In our article, we review the roots of Scottish football and examine the role of early clubs, such as Queens Park FC, the oldest professional football club in Scotland, in developing the game, not just in Britain but throughout the world.
Queens Park FC is the oldest club in Scotland and, as such, was one of the founder members of the Scottish Football Association (SFA).
They also helped to establish the Scottish Cup (a tournament which they dominated for its early years), the Glasgow FA, the Scottish Amateur FA, and the English FA Cup (losing twice in the final to Blackburn Rovers in 1884 and 1885). In fact, from 1870 to 1887, Queens Park FC was a member of both the SFA and the English FA.
Queens Park provided the entire Scotland team for the world’s first official international match between Scotland and England in Glasgow in 1872, in addition to the organizing committee.
Hampden Park, the home of Queens Park FC and Scotland, is the world’s oldest continually used international stadium. From 1903-1950, Hampden Park was the world’s largest sporting arena. The second and third largest were in Glasgow, the homes of Rangers and Celtic football clubs.
In the space of a week in 1937, set two attendance records at Hampden:
- On April 17, an official attendance of 149,547 watched the Scotland v England international.
- A week later, 146,433 saw the Aberdeen v Celtic Scottish Cup Final.
The club set further attendance records at Hampden:
- In 1948, 143,570 saw the Rangers v Hibernian Scottish Cup semi-final, the largest crowd for a match other than a final.
- In 1970, 136,505 watched Celtic v Leeds United, setting a new European competition record.
Many Scottish clubs were influential in spreading the game worldwide through tours. In 1880 James Allan of Caledonian FC and Charles Campbell of Queen’s Park FC took teams to Belfast to give football exhibitions, out of which sprang the Irish FA.
Other clubs toured widely with the SFA’s blessing, playing in North and South America and Europe.
Before Professional Football Clubs In Scotland
There was football in Scotland long before the first professional football club launched. Among the earliest known football clubs in the world, the National Archives of Scotland holds membership lists and accounts for an Edinburgh football club between 1824 and 1841.
In 1824, a then-17-year-old trainee lawyer named Hope organized a season of games for the football club he had formed in Edinburgh. According to the records, the football club’s members met on Saturday afternoons during the first recorded season to play a form of football different from what the game is today.
An 1825 letter references a game involving 39 players with “such kicking of shins and such tumbling.” This initial game was rough and allowed pushing, holding, as well as “lifting of the ball. Still, this game formed the beginning of football, and one of its rules that forbade tripping still survives.
The club’s first known ground was “the park on the Dalry estate in the south-west suburbs” of Edinburgh. Other grounds included the “Greenhill parks in Bruntsfield” and “Grove Park west of Gardeners Crescent.”
Members grew from 61 at the start to 85 members in the 1826-1827 season, with subscriptions costing 1s. 6d. The last available record is dated February 1841.
So, which is the oldest professional football club in Scotland?
Queens Park FC – 1867
Queens Park FC is the oldest professional football team in Scotland today. Records show that Queen’s Park Football Club was founded on July 9, 1867, stating: “Tonight at half past eight o’clock, a number of gentlemen met at No. 3 Eglinton Terrace to form a football club.”
Queen’s Park was not the first club in Britain, with Edinburgh’s Foot-Ball Club formed in 1824. However, Queen’s Park remains the oldest Scottish football club today, as Foot-Ball Club did not play association football.
The club’s inaugural meeting saw a raging debate over the club’s name, with proposals such as “The Celts,” “The Northern,” and “Morayshire” fielded before “Queen’s Park” won out with a one-vote majority.
As a result, the club’s first game was played in the 1867/1868 season, on August 1, 1868, against the now-defunct Thistle F.C. from Glasgow. Queen’s won 2–0. Gentlemen from the local YMCA participated in football matches around Glasgow, where the club gets its name.
Most of the club’s early members were Highlanders, primarily evident in the choice of name suggestions during deliberations for the name. According to reports, they chose Queen’s Park Football Club so it could “bear some relation to the locale in which they were to play.”
Being the first organized football club in Scotland, Queen’s Park members had to play games amongst themselves, using small internal groups to form teams, such as games between “smokers” and “non-smokers.”
It took close to a year before the club played a game of football against another club in August 1868 and another nine months before the next match, beating Hamilton Gymnasium 4-0.
Queen’s Park dominated the early game in Scotland. It controlled playing rules in Scotland, managed the Scotland national team, and instigated the formation of the Scottish FA and the Scottish Challenge Cup.
When the Scotland national team played against England on November 30, 1872, all eleven Scottish players were from Queen’s Park FC and wore blue jerseys, which remains Scotland’s home kit color.
