The Three Lions played their first match 140 years ago
by David Barber
England played their first official international 140 years ago today.
They played Scotland on Saturday 30 November 1872, and it finished 0-0.
Nearly two months earlier, on 3 October, six FA members had agreed at a meeting: “In order to further the interests of the Association in Scotland, it was decided during the current season that a team should be sent to Glasgow to represent England”.
Those 29 words, perhaps the most important and far-reaching sentence recorded in any sport, appear in the original FA minute book presently on loan at the National Football Museum in Manchester.
The idea of a Scotland v England match had been brewing for a couple of years. Charles Alcock, the visionary FA secretary who would soon propose an ‘FA Challenge Cup’ for member clubs, announced in a letter to the Glasgow Herald that there would be a fixture between ‘England’ and ‘Scotland’ at Kennington Oval in November 1870.
But this wasn’t an official international, being more like ‘England’ against ‘London Scottish’.
The Glasgow club, Queen’s Park, had travelled down to London to play Wanderers in an (English) FA Cup Semi-Final in March 1872. Now the visit of an England team to Glasgow suddenly seemed feasible.
There was no Scottish FA until 1873 but Queen’s Park were keen to arrange a match. At a further FA meeting on 24 October it was decided to write to all member clubs “requesting their assistance towards paying the railway expenses of England’s eleven representatives”.
The England team was chosen “from a large number of aspirants, comprising the great majority of the most brilliant exponents of the game”. Seven players joined the officials for a convivial evening in the Garrick Royal Hotel the night before the match, leaving the other four to travel through the night.
This historic match, the first football international in history, was played at the West of Scotland Cricket Ground in Partick, Glasgow. The crowd was close to 2,500, with the gentlemen paying a shilling each (five pence) and the ladies admitted free. The kick-off, in sunshine after some morning drizzle, was 20 minutes late at 2.20pm.
A 0-0 draw sounds like something of a sporting anti-climax but everyone seemed to enjoy their afternoon out. The Bell’s Life in London correspondent summed it up: “A splendid display of football in the really scientific sense of the word, and most determined effort on the part of the representatives of the two nationalities to overcome each other”.
The England team was drawn from nine clubs. Oxford University provided three players, including the captain and star forward, Cuthbert Ottaway. Apparently England did most of the attacking but some “magnificent defensive play” by the Scots kept them in the match.
The unfortunate Ottaway died at the age of 27, catching a chill after a night out dancing.