‘It wesnae a goal, Geoff’ | Worldwide, Scots lend ‘fitba’ their distinctive style

Queen’s Park, Glasgow, 1873. Of the Glaswegians—memorialized in his song “The Wise Old Men of Mount Florida”—the Dundonian Michael Marra sings, “When the science of football emerged from the dark / It was due in the main to the men of Queen’s Park.” (Mitchell Library, Glasgow Collection)

For better or worse, Scotland’s footballing aspirations and accomplishments have been wedded ever since to those of England. Kay emphasizes how the annual internationals between the two sides as part of the home nations championship were, for Scotland, vitally important fixtures. This tournament ended in 1983–84, replaced by the Rous Cup, which lasted until 1989.

In the early days, heady with the scientific, short-passing innovations under way at Queen’s Park, Scotland defeated England eight times in their first 12 encounters. Kay believes that early successes and fixation on beating England hampered the development of Scottish quality internationally. “That was enough” for Scotland, says Kay, “the idea that we invented the game and we constantly humiliate our neighbors playing the game. Our neighbors have got pretensions to be the originators of the game but how can they be the originators of the game if a tiny nation to the north of them keeps humiliating them? And that was enough for most Scots. As long as they beat the English, that was enough for them.”

The spirit of one-upsmanship carried on through much of the 20th century. Kay recalls making a flight connection in Houston en route to the 1986 World Cup finals in Mexico. On spotting Geoff Hurst—the England international credited with one of the most contested goals in World Cup history, the “did it cross the line?” effort in extra time versus West Germany in 1966—a member of the Tartan Army remarked, “It wesnae a goal by the way, Geoff.” Hurst, according to Kay, “tried to look supercilious,” but was affected.

Marra

In the interview Kay also helped introduce us to the football songs of Dundee’s Michael Marra, whose “The Wise Old Men of Mount Florida” is heard briefly in It Wes Us. Like Kay a Dundee United supporter, Marra pays homage in another selection on the 1991 album On Stolen Stationery to free-ranging United goalkeeper Hamish McAlpine. The ’keeper made 687 appearances for the Tangerines in more than 16 seasons, ending in ’85–’86. He also scored three times and, as captured in Marra’s lyrics, remains prominent in memory for exuberance in leading supporters’ songs and for the period mustache.

Up at Tannadice

Watching as the fortunes rise

Smiling when he hears “Ah it’s only a game,

Win lose or draw you get home to your bed

just the same”

But Hamish stokes young men’s dreams into a burning flame

Whether the prospects of club or country will be affected by outgoing Scottish Football Association president John McBeth‘s comments before the present 57th FIFA Congress is a question we were not able to put to Kay. CONCACAF president Jack Warner seized on McBeth’s controversial remarks about alleged FIFA corruption, especially in Africa and the Caribbean, to threaten the long-standing British vice-presidency and, some worried, perhaps to challenge the footballing independence of the four home nations (“McBeth’s Blunder Jeopardises Historic FIFA Independence of Home Nations,” The Scotsman, May 30).

In Scotland, such an outcome is unspeakable. Kay quotes from an interview with Bill Murray, a Scot, football historian at La Trobe University in Melbourne, referring to Scottish football’s gradual slide into mediocrity.

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