Glasgow v Sheffield
In the 1870s and 1880s, there was one game in town, if you liked international football. Glasgow v Sheffield. Say what now? Yep. Glasgow v Sheffield. Not Scotland v England. A Scottish city v an English city. In these games we can find the truth about the Scotch Professor and the smothering of Sheffield.
A lot of general books concentrate on the first internationals between Scotland and England. This is a mistake. It almost certainly was not the best international competition of the time. I feel that accolade goes to the games between Glasgow and Sheffield. The first game between the two cities was played at Bramall Lane 14 March 1874. The game finished 2-2.
In another blow to the nonsense that most history books vomit, you will see that the two cities played different codes of football. In a bid to keep the games going, it was agreed that the home team got to play to their rules. That means that the Glasgow team had to quickly learn about the Sheffield Rules and forget about the Scottish Association Rules. Note that nowhere do I mention London. They are irrelevant in this respect. Nae luck, posh people.
Sheffield were drawn from three clubs: Owlerton, Wednesday and Exchange. Glasgow came from two: Clydesdale and Queen’s Park. In a sign of those times, the first goal was scored by J B Hunter of Sheffield. Robert Gardner took a ball out of the air and was barged into the net. Assault and a red card, now. Good goal, then.
Here is an example of the strength of Scottish football. In 1875, the SFA played the game at the West of Scotland Cricket Ground. Fair enough. They did not make a Queen’s Parker captain. Oh dear. All the QPFC men withdrew in a huff. Ok then. Pick the team, again. Men from Clydesdale, Third Lanark Rifle Volunteers, Eastern, Western, and Dumbreck. Six teams from one city. Sheffield picked from The Wednesday, Sheffield FC and Owlerton.
The attendance was guessed at 10,000. Glasgow won 2-0. No-one from the greatest club of all time, yet a comfortable victory. It must be said that Robert Gardner was in goal. He started out as a Spider.
The newspapers reported that the Glasgow crowds had favourites from the earliest games. They were full of praise for excellent bouts of play from the visitors. Billy Mosforth seems to have been appreciated, but he would have been a man just like the players in Glasgow teams. After the 1877 game at the First Hampden, he was carried shoulder high to the Pavilion, even though he lost 2-0.
It is hard to assess how people played from reports by journalists, who were just starting to develop the genre of football reporting. The Glasgow Herald said that ‘the Glasgow forwards ran the ball prettily up the field...’ A strange term to use for football. The report suggests that Sheffield started copying the way Glasgow were playing. ‘Mosforth, taking a hint from the Scotch play, after dribbling the ball very prettily up, showed some clever dodging...’
There is one massive fact we have to remember here. Sheffield played to their own rules, which led to a long ball, kicking game. Glasgow played to the Scottish Association rules and a two man offside rule. This promoted the passing idea, whereas Sheffield kept getting caught offside. They were pretty much playing a different game to the Glaswegians.
The after match dinner speeches often give us a hint of what was going on. The captain (John) Charles Clegg, who had played in the First International, replied for Sheffield.
The Sheffield team , he said, had taken a hint from the Glasgow players in the “passing” game, as their play had that day shown: and though he had no doubt the best team had won, there was so little between them that they expected to see matters equalised next season.
Now, if you read general histories, there will be the usual nonsense that Sheffield and Royal Engineers were playing a passing game. Unless the reporter is making it up, it is extremely strange to find an England internationalist, future president of the English FA and first man to be knighted for football, suggesting that they were learning passing from Glasgow.
Or maybe, just maybe - the anglocentric story of the game is almost completely made up.
Oh - the following year, 1878, Glasgow beat Sheffield 4-2 at Bramall Lane, despite the overly physical tactics the Sheffield team adopted to beat the wonderfully skilled Scotch Professors.