‘Scottish football and Scandinavia, 1898-1914: the future of “European” popular culture?’

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On 14th October 2014, the Centre welcomed Dr Matthew McDowell to discuss ‘Scottish football and Scandinavia, 1898-1914: the future of “European” popular culture?’. Below is this listener’s brief summary of the lecture.

In this period, association football was the populist sport, especially among men in heavy industry. Hyper-masculine to the extent that women’s football was banned, the growing spectator culture of football revolved around the public house. The implications for the rapid expansion of the sport can be seen in the tragic 1902 Ibrox disaster, which saw the deaths of 25 people when the West Tribune Stand collapsed.

In the late nineteenth century, Scottish (and British) football clubs, like Queen’s Park F.C., began touring in continental Europe to strengthen international connections and make money–a forerunner of the modern-day ‘branding’ exercise. There was a purely touristic incentive too, with many clubs reporting the ‘great times had with the Danes’ and other nations. These new connections eventually resulted in the exchange of personnel from Scotland to the continent and vice versa. Scottish managers/coaches were highly regarded, and this early exchange saw the development of the Scottish working-class manager stereotype à la Jock Stein and Alex Ferguson.

Queens Park were renowned as the inventors (or at least promoters) of fluid team-based passing known as ‘combination’ football. This attractive form of play stood in stark contrast to the ‘stodgy’ dribbling style popular elsewhere in Britain, and was much sought-after on the continent. In 1898, Queen’s Park were invited to Copenhagen, Denmark to play two games at the International Festival of Sports and Gymnastics–they won both and drew a crowd of 7,000 people at the first match. The Scottish ‘football missionaries’ performed admirably. A second visit in 1900 was widely reported in Danish newspapers, with one of the games attended by the Danish royal family. The Danes hoped to learn from Queen’s Park, even though professional coaching was anathema to the amateur clubs at the time.

Queen's Park F.C. in 1917-8
Queen’s Park F.C. in 1917-8

By 1903, Queen’s Park had declined and were regarded as a relic, even by the Danes. The cream of British football, such as Newcastle United, began to be invited in their stead. Celtic and Rangers were also frequent visitors to the continent, and their exploits (both their matches and off-pitch antics) were reported in papers like the Glasgow News and the Glasgow Observer. The latter was a Catholic newspaper that reported on Celtic, and generally portrayed the club as a credit to their country, eliding unsavoury details of wild parties. The clubs visited various famous tourist haunts, with the Carlsberg brewery proving a particular hit with the Celtic players who often worked in pubs back in Scotland. Furthermore, the Celtic players reported a feeling of unity with the Danes after taking Catholic Mass and understanding the Latin, while the Rangers and Hearts players struggled with Lutheran services in Danish.

Whether they knew it or not, these clubs were at the vanguard of the new leisure order in Europe, and these early interactions paved the way for the eventual European competitions that we know today.

Summary by Ross Crawford (PhD Researcher)

Our series continues Tuesday 28th October with David Stewart’s ‘The “European Question” in post-war Scottish politics’. This will be held in Room 202, 3 University Gardens at 5.30pm. All welcome.

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