On 30 November 1872 (St Andrew’s Day), the Scottish and English football teams met for the first time at Hamilton Crescent, Glasgow. Perhaps ironically, this was held on the West of Scotland team’s cricket ground – the sport being a quintessentially English pursuit. The score was 0-0 and since then there have been a total of 113 meetings. Of these Scotland has won 41, England 48.
The match was also the first ever official match of international association football, and marked the beginning of a longstanding rivalry between the sporting nations. The Scots wore their characteristic dark blue shirts with thistles sewn on and the English were in white; England wore caps whilst the Scottish players were decked out in red cowls. Formations were aggressive on both sides, reflecting changes in comparison to the modern game. Scotland played 2-2-6 and England had eight forwards with only a single man in defence and midfield respectively. Scotland scored a disallowed goal.
The sporting antagonism between Scotland and England has been the subject of criticism over the years. The contest seldom fails to bring out the worst in the opposing sets of fans and is a flashpoint of bigotry for a vocal minority.
Of late, the meetings of the two largest home nations have lost meaning in some sense because of the recurrent sub-par performance of the Scottish side. But with England losing to Iceland in the European Cup, the succession of defeats is now a shared narrative. However, in their most recent clash (11 November) England came out on top with a 3-0 win – adding to a depressing succession of losses for their northern adversaries.
There is also the factor of a rising tide of nationalism to consider on either side of the Tweed. The likelihood of Scottish independence is steadily growing and the nation-shaking fallout of the Brexit vote has only served to emphasise divisions and difference in outlooks. These developments seem to indicate a continuation of animosity. The narrative of the plucky underdog will always resonate, even under the slimmest statistical probability. Football is never simply just about football – politics always play a role.
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