The club had joined the English FA by 1870 and contributed towards the cost of buying the initial FA Cup. Hindered by traveling costs, Queen’s Park would not play any game in the competition until they were drawn against Wanderers in the semi-final of the 1871/72 competition, hosted at Kennington Oval.
The game ended in a scoreless draw, forcing Queen’s Park to forfeit as they could not afford to travel for the replay.
On October 25, 1873, Queen’s Park played against Dumbreck in the first match hosted at the original Hampden Park. It was also the first time Queen’s Park players wore their custom black and white hooped jerseys, leading to the club’s nickname, “The Spiders.”
The club enjoyed several successes. In 1873, Queen’s defeated Clydesdale 2-0 to win the inaugural Scottish Cup at Hampden Park, beating Dumbreck 7-0 in earlier ties. The Spiders would win the subsequent two editions with final victories over Renton and Third Lanark.
In 1875, Queens conceded its first goals in a 2-2 Semi-final draw against Clydesdale and suffered the first defeat in December 1876, a 2-1 reverse to Vale of Leven during the 5th round of the Scottish Cup.
Other than Queen’s Park FC, the other top ten oldest football clubs in Scotland include:
Kilmarnock FC – 1869
Founded on January 5, 1869, Kilmarnock FC is the second-oldest football club in Scotland. With Queen’s Park FC now identified as the only amateur club in the Scottish football league, Kilmarnock ranks as the oldest professional club in Scotland.
Kilmarnock was formed by cricketers looking for a suitable off-season sport and originally played a game more similar to rugby than Association Football. This informed the name of the club’s stadium, Rugby Park.
The club has enjoyed a storied history, with several qualifications for European competitions and numerous top honors. The most recent trophy was the 2011/12 Scottish League Cup.
Stranraer FC – 1870
Stranraer FC was founded on December 31, 1869. After a nomadic search for a home ground, the club has played at Stair Park since 1907 and enjoyed a mixed history with major honors.
Stranraer has won 19 league titles across the Scottish Second Division (2), the Scottish Third Division (1), and the South of Scotland Football League (16). There have been two cup victories, the Scottish Qualifying Cup in 1937/38 and the Scottish Challenge Cup in 1996, beating First Division champions St Johnstone 1–0 in the final.
Stranraer won their first-ever promotion to the B Division in the 1993/94 season. As B Division champions and following league reorganization at the end of that season, they played in the new Scottish First Division during the 1994/95 season. The team finished last with 17 points from 36 games.
Dumbarton FC – 1872
Dumbarton FC was founded on December 23, 1872, and is the 4th oldest football club in Scotland. The club played at Boghead Park until 2000, when they moved to their current all-seater stadium, Dumbarton Rock.
Nicknamed ‘The Sons’, Dumbarton enjoyed early success with consecutive Scottish Football league wins in its first two seasons. However, the club remains the only former Scottish league champions not to have competed in the current Scottish Premiership format, having last played top-tier football in 1985.
The club has won 7 league titles across the divisions, one Scottish Cup title (1882/83), 16 Stirlingshire Cup victories, and 20 Dumbartonshire Cup wins, among others.
Rangers FC – 1872
Rangers FC was formed in March 1872 by four teenage boys as they walked through West End Park, where they discussed the idea of starting a football club. The club played its first match in May of the same year against the now-defunct Callander.
Rangers is the most successful club in Scottish football, winning 55 Scottish League titles, 34 Scottish Cups, and 27 Scottish League Cups. The club also has seven domestic trebles, the European Cup Winners’ Cup (1972), and two unbeaten league seasons in 1898/99 and 2020/21.
At the end of the 2020/21 season, Rangers became the first club in the world to win more than fifty national league titles.
Hamilton Academical FC – 1874
Hamilton Academical FC was formed in late 1874 by the Rector and pupils of Hamilton Academy, who were members of the school football team. To this day, Hamilton remains the only British football club formed from a school football team.
This didn’t impede the team’s quest for success. Hamilton has won three Scottish First Division titles, one Scottish Second Division, and one Scottish Third Division title. Other honors include two Scottish Challenge Cups and finishing runners-up in the Scottish Cup twice.
Following financial hardship, docked points, and relegation to the Third Division, Hamilton secured their first promotion back to the Scottish Premiership in 2008, ending a 20-year absence.
Hearts FC – 1874
Officially called Heart of Midlothian FC, the club was formed by friends from the Heart of Midlothian Quadrille Assembly Club who bought a ball before playing local rules football, which is a mix of rugby and association football.
In 1890, 16 years after its founding, Hearts became one of the eleven founder members of the Scottish Football League. The club has since enjoyed several significant successes, including the 2014/15 Scottish Championship title and the 2011/12 Scottish Cup.
