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England vs Scotland heritage match: The true history behind the rivalry

Football Pitch
Photo by Willian Justen de Vasconcellos on Unsplash

Scotland will host England at Hampden Park on Tuesday to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the first recorded international football fixture.

The heritage match pays tribute to a key point in football history on the international stage. After the match, significant developments took place in world football. Among them were the founding of FIFA in 1904 and the first-ever World Cup in 1930.

Today, it is widely acknowledged that the contest between Scotland and England in Glasgow in 1872 was the first-ever international football match. But is there a claim to say a previous encounter between the rivals marked the momentous occasion instead?

England vs Scotland 1872 Contested

While the 1872 England v Scotland game is the first official match held under FA rules there is an account of an earlier England v Scotland football match taking nearly 100 years earlier.

Historical records reveal that a match consisting of English clans, the Dukes of Northumberland and Buccleugh, and a Scottish side occurred in 1790. Reportedly, the fixture was played at Kielder Castle, Northumberland, on the border between England and Scotland.

During the contest, documents explain the brutality of a football match that was very different to the modern game. Each team had no cap on the number of players and swarms of men would chase the ball across acres of field at Kielder Castle, trying to get the ball into a goal situated kilometres away from each other.

England eventually won the match 3-2. However, after the game, several players died due to injuries they sustained during the contest.

The Publicity of the 1872 International Clash

By 1872, football was a more organised sport. After the Football Association (FA) was formed in 1863, matches were governed by a set of rules and regulations, which ultimately organised the game to become more professional.

The FA was eager to expand its professionalisation of the game into the international sphere, which provided the background for the Scotland vs England international.

Even before the official match in 1872, several friendly games were played between the nation’s players in London between 1870 and 1871. Five fixtures were played between representatives for each nation and England won all the matches.

As a result, public challenges between members of the FA and Scottish football representatives provided a heated precursor to the official match in 1872. The FA Chairman Charles Alcock even proposed the idea of playing the game in Scotland.

Eventually, November 30, 1872, St Andrew’s Day, was the official date for the friendly match. More publicity, advertisements and interest grew around the fixture, which documented its esteem as the first big clash of footballing nations. This public interest led to 4,000 people watching at Hamilton Crescent in Partick.

Widely, the 1872 Scotland vs England match is referred to as the first-ever international football fixture. But it perhaps could be known as the first organised football match.

Previous encounters between the two UK nations certainly took place, but these barbaric, aggressive clashes do not represent the professionalisation of the modern game, which is perhaps why they are less known compared to the 1872 game.