Football might be Scotland’s national sport, but the downside side of the beautiful game is that it can produce angst as well as ecstasy. Mention Brazil to any Scottish football fan at the moment, for example, and chances are that the response will be a rueful shake of the head. After all, the Tartan Army already know that, with the national team having missed out on FIFA World Cup™ qualification for the fourth successive edition, they will not be marching to Rio.
Nonetheless, while the current state of Scottish football is a source of some dismay, an exhibition in Glasgow’s best-known museum is reminding the nation of reasons to hold their heads high. More Than a Game: How Scotland Shaped World Football is currently highlighting the hugely significant influence exerted by Scots in developing the game in various corners of the globe, with Brazil among the most notable examples.
Indeed, when the Tartan Army look on enviously as their South American counterparts host the mother of all football parties next June and July, they can draw some comfort from the fact that it was Scots who first stoked the FIFA World Cup hosts’ legendary passion for the beautiful game. In fact, there will be precious few nations involved in the 2014 showpiece not indebted to some Scottish influence in the early stages of their development, with Argentina, Japan, Spain and USA just a few of those to have benefited.
For Richard McBrearty, curator of the Scottish Football Museum at Hampden Park, and a driving force behind More Than a Game, this exhibition at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is a priceless reminder of the history that underpins Scots’ love affair with football – for better or for worse.
As he told FIFA.com: “Scottish football is going through a huge period of transition, so it’s great to look at this exhibition and realise that, yeah, we do have a history in the game we can be proud of. Football has been going in Scotland now for 600 years and, as any visitors to Kelvingrove will see, we’ve been major pioneers for the game throughout the world. It’s a very upbeat exhibition and hopefully it reminds people why we care, and why it hurts when we don’t achieve what we would like to in the game.
“Scotland’s worldwide contribution in shaping football is a huge, huge story. Delving into the breadth of that influence has been an eye-opener even for me. There are 34 countries featured in exhibition and we even include pictures from the North and South Poles as a kind of tongue-in-cheek look at how Scots will play football anywhere – even in the most inhospitable environments.”
Antarctica and the Arctic might be the most extreme examples of football accompanying the Scots wherever they go, but Brazil remains arguably the most prominent. It is, after all, Charles Miller - a Scots-Brazilian - who is widely regarded as the ‘Father of Brazilian football’. Miller, the son of a Scottish railway engineer, spent much of his childhood in Sao Paulo and, when he returned to the city from Britain in 1894, he brought with him two footballs and an approved list of playing rules. The rest is the stuff of glorious history, with this pioneering figure hugely influential as a player, referee and, later, administrator.
But the Scottish influence in Brazil does not begin and end with Miller. Archie McLean, a textile engineer from Paisley, left a legacy every bit as important. Having set up the Scottish Wanderers team in Sao Paulo, and been selected to play for the Paulista State team – the highest honour in an era before the formation of a Brazilian national team – he provided that side with some fateful tactical input. Spurning the long-ball football that had been the norm in the game’s early days in Brazil, he entranced team-mates and opponents alike with quick, short-passing combinations with other expatriate players. The locals named the style tabelinha, ‘the little chart’, reflecting McLean’s ability to skilfully, systematically plot a course through opposition defences. The subsequent development of Brazil's football style and identity suggest that his way of playing left a lasting impression.
But the Scots hadn’t finished yet. Another ex-pat, Jock Hamilton – who had been mentor to the European revolutionary, Jimmy Hogan – became Brazil’s first professional coach when he took charge of Atletico Paulistano in 1907. Success followed, but of greater importance were the pioneering training methods he introduced and the unmistakable style and panache with which his teams played. Equally significant, though for different reasons, was the impact made by Thomas Donohoe. This textiles worker set up the Bangu Athletic Club in 1904, a side that not only helped develop football in Rio de Janeiro but broke down social barriers by becoming the first Brazilian football club to accept and field black players.
The impact of these four men was immeasurable. Furthermore, Brazil represents merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the work of Scottish football missionaries, with similar tales to be told in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and throughout Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. Yet McBrearty admits that the scope of this influence tends to go unnoticed, with England often mistakenly seen as the sole birthplace of organised football.
He said: “I think it is underappreciated, and often unknown, just how influential Scotland has been. But it’s understandable that there has been confusion and a blurring of the lines between Scotland, Britain and England, and we’ve found plenty of extremely influential Scottish players abroad who start off being referred to as British, but over time become known as English. A good example is Archie McLean because there was an obituary in Brazil that described him as being from “Paisley, near London”. We know that London is in another country, and 400 miles away from Paisley, but Brazil is such a vast, vast nation – really a sub-continent – that 400 miles probably did qualify as being ‘near’.
“Men like McLean are not as well-known as they might be, but hopefully this exhibition helps to put into context how important Scots like him were in so many different countries. We’re a traditional museum here at Hampden, but the great thing about Kelvingrove is that their staff have been able to make touch screen interactive displays that have brought these stories to life without the need for physical objects. We can provide the text and the images and they put it all on a map of the world that people can visit and browse just by tapping a button.”
Not that physical objects – and impressive ones at that – have no place in More Than a Game. Among the significant items on display have been the world’s oldest football – unearthed at Stirling Castle, and dating back to the early 1500s – and what is thought to be the oldest football trophy in the world, a medallion from 1851. There is also a portrait of Lily St Clair, who in 1881 became the first recorded goalscorer in a women’s football match, as well as a reproduction dugout – another invention attributed to a Scot, Donald Coleman.
All form part of a football history in Scotland that can be traced back six centuries. And while 2013 might not represent the high point of this proud nation’s long association with the beautiful game, the Scots’ continued passion ensures that they should yet have an influence on the sport’s future.
Further infortmation about the More Than a Game exhibition and the Scottish Football Museum can be found via the links on the right.