Hearts are 4-time Scottish champions (Scottish Premiership and its predecessors), 8 Scottish Cups, and 4 Scottish League Cups, among others.
Hibernian – 1875
Hibernian was formed on August 6, 1875, by Edinburgh’s Irish community at St. Patrick’s Church in Cowgate. The club has endured a tumultuous history and ceased to operate for two years between 1891 and 1893.
There have been incredible successes too. In 1887, Hibernian became the first “east coast of Scotland” club to win the Scottish Cup. On August 13, 1887, Hibs defeated England’s Preston North End to win the “Association Football Championship of the World,” organized thanks to the club winning the Scottish Cup.
Hibs have won the Scottish Cup 3 times out of 15 final appearances, famously losing ten finals in a row. There have been 3 Scottish League Cup victories, six second-tier league titles, and the first British club to participate in the European Cup in 1955.
Falkirk FC – 1876
The origin of Falkirk FC is contested between 1876 and 1877. The club and its fans recognize the former. The club joined the Scottish Football Association in 1878, becoming eligible to compete in the Scottish Cup, and reached the second round in the first year it competed.
Initially, Falkirk used three venues at Hope Street, Randyford Park, and Blinkbonny Park, before playing at Brockville Park between 1885 and 2003. However, after the creation of the SPL in 1998 and its strict stadium criteria, Brockville Park’s nonconformance saw Falkirk denied promotion on three occasions.
Since 2004, Falkirk has played its home games at the all-seater stadium Falkirk Stadium. Falkirk has won 7 Scottish Second Division Titles, one Second Division, 2 Scottish Cups, and 4 Scottish Challenge Cups, among others.
St Mirren FC – 1877
Initially a gentleman’s club for those who wished to play football alongside cricket and rugby, St. Mirren has been around since 1877. As the popularity of football soared, the club resolved to play association football only before the end of its first year.
St. Mirren has enjoyed notable successes. It has recorded three Scottish Cup victories (1925/26, 1958/59, 1986/87), one Scottish League Cup win (2012/13), and several other minor titles across its illustrious history.
The club has also been relegated a few times, including dropping from the Scottish Premier League and the Premier Division of the Scottish Football League.
Arbroath FC – 1878
Arbroath FC was founded in 1878 and plays home matches at Gayfield Park. Nicknamed “The Red Lichties” due to the red harbor light that once guided fishing boats back from the North Sea, the club plays its home games in maroon strips.
‘The Red Lichties’ have enjoyed notable successes over the years and once held the record for the biggest victory in worldwide senior football following their 36-0 win over Aberdeen Bon Accord in September 1885.
Arbroath also won a few major honors. They won the Third Division title in the 2010/11 season and the Division II title in 1934/35.
Brief History of the Scottish FA
During the 1860s, football in Scotland experienced rapid growth, but matches were often organized haphazardly and irregularly before the formation of formal structures. Regular competition and organization would be beneficial to the clubs.
After an advertisement appeared in a Glasgow newspaper in 1873, Queen’s Park FC, founded in 1867, led the charge.
Dewar’s Hotel was the venue for a meeting between representatives from seven clubs – Queen’s Park, Clydesdale, Dumbreck, Eastern, Granville, Third Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers, and Vale of Leven. A letter from Kilmarnock stated their willingness to join the club.
On this day, these eight clubs formed the Scottish Football Association.
There was a resolution that ‘the clubs represented here establish themselves as an Association for the Promotion of Football in accordance with the Football Association rules and subscribe to the annual challenge cup, whose rules will be proposed by the committee of The Football Association.
By doing so, the SFA became the second-oldest association in the world in 1873.
St. Andrew’s Day – November 30, 1872 – marked the world’s first international match. The match at Hamilton Crescent ended in a 0-0 draw between Scotland and England, the ‘auld enemy,’ established in 1863.
Scottish Football Association
As a result of its meteoric growth, football became Scotland’s most popular spectator sport by the turn of the 20th century. To control the Laws of the Game, the SFA and Football Association established the International Football Association Board in 1886, along with the Football Association of Wales and the Irish Football Association.
The IFAB, founded in 1904, remains responsible for maintaining the Laws of the Game today.
As a founding member of UEFA in 1954, the Scottish Football Association joined FIFA in 1910. As Scotland’s governing body, the SFA is responsible for controlling and developing football. Associated national associations and local associations make up the SFA’s members.
Today, clubs, associations, and major football events worldwide rely heavily on commercial contracts for their financial well-being. Football, however, retains wide popularity at grassroots levels, with over 160,000 people playing it on an organized basis throughout Scotland.
Scotland’s national game is football, and the Scottish Football Association plays an essential role in fostering its popularity to grow the sport further.