It’s common knowledge that the world’s oldest football was found inside the panels of the Queen’s Chamber in Stirling Castle. It’s also a well-established fact that the oldest organised football club was founded by Edinburgh student John Hope in 1824. Known simply as The Foot-Ball Club, Hope’s team pre-dates the attempts to codify the rules of association football in the 1840s at places such as Rugby School and the formation of Sheffield FC in 1857 (Scotland’s oldest still in existence is Edinburgh’s Academical Football Club, also established in 1857).
What’s also indisputable is that when Scotland started to thrash England on a habitual basis from the first international in 1872 to 1888 – a period which brought nine Scottish wins to England’s two including 7-2 and 6-1 thumpings – English clubs went on a recruitment drive to bring the best of Scotland’s players, the Scotch Professors, south in order to teach the passing game to teams that had previously played the Eton-style of football, with tactics which were more akin to rugby.
The debate about which country invented football is futile not least because there are claims that some form of the game was played as long ago as Han dynasty China in 206BC.
Nevertheless, the modern game in its current guise has a clear lineage to Scotland and as Ged O’Brien, one of the founders of the Scottish Football Museum, told me last year: “It’s English exceptionalism. England invented everything. The end. ‘Don’t ask me a question because I have just told you.’ In 1882, Scotland played in blue and white hoops. It goes back to Smith of the Queen’s Park club who was training as a doctor and played both football and rugby and the blue and white hoops were Edinburgh Accies colours. The Edinburgh teams in rugby developed this fast passing and running game. Most of them, from places like Loretto College, went to Oxford taking their fast passing and running game with them. Guess what it’s called in the history books? ‘The Oxford Game.’ How to extinguish the history of an entire nation by changing the name. You see the Scotch Professor, it’s called the Spurs Way or the Danubian School.”
O’Brien’s words are worth bearing in mind the next time you hear Baddiel and Skinner’s ‘Football’s Coming Home’ anthem blaring out of your television or wireless in the coming days. Yes, it’s a piece of frivolous nonsense but it doesn’t half grate.
Emma Hayes has been revealed as the United Kingdom’s favourite pundit of Euro 2020 and rightly so. The Chelsea womens’ manager gave a detailed breakdown of what Croatia needed to do against Spain in their Round of 16 encounter last week in Copenhagen as they trailed 3-1 with five minutes remaining. Lo and behold, the match played out to Hayes’ script as Croatia struck twice to force extra-time – this was sports broadcasting as it should be: informative, astute and compelling, in contrast to some of the dirge contemptuously spat out by certain ex-pros.
A measure of the work Hayes puts into her research emerged on Instagram when Karen Carney, her fellow pundit and former England international, posted a picture in the aftermath of the game, displaying multiple laminated sheets with tactical breakdowns of each team documented on them. ‘People wonder why she is so good,” wrote Carney in praise of her friend. “Her prep is a joke . . .”
Having written a betting column before this tournament began it was pretty clear that certain questions would be asked of oneself prior to kickoff: Who will win? Who will be the top scorer? Can England go all the way? One quandary that wasn’t on the list was: ‘What does Matalan think about the players’ social media following?’
If you’re interested – and, frankly, why would you be? – Harry Kane came out top in a survey (presumably someone counted the numbers of social media followers) into which England player was the most popular on various platforms. It’s an answer that begets another, more important question: why bother?
Following on the [Gucci] heels of the Italian team doctor treating a womens’ player in a suit and pair of Puma Kings at the 2019 World Cup, came Andrea Ferretti’s appearance in the latter stages of the Azzurri’s 2-1 win over Belgium in Friday evening’s quarter-final in Munich.
Sporting a grey blazer and black slacks, the Italy team doctor ensured he maintained professional protocol and – more importantly – Italian chic with his choice of PPE: a pair of black, latex gloves that co-ordinated beautifully with his outfit.
Following on from the debate about distances travelled by certain teams at the finals comes the identity of the four semi-finalists. Italy, Spain, Denmark and England had three group matches on home soil and the air miles totted up since will hardly be enough to grant them a free flight in the foreseeable future. In total, England have travelled the least distance at 1100 miles while Spain’s round trips to Copenhagen and Saint Petersburg register the longest round trip of the four at 4600 miles. Italy have racked up 2000 miles while Denmark’s visit to Baku on Saturday evening brought their total to 3200. If the figures follow what’s gone before it will be an Italy versus England final. Certainly that’s how the bookmakers have priced it.
There is always a host nation at a European Championship, sometimes there are two but never before in the modern era has travel had such a significant impact. Every association knew what they were signing up for at the start of the tournament and they will no doubt have put scientific processes in place to mitigate against fatigue and jet lag but there is no disputing the facts: the teams that have travelled least have simultaneously journeyed deepest into the latter stages of the competition.