Ticket for the world's first International football match



November 2002

Ged O’Brien is a man with a mission. To reclaim football’s glorious past for Scotland. The Director of the SFA’s 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? It’s 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 O’Brien 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 London.”

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 Queen’s Park player and founder of the confectionery business that still bears his name - “Toffee Bob” as he was known. According to Ged O’Brien, it wasn’t quite as straightforward. It was members of McColl’s family that established the business. The player provided the capital - and the name. It was McColl’s 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.

There’s a winner’s medal from the first Scottish Cup Final in 1874, an international cap and ticket from the world’s 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 - Queen’s 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 Gemmill’s 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 Scotland’s history? Or might a future age look back with fondness to a time when we could snatch a draw in the Faeroes?

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 Scottish ‘first.’

He doesn’t shy away from making claims which will upset established theories. Take the Watson/Wharton question for instance. The what? Well, seeing as you asked, I’ll 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 Museum’s 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 Queen’s Park where he gained three international caps for Scotland and three Cup winner’s 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 that’s what Ged O’Brien 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 for Scotland.

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 to loathe.

Their greatest victory was over the infamous plans to introduce ID cards for admission to matches. It’s 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 Brown’s 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 that’s 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 Thomson’s ‘Fast Show ‘ character , but we are no longer ‘the sport which dare not speak its name.’

The thanks for that goes to people like Ged O’Brien 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 of the
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 Museum’s Director, Ged O'Brien.

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