Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mike Wood.)
I begin my remarks by reminding the House of my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as a match official operating for the Scottish Football Association.
I am delighted to lead this Adjournment debate celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Scottish FA. Throughout my speech, I will look at the past and to the future, but it is also right and fitting that we look at the present and the current qualification status of the Scottish men’s national team. Friday’s 3-0 victory over Cyprus made it five wins out of five in the qualification for Germany 2024. Scotland sits proudly at the top of group A. Another table that Scotland is at the top of is goal scorers, where we see Denmark’s Højlund, Belgium’s Lukaku and Scotland’s McTominay, each of whom scored six goals in this qualification round. Not only is Scotland leading its group, but it is leading in goal scorers as well.
When preparing for this debate, I went on the UEFA website for the Euro 2024 qualification. There, the picture was of two Scottish players—John McGinn and Scott McTominay—celebrating another victory. Scotland is featured in the picture and caption because as soon as tomorrow night, Scotland might have sewn up its qualification for Euro 2024. If my maths is correct, Scotland would then be the first team to have qualified, along with the hosts, Germany. They are the only team able to qualify on matchday six, which shows how impressive the current team is under the expert management of Steve Clarke.
Hampden will be rocking tomorrow anyway when the heritage match against England takes place as part of the 150th anniversary celebrations. It will be an outstanding match—on which I will say more in a moment—but at the same time results up in Oslo could go our way and see Scotland qualify for Euro 2024 tomorrow night. What an atmosphere there will be at Hampden if that score comes true and we qualify directly for the tournament.
The Scotland-England heritage game is part of a series of events held over the past year to celebrate the 150th anniversary. Earlier today the two team captains, Andy Robertson and Harry Kane, met at the West of Scotland cricket club to promote tomorrow’s match. That was the site of the first ever international match between Scotland and England. The game will be the 116th meeting of the two nations. So far, England have won 48 and Scotland have won 41. I note that few English colleagues are present in the Chamber; I think that reflects their concern about the match tomorrow. It is called a friendly, but there is never a friendly between these two nations and it will be competitive to the very end. Given the way Scotland are currently playing, I do not think many people would bet against them.
As I said, I want to look back at the history of the game. Given that the Scottish FA is celebrating its 150th anniversary, it was of course formed in 1873, but football has been played in Scotland as far back as the 15th century, when the public played royalty. At that time, and for many decades, football was prohibited under the Football Act 1424. It was felt that the game interrupted the men’s marital duties, so football was not allowed. I am pleased that that idea has now been dispelled. Indeed, the law fell into disuse, but it was not actually repealed until 1906, after the Scottish FA was formed.
It was at a meeting in Dewar’s hotel in Glasgow on 13 March 1873 that the Scottish Football Association was formed. Clubs including Queen’s Park, Clydesdale, Vale of Leven, Dumbreck, Third Lanark, Eastern and Granville met there, and Kilmarnock FC sent a letter of support. On that day, the Scottish FA was formed, making it one of the oldest associations anywhere in the world. Archibald Campbell from Clydesdale was the first president and Archibald Rae of Queen’s Park was the First Secretary.
Of course, the formation of the Scottish FA followed others. In 1886, the Scottish FA, along with the FA, the Football Association of Wales and the Irish Football Association, set up IFAB, the International Football Association Board, which to this day still acts as the guardian of the laws of the game. IFAB’s most recent annual general meeting was held here in the Palace of Westminster, when representatives from across world football came into Parliament.
Scotland is home to the Scottish cup, which is the oldest knockout trophy in the game. The Scottish women’s cup—I will come to this when I speak about women’s football—was revamped this year, and the new trophy that was presented is the newest knockout trophy in world football, so we have both the oldest and the newest.
I commend the hon. Gentleman for securing the debate. He is absolutely right that we all celebrate football, whether it be Scottish football or football all around the world, and as a Northern Ireland supporter I do as well. As an avid Rangers fan, as the hon. Gentleman knows, I can only take my hat off to the teams that make up a tremendous sporting section. Knowing that the Scottish FA has been in place for 150 years, I, along with other Rangers fans and, indeed, Celtic fans back home in the Province will have one thing to say in one voice: long may the Scottish FA continue.
