Queen’s Park: the early pioneers of the beautiful game

queens park fcCredit: Ian Cairns
Jack Haugh
Sports Editor

Scotland has a lot of inventions to be proud of. From John Logie Baird’s television to Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin. However, there is one invention that so often is overlook in the thrills and spills of the 21st century, but without a small group of Glaswegians, we may have never been able to enjoy the beautiful game.

Football’s origins may lie well before that of the group of Glaswegians who met in 1867 to form a football club, one of the earliest in Scotland. It may even be unfair to merely brand the club as Glaswegian, given that many of its earliest members were in fact Highlanders.

In any case, the sport had in fact been enjoyed in a similar form to its modern day equivalent for about five years previously, and even finds its origins in the Chinese game of ‘kick ball’ from around the second century AD. However, it would be Queen’s Park’s involvement in the formulation of the Association Football we all take for granted nowadays that we cannot overlook as the club prepares for its 150th year anniversary celebrations.

The club remained for a year the only one of its type in Scotland, and instead of fierce battles against rivals of any sort, the club would merely play inter-club matches; such as ‘smokers against non-smokers’. In fact, in the club’s first two years of existence, they only played two matches against opposition outwith the boundaries of Queen’s Park.

Whilst the club, which has stuck profusely to its Latin motto ‘Ludere Causa Ludendi’, to play for the sake of playing, throughout its history, now lingers in the lower doldrums of Scottish football, and is often overshadowed by the bigger Glaswegian clubs, the importance of this unique organisation remains even today.

The only amateur club within the professional leagues of Scottish football, Queen’s Park’s total of 10 Scottish Cups remains to this day the third highest total in Scotland; their last title came in 1893 when the likes of Aberdeen and Dundee United were yet to have kicked a ball.

Their early dominance was so much that in 1872, in a friendly match played against England, the whole Scotland team was made up of Queen’s players and the nation adopted its now iconic blue kit which was the colour of choice for the Glaswegians at the time.

It remains hard to comprehend in the modern day sense the dominance and importance Queen’s Park had over the Scottish game, especially now when it would not be unfair to say that the weight of decisions now lies well beyond them.

For a while it seems that Queen’s had their sights set beyond Dumfries, when in 1870 the club became the first foreign team to join the English Football Association, and even helped to pay for the English FA Cup trophy. Whilst the expensive travel costs ensured the club could only compete once in the initial years, they would later go on to become the only Scottish club to reach the final of the FA Cup in both 1884 and 1885.

In the meantime their attention returned once more to the Scottish game and it was 1873 that they became the first ever club to win the Scottish Cup in its inaugural season when they defeated the now-defunct Clydesdale FC in their first ever match at Hampden Park in front of 2,500 spectators. The season also saw the formulation of the modern Scottish Football Association when Queen’s brought together eight other clubs to consolidate the game in this nation. The trophy presented to Queen’s players on that day remains the same one presented to the Hibernian FC players in May of this year.

It would be seven years of playing before Queen’s eventually conceded their first goal and the next year would herald their first ever defeat when they faltered to Vale of Leven in a bitterly disappointing fifth round exit.

Vale of Leven remain one of the only teams to have survived along with Queen’s from the early days, although they have subsequently had to reform in 1932 and now find themselves stuck in the West of Scotland League Central District Second Division, well below the professional leagues of Queen’s.
Having for so long dominated the landscape of Scottish football in a way perhaps only matched by the respective nine-in-a-row sides of the Old Firm clubs, the next few years would prove challenging for Queen’s as they went toe-to-toe with Vale of Leven and some other up-and-coming teams in Scotland, including the blue half of the Old Firm. It would be three years before Queen’s would win the Scottish Cup again.

Whilst on the pitch the club seemed to be struggling, it would be off of the pitch where the real progress would continue to be made and in 1879 the club became the first in the whole of the United Kingdom to sign a black player, when Andrew Watson joined.

Watson, who had been born in then British Guyana and studied Natural Philosophy, Mathematics and Engineering at the University of Glasgow, would later become the first ever black player to play international football when he received the first of his three Scotland caps in 1881. Watson remained the only black player to have been capped by Scotland until Nigel Quashie in 2004.

Despite all of the success both on and off the pitch, in 1890 the Scottish game seemed in a rut of such, as it so often does, and the calls for an established league setup were growing louder and louder.

Queen’s profusely opposed this idea as they saw it as the first steps towards professionalism in football and that it would lead to the simple auctioning off of players to the highest bidders; how right they seem to have been.

They continued to fight the league setup, and when the league format was eventually settled it went ahead without them as they chose to abstain, instead choosing to focus on the continued development of Hampden and friendly matches, including their first ever overseas tour to Denmark in 1898. However, they remained one of the biggest draws in Scottish football, and their big crowds, with the gates split 50-50 in those days, only enhanced the desire for Queen’s to join the future. And so, perhaps with some remorse, Queen’s reluctantly joined the league at the turn of the century and have remained within its ranks since.

They remain a unique oddity in Scottish and world football. So dominant in their early days, at one point arguably the biggest club in the whole of the UK, and regularly drawing crowds well beyond their average of 500 or so in the modern day, for Queen’s to have survived so long on the same principles is an achievement that cannot be overlooked. We owe a huge debt to the men who founded their club in 1867, and in turn who paved the way for modern football in this nation.