kept by the Rugby Football Union as an early example of rugby football.

Various games, known as "football" (or variants) were played in Scotland in the Middle Ages. However, despite bearing the same name, medieval football bears/bore little resemblance to Association Football (soccer). The ball was often carried by hand, and the teams were often large or unequal in number, and scrummaging was sometimes involved. Some of these games are still played to this day, notably in Kirkwall and Jedburgh - see Ba game.

The earliest historical reference to "fute-ball" in Scotland was in 1424 when King James I outlawed the playing of it in the Football Act 1424. This was presumably because of the disruption football was having on military training as well its often violent nature. Subsequent kings issued very similar decrees, suggesting that the bans were unsuccessful. Certainly James the VI King of Scots was well aware of the violent nature of football, stating in his personal publication of 1603 a debar from commendable exercise "all rough and violent exercises, as the foot-ball".[1] There were, however, times when royal prohibitions seem to have been relaxed, if not officially. In 1497, for example, the accounts of the Lord High Treasurer include the purchase of footballs for the King. It is not known if he ever played the game. There is also a tradition that King James V crossed over from Melrose to Jedburgh to participate in the Jedburgh ball game. There is, however, no documented evidence to corroborate this belief and the earliest contemporary account of the game at Jedburgh comes much later at the beginning of the eighteenth century.

The origin of football in Scotland is uncertain. The Highlanders apparently never played such a game (unlike other Celtic regions, such as Cornwall, Wales and Brittany). It has therefore been suggested that football reached Scotland from France or England.[2]

Violence in early Scottish football games was certainly an important reason for these royal decrees and further evidence comes from sixteenth century Scottish literature, for example in the following poems.

Between 1501 and 1512 Gavin Douglas states:

"This broken shin that swells and will not be relieved, Take it to him; he broke it at ball, And tell him it will be his reward. Take the whole of this bruised arm to him"

Sir Richard Maitland expresses his pleasure in a late sixteenth century poem at being too old for the rough game:

"Quhen zoung men cummis fra the gren, Playand at the futball had bein, with broken spauld, I thank my god I want ein, I am so auld".[1]

In modern English this is translated as:

"When young men come from the green Had been playing football With broken shoulder, I thank my God that I lack eyesight: Iam so old"

The violence of early football in Scotland is also described vividly by another sixteenth century description, this time anonymous. It is entitled "The Beauties of Foot-ball":

"Brissit, brawnis and broken banis, Stryf, discorde and waistie wanis, Cruikit in eild syn halt withall, Thir are the bewties of the fute ball".[1]

This in modern English is translated as:

"Bruised muscles and broken bones Discordant strife and futile blows Lamed in old age, then cripled withal These are the beauties of football"

It was not just the Scottish monarchy and local municipalities that wished to crack down on the playing of football. In 1546 the Company of Hammermen (i.e. smiths) of Perth issued a decree that "neither servants nor apprentices" play football "under penalty of a pound of wax".[3] Presumably this was a in order to prevent work absences and injuries to employees. There are other accounts of employers actively participating in attempts to outlaw football in Scotland during the following centuries.

Football in the sixteenth century is also documented as being a pretext for raids across the border against the English.

Early Scottish football sometimes erupted into very extreme violent outbursts, including the use of firearms. For example, in 1606 at Lochtoun during a "fute-ball" match some players "fell in contentioun and controversie, ilk anie with otheris, and schot and dilaschit pistolettis and hacquebuttis"[1] It was clearly a passionate and dangerous pastime.

In an attempt to control such violent outbursts football came under Puritan attack in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and is documented many times as being an offence on a Sunday, presumably because of its disruptive effects on society and likely violent nature. For example, the youth of Aberdeen are accused in 1607 of conducting themselves profanely on the Sabbath: "drinking, playing football... and roving from parish to parish"[4] Further references to the offence in Scotland of playing football on Sunday come at the end of the sixteenth century and the first half of the seventeenth. In 1656 the Scottish Parliament passed an act outlawing all boisterous games on the Lord's day. Nevertheless, the puritan attack on football was not as severe in Scotland as in England and in both countries the game undoubtedly continued to be played enthusiastically.

