Spiders return to the spotlight

Many football clubs have mottos, but none can claim to have stuck as steadfastly to theirs as Queen's Park. It is now 141 years since Scotland's oldest football institution came into being under the banner Ludere causa Ludendi (To play for the sake of playing) and yet, almost incredibly, the Spiders continue to hold true to this lofty principle.

Theirs is one of football's most romantic stories, and tomorrow will see it brought back into focus when the Glasgow amateurs make the short journey across the city to face Celtic in the last 16 of the Scottish Cup. The prospect of an away win seems slight. This, after all, is a competition in which the Scottish champions have traditionally excelled, with the trophy - the oldest in association football - having been decorated with green-and-white ribbons on a record 34 occasions.

Yet it remains an enduring testament to the pedigree of Celtic's visitors that the third-most successful team in the history of the Scottish Cup, behind the Old Firm, is not Hearts, Hibernian, Aberdeen or Dundee United, but the amateurs of Queen's Park. The only downside to that particular statistic? The last of the club's ten triumphs came almost 116 years ago.

At that stage, Queen's Park was among the most famous names in world football, with the club from Glasgow's south side having played an integral role in the beautiful game's early development. Essentially, Scottish football was born at the same meeting on 9 July 1867 that brought Queen's Park into being, as the club took the game from public schools and refined it with the adoption of a skilful passing style that, for the first time, put the focus on the team rather than the individual.

This might be taken for granted these days, but it was near-revolutionary at the time and it led to Scottish players becoming renowned in England and further afield as 'Scotch Professors' due to their superior technique. Queen's Park were also responsible for organising and staging the first-ever international match under association rules. Not only that - the Scottish team that drew 0-0 with England on 30 November 1972 was comprised entirely by Queen's players, who were kitted out in the club's then dark-blue jerseys, retained by the national team to this day.

Being brought up in the Queen's Park way as a 16-year-old was the foundation which helped form the player and the person I was to become.
Sir Alex Ferguson on Queen's Park.

A year later, the Scottish Football Association and the Scottish Cup was instituted with Queen's Park as founder members, and in that same year the club opened its new stadium, Hampden Park, and introduced their iconic black-and-white hooped kit. It was in these colours that they won the first-ever Scottish Cup final and went on to retain the trophy for the following three seasons. The esteem in which Queen's were held at the time, and the strength of their team, can be summed up by the fact that they were also regularly invited to compete in England's FA Cup - and twice reached the final, losing on both occasions to Blackburn Rovers in 1884 and 1885.

Yet within five years of coming so close to conquering England, Queen's Park's pre-eminent position in their own country was irrevocably shaken with the formation of the Scottish League. For the first ten years of its existence, the Spiders refused to join, rejecting the chance to become involved in a league that they saw as encouraging professionalism and weakening the position of smaller clubs.

The difficulties endured in arranging fixtures in the intervening decade dictated that Queen's eventually joined the fledgling league at the turn of the century, but on one condition: that they would remain its only amateur members. The principle was laudable; the consequences all but inevitable. As their best players were continually poached by professional rivals, the club's inexorable slide gathered pace and, by midway through the century, the amateurs had become wearily accustomed to life outside the top flight.

Yet their influence on the game remained in other ways. With a well-established reputation for youth development, Queen's Park brought through two youngsters who would have a major impact at home and abroad in the years to come. One was Andy Roxburgh, a future Scotland manager and UEFA Technical Director. The other was a lad from Govan by the name of Alex Ferguson. Later, the man now known as Sir Alex would reflect: "Being brought up in the Queen's Park way as a 16-year-old was the foundation which helped form the player and the person I was to become."

When Hampden, which Queen's Park still own, was chosen to stage the 2001/02 UEFA Champions League final, it seemed fated that Ferguson would 'return home' by leading his Manchester United team to the ground on which he had made his name as a 16-year-old. Instead, it was left to Zinedine Zidane to win the European Cup with arguably the greatest goal in the tournament's history, all in the stadium that still hosts Queen's Park's home matches.

We've got to be organised and concentrate on our game right from the first minute. If we can do that, I'm sure we can give a good account of ourselves.
Queen's Park manager Gardner Speirs on facing Celtic.

Their unstinting commitment to amateurism ensures that, sadly, those matches have been contested in Scotland's third and fourth tiers in recent years, although the Spiders still cause the occasional sensation. The most recent came in 2006, when they knocked Aberdeen out of the Scottish Cup, and this week will witness the club attempt an even more audacious act of giant-slaying.

In Celtic, they face a club with whom they hold long and friendly ties, with the Bhoys having provided the opposition in the first-ever game at Hampden Park and taken an active part in the Spiders' centenary celebrations in 1967. Ironically, the main danger to the Spiders tomorrow will be a player, in Aiden McGeady, who turned out for their youth team as a 13-year-old. However, while McGeady and Co will be expected to beat their amateur opponents comfortably, they will not need Queen's Park manager Gardner Speirs to remind them that, in cup football, anything is possible.

Looking forward to the match, he said: "We can't get away from the fact that Celtic are the Scottish champions and that any team in the world going to Celtic Park and winning is a big surprise. But hopefully it's a challenge that our guys can rise to and give a good account of themselves.

"It's always been a difficult place to go because the atmosphere can be intimidating, especially if you don't start properly and play your way into the game. We've got to be organised and concentrate on our game right from the first minute. If we can do that, I'm sure we can give a good account of ourselves. We have done very well to get to this stage; now we've got to make sure we do ourselves justice again."

More than 1,000 Queen's Park fans, including a contingent from SG Wattenscheid - the club's 'twin team' in Germany - will be at Celtic Park to cheer their team on to what would certainly be an historic upset. Yet with this particular club, winning has never been the be all and end all. Over 141 years after the motto was first enshrined, 'playing for the sake of playing' remains the raison d'etre of these most admirable of amateurs.