It wes us!
by Billy Kay
WHEN England supporters at the World Cup Tournament in South Africa sang about football and the trophy itself ”coming home”, apart from being scunnered by their cheek, we Scots knew in our hearts that it just wesnae true – it wes us that taught the world tae kick a baw. So if football ever had a homeland to come home to it had to be Scotland!
The problem was that most of us had little knowledge or evidence to back up the claim. Meanwhile with words like Inglés, Anglais, Anglichanin used around most parts of the globe to describe British pioneers of football in their country, the great propaganda machine of English football has been delighted to repatriate those pioneers, translate Inglés as English and claim arrogantly that it was Englishmen who took the game round the world. As I proved in my radio series, It Wes Us, nothing could be further from the truth, for there is compelling evidence to back the claim of Scotland as the home of the world’s greatest game.
My own interest was kindled a few years ago when I spoke to Lennart Persson of Gothenburg University on the huge Scottish influence in every area of life in that part of Sweden. He described how the first-ever game of association football played in the city had one team made up of Scottish workers from a curtain factory near the Orgryte sports club. The victories of the Scots over a Swedish/English select at that time were not unexpected, but when I got home, the reference to the curtain factory made me turn to one of the books about my native Irvine Valley. And there, in A Pictorial History of Newmilns by Jim Mair, was the astonishing answer – the curtain factory in question had been owned by Johnston, Shields & Co of Newmilns, who also owned another factory abroad, La Escocesa, in Barcelona . . . and there they were, lined up as Escoces FC for the team photo at Bonanova in 1899. It even claimed that they had won the Spanish cup the first time it was contested! For once, I had some evidence for my football fantasy of Caledonian hegemony in the origins of the beautiful game. It wes obviously Ayrshire boays that taught the world tae kick a baw!
As in Barcelona and Gothenburg, the English and the Scots were in at the beginning of football in many cities, such as Paris, with Gordon FC representing the Scots, and White Rovers, the English. Similarly in Montevideo, old rivalries were maintained with early football matches between expatriate Englishmen from the Cricket Club and expatriate Scots from a Rowing Club team hoaching with names like Harley, McKinnon, McCall, Walker and McEachen! Now I am happy to concede that given their numerical advantage, in many places it was the English who planted the roots of the game. I would also accept that it was the basic rules laid down by the FA in 1863 which codified soccer and created the conditions for expansion. But the game that developed in England, and planted in far-flung places by Englishmen abroad in the decades following 1863, was a kick and rush, leader of the pack type game where you dribbled until you lost the ball. Meanwhile, in Scotland, from 1867 onwards, teams like Queens Park were evolving a scientific, short-passing style that became recognised as the characteristic Scottish way of playing the game – recognised in the international football section on FIFA’s website:
“it was Scotland’s revolutionary passing tactics that proved the more effective . . . and the country north of the border went on to claim eight victories in the first 12 England-Scotland encounters.”
The English dribbling style, which had been formed in the close confines of the playing areas of English public schools, indeed was so inferior to the Scottish game that the Scots built up such a lead in internationals with the Auld Enemy that it took the bigger country, with over 10 times the population, another 100 years to catch up! You then have professionalism coming into the clubs in the north of England, and the beginning of the Scotch Professors, the creative half-backs and inside forwards establishing the Scots game there and dominating the league from its inception. Some teams like Liverpool and Bolton Wanderers played with a token Englishman and up to 10 Scots, but Blackburn, Sunderland, and Newcastle – all the early giants of English football – regularly played with an average of seven Scots in the team. With Scots domination of the leagues, and regular English humiliation in the international fixtures, eventually even the last of the “amateur toff” teams, Corinthians (founded in 1883 by A.L. Jackson), were adopting the Scottish passing style which had swept England and would now sweep the world.
An English commentator in 1888 acknowledged the growing supremacy of the Scottish style . . . “we may fairly say that there have been two ages of the Association play, the dribbling and the passing.” To have had such a major impact so quickly, it would be my contention that the passing game must have been established as the national style for years before our footballing lads o’ pairts began to take their skills over the border and on to the rest of the world in this late Victorian era. Our obsession with football, after all, goes back at least as far as the 15th century when the Scots Parliament was so concerned about us practicing ‘keepy-uppie’ rather than weaponry, that it issued this proclamation in 1457:
“It is decretyt an ordanit that wapinschawings be haldin fower times in the yere . . . an the fitba an the gowff be utterly cryit doun an nocht usit.”
[wapinschaw: muster of arms]
That wes thaim tellt! Some hope. The obsession just got stronger and reached its zenith at the turn of the 20th century.
In my own Irvine Valley, local legends such as the three brothers Steel from Newmilns playing with Spurs in the 1910-11 season, or five senior footballers from one single street in Darvel, testify to a phenomenal explosion of footballing talent released onto the world’s burgeoning football market from the Scottish Lowlands.
