Sport in Britain

‘Sport in Britain has been used by all three Celtic nations, as a means of sustaining their individual identities. Choose one nation and critically evaluate the manner in which this has been achieved’. ‘Scotland is a territory, a place on a map with a long historical pedigree, even with a border which distinguishes it from its southern neighbour’ (McCrone 1992). For many years Scotland has used Football as a means of sustaining its ‘identity’. Football is Scotland’s national game so this explains the strong football culture, which dates back to the first international matches against England.

Although other sports are undoubtedly popular in Scotland and can enjoy both high participation rates and significant audiences, no sport has captured the imagination of the country’s population as Football has. For over a century Football has dominated in terms of money, media and crowds. Clubs in Scotland such as Aberdeen, Glasgow Rangers and Celtic, as well as the Scottish international side, have all recorded crowds, which are records for European Football. (Bradley, 1998)

‘Scotland has one of the world’s oldest footballing traditions. This sporting history owes much to Scotland’s complex relationship to England, whether in Unionist fraternity, cultural rivalry or nationalist animosity. Imitation of England was behind the early organisation of Scottish Football & the administration of its affairs, in a process that was then thought to strengthen the British nation & the union (Brown, 1989).

Football was first played in England centuries ago but was quickly taken up by Scots. The matches against England played and integeral part in maintaining Scotland’s national identity. The importance of football in the lives of Scotsmen is indicated by the number who turn to the sports pages of newspapers before they have even read the headlines on the front pages. Different accounts of the 16th century refer to some of the first games of football between Scotland and England. One source refers to “games between wardens from both sides of the border”… where “an English observer commented favourably on the superior skills of the Scots”!

In 1599 an England v Scotland football match took place in Cumbria. The final score is unknown and there was no governing body in charge of football so the rules would have been virtually non-existent. The violent nature of the match resulted in a number of Englishmen being taken prisoner and one man was disembowelled. In 1872 Scotland drew 0-0 against England in a match at the West of Scotland Cricket Ground in Glasgow. This is the first recorded Official international football fixture.

Football took off in Scotland when the Scottish Football Association (SFA) was formed in 1873. There may have been political Union with England since 1707 but the SFA maintained a separate identity from the Football Association in England. Football was the working class game – played and watched by thousands from a working class background. Supporters of Scotland’s National team are fiercely patriotic and the annual matches against England in particular attracted large crowds. When Hampden Park was opened in 1903 it was the biggest stadium in the world and when it hosted its first clash between Scotland and the “auld enemy” the National football stadium was packed with 102,000 spectators. (Smout, 1994)

According to traditions of Scotland’s football culture, the match against England furnishes players & supporters alike with the greatest anticipation & highest levels of adrenaline. The curious ambivalence, sometimes downright hostility, of Scotland towards England is so culturally & historically embedded as to lend credence to the argument that this truly represents world football’s most intense ‘derby match’ at any level – civic, national or international. (Brown, 1989)

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