There is evidence for schoolboys playing a football ball game in Aberdeen in 1633 (some references cite 1636) which is notable as an early allusion to what some have considered to be passing the ball. The word "pass" in the most recent translation is derived from "huc percute" (strike it here) and later "repercute pilam" (strike the ball again) in the original Latin. It is not certain that the ball was being struck between members of the same team. The original word translated as "goal" is "metum", literally meaning the "pillar at each end of the circus course" in a Roman chariot race. There is a reference to "get hold of the ball before [another player] does" (Praeripe illi pilam si possis agere) suggesting that handling of the ball was allowed. One sentence states in the original 1930 translation "Throw yourself against him" (Age, objice te illi). It is clear that the game was rough and tackles allowed included the "charging" and pushing/holding of opposing players ("drive that man back" in the original translation, "repelle eum" in original Latin). It has been suggested that this game bears similarities to rugby football. Contrary to media reports in 2006 there is no reference to forward passing, game rules, marking players or team formation. These reports described it as "an amazing new discovery" but has actually been well documented in football history literature since the early twentieth century and available on the internet since at least 2000.[4]

Violence continued to be a regular complaint about Scottish football games for many centuries. Sir Patric Hume of Polwarth wrote to his wife in March 1648 that their son “hurt himself so evill at football in Polwart upon Sunday that he was not able to sturre.“ In Jedburgh the ball game was outlawed by the town council in 1704 stating that "sometimes both old and young near lost their lives thereby".[1] As a result, it was decided to "discharge the game now and all time coming". This attempt was initially unsuccessful as in 1706 even local trades at Jedburgh were cooperating to try to suppress the game, as shown by the Fleshers' Corporation's fining of some members for "rastling at the football".[3] Similarly at Duns in 1724 a complaint reads "football... did always end and determine in the effusion of blood among the inhabitants".[1] Toward the end of the eighteenth century the poet Skinner noted in his poems some of the injuries sustained playing foortball in Monymusk: "Has ne’er in Monymusk been seen Sae mony weel-beft skins; Of a’ the ba’-men there was nane But had twa bleedy shins"

Sir Walter Scott described football as "his favourite border sport". He too, however, talks about the rough nature of nineteenth century Scottish football in his text the Lay: "In riot, revelry, and rout, Pursued the football, play".[1] Scott also states that in the "foot-ball": "The victory is contested with the utmost fury, and very serious accidents have sometimes taken place in the struggle".

Scottish football continued to be a very violent affair well into the nineteenth century. For, example the game in Hawick was described in 1825 as "a species of war or fighting".[1] In 1826 the game was banned in Kirkwall as it was disturbing the peace. From this time until the late 1860s there is a lull in references to football in Scotland, suggested that banning of the game had at last proved successful. As a result of the level of violence often seen in early Scottish football games, a lot of traditional ball games were modified or died out in the nineteenth century. Examples still exist today, however, of traditional Scottish football, in particular the Ba game (although many of these have been revived in the modern time).

The earliest evidence of the use of codified rules of any type of football in Scotland came in 1851 when rugby football was adopted by the Edinburgh Academy, in order to be able to play with other schools. The Edinburgh Academical Football Club, is the oldest football club of any code in Scotland (rugby football).

A "Foot Ball Club" was founded in Edinburgh in 1824[5] After being recently reformed, it now plays association football in the Edinburgh & District Sunday Amateur Association.

Early modern history (1867–1900)

Scotland was one of the earliest modern footballing nations. The game started to become popular in Scotland following the development in London in 1863 of the first ever rules of Association Football, established by The Football Association. Scottish football clubs started to be formed towards the end of the 1860s and 1870s. Queen's Park was Scotland's first football club, founded in 1867.[6] It is the oldest existing football club outside England. In its very early years it played in the English FA Cup, reaching the final twice.

In the late 1860s football rules in Scotland still allowed the ball to be handled by all the outfield players, as well as the goalkeeper, whereas in England only the keeper was permitted to handle the ball and then only in his own area[7] According to the Scotsman newspaper on 2 December 1872 at this time there were only about ten football clubs in Scotland.

Even as late 1870 football was an unusual sport in Scotland. In 1870 CW Alcock's received no response to his challenges for homegrown contenders against an English eleven. These challenges were issued in Scottish newspapers, including the Glasgow Herald. One response to Alcock's challenges illustrates that football was eclipsed in Scotland by other codes: "Mr Alcock's challenge to meet a Scotch eleven on the borders sounds very well and is doubtless well meant. But it may not be generally well known that Mr Alcock is a very leading supporter of what is called the "association game"... devotees of the "association" rules will find no foemen worthy of their steel in Scotland".[8]

Starting in 1870 and 1871 a series of four matches between representatives of England and Scotland took place at The Oval, London. Robert Smith of Queen's Park played in the international matches against England of 19 November 1870[9] and the international matches of 25 February 1871[10] and 18 November 1871.[11] The Queen's Park football club players R.Smith and J. Smith were named amongst 16 selected players in the publicity for the February 1872 match,[12] and the reason for their absence is not clear. These early matches were organised under the auspices of the Football Association, but are not currently recognised by FIFA (founded 1904) as official.