I am very grateful for that intervention. Football needs a ball, two teams and a referee; an Adjournment debate needs an intervention from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), so I am glad we got that. I know that the hon. Gentleman’s sentiments will be well received by everyone connected to the Scottish FA.
Scotland has a great tradition of managerial successes, whether for home nations or clubs or, indeed, around the world. The names Stein, Shankly and Ferguson echo through history, and Scotland has been a hotbed of managerial excellence for generations. It is a country that has created leaders and innovators in the game, with some of the world’s most celebrated coaches and managers.
I want to take a short time tonight to remember the Scotland manager who most recently took the team to qualification in a World cup. France ’98 was the last World cup tournament for which we qualified. I remember being at school and watching the first match against the holders Brazil, and Craig Brown, an outstanding manager, leading out the team with great pride. Craig Brown sadly died earlier this year at the age of 82. He was Scotland’s longest-serving manager, being in charge of 71 games from 1993 to 2001, and qualifying not just for that World cup in 1998 but for the Euros in 1996.
Anyone who was fortunate enough to have played under Craig Brown or to have met him at a football match or after-dinner event at which he spoke so well about his career and how he helped others remembers him extremely fondly. I looked up a couple of quotes from people who spoke immediately after Craig Brown’s death. Aberdeen chairman Dave Cormack said:
“He was one of those rare individuals who was not only effective at what he did but universally loved by all who got to know him. A gentleman who loved his family, friends, and football.”
One of Brown’s great friends and colleagues, Sir Alex Ferguson, described him as a “thoroughly wonderful man”. He continued:
“When I was given the honour of managing Scotland at the World Cup finals in Mexico there was one man I had to take, for all his attributes and knowledge, and that was Craig. He had a great career as a manager of several clubs but his service for his country stands out. In an industry that questions a man’s capabilities, Craig never wavered in that situation, he always kept his head and his composure.”
He really was a giant of our game and is sadly missed by many people across Scottish football.
I want to touch on another area, because although, understandably as a Scottish fan, I want to highlight and praise the current achievements of the men’s team, as in many other parts of the country the women’s game in football has developed greatly in recent years. In 1974, the Scottish FA officially recognised women’s football, then in 1998 affiliated with the Scottish Women’s Football Association. Since 1998, the Scottish FA has been responsible for the Scotland women’s national team. Indeed, in 1998 they had their biggest ever win: a 17-nil victory over Lithuania. The side has had significant success in recent years, qualifying for the World cup in 2019 and the women’s Euros in 2017. We have legends of the female game such as Rose Reilly, a truly inspirational footballer both on and off the pitch who has rightly been recognised at home and abroad for her outstanding contribution to the game.
Closer to home, away from the national team, I have mentioned previously in the Chamber the success of Buckie Ladies, who won their inaugural trophy, the Highlands and Islands league cup, in 2022, only five years after having been established. What is so special about that club is that not only does the team perform at that level in the women’s game but the club has a pathway right down to under-10s. What was so special about that win last year—I think it was at Nairn County’s ground—was that all the under-10 players and those in the age groups right up to the full women’s team joined in and went along to see that cup final success on penalties. It is great to see the team go from strength to strength.
I also want to look at disability football or para football. In 2017, the Scottish FA rebranded its work in disability football with the new brand of para-football. The brand was created to allow greater emphasis on the diverse work carried out by the Scottish FA in this area of the game, as well as to create a stronger voice for people living with varying conditions. In 2017, the Scottish FA launched its new strategy called “PlayAbility...Our Game is the Same”, which aims to create greater opportunities in para football that will allow participants to reach their full potential.
I also want to focus briefly on Street Soccer Scotland, which was announced earlier this year as the official charity partner of the Scottish FA. I was fortunate enough to be at a reception in the Scottish Parliament where we had a presentation, as part of the 150th anniversary celebrations, looking at Street Soccer Scotland and the incredible work it does. At the moment it is running more than 60 projects across the country and has 2,500 registered players, on top of the 25,000 players who have been helped by Street Soccer Scotland throughout its existence.
It is great to see males and females getting involved in football both at home and abroad in the homeless world cup, at which Scotland had success back in 2007 and 2011. In the 50 countries that have been represented at both the male and female tournaments, it is great to see that 94% of people said that the homeless world cup positively impacted their lives, 83% said it improved social relations with family and friends, 77% said their involvement in football changed their life significantly and 71% continue to play sport today because of their involvement.
