The Tartan Army

Historical documents record, over hundreds of years, regular invasions by armies from Scotland into England, ‘The Auld Enemy’. The 17th century was particularly busy until The Acts Of Union brought the two nations together in 1707. That didn’t stop Bonny Prince Charlie laying claim to the throne. Gathering support, as part of the Jacobite rebellion in 1745, he marched as far as Derby before his fortunes changed. And that was that.

Fast-forward a century and more and the Tartan Army comes waving rattles and scarves rather than swords and shields. Future contests are to be fought on the football field, not the battlefield. Scotland v England, played in Glasgow in 1872, is officially recognised by FIFA as football’s first international game. Ending 0-0, it began the long and colourful football rivalry between the two countries.

Then came an exodus of players south. By the 1960s, virtually every top team in England could boast the presence of at least one Scot. English clubs plundered the bounty of football talent from the north and many of the best from Scotland sought fame and fortune in their neighbouring nation.

I knew little connected with Scotland as a child, aside from details like kilts, bagpipes and tartan patterns but I soon got familiar with footballers’ names as they started to people my life. I watched Forest’s Bob McKinlay make his way to a monumental 614 appearances at the City Ground. I read about Dave Mackay in my football magazine and his time at Tottenham during their early sixties trophy years. I saw Billy Bremner play for Leeds against Forest. No game was complete for him unless his white shirt was blood-spattered and so it proved to be against the Reds.

More graceful on those infamously muddy and rutted pitches back in the day was Denis Law. How could he not be a hero? He was nimble where others were plodding, slick where others were slow. And he always seemed to keep his kit clean! The arrival of Match Of The Day in the mid-sixties let me drool over his silky skills. It also opened up opportunities to see other titans of the Tartan Army.

Graeme Souness might have scythed his way through any number of players but he was also a play-maker who not only left his mark on the opposition but on the game. And then there were two supreme strikers strutting their stuff across our screens in the eighties: Kenny Dalglish and Gordon Strachan. The former gathered more medals in his playing career than most clubs do in their entire history. His worth is probably best summed-up by Jock Stein. When asked where Dalglish would be best placed at his new club, Liverpool, he said, ‘Is he better in midfield or up front? Och, just put him on the park’.

The picture at Forest was no different as they, over the seasons, had their share of Scottish stars on the team-sheet. Joe Baker and Jim Baxter sprinkled their gifts Trentside and fed off the adulation of fans. I was mesmerised – hypnotised! – simply by seeing them at the City Ground. By the time the likes of John McGovern, Archie Gemmill, John Robertson and Kenny Burns arrived on the scene, Forest were a force to be reckoned with. These were the years when the Reds’ reputation spread through Europe and beyond.

Players from Scotland had a certain romance in those days, a sense of the exotic, given that the personnel of an English club was predominantly English-born. How quaint that seems now! With the number of overseas players throughout the top divisions ever increasing, Scotland feels local and the impact of Scottish players on the game has diminished. And, as a by-the-by, their national team hasn’t made a World Cup since 1998. What has happened?

I got to think about this question not so long ago when cycling in … Scotland. One wet summer week camping in the Highlands. We drove past the stadium of the wonderfully named Inverness Caledonian Thistle to park up by Loch Ness. With a friend, we biked the length of the loch on the lovely south side on the only day the sun shone. Lots of stops to sit and admire the view but no sign of the monster. Gone, vanished. Just the stuff of legends and good for the tourist trade in truth. But its non-appearance resonated with the state of football in Scotland. The glory days of Celtic and Rangers on the European stage are long gone. So too, it felt, are their days of producing soccer stars.

Yes, Liverpool’s Andy Robertson is testament – as Scotland’s captain – to their capacity to nurture talent but the Tartan Army of players heading south in the twenty-first century has felt to be a trickle rather than a torrent. Forest, for example, currently have Scott McKenna as the only representative of his country in the squad since his arrival in 2020. Their September – and muchhailed – signing of Scottish youth international Cormac Daley from Hamilton Academical might reignite a past trend.

Once, Scottish players – in both quantity and quality – significantly helped shape the game of football in England. It is those players from across the continents of the world whose impact is most felt now. Perhaps Scotland’s time will come again, both as a nation to be reckoned with at international level and as a prolific producer of individual players. Perhaps Cormac Daley will spearhead the resurgence. No pressure there, then!

*Article provided by Stephen Parker (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).

*Main image @NFFC the Reds Scottish contingent played a huge part in the clubs 70’s and 80’s success.

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