“Tonight at half-past eight o’clock, a number of gentlemen met at No. 3 Eglinton terrace for the purpose of forming a football club.” These were the first recorded words in Scottish football, and were written on the 9th of July 1867 at a meeting that would form Queen’s Park Football Club, and with it association football in Scotland. 

Before that meeting in Glasgow’s South End, football was not the predominant sport that it is in the country today, with Rugby Football the preferred game of choice. The game’s difficulty in growth was mainly as a result of a lack of coherence over the rules. Some teams forming around Edinburgh used rugby-inspired rules, teams in England’s North and Midlands played with Sheffield rules and those in the South adopted London rules.

As different teams adopted different rulings, games were played with or without goalkeepers, with differing definitions of what constituted being offside, and perhaps most unhelpfully, with teams lining up with a mixture of 11, 15 or even 20 players on each side. 

Amongst this clashing of styles and opinions, The Spiders – Queens’ nickname – developed and played games against essentially any team willing to take them on, expanding the game beyond Glasgow to Western regions like Dunbartonshire and Lanarkshire, and Edinburgh and Dundee in the East. On occasion, this eagerness to play took them to England, and in 1870 they were formally accepted into the FA. 

The club’s relationship with the game’s elite down South, and role as de-facto organisers of the Scottish game, meant that during the first few decades following their founding, that they would be able to shape football in ways that are still felt today.

 

Scotland vs. England, Combination vs. Charging

Scotland vs. England – the first ever official international match – took place on November 30th, 1872 in Partick, at the West of Scotland Cricket Ground. A Scotland team mainly in name, all players on the home teamsheet were Queen’s Park players, and so had a clear upper-hand in team unity and coherence in style of play. 

Despite this, the England team – made up of players from nine clubs across the country – were favourites for the friendly. This media backing stemmed from the country being more rooted more in the ‘tradition’ of football to that point, the larger pool of players from which they could choose from, and their players’ average weight being two-stone heavier than the average of their opposition’s, while also being faster.

This final reasoning showed the importance placed on physicality by the English, and this showed during the match, as they tried to use this weight and speed advantage to beat the Scots. Individual Skill was generally on England’s side, the dribbling of Kirke Smith, Brockbank and Ottaway being very fine,” read London’s Graphic Illustrated newspaper.

In the end, however, they were thwarted by Scotland’s wholly different gameplan, which incorporated both passing and dribbling. “The Southrons [England], however, did not play to each other so well as their opponents, who seem to be adept in passing the ball.” This clash in styles led to the game ending 0-0, shocking the previously boisterous English. 

Almost 150 years later, it seems inconceivable that passing – even in one of football’s earliest games – would be a surprising tactic, but in 1872 it was just that. As the originators of the game, England had long set the mark when it came to tactics, and as far as they were concerned, the best tactic was to simply take the ball, and run, something referred to as ‘charging’. While a form of dribbling, Jonathan Wilson, in ‘Inverting the Pyramid’, compares it more to how a rugby team would attack with the ball, just without handling it. 

Enter Queen’s Park; a major factor in their joining of The FA in 1870 had been due to their difficulty in finding other teams to play, so to combat this they would split their squad into two divisions and play against each other. This continual, in-house practice allowed Queen’s Park to develop their own style of play in the early 1870s, taking the dribbling favoured by the English and combining it with their ‘pattern-weaving’ passing. This created what Richard Robinson, in his 1920 book ‘History of Queen’s Park Football Club’, called the ‘combination game’.

It was this combination game that took the English by surprise in 1872. Following that match, Queen’s would go on to become somewhat of an 1870s version of the Harlem Globetrotters, touring the UK and Ireland to display and teach this style of play. In Edinburgh, it was said they once frequently stopped a match to explain the rules of football to the opposition, while on a trip to Ireland they inspired a group of men to form what is now Crusaders FC. 

 

Success Home and Abroad

As a part of the FA, Queen’s Park’s English hosts were treated to no better spectacle of this new and exciting pattern-weaving football than in the FA Cup of 1884. With so few other Scottish teams established to the extent as Queen’s they were invited to take part in the inaugural FA Cup the previous year. Having reached the semi-finals in that tournament, they went one better the following year.

