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Scotland has a long and illustrious history when it comes to inventions. Alexander Graham Bell designed the first telephone, John Logie Baird created the television. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. James Watt invented the steam engine, to name but a few. The list goes on and on.
It’s not just inventing that Scots seem to have a knack for, however. We’re innovators too and that’s reflected in our footballing history. Some of the most successful countries in world football have directly benefited from Scottish influence and some of the most important and fundamental tactics hail from Scotland. We might not be the most prestigious football nation, but we’ve still managed to leave an indelible mark on the beautiful game.
It all starts in the late 1860s. Across the UK, football was gripping the nation. Clubs were springing up in Scotland, England and Wales as people across Britain fell in love with the sport and began setting up their own teams – workers, in particular, would often create their own factory side which would then play other, nearby employers. In 1867, Scotland had its first association club – Queen’s Park, now one of the oldest teams in world football. And, throughout the 1870s, they were arguably the most tactically innovative and influential side on the planet.
Back in the early 1870s, football was a different game. Matches then would be almost unrecognisable now to the modern football viewer, as there was an extreme emphasis on dribbling. In order to get the ball towards the opposition goal, you had two options. You could lump it up the pitch in the hope that a forward would get on the end of it, or you could go on a mazy dribble and drive at goal. It was a game that relied on individualism, and not teamwork, in order to win.
Early tactical setups tell us a similar story. Most of us know that in the early days of football, sides tended to be particularly top-heavy with many attackers but very little in the way of a defence. It wasn’t uncommon to see teams line up in a 1-1-8 or a 2-2-6 formation. Punting the ball vaguely in the direction of the goal from the back made a lot of sense then. After all, that’s where all your teammates were. Just whack it up in their general direction and hope for the best. Almost every team in Scotland and England played in this manner, except for Queen’s Park. They had a different idea.
Rather than simply punting it up the pitch and hoping for the best or relying on one player to dribble past the entire opposition, the Queen’s Park players decided they would play to their strengths with a short passing style. It might sound simple, but it’s probably the most fundamental change to the way that football was played in its history. All of a sudden, football was a team sport. And any side that could coach and train themselves to play this way would breeze past opponents during matches. The intricate passing play, combined with incisive movement, earned Queen’s Park a nickname they have kept to this day – the Spiders.
Queen’s Park dominated the formative years in Scottish association football as their short passing play batted away opposition and revolutionised the game. The Spiders won the Scottish Cup on ten occasions during the first twenty tournaments – to this day, only Celtic and Rangers have lifted the oldest trophy in world football more often.
Other Scottish teams learned from Queen’s Park’s example and mimicked their tactics and before long, the Spiders’ trademark short-passing, quick-moving tactics became the status quo in our country. This tactical revolution soon spread to the Scotland team too. The first ever international football match was held in Glasgow at the West of Scotland Cricket Club, where Scotland and England played out a 0-0 draw in 1872. Annual matches were arranged between the two and Scotland soon established themselves as the dominant side, largely thanks to the passing tactics they employed. Between 1874 and 1884, the two sides met eleven times with Scotland winning on nine occasions, one draw and a solitary England win.
By 1888, England had embraced the ‘Scottish style’ and football was broken down into two distinct eras – the old dribbling age and the new passing age. The game was revolutionised through Scotland’s innovatory tactics and would never look or be played the same way again in the UK. The sport had begun to spread around the world but other countries were still lagging behind us tactically, preferring to play in a dribbling-oriented fashion. Once again, it would be Scottish pioneers that would enlighten players and fans around the globe with their tactical revolution.
Brazil, arguably the most football-obsessed country on the planet, would become one of the biggest beneficiaries of this new style of play. It was a Scot who organised the first ever football match on Brazilian soil in April of 1894. Thomas Donahoe, a textile worker from East Renfrewshire, arranged a five-a-side game in Rio de Janeiro’s Bangu district where Brazilians first laid eyes on the beautiful game and began a love affair that continues to the present day. Years later, the club Donahoe set up in 1904, Bangu Athletic, were the first side in Brazil to sign and field black players. There’s even a statue of Donahoe in Bangu, celebrating his cultural importance.
Around six months after Donohoe’s five-a-side game, Charles Miller arrived in Sao Paulo. Nicknamed ‘the father of Brazilian football’, Miller’s immense contribution to the sport cannot be underplayed. Miller had spent some time in Sao Paulo as a child before moving back to the UK to be educated in Southampton. When he returned to Brazil, Miller famously arrived with two footballs and a set of rules and it became his mission to teach the Brazilians how to play. He organised the first official match in Sao Paulo between the local rail and gas companies, helped create the Liga Paulista and starred as a player for Sao Paulo Athletic Club, a team that he also helped to set up. He later worked as an administrator and referee, devoting a tremendous amount of time and energy into the sport.
Miller and Donahoe might have brought the game to Brazil, but it was another Scot who would revolutionise Brazilian football. Matches were played, but teams still relied on outdated, long-ball tactics. Jock Hamilton would put a stop to that. Hamilton came from Ayr but spent most of his football career in England playing for Wolves, Bristol City and Fulham, amongst others. At Fulham, Hamilton coached Jimmy Hogan, who would go on to spread football around Europe. But that’s a story for another time.
In 1907, Hamilton joined Atletico Paulistano and became the first professional football coach in Brazil and introduced the short-passing style to the league. The new innovative tactics resulted in success on the pitch, but it’s arguably Hamilton’s work off of it that was the most influential aspect of his work. Hamilton didn’t just introduce new tactics to Brazilian football – he was also the first coach to implement a systematic training regime and prepared for matches thoroughly, bringing a newfound sense of professionalism to the Brazilian league. The short-passing game that Hamilton brought with him was not only effective but aesthetically pleasing too and before long, every league side had adopted this style of play.
Then came Archie McLean. Hailing from Paisley, McLean came to Brazil in 1912 to work as a textile engineer and soon founded a club for ex-pats in Brazil, named the Scottish Wanderers. The team joined the Sao Paulo state league and within a year had gained many admirers with their revolutionary tactics. McLean, in particular, enthused the locals with his style of play. As a left-winger, he would play one-twos with his inside forward ahead of him and constantly leave defenders bamboozled. The Brazilians dubbed this style of play tabelinha – ‘the little chart’ – and soon followed suit. McLean even played for the Sao Paulo state team in their fiercely-contested rivalry with Rio de Janeiro – in an era before the Brazilian national team’s formation, this was the highest accolade a player could receive.
These four Scots are some of the most important and influential players in Brazilian football history and their legacy remains to this day. Brazilian football is often characterised as joyful, exuberant and creative and it was Donahoe, Miller, McLean and Hamilton that laid the foundations of this style. In Billy Kay’s book The Scottish World: A Journey Into The Scottish Diaspora, the author writes that “the fluent passing game that allows Brazilians the space on the park to express their talent is a Scottish creation that we took first to England, then South America and the rest of the world”. On FIFA’s own website, they praise Scotland’s efforts as “a hugely significant influence in developing the game in various corners of the globe, with Brazil among the most notable examples”. Brazilian flair over the decades has captured the hearts and minds of just about every neutral football fan, but it all began in Scotland. It’s about time we started celebrating it.