It was this new breed of Scottish professional footballers who transformed the game wherever they went. In South America for example, British workers, railway engineers and sailors undoubtedly played the game – indeed it was the son of a Scots railway engineer, Charles Miller from São Paulo, who was credited with introducing football to Brazil in 1894. But his football was learned at school in Hampshire before the Scots game put down roots in that part of England. It was after 1900 that the Scottish style arrived with Jock Hamilton imported as the first professional coach in the country; and Archie McLean and his wonderfully named Scottish Wanderers showed the Brazilians how soccer was played back in Paisley!
In São Paulo, when McLean arrived, the kick and rush game was still extant, and he recalled later that he had to put a stop to the attitude that the best player was the one who could kick farthest and highest! With his fleetness of foot on the wing, McLean got the nickname o viadinho – Little Deer, and along with Bill Hopkins at inside forward for the Wanderers, he established the high speed, short passing game in the city, and up to the level of the State Selection – for McLean played in the Paulista select that was a forerunner of the Brazilian national team. Brazilians recognised the new scientific game established by McLean, but as in so many instances its Scottish roots were lost; today it is referred to as the systema inglês – the English system!
However, farther south, the role of Scots professional footballers in the transformation of the world game can be shown in the career of one of the greatest Scotch Professors, John Harley. When Harley arrived in Montevideo, the Uruguayans were mesmerised by the man’s skills and recognised immediately that the older English style had given way to something vibrant and different. “HARLEY CAMBIA LA FORMA DE JUGAR (Harley changes the way we play), screamed the headline in 100 Years of Glory – The History of Uruguyan Football.
“[He was] the first foreigner to transform the Uruguyan style of play. He taught us how the ball should be passed at speed along the ground from front to back . . . and put a stop to the tradition of thumping long balls up the park.” What a perfect description of the scientific game and what an immediate effect it had for, within 20 years of Harley arriving in the country, Uruguay had won the inaugural World Cup of 1930. Sadly, at a time when we actually could have contested the latter stages of the World Cup finals, we bided at hame, content to have a go at England in the British championships.
In that 1930 World Cup though, we did have several players in the American team that came third, while Uruguay’s opponents in the final, Argentina, owed its rise in football fortune to the efforts of the Scotsman recognised as the Father of Argentine football – Alexander Watson Hutton. He founded both the Argentinean League in 1891 and the Football Association in 1893. Originally, on his arrival in Buenos Aires in 1882, he had taught at St Andrews Scottish School in the city and begun a successful team there. In fact, the very first Argentine championship of 1891, resulted in a playoff between St Andrews FC and Old Caledonians FC, the St Andrews boys coming out on top against their compatriots.
Hutton himself, though, went on to open his own English High School, which had an even greater emphasis on football. As the men’s game became more organised, Hutton’s team of former pupils, Alumni, would develop into one of the best of the country’s leading clubs, winning 10 of the first 12 Argentine championships. The passing skills of Alumni and St Andrews players were in demand farther afield – the former St Andrews player, James Buchanan is described as the first “maestro” to play for Peñarol in Uruguay. Watson Hutton organised the first international between Uruguay and Argentina in 1901, and fielded an Argentine eleven full of Alumni players.
There was literally nowhere in the world the Scots didnae take football – in my Dundee book there’s even a photo of the boys playing on the Arctic ice during a lull in a whaling expedition – on another voyage in 1875 a game had to be abandoned following an attack by polar bears which ate the sealskin baw! At the other extreme, the Scots travelled hundreds of miles to play in the searing heat of the Australian outback, while in India, regiments of the British army played for the Duran Cup, the third oldest soccer tournament in the world. As with other international competitions between the Scots and the English, the Scottish regiments prevailed to such an extent that both the Highland Light Infantry and the Black Watch won the competition three times and got to keep the trophy . . . you can see them displayed at regimental museums in Glasgow and Perth.
In Australia, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand, the Scots were at the forefront of football’s advance; for example, in Canberra two Scots exile obsessions were combined, with the Burns Club also becoming the principle football club. Another major conduit of Scottish football’s inexorable march toward world domination was provided by the kirk. Yes, the kirk, fitba and Rabbie Burns; it sounds like a scene from the Cottar’s Saturday Night . . . ”from scenes like these auld scotia’s grandeur springs”. The kirk’s huge missionary effort of the later 19th century coincided with the spread of association football. Boys Brigade teams, for example, existed all over Africa at one time and it was particularly strong in Presbyterian colonies like Malawi, the former Nyasaland. The extent of the game’s hold on the country, and the kirk’s realisation of its benefits, are revealed in letters home to Edinburgh, advising that it was not worth sending out young men as missionaries unless they were prepared to take football training as well!
