June 13, 2023 5 min read
Over 150 years, football has been a national pastime in Scotland, however well or miserably the national team are doing. We recommend dark berry vodka, packaged in a branded bottle, to toast the popularity of the game and, perhaps, the qualification for the 2022 World Cup.
In 1872, Scotland and England played out a goalless draw in the first ever international match. The FA Cup was also held that year, with the Scottish Cup following in 1873. That year, eight clubs based in and around Glasgow formed the Scottish Football Association, including Queen’s Park, Third Lanark and Kilmarnock. The very same trophy won in 1874 by Queen’s Park, in front of their own fans at Hampden Park – their first win of ten – was picked up in 2021 by St Johnstone captain Jason Kerr.
As befits the great city, clubs from Glasgow have dominated the national game for the last century, with Celtic (40) and Rangers (33) taking 73 Scottish Cups between them. Their Edinburgh equivalents, Heart of Midlothian (8) and Hibernian (3), are rivalled only by Aberdeen, whose seventh and most recent Scottish Cup win came in 1990.
Celtic won the European Cup in 1967 and Rangers the Cup Winners’ Cup at the third attempt in 1972, having lost the 1961 and 1967 finals. It is thus no surprise that national team play in Glasgow, with Edinburgh hosting rugby matches at Murrayfield. The museum at Hampden Park is a fine tourist attraction and includes an exhibition dedicated to the Rutherglen Ladies team which defied the national ban on women playing the game.
Scottish players were known as wizards of dribble in the early days of association football. Whereas English teams lumped it long in the air, Scots played the passing game and thus developed more tactical nous. Sundry Scottish players were poached by English clubs like Preston North End, Sunderland and Newcastle United. Indeed, there were nine Scots in the Preston squad which went unbeaten in the 1888/89 English First Division and only two non-Scots in the Sunderland team which scored 100 goals and waltzed away with the 1892/93 title.
After the Great War, Scotland kept producing spectacular players who made their name in the English game, many of them called Alex. Alex Jackson scored a hat-trick against England in 1928 against players he went up against as a Huddersfield Town player. Striker Alex James became a hero at the Arsenal, topping up his wages working at Selfridge’s, while left-back Alex Forbes played for eight post-war seasons with the Gunners having displaced Archie Macaulay in the position for club and country.
The glory years of Scottish football coincided with teams from Scotland playing in European competition. As well as putting together a string of nine league wins in a row, the Lisbon Lions made Celtic the first British team to win the European Cup, pulling all 11 of their side from the environs of Glasgow. They included several long-standing employees including captain Billy McNeill and left-winger Bobby Lennox, who played for the Hoops for 18 and 20 years respectively, and jinking winger Jimmy Johnstone.
Such was the talent coming through in the country that Bobby Kerr, captain of the unfancied Sunderland side which won the 1973 FA Cup Final, was never capped for his country. Scotland played in the two World Cup finals which England missed out on in 1974 and 1978, propelled by talents such as Kenny Dalglish, John Robertson, Billy Bremner, Denis Law and Davie Hay. The Pyrrhic victory over the Netherlands in 1978, with Archie Gemmill’s goal immortalised in the film Trainspotting, was achieved after the manager Ally MacLeod’s pomposity was pricked.
Scotland has produced chroniclers of football as well, such as Paddy Barclay, Kevin McCarra and the doyen of sportswriters, Hugh McIlvanney. It was he who helped ‘Alec’ Ferguson write his 1999 memoir Managing My Life, which chronicled the Govan-born gaffer’s successes first with Aberdeen and then with Manchester United. Ferguson had also stepped in to manage Scotland in the 1986 World Cup after Jock Stein passed away, and followed Stein as a victor in Europe when his Aberdeen team beat Bayern Munich and won the 1983 Cup Winners’ Cup.
It should not be forgotten either that Matt Busby, architect of Manchester United’s 1968 European Cup triumph, was a Scot too, while the man who rebuilt Liverpool at the same time was Ayrshire-born Bill Shankly. Scotland has been a global mecca for coaches thanks to its residential school at Largs.
At the start of the 2011/12 season, nine coaches in the Premier League had either trained or taught there, including five Scots: Dalglish, Ferguson, Owen Coyle, David Moyes and Alex McLeish. Fabio Capello, Roy Hodgson and Jose Mourinho had all passed through, recognising the brains’ trust which congregated in a small town in Ayrshire.
When English teams were banned from Europe in the 1980s, Rangers signed plenty of England internationals like Chris Woods, Terry Butcher and Ray Wilkins to play alongside Scottish lionhearts like Richard Gough and Ally McCoist. The rush of Sky money helped England retain its internationals.
Happily, talents from outside the UK have passed through Scottish clubs: Henrik Larsson became one of Celtic’s most heralded players, while the club has been a springboard for talents like Virgil van Dijk and Mark Viduka who trained for European nights at Celtic Park.
In 2022, Scotland have their best chance in a generation to qualify for a World Cup under the management of Steve Clarke. After boogieing their way to EURO 2020 with an exciting young squad, they are set to play Ukraine at a suitable date; a friendly against Poland will be played on Thursday 24 March at Hampden Park with £10 from each ticket going to UNICEF.
The squad for the game contains defenders like Grant Hanley, Andrew Robertson and Kieran Tierney (respectively of Norwich City, Liverpool and Arsenal), young Chelsea midfielder Billy Gilmour and Manchester United Academy graduate Scott McTominay. The Leicester-born cult hero Che Adams is nicknamed ‘Che McAdams’ after declaring for Scotland in 2021 thanks to his mum’s mum.
Ladies and gentlemen, please charge your glasses to Scottish football! We recommend a dark berry vodka which is a perfect gift for any Scottish friends.