THE WAY WE WERE
Ged OBrien is a man with a mission.
To reclaim footballs glorious past for Scotland. The Director
of the SFAs
Scottish Football Museum at Hampden Park reckons that
football history is yet another area where the flag of St George
flies under false pretences.
The common perception is that the game as we know it evolved under
the tutelage of the English public schools, before the rules were
unified at the foundation of the FA in 1863.
Not so, says Ged, as he casually throws into conversation the
fact that an Aberdeen schoolmaster translated the rules
into Latin as far back as 1633.
Football is a subject worthy of study in its own right
asserts Ged. And in this era of Media Studies when soap operas
are considered appropriate for degree courses, who can disagree?
Saltcoats Vics or the Queen Vic? Albion Rovers or
the Rovers Return? Its safe to say that football
has had a bigger impact on everyday life in Scotland than TV fluff.
Yet our sport, the sport of the masses, is still not taken seriously.
Ged tells of how, when he describes himself as an historian of
French Impressionism, eyebrows raise around the room yet when
he mentions that he is a football historian my IQ halves
in front of their eyes.
Quite why this is so is a question too big to answer here.
Football literature remains, for many, an oxymoron. Cricket, horse
racing, even boxing have all produced acclaimed books. Yet, by
and large, football remains ignored. And this is despite the presence
of the Glanvilles and the McIlvanneys of this world.
Despite Camus and Wenders. Even in an age where
the Chancellor of the Exchequer can come out as a Raith
Rovers fan and not be laughed at in the street, prejudice
against our game still persists.
Perhaps this will always be the case. Maybe we need to wait until
Rothmans is as ancient as Wisden before we get the
respect and acknowledgement that our sport deserves. Whatever,
Ged OBrien and his team are working towards that day. And
they deserve our backing.
He rubbishes the public schools/FA version of history comprehensively.
If the FA unified the rules in 1863, why were Sheffield
still adhering to their own rules in 1877?, he asks.
The world's oldest-known football letter. From Queen's Park
to Glasgow Thistle in 1868
It was the Scots, he asserts, who invented the modern
game. The passing game. And football had been played in Scotland
for centuries. He cites parish records which show the Kirk railing
against the playing of football on the Sabbath. It was Scotland
that was the prime mover behind the creation of the International
Board in 1886.
And even those English pioneers who took the
game all over the world turn out to have more than just a tartan
tinge. Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay - all took their lead
from Scottish expats. In Argentina the first champions
were St Andrews, who beat Old Caledonians in the
Final. Archie McLean was the father of Brazilian
football, even if his obituary didn't quite get its geography
right when it said he hailed from Paisley, Glasgow, near
The number of Scottish firsts , oldest
and records Ged reels off is impressive. The
first international, the oldest trophy still played for, the biggest
crowd in Europe and so on. A surge of pride nearly bursts through
my chest, only to deflate when I think of the state of the game
in Scotland today.
Little nuggets of history pour casually forth. Take RS McColl,
the great Queens Park player and founder of the confectionery
business that still bears his name - Toffee Bob
as he was known. According to Ged OBrien, it wasnt
quite as straightforward. It was members of McColls family
that established the business. The player provided the capital
- and the name. It was McColls name and reputation that
made the business a success.
The same player received no fewer than 51 letters from
English clubs, all anxious to secure his services. They carefully
avoided the P word - professionalism, but nevertheless
made it crystal clear how financially rewarding life would be
in Derby, Blackburn, Liverpool, Birmingham and a host of
other English cities and towns.
Those letters are on display at the museum.
And the displays are awesome. The first colour
footage of a football match - from a Scotland tour of North
America in the 1930s. Film of the 1937 Scottish Cup Final
- the famous Celtic v Aberdeen game which established a
record attendance which was the largest for a club match in the
world at the time and is still the European record today.
Theres a winners medal from the first Scottish
Cup Final in 1874, an international cap and ticket
from the worlds first international match - Scotland
v England in 1872, and the first World Cup -the
trophy won by Renton in 1888 when they defeated
FA Cup winners West Bromwich Albion, the Glasgow Charity
Cup and the oldest surviving letter concerning a football
fixture - Queens Park v Thistle in 1868.