There are many areas I would like to focus on tonight. I am grateful that we have a little more time because the Adjournment debate has come earlier. I want to look at the leagues across Scotland. We have the different areas within the national game—male and female, disability and other areas—but the leagues are important as well. The Scottish league was established in 1890. A league closer to home is the Scottish highland football league; many Moray clubs have had success in that league in the past and I am sure will do in the future, including Forres Mechanics, Lossiemouth, Rothes, Keith and Buckie Thistle. The league was established on 4 August 1983 in Inverness Workman’s Club, so, as part of the Scottish FA’s 150th anniversary, the Scottish highland football league is celebrating its 130th.
The Scottish highland football league continues to go from strength to strength. It draws big crowds for some of the big matches throughout the season and it is renowned for its hospitality and for the welcoming approach that the clubs take to each other and to spectators of both clubs. That is why it is so highly regarded across Scottish football and, indeed, renowned in many parts of the world as well.
If I may remind the House of my declaration of interests, I wanted to mention the referee, who is sometimes forgotten about in the history of the Scottish FA and other FAs—but not tonight, when the debate is led by a referee. Sadly at one point there was a joke, “What do you call a Scotsman at a major footballing finals?” The answer then was, “a referee”, because when our national team was not qualifying, our referees were. Some of the giants of the game—literally—were the match officials. Tom “Tiny” Wharton was an imposing figure on football pitches around Scotland and around the world, highly regarded as a FIFA match official, a FIFA observer and the chairman of the referee supervisors committee in Scotland for many years.
Other names are also well known: Bob Valentine, Jim McCluskey, George Smith and many others have made a huge contribution to the game in Scotland and abroad. Most recently, when we were not qualifying for those tournaments, that lone Scotsman at the international tournaments was likely to be Hugh Dallas. He was at France ’98; four years later, at the next World cup in 2002, there was no Scottish men’s team, but Hugh Dallas was there, not just officiating at the highest level in the world, but for the duration of the tournament. He was the fourth official for the final match, Germany versus Brazil—a Scotsman on the pitch at a World cup final. It was an incredible achievement, not only for Hugh Dallas and his family, but for Scottish football.
In 2004, Stuart Dougal was a fourth official at the Euros. William Collum led a team of officials, including Frank Connor as one of his assistant referees, Bobby Madden and John Beaton, at France 2016—again, Scottish referees at the top of the game. At home we are extremely well served in the referee department by referee observers, my own association manager Bill Machray and many people outwith the limelight of the professional game on the TV every week, who put so much into association training, the development of new referees and mentoring new referees.
Referees are an integral part of the Scottish FA, and so too are our fans. It is right that in this debate we recognise the incredible fans of Scottish football, both at home and abroad. They say if there is no Scotland, there is no party, so we certainly hope there will be a good party in Germany when Scotland qualify. The fans are the lifeblood of our game, domestically and internationally.
I must say that I joined the fans in being insulted and disgusted by the ludicrous proposals last week from the senior traffic commissioner for the United Kingdom, who suggested introducing a series of draconian rules that would have impacted fans going to and from football matches. The proposals were rightly condemned by those at the very top of Scottish football, by people from across the political spectrum and, most loudly and passionately, by the fans themselves, who could see they would be an absolute mess and completely not required in our game. Those proposals were rightly shelved very quickly, which we all welcome; they should never have seen the light of day in the first place, but it is right that they will now not be taken forward.
Another area where many fans unite is the screening of Scottish national team matches on terrestrial television. Tomorrow night people will be able to watch on Channel 4 the match between Scotland and England at Hampden Park, but too many can only watch the qualifiers on pay-per-view. Many Scottish fans reluctantly pay their subscription to ViaPlay, which won the rights to the UEFA bidding contract, only for ViaPlay to say it will not continue with the coverage in the medium to long term.
It is vital that there is work done between the Scottish FA and UEFA on that, and that the Parliaments at Westminster and at Holyrood do whatever they can. When I mentioned this issue at the Scottish Affairs Committee earlier on today, the Chair was very keen that I highlight that the Scottish Affairs Committee is looking at it and seeking to work with everyone to try to get a resolution that will allow Scottish qualifying matches to be seen on terrestrial television at all times.