Alcock was categorical that although most players were London based, this was due to lack of response from north of the border:

"I must join issue with your correspondent in some instances. First, I assert that of whatever the Scotch eleven may have been composed the right to play was open to every Scotchman [Alcock's italics] whether his lines were cast North or South of the Tweed and that if in the face of the invitations publicly given through the columns of leading journals of Scotland the representative eleven consisted chiefly of Anglo-Scotians ... the fault lies on the heads of the players of the north, not on the management who sought the services of all alike impartially. To call the team London Scotchmen contributes nothing. The match was, as announced, to all intents and purposes between England and Scotland".[13]

The 1870 and 1871 matches are not currently recognised by FIFA as official, however the Scotsman newspaper certainly identified them as "international [The Scotsman's italics]"[14] The most notable Scottish player of the 1870 and 1871 games was Smith, a player of Queen's Park FC. Alcock continued to pursue players from "north of the Tweed", inviting them in papers such as the Scotsman to contact(for example) A F Kinnaird"[14]. At this time, however, it was unusual for national sides to travel far for matches and even in the 1873 England v Scotland game, the first FIFA recognised match in England, only 3 Scottish players were not from English sides[15] Alcock decided "in order to further the interests of the Association in Scotland, it was decided that during the current season, a team should be sent to Glasgow to play a match v Scotland[16]

The first official (i.e. currently recognised by FIFA) international match would take place between Scotland and England on 30 November 1872. This match was played under the Football Association rules. Over the following decades association football was to become the most popular sport in Scotland. This match is, however, not the origin of the blue Scotland shirt for contemporary reports of the 5 February 1872 rugby international at the Oval clearly show that "the scotch were easily distinguishable by their uniform of blue jerseys.... the jerseys having the thistle embroidered"[17] The thistle had been worn previously in the 1871 rugby international[18]

The match itself illustrated the advantage gained by the Queens Park players "through knowing each others' play[19]" as all came from the same club. Contemporary match reports clearly show dribbling play by both the English and the Scottish sides, for example: "The Scotch now came away with a great rush, Leckie and others dribbling the ball so smartly that the English lines were closely besieged and the ball was soon behind",[19] "Weir now had a splendid run for Scotland into the heart of his opponents' territory.[19]" and "Kerr.. closed the match by the most brilliant run of the day, dribbling the ball past the whole field"[20] Scotland nearly won but a Robert Leckie shot landed on the tape crossbar and the game finished 0-0.[21] Although the Scottish team are acknowledged to have worked better together during the first half, the contemporary account in the Scotsman newspaper acknowledges that in the second half England played similarly: "During the first half of the game the English team did not work so well together, but in the second half they left nothing to be desired in this respect.[19]" There is no specific description of a passing manoeuvre in the lengthy contemporary match reports, although two weeks' later The Graphic reported "[Scotland] seem to be adepts at passing the ball".[20] There is no evidence in the article that the author attended the match, as the reader is clearly pointed to match descriptions in "sporting journals". Similarly, the 5 March 1872 match between Wanderers and Queens park contains no evidence of ball passing[22] This contemporary evidence suggests that the origin of the short passing game lies in the mid-1870s.

In the next international in 1873 Scotland lost away to England in London, but in 1874 Scotland had their first international victory, beating England 4–2 in Glasgow. In 1875 the two nations drew again, but after this there followed a period of Scottish dominance for the following ten years, with only one defeat against the English.

Association football quickly became the most popular sport in Scotland, particularly in Glasgow and the west. The Scottish Cup was established in 1873, making it the second oldest football cup competition in the world. The early editions of the tournament were dominated by Queen's Park and Vale of Leven, with the two teams winning the first nine editions. The Scottish Football Association was formed in 1873 and is the second oldest in the world.

League football and professionalism

In the late 1880s significant number of Scottish players participated in English football clubs Payments to players had been made legal in England in 1885 and professional footballers were paid decent salaries. Ironically this attracted many Scottish players southwards to ply their trade in England.[7] Some earned the epithet "Scotch Professors"[23] English football teams with Scottish players included Preston North End which fielded eight Scots in one team and Liverpool Football Club, founded in 1892 with eleven Scots. In Scotland the game remained, in theory anyway, an amateur game until 1893.

William McGregor who grew up in Perthshire and lived most of his life in Birmingham is credited with the establishment in 1888 of The Football League in England. This in turn influenced Scottish football and the Scottish Football League was founded in 1890. Dumbarton and Rangers were declared joint champions of the first league season after they could not be separated on points and a play-off match was drawn. The league became officially professional in 1893 and added a Second Division, because of the rapidly growing number of clubs.

