Victorian Football

Scotland vs England 1872
Scotland vs England
30 November 1872

This important match was played on the West of Scotland Cricket Ground, on Saturday, and resulted in a drawn game, after a splendid display of football in the really scientific sense of the word, and a most determined effort on the part of the representatives of the two nationalities to overcome each other.

The only thing which saved the Scotch from defeat, considering the powerful forward play of England, was the magnificent defensive play and tactics shown by their backs, which was also taken advantage of by the forwards. When the players came to the scratch it was at once seen that the English had greatly the advantage in weight and appearance (averaging about 12st against 10st of their opponents), and the odds were freely offered in favour of “John Bull”, who had a really typical representation in the team. The Scotch players, on the other hand, although slightly built, were exceedingly wiry and tough, and, belonging (at least the bulk of them) to one club, were at home in each other’s society, and knew what was required of them.

It was naturally thought that the English players, although showing fine individual play, would be deficient in working together, belonging as they did to so many different clubs, but the game had not proceeded far when this allusion was dispelled like mist at the approach of the sun, for the magnificent dribbling of the English captain [Cuthbert Ottaway], [Arnold] Kirke-Smith, and [John] Brockbank, seconded as it was by the fine back play of [Reginald Courtenay] Welch, [Ernest] Greenhalgh, and [Frederick] Chappel, was greatly admired by the immense concourse of spectators, who kept the utmost order, and although now and again showing some partiality to their own champions (possibly on account of it being the anniversary of Scotland’s patron saint), a fine piece of play on the English side did not pass uncheered.

The Scotch had choice of the ground, and elected the pavilion end, from which they had the benefit of a slight decline, which terminated at the English goal. The game had not long commenced, when the English forwards, led by the stalwart form of their captain, began to show themselves conspicuous, the former making a splendid run till within a short distance of the Scotch goal, where one or two long shies were made without effect.

In a short time thereafter the Scotch forwards securing the ball which had been so well been put out of the way by their backs, sent it flying forward to neutral territory, where it was kept for some time, until [Jerry] Weir, [Alexander] Rhind, and [David] Wotherspoon, assisted by [Robert] Leckie, brought it safely through the enemy’s backs, and forward to the goal line, where it was knocked about for some time, till a fine effort on the part of Welch, and a splendid run on the part of Ottaway, who received quite an ovation for his magnificent dribbling, had the ball up to the Scotch quarters in a twinkling, passing on his way quite a shoal of opposing feet. The success which attended his efforts, however, was brief, for after a short scrummage for possession the ball was nicely piloted by Ker and Weir, the latter of whom displayed great skill in its management.

After this a most determined rush was made for the English goal, and the united exertions of [Robert] Smith, Weir, and Wotherspoon, were nearly crowned with success, for Leckie, who got the ball well in line, made an effort to kick goal, and had the ball only gone an inch under instead of landing on the tape, Scotland would have been the victor. This was the signal for a loud burst of enthusiasm on the part of the spectators, who thought a goal had been secured by one of their champions.

After the appeal had been settled half time was called, and the English having the advantage possessed by their opponents during the first half of the game soon drove the Scotch before them and put them on the defensive. The tactics, however, of the Scotch team, in which they clearly outwitted the enemy, never shone to greater advantage than when brought to bay, and it was not long till a successful manoeuvre on the part of Ker and [William “Billy” Muir] MacKinnon, and wrought out by [Robert] Gardner, who had taken R. Smith’s place (the former keeping goal, which he defended admirably), the leather was safely deposited in neutral territory; but the watchful eyes of the brave English forwards only allowed it to remain there for an instant, and off it went back to the Scotch goal, where it remained for a long time.

All the tactics possessed by the English team were here put into account, the ball ever and anon going backwards and forwards in front of the Scotch goal, until one of the backs made a strenuous effort to get the ball home, but the goal-keeper saved the stronghold against all attempts. With only five minutes to play, a most determined effort on behalf of the Scotch to free their goal from danger was successful, and Ker, who played throughout in a masterly style, made a fine run up to the English line just a time was called, the match thus ending in a draw.

When such brilliant play was shown by both sides it would almost be superfluous to “individualise”, but it must be admitted that the dribbling of the English forwards, especially Ottaway and Kirke-Smith, was greatly admired by all, and the splendid all-round play of Ker and Weir for Scotland deserve more than a passing notice. Shortly after the match, and before the players left the field, three cheers were given for the English champions, and also the Scotch.

Mr. [Charlie] Alcock, who has not yet recovered from the accident, which he sustained a fortnight ago, acted as umpire for England, while Mr. [H. N.] Smith, president of the Queen’s Park Club, acted in that capacity for Scotland. The return match will take place, we believe, in February in London. The English team were entertained to dinner in the Royal Hotel, where toasts suitable to the occasion were proposed and responded to.

This is an edited extract from Goal-Post, the Victorian football anthology.

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