National Treasures: The birth of the Scotland national team

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Archie Gemmill against the Dutch in Argentina 1978. Opening the 1998 World Cup against Brazil in Paris. James McFadden’s 40-yard wonder goal in the same city nine years on. Leigh Griffiths’ free-kick double to wound England a decade later.

As we stand in the 21st century, these are just a small sample of moments that flood the memory across all living generations of Scotland fans when they reminisce about their national side.

But how did it all start to enable the world’s second-oldest footballing nation to create these iconic moments? In the first part of our National Treasures series throughout June, we take a look at the flickering spark that ignited Scotland’s obsession with the beautiful game…

First footing

It all began almost 150 years ago when Scotland contested in their first official international against England.

Although there were several unofficial encounters between the nations from 1870, the match on 30 November 1872 is officially registered by world governing body Fifa as the first football game to be contested by two countries.

During this period, it was unusual for national teams to travel for games. That meant in the ‘unofficial’ matches that took place in London before 1872, a number of English players represented Scotland, despite Scottish players being invited to play.

There was ill feeling north of the border that the Scotland side did not have enough homegrown players. This led to then FA general secretary Charles Alcock writing a public letter in Glasgow and Edinburgh newspapers offering an official match between 11 Scotsmen and 11 Englishmen.

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With Scotland yet to form a football association at this point, the offer was accepted by Queen’s Park – the nation’s leading and oldest club at that stage.

With a location and date to be arranged, captain Robert Gardner and David Wotherspoon of Queen’s Park met Alcock in London to finalise the details while competing in the English FA Cup.

Twelve months earlier, the first international rugby match had been contested by the same two nations at a cricket ground, and football followed the same path as 4,000 spectators watched a 0-0 draw at the West of Scotland Cricket Ground in Partick, Glasgow.

As captain, not only did Gardner lead Scotland on the pitch, but also off it. At a time when managers were largely non-existent, he was tasked with selecting the team to face England.

He would pick a starting line-up consisting of only Queen’s Park players who would take to the pitch in navy blue, the same colour the Glasgow club sported at that time. And it is for that reason Scotland wear the same colours to this day.

Home championships & global pioneers

March the following year saw the creation of both the Scottish Football Association and the Scottish Cup, making it the second oldest cup competition in world football, as association football quickly became the most popular sport in the country.

The next international to take place between Scotland and England was in the same month, the visitors losing 4-2 in London. The fixture would become an annual event after that, and it was in 1874 that the Scots claimed their first win, triumphing 2-1 in Glasgow.

As the game continued to grow, Scotland would enjoy a successful period in the late 1870s, claiming three consecutive victories over the Auld Enemy, including a 7-2 thrashing in 1878 that stood as England’s record defeat until 1954.

In the following years, friendlies against Wales and Ireland were introduced, before the formation of the British Home Championship in 1883, adding a competitive edge to the games and heightening the rivalry.

Because of complications with travelling, Scotland only competed against the other home nations in the early years. However, they would go on to make themselves a force, losing just two of their first 43 international matches.

This dominance would propel Scotland to four of the first five British Home Championship titles, sharing two of them with England as joint winners.

With the game progressing out of the 19th Century, gradually becoming more like the game we recognise today, Scotland would be at the front of the pack spearheading a global movement in the sport as a pioneer with the rest of the home nations.

A national obsession was born.

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