Between 1872 and 1929, Scotland played matches exclusively against the other three Home nations—England, Wales and Ireland. The British Home Championship began in 1884, making these games competitive. The encounters against England were particularly fierce and a rivalry quickly developed.[24] Scotland dominated the early British Championships, winning or joint winning with England every edition but one between 1884 and 1890. From 1891 until 1900 results were more mixed, with Scotland winning 4 out of 10 between 1891 and 1900.

In 1894 football was taken to Brazil by Charles William Miller, who was of combined Scottish-English descent. He had not lived in Scotland and learned to play football while at Banister Court School in Southampton, England.[25]


James I's ban on football was finally repealed in 1906 (although ignored long before then).

Competitive football was suspended in Scotland after the United Kingdom declared war on Nazi Germany in September 1939. Wartime competitions and internationals were played during the Second World War, but official competition did not resume until the 1946–47 season.


Scottish football enjoyed something of a golden age after the Second World War. Attendance numbers boomed during the 1950s and club sides enjoyed success in the newly instigated European competitions. The most obvious example of this came in 1967, when Celtic became the first club from a northern European country to win the European Cup. This success came during a period of domestic dominance for Celtic, who won nine consecutive Scottish league championships between 1966 and 1974. Other sides also enjoyed success, however, as Rangers won the 1972 European Cup Winners' Cup and both Hearts and Hibernian had great domestic success during the 1950s.


The period of dominance by Celtic and declining attendances during the early 1970s resulted in officials considering changes to the Scottish game. Radical reforms were introduced to the league system in 1975, as a 10 team Premier Division was created. This marked a shift from clubs playing each other twice a season to four games a season in the Premier Division, and from two games to three games in the First Division and Second Division. This reform appeared to work initially, as Scottish clubs enjoyed European success during the 1980s. Unusually, the Old Firm dominance of Celtic and Rangers was broken by a New Firm of Aberdeen and Dundee United. Aberdeen won the 1983 European Cup Winners' Cup, defeating Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, and Dundee United reached the 1987 UEFA Cup Final, defeating FC Barcelona en route.

Rangers had endured a barren run during the early 1980s, but reasserted themselves after Graeme Souness was appointed manager in 1986 and was allowed to buy many senior England internationals. Players such as Chris Woods and Terry Butcher were attracted not just by the finances on offer, but also by the fact that Rangers still had access to European competition during a period when English clubs had been banned after the Heysel Stadium disaster.


As of the beginning of 2000, it could be said that Scottish football is enjoying a resurgent period, with both halves of the Old Firm being involved in European competition after Christmas for the first time in decades - Celtic F.C. reached the 2003 final of the UEFA Cup and have progressed to the last 16 of the Champions League, and Rangers to the 2008 final of the UEFA Cup.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h [Magoun, F.P. (1931) Scottish Popular Football, 1424–1815, The American Historical Review]
  2. ^ Marples, M. 1954. A History of Football, Secker and Warburg, London, p38
  3. ^ a b Marples, M. 1954. A History of Football, Secker and Warburg, London
  4. ^ a b [Marples, Morris. A History of Football, Secker and Warburg, London 1954]
  5. ^
  6. ^ (Bob Crampsey 1990, p. 2)
  7. ^ a b BBC - A Sporting Nation - Scottish League formed
  8. ^ H.M. The Scotsman newspaper, 1 December 1870, page 12
  9. ^ The Scotsman Newspaper, 21 November 1870, page 7
  10. ^ The Scotsman Newspaper 27 February 1871
  11. ^ Bell's Life in London and Sporting chronicle on Sat 18 November 1871
  12. ^ Bell's Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, Saturday 17 February 1872
  13. ^ Charles W Alcock, The Scotsman newspaper, 28 November 1870, page 7
  14. ^ a b The Scotsman newspaper, 21 November 1870, page 7
  15. ^ Harvey, Adrian in Football The First Hundred Years The Untold Story, Routledge
  16. ^ Minutes of the Football Association of 3 October 1872, London
  17. ^ Daily News (London, England), Tuesday, 6 February 1872; Issue 8042.
  18. ^ Glasgow Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), Tuesday, 28 March 1871; Issue 9746.
  19. ^ a b c d The Scotsman - Monday, 2 December 1872, page 6
  20. ^ a b The Graphic (London, England), Saturday, 14 December 1872; Issue 159.
  21. ^
  22. ^ Bell's Life in London and Sporting Chronicle (London, England), Saturday, 9 March 1872; Issue 2,697
  23. ^ Scottish Football Association (2005). "The Professional Game". Retrieved 7 April 2007. impressed by the playing ability and teamwork shown by the Scots in meetings with England were soon looking north to snag their own "Scotch professors" of the game. 
  24. ^ "A history of fierce football rivalry".  
  25. ^ BBC - southampton Football First

See also

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