by Stuart Moriarty-Patten

30 November 1872: The first ever football international takes place

The first ever official international football match was held between Scotland and England on 30 November 1872, which appropriately enough was St. Andrew’s Day, at the West of Scotland’s Cricket Club ground at Hamilton Crescent in Partick.

Representatives of the two countries had previously met five times in London with a record of 3 wins for England and two draws, but the Scottish team that played these games consisted primarily of Scottish players living in the London area, with the only player being affiliated to a Scottish club being Robert Smith of Queen’s Park.   As there was then no Scottish FA, the English FA had been instrumental in the selection and organisation of both teams, for this reason these games are not considered to be full internationals.  Indeed in Scotland at the time there was some unhappiness expressed about the games and the fact the team was being advertised as a Scotland side.

In response to the accusation that the teams were not truly representative of Scottish football FA Secretary Charles Alcock, who played for the Old Etonians and the Wanderers, offered a challenge to meet a team drawn from players living in Scotland and he expressed a willingness for the game to be held north of the border.  In the absence of a Scottish FA, Queen’s Park, by far the best of Scotland’s few clubs, took up the challenge to organise a Scottish team.  Archibald Rae, secretary of the Glasgow club, made an appeal for recruits in Scottish newspapers, but ultimately the eleven players selected by keeper and Queen’s Park captain Robert Gardner were all to be from Queen’s Park, although two England based players would have been selected if fit.  These were one of the game’s first legends Old Etonian Lord Arthur Kinnaird who, although he had been born in London, was from a prominent Scottish family, and Lt. Henry Waugh Renny-Tailyour of the Royal Engineers, who earlier in the year had represented Scotland against England in a Rugby international at the Oval.

According to newspaper reports the English team was selected by Alcock “from a large number of aspirants, comprising the great majority of the most brilliant exponents of the game” and came from nine different sides.  Alcock himself would have undoubtedly played and been captain but he had been injured two weeks earlier while playing for the Old Harrovians against the Old Etonians in a game that had been described by The Graphic newspaper as a “friendly, but most vicious game.” Ironically he was injured by a challenge from Kinnaird who was famed for his hard tackling and still a proponent of the tactic of hacking that involved kicking the shins of the opposing player.  Alcock contented himself with being one of the two umpires while Oxford University’s Cuthbert Ottaway took on the mantle of captaincy.

The match, which according to the Glasgow Herald had created an unusual degree of interest, was supposed to kick off at 2 p.m. but was delayed by 20 minutes due to a combination of fog and a larger than anticipated crowd.  The game eventually kicked off in brilliant sunshine in front of 4000 spectators with men having paid a shilling each, and ladies being admitted free.  The Scots wore dark blue shirts as had been adopted by the rugby team and was also then the colour of Queen’s Park, while the English wore all white.  The two teams could also be distinguished by their headwear; Scotland had red cowls and England blue caps.

The Three Lions of 1872.

The pitch was heavy due to the downpour of rain that had fallen over the previous three days and suited the smaller Scottish team better at first and they thought that they had scored an early goal but were disappointed when the umpires ruled the ball had gone over the tape that was acting as the crossbar.   Gradually England began to impose themselves on the game and as the match wore on they gained the upper hand.  The Scots showed they were excellent defenders though, especially William Ker, “who made himself conspicuous all through the match with his splendid kicking” according to the Glasgow Herald.   The Scots hung on and even nearly pinched a victory in the dying minutes but a shot by Robert Leckie hit the tape and the game ended 0-0.

One noticeable factor during the game was the apparent disregard of goalkeeper being a specialised position at the time as firstly the Scottish keeper Gardner came out of goal when he swapped with forward Robert Smith after half-time, and then England goalkeeper Robert Barker swapped places with William Maynard, to have a spell playing out of goal.  In fact Barker has been described as a “utility player,” and he could be found playing for his club Hertfordshire Rangers as a forward more than a keeper, but in the absence of first-choice Alexander Morten of Wanderers who was missing through injury he had been chosen to go in goal for this game as he was the biggest and slowest player in the squad and it was felt his experience of playing rugby and handling the ball would also come in useful.

Although the 0-0 result may appear something of an anti-climax it was reported that an appreciative crowd, who had been enthusiastic and good-natured throughout the game, gave the two sides three hearty cheers for their efforts.   The newspapers also seemed happy with what they had watched.  In London, the Bells Life described the game as, “A splendid display of football in the really scientific sense of the word, and most determined effort on the part of the representatives of the two nationalities to overcome each other.”  While in Scotland, the Glasgow Herald was stating that the result seemed to have been a fair outcome as although the English had all the advantage in respect of weight, their average being about two stones heavier than the Scots, the Scots had played excellently well together as a team, and as a result the game had been, “evenly and toughly contested.”   The paper also noted the “splendid runs being made by men on both sides,” with England’s captain Ottaway, and Arnold Kirke-Smith, both of Oxford University, John Brockbank of Cambridge University and Charles Chenery of Crystal Palace all getting glowing reports in the press for their display of dribbling skills and the way they “managed the ball, piloting it round their opponents in a manner which is seldom equalled.”  The talents of the Scottish players were also mentioned with Leckie and James Weir particularly coming in for praise and Ker being given an accolade by The Graphic for the “the most brilliant run of the day, dribbling the ball past the whole field.”

Following this first meeting England and Scotland played each other every year, except during the two World Wars, until 1989 with the game being part of the Home Championship from 1884 until 1984.  After the British Home Championship ended in 1984, the annual England v. Scotland fixture continued in the form of the Rous Cup until 1989.   In total the teams have met 111 times with England having won 46, Scotland 41 and with 24 games being drawn.  Sadly an increase in crowd trouble surrounding the fixture saw an FA that was already haunted by a number of hooligan issues that had seen English clubs banned from Europe happy to suspend the fixture.  Since then the teams have only met four times the last being the friendly earlier this year at Wembley.

Following that last meeting between the two there seems to be a growing interest in the idea of re-instating the world’s oldest football fixture, possibly as part of a reinvigorated Home Championship, and possibly as a bi-annual event between the Euro and World Cup tournaments.  With the fixture always guaranteed to be a sell-out it is probable the FAs of both countries would not be averse to the idea and, in an age when football can sometimes be quick to forget its traditions, it would be nice to welcome back football’s oldest fixture as a regular event.