The Scottish outsiders were extraordinary, as their passing and running blend of football saw them rack up 32 goals on their way to the final, while their dominance on the ball led to only a single goal having been conceded before the final. Once there they met a Blackburn Rovers side with a strong Scottish influence, with four Scots in their starting-XI. These players had also been forced into the English game as a result of a lack of professional clubs and bodies in their home nation.

This practice of Scottish players plying their trade was widespread in the late 19th century, which in turn led to a further dissemination of the Queen’s passing game. Perhaps one of the most impactful examples was the excursion of Queen’s own Robert S. McColl, whose move from Queen’s to Newcastle in 1900 could – as is argued by Jonathan Wilson in ‘The Barcelona Legacy – still be responsible for the football we are watching today.

McColl had Newcastle replicating the passing principles he played at Queen’s Park, and in doing so inspired his teammate, Peter McWilliam, to adopt them. McWilliam would carry these principles with him for the rest of his footballing life, as he managed Tottenham and Middlesborough. It was in his second spell with the North London club that he assembled a team that included Vic Buckingham. 

Moving into management himself, after a successful spell with West Brom, Buckingham was appointed as Ajax’s head coach in 1959, winning the Eredivisie in his first season, then finishing as runner-up the following year, before returning to England. He came back to Ajax in 1964, but failed to last the season. In 1969 he then headed to Barcelona, winning the Copa de Generalísimo in 1971 and finishing once again as runner-up before returning to England once again. 

Yet as is so often the case with Ajax and Barcelona nowadays, the trophies were not seen as the most important aspects, but rather the style of play. Inspired as McWilliam had been by McColl At Ajax, Buckingham built on the passing foundations laid in previous years in Amsterdam, preparing the club for his eventual replacement, Rinus Michels, who would lead the club to European domination alongside Johan Cruyff, who Buckingham had given a debut to in 1964. 

At Barcelona, a similar pattern emerged, as Buckingham installed his variation of the passing game that he had taken from McWilliam, who in turn had inherited it from Queen’s McColl. Once again, Rinus Michels was brought in to replace Buckingham, with the foundations yet again laid by Buckingham for future success.

And that success continues to modern day. The recent success of Barcelona and Ajax has been based on passing fundamentals that Buckingham brought to both clubs. Remarkably, these fundamentals were created a century prior to Buckingham arriving at Barcelona. So, a definitive, if seemingly unlikely, link is now forever present between an amateur club from Glasgow’s West End and two European powerhouses, with a combined nine European Cups. 

In the 1884 FA Cup final, however, none of this could have been foreseen. In fact, the issue of Scots travelling to other countries to expand the game would come back to bite Queen’s Park, as Blackburn’s spine of Scottish players left the Kensington Oval – the common host ground for the final until 1894 – with a 2-1 victory. 

Another trip to the FA Cup final the following season cemented Queen’s Park’s status as one of the seminal clubs of the early years of British football. Once again they met Blackburn Rovers, and once again they were defeated, this time by two goals to nil. 

But Queen’s Park’s legacy as the only Scottish team to reach the FA Cup final prevails, and their success in the Scottish Cups in the following years confirmed their domestic success. Meanwhile, their legacy internationally was already in the process of being created in these early days, and it is a legacy that we can still see at the Johan Cruyff Arena and the Camp Nou today.

 

Stadiums, shirts and Andrew Watson

The impact of Scotland’s most successful club in these early days, though, extended beyond what was seen on the pitch. In fact, Queen’s would end up providing the actual pitch for the Scottish National Team, as they moved into the first of their three grounds to bear the famous Hampden Park name in 1873. This ground hosted various Scotland vs. England internationals and Scottish Cup finals, before a move to the club’s second Hampden in 1884. The Spiders played their games there until 1899, after which they bought a large area in Mount Florida and began construction on the Hampden Park that still stands and hosts Scotland’s games today.

The ground became one of the largest and most modern in Britain at the time, as football’s growing popularity saw attendance sky-rocket in the new century. This growth peaked at a 1937 Scotland vs. England match, with 147,547 fans in attendance. While Queen’s never quite attracted those sort of figures, they continue to play their home matches at the famous ground, and will forever be associated with Scotland’s national stadium. 

