Barcelona, the best team ever … and it’s all thanks to Scotland


by G.A.Ponsonby

Anyone who watched Barcelona take Manchester United apart in Saturday’s Champions League final couldn’t have failed to have been impressed by the technical skill and mastery exhibited the Catalan side.

Their movement, passing and skill exemplified all that football ought to be about.  The sportsmanship on the field was matched by the acceptable passion from the fans off the field.  And let’s acknowledge the good grace of Sir Alex Ferguson in defeat.

But few will appreciate the debt of gratitude this display of teamwork and passing owes to eleven Scots from one Scottish football team almost 139 years ago.  For it was on St Andrews day in 1872 that football as we know it was invented and it was players from Queens Park football club who first demonstrated the modern game.

On a wet 30th November almost a century and a half ago two teams took to the field at the West of Scotland Cricket Ground in Glasgow.  The oldest rivalry in world football was born when Scotland played England in the world’s first official international football match.

There had been England versus Scotland games before, but all had featured a Scotland side made up of players based in England, some had just a loose association with Scotland and all were chosen by the English management.  The St Andrew’s day game would be different.

An exciting tussle in front of a 4000 crowd who had each paid one shilling (5p) ended scoreless with both teams having given their all.  However accounts of the day say that the English team left feeling that their Scottish opponents had employed an ungentlemanly tactic that was wholely against the Corinthian spirit of fair challenge.

In England football had, by and large, been the preserve of the public school class.  Football there was a gentleman’s game played under a gentleman code.  In Scotland though it was the working classes who dominated the game.

What was it that so angered the English football team you ask?  Simple – the Scots had passed the ball.  It was revolutionary in a game dominated by the dribbler; the English revelled in the gentleman challenge where you attempted to round your opponent.  The act of passing to a team member in order to avoid the challenge was frowned upon south of the border.

The match itself may have ended in a scoreless draw, but history shows that in the battle of the codes it was the Scots who triumphed.  The multi-billion pound industry that the world now recognises as association football was born that day and for decades working class Scots would export their version of the game around the globe.  To this day the tactical passing game of football that dominates the world football can be traced back to this Scottish working class game.

Barcelona’s European success was orchestrated by one Lionel Messi, the pint sized Argentinian wizard weaved his magical spells as we watched mesmerised.  However few will realise that Mr Messi is a legacy of another Scotsman who took the game of football to Argentina.

In 1872 Alexander Watson Hutton arrived in Buenos Aires and established the game despite fierce opposition; rugby had been the favoured European sport until Hutton’s arrival.  The Scot, who in 1893 established the Argentinian football association, is to this day acknowledged as ‘the father of Argentinian football’.  The AAFL is the 9th oldest football association in the world.  The first team to win the Argentinian league title consisted entirely of Scots as did the runners up.

Towards the end of his life Hutton’s Argentinian hosts acknowledged his role in giving football to the nation with a match at the national stadium.  At half time a huge flag was brought onto the pitch in his honour.  Ever the gentleman, Hutton declined to inform his hosts that the giant St George’s cross they were parading was not the flag of his own Scotland but was instead the flag of England.

So, Saturday’s result wasn’t just a victory for Barcelona it was also a victory for the Scots who invented the passing game and for the Scotsman who brought the game to Argentina.

Argentina’s Scottish connection

WILLIAM WATERS (1866 – unknown)

Captain and coach of the St Andrews Athletic Club team that won Argentina’s first ever league championship in 1891.  Waters was persuaded to come out to Argentina five years earlier by Hutton and became Hutton’s brother in law in 1902.


The most famous of the seven Brown brothers. Jorge Brown was known as ‘El Patriarcho’ (‘The Patriarch’), he featured in all ten of Alumni’s league title wins between 1900 and 1911, and earned 23 caps for Argentina.

ERNESTO BROWN (1885-1935)

Known as El Pacifico (‘the Calm One’) for his assured performances for Alumni and Argentina at left-back.  The five other Brown siblings were Eliseo (born 1888), Carlos Carr (1882), Tomas (1884), Diego Hope (1875), and Alfredo (1886). Together with their cousin Juan Domingo, they featured with varying regularity during Alumni’s golden age of 1900-1911. Eliseo, Alfredo and Juan Domingo also played for Argentina.


The son of Alexander Watson Hutton, he went on to play for Alumni, Belgrano Athletic and Argentina at outside left. Young Hutton won 17 caps, scoring six goals, and claimed several league titles with Alumni, finishing top scorer in the Argentinian league in 1910.

THOMAS LIPTON (1848-1931)

The Gorbals-born tea magnate who gave his name and funds to the Copa Lipton, the annual showdown between Argentina and neighbours Uruguay, and which began in 1906 and was last played in 1992.


Presbyterian preacher of Scottish descent who founded the Quilmes Rovers Club in 1887. The club still exists today as Quilmes Atletico Club, making it the oldest club in Argentina. The first team featured Scots Alex Lamont, LC Penman, R Muir and D Moffat.


A direct descendant of the original James Brown, who scored one of Argentina’s goals in the 3-2 1986 World Cup final victory over West Germany.


The left-back, whose ginger hair and surname betrayed his roots, earned three caps helping Argentina qualify for the 1994 World Cup.  He played for Argentino Juniors, Racing Club and Boca Juniors, for whom he scored the winning goal in Argentina’s Gold Cup in 1992. In 1998, he and his brother Patricio founded their own academy, the MacAllister Sports Club.