Thursday, 14 April 2011

A History of World Football in 100 Games - Part 3

Scotland 0-0 England (30 November 1872) Hamilton Crescent, Glasgow

As well as being instrumental in the foundation of the FA Cup, Charles Alcock also played a vital role in the organisation of the first international match. As early as 5 March 1870 Alcock participated in the first unofficial international between England and Scotland which was played at the Oval in London and which resulted in a 1-1 draw. The game though was not a representative one as all the participants were based in London or the Home Counties, despite Alcock’s announcement of the game in leading publications of the day and his invitation for Scottish players to apply.

Following up on this, on 5 November 1870 he wrote a letter to the Glasgow Herald in which he announced a game between England and Scotland to take place on the 19th of the month. Again, the match was played at the Oval and it suffered from the same issue of not being a fully representative international as the best players from Scotland were not available to play. In total, five of these unofficial internationals were organised by Alcock, before a full international could be arranged.

Given the lack of a Scottish FA at the time the duties of organising a team fell on the Queen’s Park club that had participated in the inaugural FA Cup of 1871-2. Alcock had originally proposed a venue in the North of England as a compromise that would suit all parties, but in the event the game took place North of the border.

Neither side was able to draw on some of its strongest players. Alcock himself was injured, while Arthur Kinnaird, who would go on to play in a record 9 FA Cup finals, was unavailable for the game. However, this didn’t dampen the spirits of a record crowd of 4,000, “the largest assemblage seen at any football match in Scotland … including a good number of ladies”.

The game was notable not just for being the first international, it also served as an early example of a difference in tactics. Rather than playing with eight or nine forwards as had been traditional, the Scots played with just six forwards, two half-backs (modern midfielders) and two full-backs as well as a goalkeeper (the position had only been set out in a revision to the laws of 1870). Furthermore, the English style of play remained based around the dribbling style that had been common in the early years of the game, whereby one man would get the ball and try, through a combination of skill and brute force, to make his way to the opposition goal. His fellow forwards would follow in hot pursuit in the hope that the ball might run free and fall to them to continue the charge.

Formations in the first international (Scotland in blue)

The Scots possessed fine dribblers of their own, but they increasingly focused on what came to be the combination game. The key to this was in the function of every player (bar the goalkeeper) as part of a pair. As such the full-backs and half-backs were paired, as were the right sided, left sided and central attackers with passing primarily taking place between the pair.

The reasons for the evolution of the Scottish style of passing were two-fold. The first was due to an issue of the offside rule. Queen’s Park had from their formation in 1867 to their membership of the FA in 1870, played an offside rule in which a player was only offside if less than two opposition players (including the goalkeeper) were between him and the opposing goal, and this was only effective in the final fifteen yards of the pitch. In England he rule required three opposition players and applied throughout the field. As such there was a much greater advantage to be gained through passing in Scotland than had ever been the case under the FA laws. Although the Scots gave up this offside rule when they joined the FA, the instinct to pass was hard to break.

The second reason for the Scottish willingness to pass lay in the physical nature of the game. At the time dribbling remained as much about strength and brute force as it was about skill. On both of the occasions that the Queens Park club met with English opposition (against Wanderers in the FA Cup and when representing Scotland against England) they were considerably lighter than their adversaries, and as such they soon realised that force alone was unlikely to see them prevail. Instead they reverted to the passing game in the hope that it would help them avoid the tackles of their bigger opponents.

The game itself was something of an end to end affair and was described by Bell’s Life as “one of the jolliest, one of the most spirited and most pleasant matches that have ever been played according to Assocation rules.” Although there had been heavy rain prior to the game and fog in the morning which delayed the start there was sunshine by kick-off.
Cuthbert Ottaway
England were on top in the early stages with a long dribble by Cuthbert Ottaway resulting in a shot which flew over the goal. The Scots though came back with attacks of their own which drew huge cheers from a partisan crowd. Jamie Weir in particular demonstrated his dribbling skills well, until these were surpassed by Ottaway again who beat almost every opposing player before losing the ball deep in opposition territory.
Shortly before half-time the Scots thought they had scored when Robert Leckie had a shot which flew just over the tape (crossbars were not introduced under FA rules until 1875).

The second half saw more brave dribbling. Maynard, Morice and Kirk-Smith all threatened the Scottish goal on multiple occasions, while Brockbank came closest to scoring until he was charged over by a combination of MacKinnon and Wotherspoon with the trio all falling to the ground. No team though could force a breakthrough and it ended in a 0-0 draw.

While no goals had been scored the game was a great success, with the crowd satisfied with their afternoon’s entertainment. A rematch was quickly scheduled to be held in March 1873 at the Oval and the fixture would go on to be played on an annual basis until 1884 when it was incorporated into the newly created Home Championship.


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