Their link to the national team will seemingly endure the test of time too, as to this day Andy Robertson, Scott McTominay, and the rest of Scotland’s players still wear the original team colours of Queen’s Park. 

With Queen’s providing the entire Scotland squad for that first international in 1873, they naturally wore their club colours – a dark blue – and ever since then, those colours have stuck. So synonymous with the national team did these colours become, that the following year, Queen’s had to alter their own home shirt, opting for the black and white stripes that are still worn at Hampden Park today. 

One player to don these colours at the time was Andrew Watson, a lesser known name now, but one who should perhaps be afforded much more credit. Watson is now widely recognised as the first black player to play association football in Britain – Arthur Wharton was the first black professional player, with Watson unable to claim this title due to Queen’s Park’s amateur status. 

Born in British Guiana (now Guyana) to a Scottish father and a local British Guianese mother, Watson arrived in Scotland in the 1860s, eventually receiving a large inheritance from his father’s exploits in sugar plantations. This newfound wealth allowed Watson to pursue the sporting career he dreamed of, with stints at Maxwell FC and Parkgrove catching the attention of Queen’s in 1880 and earning the 24 year-old a move to Scotland’s most prominent club. 

There, he continued his fine form, being featured in the 1880-81 Scottish Football Association Annual: “Watson, Andrew: One of the very best backs we have; since joining Queen’s Park has made rapid strides to the front as a player; has great speed and tackles splendidly; powerful and sure kick; well worthy of a place in any representative team.”

That description proved to be true, as that same year, Watson was chosen to represent the Scottish national team. Such was the high regard in which he was held by other players, the debutant captained his country to a 6-1 victory over England, followed by a 5-1 victory against Wales. He remains the only black player to have captained Scotland, a shocking fact, and yet another example of how far ahead of their time Queen’s Park truly were in the late 1800s. 

 

Modern Day Struggles

Unfortunately, those early years of trendsetting, entertainment and football firsts have struggled to be replicated in the years since. Having dominated in the Scottish Cup, winning ten iterations of the trophy between 1873 and 1893, such form simply failed to translate into league football. Ignoring the initial request to join the Scottish Football League in 1890, Queen’s reluctantly joined in 1900 after failing to organise independent games of their own. 

Their time in league football since has proved to be an unsuccessful venture, with a 7th placed finish in 1918 their highest finish in the top division. Just four years later, the club were relegated, and so began years of yo-yoing between the first and second divisions, with their final appearance in Scotland’s top flight coming in the 1957-58 season.

The main reason for this major downturn in fortunes in the 20th century has been put down to the club’s insistence on maintaining amateur status. This was a decision taken by the club upon its founding, as the motto “Ludere causa Ludendi” – “to play for the sake of playing” – was adopted. As a result, no player directly contracted by Queen’s has received a wage since, and so any success the club have had in recent seasons has usually resulted in those who were most integral being targeted and swept up by other clubs willing to pay a full-time wage. 

A commendable and respectable club ethos, it has nonetheless seen Queen’s Park find themselves firmly rooted in the lower reaches of Scotland’s leagues, currently occupying mid-table of the Scottish League 2, the bottom tier of professional football in Scotland. 

But Queen’s have still seen some history pass through their doors in more recent times. Future Scotland managers, Andy Roxborough and Sir Alex Ferguson, were both briefly on the club’s books, while their most recent player of note was current Scotland captain, Andy Robertson. Having been released from Celtic, the Liverpool left-back found himself playing for Glasgow’s amateur side, and it was whilst on their books that he sent out his now infamous tweet about being bored needing to find a job: “Life at this age is rubbish with no money #needajob”. Clearly the lack of wages being supplied by the club was an issue for him as well.

But sadly, none of these recent arrivals have been able to return the club to its former glories. Still, some solace can no doubt be found by fans of the club in the rich and illustrious history of this small team from the South of Glasgow. From the revolutionary style of play and integral role in forming governing bodies, to the selection and promotion of Arthur Watson and the creation of Hampden, few clubs in world football can stake a claim to have been as integral in the formative years of association football.