I also want to mention how important football is to families. Football is a sport that brings families together, and sometimes we forget about that. We look at the big prices paid by players and the controversial decisions taken on the pitch, but we forget that this is a sport that brings people together. People take their sons and daughters and go with their husbands and wives to watch that 30-yard screamer hitting the back of the net, to complain at decisions that go against them or to be frustrated about losing a game they never should have lost. We saw during the covid-19 pandemic just how important the football community was to many individuals and families. It was often the thing that made people pick up the phone to their parents, to discuss what had happened on the livestreams that they were watching because they could not get into the stadium together.
We should never forget that the wonderful successes we have had in football across Scotland are down to fans and down to families. Anyone involved in the game at any level is doing that for the spectacle it has become and continues to be. It is so important that we recognise that involvement.
The hon. Gentleman referred to families, and I know that when my three boys were small, one of the great things we enjoyed doing was going over to the Rangers matches. We went on the bus with Ballywalter Loyal Rangers Supporters Club before Christmas and after Christmas. The boys were small and it was one of those great family occasions that I look back at with much joy and fun. The boys had an education on Rangers football club in the Broomloan stand, where the Rangers supporters all united and sang those songs. My boys enjoyed it and those are memories for our family that I will never forget.
I am grateful again to the hon. Gentleman. Those memories last a lifetime. My own oldest boy watched me officiating at his first match—thankfully, he did not understand all the abuse directed at me—and he has just started off his own interest in football at the Mini Dribblers at Elgin City football club, a great community resource that I will speak about in a bit. It is about being able to share that interest at an early age. Some families grow apart, and people leave their home area, but often the one thing that brings them back is the love of a team, of a sport, or certainly of successes for the Scottish team more generally, as is the case at the moment.
Another area that deserves recognition is that the family experience can sometimes be over an entire day—not just from the kick-off at 3 o’clock, or a lot earlier or later depending on television—and in many cases involves travelling the length and breadth of Scotland to go to the match. That goes back to what the independent traffic commissioner was trying to do. It is sometimes a whole day; sometimes a whole weekend. I travel a lot to get from my home in Moray to matches across the country.
The people who are with me for most of those journeys are Stuart Cosgrove and Tam Cowan of “Off the Ball”, which is described as:
“The most petty and ill-informed sports programme on radio!”
It is anything but; it is entertainment. Tam is a big Motherwell supporter and Stuart is a St Johnstone fan, and they are both extremely well informed about the Scottish game. They get incredible guests on every week, including Kirsty Wark, Lorraine Kelly, football stars and many others—they are part of the package. Next year, “Off the Ball” will celebrate its 30th anniversary. There are no guarantees, Mr Deputy Speaker, but we might be back here in a year’s time having a debate about “Off the Ball”. I mention it because sometimes we think about what happens on the pitch and between clubs, but people are involved in a whole process. Stuart and Tam are motivated by trying to ensure that the football experience is enjoyed by all. For me, certainly, and for tens of thousands of football fans across Scotland, “Off the Ball” plays an important part in that.
The last couple of things I will mention relate to grassroots football—the lifeblood of the game in Scotland —and our facilities. It is fair to say that Scotland is facing a crisis in football facilities and for people playing grassroots football. Now more than ever, many communities face the stark reality either that there are not enough facilities to ensure that all levels and areas of the game are fully serviced, or that, in too many cases, young people are priced out of facilities. Many new facilities get built by local authorities and others, but then simply become unaffordable; often, only the clubs that have money coming in can afford them. Even if we do nothing else after this debate, I would like us to look more seriously at the lack of facilities and availability in Scotland and ensure that they are there for the next generation.
I welcome the announcement by Department for Culture, Media and Sport of £20 million for facilities and infrastructure development, but we need to think smarter about that. Grassroots football in Scotland generated £1.3 billion in social return on investment, according to a landmark UEFA study. I hope that the people who make decisions about sporting facilities across the country, particularly football facilities, think ahead and spend to invest going forward. That money will be extremely well spent if we have facilities for our game available for all ages in all communities across the whole of Scotland.
