England v Scotland: The first ever international

Tuesday 18 Nov 2014
An artist's impression of England v Scotland in 1872

When Scotland and England meet at Celtic Park on Tuesday evening, it will be their 112th contest – more than any other duo in the game's history. 

The first meeting, 142 years ago and also in Glasgow, was the first football international in history.

On 3 October 1872 six FA committee members agreed: “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."

Almost two years prior to that, FA secretary Charles Alcock – a Sunderland man educated at Harrow – had sent a letter to the Glasgow Herald which announced that a match between England and Scotland would be played at Kennington Oval in London. 

George Wilson leads his squad out to face Scotland in Glasgow in 1923

It would be an unofficial international between the English side, and a group of Scots living in London at the time. 

Three similar matches followed.

Queen’s Park, the Glasgow club, had been admired for coming all the way down to London to play Wanderers in an English FA Cup Semi-Final. 

Now they would stage and organise the first official international between Scotland and England.

It was played on Saturday, 30 November 1872, at Hamilton Crescent. 

This was Glasgow’s biggest enclosed sports field and the Partick home of the West of Scotland Cricket Club. 

The FA decided to write to all their member clubs “requesting assistance towards paying the railway expenses of England’s eleven representatives”. 

Billy Wright is carried aloft following England's victory in 1959

The original date for the match had been Monday, 24 November, but Scotland asked for a change because “many of those who would play or who might witness the encounter would be engaged upon their businesses”.

There was some light drizzle on the morning of the match but by the time the game kicked-off at 2.20pm (20 minutes late) the sun was out. 

The admission fee, as it had been for the first FA Cup Final, was a shilling. 

Scotland’s side was selected by Queen’s Park – all of whom had some connection with the club – while England’s was drawn from eight clubs and included four players from Oxford University.

More modern memories as Paul Gascoigne celebrates his iconic goal against Scotland in 1996

The crowd was close to 4,000 and Bell’s Life saw it as “one of the jolliest, one of the most spirited and most pleasant matches that have ever been played according to Association rules”.

The players had refused to guarantee to buy prints, so there are no photographs from the match. 

“One of the jolliest, one of the most spirited and most pleasant matches that have ever been played”

Report in Bell’s Life  on the 1872 meeting

A late shot by Scotland’s Robert Leckie landed on top of the tape – there were no crossbars – but the first official international had no goals even though both sides played with eight forwards.

England won 4-2 at Kennington Oval in March of the following year and it became an annual event. 

The Three Lions only won two of the first 16 matches, conceding seven in one match and six in another. 

But as they prepare for their latest meeting, England will take to the Celtic Park field with the superior record.

Fast-forward over a century and after a total of 111 matches, England now have 46 victories to Scotland’s 41.

And long may the game's oldest rivalry continue...

By David Barber FA Historian