The existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once said: “In football, everything is complicated by the presence of the opposing team”.
Sadly, Sartre was dead by the time Scotland utterly destroyed their theory in Estonia in 1996. A complaint from Fifa visitors about the temporary lighting brought the kick-off time forward on the morning of the match from 6:45 p.m. at 15h.
At the agreed time, Estonia failed to show, leading Scottish fans to chant “there is only one team in Tallinn” to highlight a literal truth rather than a mere metaphor.
The referee whistled to kick off the most one-sided international ever before giving it away three seconds later. Scotland expected a 3-0 win to be handed to them but a successful appeal from Estonia saw Fifa order a rematch in Monaco which the tartan army attended wearing miners’ helmets with lamps attached, in case their hosts don’t keep the lights on.
The match ended 0–0, making Scotland the only team in history to play against non-existent opponents and still fail to get three points.
By contrast, Scotland appeared early on, hosting the world’s first international in 1872 in a 0-0 draw with England.
The Scottish squad was made up entirely of players from their oldest club, Queens Park, whose elegant motto “Ludere Causa Ludendi” (playing for the sake of playing) kept them strictly amateurs until 2019.
Today, interest in Queens Park rarely extends beyond name checking as the club where Scotland captain Andy Robertson began his career, but this historic side have won 10 Scottish Cups and also played in the English FA Cup final in 1884 and 1885, losing both to Blackburn Rovers.
Queen’s Park is currently managed by former Ireland international Owen Coyle, whose players include Sligo-born striker Johnny Kenny. Queens Park travel to Belfast on Sunday to play a historic Scottish Challenge Cup match against Ireland’s oldest club Cliftonville, formed in 1879 by John McAlery who attended a football match the year before when of a honeymoon in Edinburgh.
Until 2020 Queen’s Park owned and played Hampden Park and when it opened in 1903 Glasgow had the three largest football stadiums in the world.
Hampden was designed by Glasgow architect Archibald Leitch who has worked on dozens of stadiums across Britain and Ireland, including Dalymount Park and Lansdowne Road. Hampden still holds the record for the largest ever attendance for a football match in Europe, set in 1937 when 150,000 people attended Scotland’s game against England.
The pitch has also played an important role in the careers of the two senior Irish executives. The highlight of Stephen Kenny’s year in charge of Dunfermline Athletic was leading them to the 2007 Scottish Cup final, losing 1-0 to Celtic at Hampden.
During her six years in charge of Scotland, Vera Pauw had an office in Hampden, where she will return with her Girls in Green in October for a vital play-off for the 2023 World Cup should her former employers have to first defeat Austria.
Early Scottish players popularized football by developing the “combination game” which involved passing the ball rather than simply dribbling with it until it was tackled – a tactic favored by the more individualistic English.
The so-called Scottish Professors’ early results were impressive with an 11-0 win over Ireland in 1901, their highest win to date. So many people have moved south that when Liverpool played their very first game, their entire team was Scottish.
Scotland has consistently produced exceptional footballers including Denis Law who won the Ballon d’Or in 1964 and the Lisbon Lions who won the 1967 European Cup for Celtic, all born within 30 miles of Glasgow.
Scottish influence quickly became global, with the founding fathers of football in Spain, Brazil and Argentina all being Scottish or from Scottish families.
The Scottish-born also scored the three most important goals in Irish football history. Gary Mackay’s only international goal for Scotland against Bulgaria in November 1987 saw Ireland through to Euro 88 against all odds.
And Ray Houghton – who put the ball in the England net in Stuttgart and in the Italian net at Giants Stadium – was actually born in Glasgow. Scotland were also host to Ireland’s most impressive tournament victory when Brian Kerr’s Under-16 side were crowned European champions in 1998.
Although the founders of Hibernians FC are both Irish, the strongest link between the two countries remains Glasgow Celtic, founded in 1888 by Ballymote’s brother Walfrid in Sligo.
Although Celtic Park is nicknamed Paradise, it has recently proved anything but for Irish players, with rarely chosen James McCarthy and talents such as Lee O’Connor (Tranmere Rovers), Luca Connell (Barnsley) and Jonathan Afolabi (St Pats) being released without making a single first-team appearance.
Ireland and Scotland are both part of a bid by the UK and Ireland to host Euro 2028 after scrapping more ambitious plans to host the 2030 World Cup.
Ireland and Scotland’s joint bid for Euro 2008 ended disastrously, with the FAI supplying a stadium which was then not open to football (Croke Park), a stadium which was to be demolished and rebuilt (Lansdowne Road) and a stadium that would never actually exist (the Bertie Bowl). Unfortunately, this technical flaw was not lost on the UEFA team who awarded the tournament to Austria and Switzerland who enjoyed the crucial competitive advantage of having stadiums.
When size is factored in, it’s hard to think of a country that can match Scotland’s contribution to football.
But perhaps their greatest achievement is to consistently produce exceptional managers who again date back to the very beginning of the game, when in 1886 Glaswegian George Ramsay became the first professional football manager by taking charge of Aston Villa.
Three of history’s greatest managers – Jock Stein, Matt Busby and Bill Shankly – were born within 30 miles of each other and were so successful that a 2020 Troika movie was made. simply called The Three Kings.
A generation later, the same region of Scotland would probably produce the greatest manager of all, Alex Ferguson.
But recently managing in Scotland has become a much more ruthless business. The last time Irish and Scottish sides met in competition was in the Europa Conference League at the end of July. On Thursday night, Sligo Rovers picked up a 3-0 aggregate win over Motherwell. On Friday, Motherwell sacked manager Graham Alexander. And on Saturday, the new Scottish football season began.
Which may well prove another famous quote from Sartre – sometimes hell really is other people. Or at least the other team.