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Issue 18 - More important than life or death

Scotland Magazine Issue 18
January 2005


This article is 13 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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More important than life or death

Scotland might not be achieving much on the sports field right now, but the passion for soccer is undimmed. Neil Gunn reports

The immortal Bill Shankly when asked was football a matter of life and death replied: “No, it’s much more important than that.” There are many Scots today who would still echo that sentiment.

In the late 19th and early 20th century football developed a mass following among the working class of Scotland’s industrial heartland. It offered, for the thousands who thronged to the grounds on a Saturday to watch their favourite team, a chance to escape the drudgery and monotony of their daily lives.

For the lucky few ‘with magic in their feet’ it meant a way out of the pit or the factory. Sir Matt Busby, one of football’s greatest managers, summed it up nicely: “shout down any pit and up will come a footballer.”

Some form of football has been around for centuries. The Greeks played a form of the game known as harpaston and other medieval societies including the English, Chinese, Italians and Scots all had their own versions.

The modern game in Scotland owes its existence to a small Glasgow club. Not only did it pioneer the game in Scotland, they took their expertise south of the border and further afield to Ireland, Denmark, Holland and Belguim.

It started with a chance meeting between a group of Speyside workers who came to the city for their highland games and a number of boys from the YMCA. Their get-together in a Glasgow park led to a game of football and from that encounter in 1867 emerged Queens Park Football Club.

Queens Park Football Club proudly boast they are the ‘pioneers of football’, no small claim to fame for a club languishing in the lower divisions of the Scottish League. But their reputation as innovators is deserved.

The club set up home at Hampden Park and went on to lay down the foundations of what would become the game we recognise today.

On the field they went unbeaten until 1876 and had won the Scottish Cup 10 times by 1893. In 1872 the club supplied all 11 players for the world’s first international between Scotland and England in Glasgow. The game which finished in a goalless draw was watched by 3,500 people. The same fixture in 1906 attracted 121,000 spectators.

Hampden, which was somewhat bizarrely named after John Hampden, an English politician killed in the English Civil War in 1643, has a story worth telling.

The present ground is now the third one to take the famous old name and was officially opened on 31 October 1903 making it 100 years old. Hampden is the battleground for our national team and still home to the Spiders (Queens Park).

Glasgow was a proud city when the stadium was chosen as the venue for the 2002 Champions League final between Real Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen. The winning goal for Real Madrid scored by Zinedine Zidane will long be remembered.

In a recent book celebrating the centenary and documenting the history of the stadium, the author said of the game: “that the world’s greatest player should score one of the game’s greatest goals for the world’s greatest club at the world’s greatest and oldest international football stadium was pure theatre.” You can almost hear the sigh of pride.

Hampden is also home to the Scottish Claymores American football team who take part in the World Bowl every year against teams from across Europe. A day at a Claymores game is a day of pure American entertainment and is becoming more popular with Scots every year.

As part of the multimillion pound redevelopment of the national stadium the Scottish Football Museum was opened on 24th May 2001 and gives a unique insight in to the history of our national game.

The museum is not just another visitor attraction, it’s a chance to step back in time, to recapture the atmosphere of cup finals and international matches and listen again to the famous Hampden ‘roar’. In these days of all seated grounds it’s difficult to imagine that crowds of over 140,000 packed into the ground to watch their heroes do battle. It’s an experience not to be missed.

The memory of Scotland’s greatest players still linger in the original home dressing room. Denis Law, Jim Baxter and more recently Kenny Dalgleish remain icons of a time when Scotland seemed capable of taking on the world.

Why not relive that special goal again as Archie Gemmill leaves the Dutch defence floundering inthe 1978 World Cup in Argentina?

The museum displays more than 2,000 items and boasts the world’s oldest national trophy, the Championship of the United Kingdom and the World Trophy, the world’s oldest cap and match ticket. They are all among an impressive collection of football trophies and memorabilia.

There is of course more to the ‘new’ Hampden which boasts facilities unrivalled in Scotland. A tour of the stadium can be booked in conjunction with a visit to the museum.

State of the art stadiums beckon fans to Parkhead and Ibrox, home to Celtic and Rangers, the two Glasgow giants which dominate the club game in Scotland Their names and reputations are familiar to football aficionados around the world.

With their place at the top table of Scottish football undisputed, the clubs have caused some controversy by discussing a move from the Scottish to the English league in a bid to increase their revenue.

Manchester United star Ryan Giggs said after his club’s recent game against Rangers: “I understand the arguments about the Old Firm’s domination north of the border, but for me the history and tradition of Scottish football should be cherished and preserved. Rangers and Celtic are integral parts of that history and it would leave a huge hole in the game in Scotland if the powers-that-be agree to them switching to England.”

I think the vast majority of supporters in Scotland would echo this sentiment.

But for those supporters who love to cheer on the underdog there is only one ground to visit, Firhill – home to Partick Thistle.

This great Glasgow institution has entertained us since 1876.

As a boy, this writer spent many cold Saturday afternoons watching the ‘Jags’. It all became worthwhile on 23rd October 1971 when Thistle created a sensation beating Celtic to win the League Cup Final. Who can forget that team: Rough, Hansen, Forsyth… It was a very rare taste of glory.

If you visit the capital, Heart of Midlothian (Hearts) and Hibernian (Hibs) have grounds a short distance from the city-centre and offer a very real change from sightseeing.

Travel north from Edinburgh and you are never far from a game of football, Dundee United and Aberdeen both have a distinguished history in Scottish and European football.

For the visitor to Scotland there is much to see; the Highlands offer a wild and empty landscape, the capital has a castle, historic houses and the festival, Glasgow has museums, terrific nightlife and the best of hospitality.

But for something completely different, a unique experience, go and shout your head off at a football match.