The 'World Cup' won by Renton in 1888.
The old Hampden changing rooms and the press
box from the South Stand are there intact. And of course, THAT
goal of Archie Gemmills against Holland can
be seen as well. All in all the museum is something which will
captivate Scottish football fans of all ages and all persuasions.
And the beauty of it, according to Ged, is that like Sisyphus
rolling the stone uphill, the task will never be completed. For
history is being made all the time. Just as those pioneers from
over a century ago could never have imagined that the paraphernalia,
indeed the ephemera of their day would arouse so much interest
now, so too do Ged and his team face the future with uncertainty.
For who can state with clarity here and now what our descendants
will be interested in 100 years hence? Will Henrik Larsson
need a gallery to himself? Or will he be a footnote in the
22nd century Wee Red Book? More depressingly, is this the
worst era in Scotlands history? Or might a future age look
back with fondness to a time when we could snatch a draw in the
But the challenges of the future and the controversies of the
past walk hand in hand at what Ged proudly describes as the
first national football museum in the world - another
He doesnt shy away from making claims which will upset established
theories. Take the Watson/Wharton question for instance.
The what? Well, seeing as you asked, Ill enlighten you.
For many years, the Preston goalkeeper Arthur Wharton
was considered to be the first black footballer. But thanks to
research undertaken by Ged and the Museums Visitor Services
Officer Tommy Malcolm, Scotland can claim yet another first
Defender Andrew Watson is the man. Born in 1857 in the
British colony of Guyana, Watson played for Maxwell and
Parkgrove before moving to Queens Park where
he gained three international caps for Scotland and three Cup
winners medals, all before Wharton signed for Preston.
The oldest trophy still in existence - the Scottish Cup
While the claims made for Watson are irrefutable,
others cause greater controversy. Ged blames the noted architect
Archibald Leitch for the Ibrox disaster of 1902.
Leitch is regarded almost as a saint by devotees of football grounds
and such an accusation is sure to raise a few hackles.
But maybe thats what Ged OBrien wants. He confesses
to being disappointed that the English media have made no great
attempts to traduce his ongoing battle to reclaim the game's heritage
That he should invite such retaliation is characteristic of someone
who was involved in the Football Supporters Association
in the 1980s. That movement, which flourished (mainly, it has
to be said, in England) post-Hillsborough in tandem with the
fanzine explosion of the same era, produced people itching for
a fight. People, who when football was at its lowest ebb in society,
stood defiantly and demanded a greater say for fans, openly admitted
their love of a game that society - and government- professed
Their greatest victory was over the infamous plans to introduce
ID cards for admission to matches. Its probably not a coincidence
that this scheme was dreamed up around the same time as that other
mad idea - the Poll Tax.
And while the FSA (which your correspondent was also deeply
involved with) may no longer be the force it once was (having
recently merged with the older and more conventional National
Federation of Football Supporters Clubs) its legacy is obvious.
I mentioned Gordon Browns support for Raith Rovers.
We also have a Prime Minister so enthusiastic for the game that
he claims he can remember watching players who had retired before
he started school! But thats another matter entirely.
In 1990 though, even a politician as robust as Kenneth Clarke
sat in the Cabinet corner cringing as the ID card plans were discussed.
Too ashamed to mention he was a football fan.
We may have gone too far the other way, with the arrival of the
prawn sandwich brigade so brilliantly exemplified
by John Thomsons Fast Show character
, but we are no longer the sport which dare not speak
The thanks for that goes to people like Ged OBrien and the
thousands like him who cared enough to dare to do something different.
Today we have a Scottish Football Museum. Just under fifteen
years ago, it looked like a museum would be where you would find
all that was left of Scottish football.
Scottish Cup winner's medal awarded to J J Thomson, Captain
Queen's Park team that beat Clydesdale in the first Scottish Cup
Final in 1874.
All images shown on this page are of exhibits
on display in the Scottish
Football Museum. Copyright belongs to the Museum and the images
are reproduced here by kind permission.
They may NOT be used elsewhere without such express permission.
Further information can be obtained from the Museums Director,