Argentina and the Scotch Professor

The history of Argentine football starts in an unusual place: Leith. In 1824, James Brown and his family sailed for a new life, on the SS Symmetry. They were bound for Argentina, with 220 other Scots. The first venture did not go too well. They moved from their farm to Buenos Aires. Things began to go better for the Scots colony. In 1835 the St Andrew’s church of Buenos Aires was founded. In 1838 they started the Saint Andrews Scotch school. The new immigrants laid down the roots that every new emigrant does.

The school still looked to the old country for educational support. This lead to the arrival of Gorbals boy, Alexander Watson Hutton. His family were susceptible to the curse of tuberculosis. In 1881, he gained an MA in Philosophy at Edinburgh University. It seems that he had been supplementing his income by teaching at George Watson’s College. He set sail for Buenos Aires after he finished university. He got a job at the Scotch School. In his luggage was his absolute devotion to the Scottish game. He quickly introduced it into the curriculum. His request for a gymnasium and a playing field was denied.

Here we have to stop, for a moment and consider the English style of football. It had been seen in Argentina, in June 1867. Members of the Buenos Aires Cricket Club had founded a team called Buenos Aires Football Club. Thomas Hogg and Walter were the captains of two teams, named Rojos and Blancos (Reds and Whites).

They apparently played to modified Association rules. As most of them were rugby players, they used their hands. There was also the problem that, as the members of the teams came from different parts of England, they all played different codes. This was the same problem that dogged Charles Alcock’s efforts to found an English football structure in the 1870s.

In May 1874 the members decided to adopt the laws of rugby union. They went back to Association in 1876 and then returned to rugby. This is typical of English sportsman abroad. The last matches of the Buenos Aires Football Club were a couple of rugby friendlies in 1881. You can see the problem. A group of English cricketers plaedg a sport which deliberately excluded the vast majority of the population. They started playing a game which was neither fish nor fowl. It would have been a strange mix of dribbling, hacking, catching, and individual play.

I once read a piece about Watson Hutton in the Scotsman, which used the phrase ‘the animalistic game of football’ to describe our beloved game. This, more likely, describes a code which is the complete opposite of the scientific and logical passing and running Game. It is clear to see that the social elite of the Buenos Aires Cricket Club were playing a game that was dead. They just didn’t know it. All we are left with, is a mildly interesting and completely irrelevant series of facts, in the real history of the development of the Scottish game in South America.

You can be sure that the Scots who had moved to Argentina were playing the same passing and running game that they had played in Scotland. Which brings us back to Alexander Watson Hutton.

Hutton’s time at the Scotch School ended in disagreement. The windows of the school were being broken by footballs, too often for the members of the School Board. Hutton and the school parted ways. On the 2nd February 1884, he opened the English High School of Buenos Aires. The school was a massive success. They had to move to bigger premises.

The St Andrew’s School still figures in our story. One of the teachers: Alec Lamont, started the world’s first League outside of the United Kingdom in 1891. It was called the Argentine Association Football League (AAFL). He gathered five teams with varying degrees of Scottish influence.

Old Caledonians
Buenos Aires and Rosario railways,
Buenos Aires FC (not the same one as 1867)
Belgrano FC
St Andrew’s Scotch Athletic Club

The Old Caledonians were a group of Scottish employees of a British sanitation company Bataume, Pearson and Bataume. They were laying the sewers of the growing city. St Andrew’s players came from the school.

The League only lasted one season. It was revived 21st February 1893 by our old friend Alexander Watson Hutton. He clearly was making himself influential in Argentinian society. It cannot be a coincidence that the Argentinian Ministry of Justice and Public education made physical education mandatory in all schools, in 1898.

Giving History a Sporting Chance