The extent of the Scottish diaspora occasionally raised problems for the Scottish Football Association (SFA). In Shanghai, football was established as early as 1879, and John Prentice from Glasgow became president of the Engineers team in the city. They applied successfully to come under SFA jurisdiction, so there was a bit of concern among Scottish-based clubs about getting drawn away to the Shanghai Engineers in an early round of the Scottish Cup! John Prentice donated a cup for the local derby, Engineers v Shanghai, and by 1907 there was an International Cup competition open to teams made up of players from all of the soccer playing countries such as England, Germany, France and Belorussia. Because of their passing game, the competition was dominated by Scots.
We were also to the fore in Eastern and Central Europe. In 1910, an Angus flax inspector from Montrose, John S. Urquart described his efforts in establishing the new game first in Reval (now Tallinn), Estonia, and later in the interior of Russia at a place called Sytcheffka, near Smolensk. He laid the foundations of the beautiful game, but in both places he came across one major problem: “I had considerable success teaching the Russian peasants the rudiments of football, except in one aspect. In all the time I was there I could not prevail upon one of them to head the ball!”
Johnny Madden from Dumbarton would be bit more successful. Balancing a career as a footballer and riveter in a Clyde shipyard, Madden was in the first-ever Glasgow Celtic team of 1888. But it was his arrival in Prague in 1905 which heralded an illustrious career that lasted 25 years with Slavia Prague. There he was known affectionately as Dedek or Grandpa Madden! Under his tutelage, Slavia won the Mitropa Cup, a forerunner of the major European competitions. He was also closely involved with the Czech national side at the Paris Olympics in 1924 – the team full of Slavia players. Many of the Czech team who were runners up in the 1934 World Cup had trained under him. As with all great footballing legends, myths surround him as well – one concerns a famous statue of him in Prague. Many people mention it, but no one has actually seen it – I think it is another Hoops myth emanating from the Celtic View!
During part of Madden’s period with Slavia, the other main team in Prague, Sparta, was coached by another Scot, John Dick. It is said that Madden only learnt enough Czech to slag off his players, and communicated in a mixture of German, English, Czech and Scots. I would love to have a recording of Madden and Dick’s instructions from the dugout during a Slavia v Sparta derby! The man who had helped Madden land the Sparta job, Jacky Robertson of Rangers, went on to become the coach of MTK Budapest and of Rapid Vienna. Now if you think of the great Hungarian teams of the 1930s and 1950s, and the Austrian Wunderteam of the 1930s, you realise the important foundations for footballing development laid down by these Scots. The very first soccer team in Vienna, called appropriately First Vienna, had at its core a group of Scots gardeners who looked after the Rothschild estates around the city. They still play in the Rothschild livery of blue and yellow to this day. The other great ‘Scottish’ coach in the city was Lancashire-born Jimmy Hogan. Hogan had learnt his football at Fulham, a club dominated by the Scots, who taught him the game he took to the continent. In an old edition of the World Soccer Book, his entry states: “A great believer in the classical Scottish passing game, he was the tactical brains behind the famous Austrian Wunderteam of the 1930s.”
Ironically, the guid conceit we had for our passing game as a nation was also part of our problem – we were so thirled to our relationship with England that we did not see the wider picture and the need to participate in the developing world game – a world game that we had more or less created. The philosophy that prevailed was if we could continually beat the mighty English, with a tenth of the population, then we could beat anybody. Now, I agree with English historian Jim Walvin, author of The People’s Game, that the Scots “were up for it” – the games against England for the Scots took on a significance way beyond sport, in fact I think “up for it” is an understatement. But historically the wee team didnae keep hammering the big team, just because they were up for it . . . they beat them constantly in the first 100 years of football’s existence because of the superiority of the native Scottish game, its technique, its skill and yes, undoubtedly, its passion.
Quite apart from our rivalry in international matches, England remained our greatest footballing colony; the first professional footballer in the world was the Scot James Lang who played for Sheffield Wednesday; the founder of the Football League was William McGregor, and the pioneer of the FA Cup was Lord Kinnaird, who broke so many records as a player in the competition that he was given the first FA cup trophy to keep! While the days of Scots players dominating the great English teams are gone, our managers continue the tradition of the Scotch Professors through to the present day with Ferguson, Moyes, Coyle and McLeish flying the flag in the top flight of the English game. The legacy of Madden, Busby, Stein and Shankly lives on!
Simply put, the Scots created the modern passing game, they converted England to it, and eventually it was our style that prevailed everywhere the game was played. In the 1986 World Cup final in Mexico, the first of Argentina’s goals was scored by Jose Brown, the great grandson of one of the thousands of Scots migrants who graced South America in the 19th century. Well, to paraphrase his namesake, the godfather of soul James Brown . . . as far as fitba’s concerned, “Sing it loud, we’re Scots and we’re proud.”
Playing the game, we just have to get back to our roots. Promoting our glorious, seminal role in its history, we just have to tell the world, and keep reminding the English . . . it wes us.
Adapted from the Chapter It Wes Us in Billy Kay’s book, The Scottish World.