Finally, as I was preparing for the debate, I contacted the president of the Scottish FA, Mike Mulraney, who took on the position recently. I asked him what he would say if he had the opportunity to speak in this Chamber. These are his words:
“We are grateful for the opportunity to celebrate the impact and legacy Scottish football has had on the game globally, across the UK and in communities across Scotland. My role as President is to harness that power of Scottish football and to ensure it can inspire our nation. Football should be a vital tool in the national agenda to improve the health and wellbeing of our society. In that regard, we are at your disposal: ready, able and willing to help the fight against poverty, ill health—both physical and mental—and inequality in society. I ask that we pool our resources to ensure that this game is accessible to all with no barriers. For that we need urgent investment, innovative thinking and a collective will. Football transforms lives. Football saves lives. Use our national game as a valuable team-mate in the challenges I have outlined, not a political football.”
I could not have said it better myself, and I think it right that the president’s words are heard in this Chamber and recorded in Hansard for the future.
For those who support a club, football can, at times, be challenging and frustrating, but it is always, always inspiring. It does not matter whether someone is a male player or a female player, old or young, playing at home in the United Kingdom or watching their team abroad, or whether their game is on the local pitch or at an iconic stadium around the globe. Football inspires at every level for every generation. Scotland’s place in that historical and inspirational game has already been secured. Steve Clarke and his men are writing the next chapter in the history of Scottish football. Let us ensure not just that we recognise the 150th anniversary by celebrating the past and praising present successes, but that we prepare for the future to give young people in Scotland the ambitious, outward-looking prospect of playing at whatever level they wish, at whatever ground they wish and for whichever team they wish, understanding that, over the last 150 years and the next 150 years, the Scottish FA has been and will be there to help and develop them.
On St Andrew’s Day in 1872, players from Queen’s Park football club represented Scotland against England in the world’s first international football match at the West of Scotland cricket club in Glasgow’s west end. That 0-0 draw sparked international football into life, and 115 official men’s matches have since been played between Scotland and England. Tomorrow evening they will meet at Hampden Park in a special 150th anniversary heritage match to mark the historic first meeting between the two sides. The match will also celebrate the establishment of the Scottish Football Association, which formed in March 1873 to provide a formal structure to the game of football across the country, where it had experienced a rapid growth in the previous decade.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) for securing this debate so that the House can also celebrate those significant anniversaries. As a registered match official in Scottish football, he is possibly the only person who has ever endured the—what can I say—“accolades” that come from being both a politician and a linesman. I can think of no better colleague to have secured the debate.
When Scotland played that first fixture against England, Queen’s Park provided not only the players but the dark blue kits, which it then donated to the team for future use. Queen’s Park is Scotland’s oldest club. It was established in 1867 as an amateur outfit and remained so for 152 years. The club introduced new concepts to the game such as crossbars, half-time and free-kicks, all of which were later incorporated into the modern game.
Queen’s Park was at the forefront of developing the game, so it was no surprise when Andrew Watson, one of the most exciting talents of the 1880s, joined the club. Born in Guyana, Watson moved to England to attend school, and then completed his education at the University of Glasgow. Having represented various teams across Glasgow, Watson attracted the attention of Queen’s and signed in 1880. After domestic success at Queen’s, Watson was selected to captain Scotland against England at the Oval in 1881. Watson’s achievements and influence as the first black international footballer are celebrated at the Scottish Football Museum and on a mural near Hampden Park. When Watson was captain, the Scotland team won by the margin of six goals to one—one of the biggest ever victories between the two sides and England’s heaviest defeat on home soil.
In the early days of the fixture, Scotland were very successful: until 1890, we dominated, and it was rare that England won. These days, of course, things are a bit different. A Scotland win against the auld enemy—our vaguely affectionate term for the English team—has become much more seldom. Indeed, we have not managed to pull off a win in this century, although we have come close in recent years. We have not forgotten that Harry Kane had to score an injury-time equaliser to rescue England at Hampden six years ago, when the game ended in a 2-2 draw. More recently, I was delighted to attend the European championship game between the two sides, which ended in a very nervy 0-0 draw at Wembley. That was the first European championship for the men’s team since 1996, and the first major international competition since France ‘98. The atmosphere that night was electric as a tough Scotland side fought hard against an English team filled with household names, who would of course go on to reach the final of that tournament.
The Scotland-England matches in recent years have been very close, as a resurgent national team under Steve Clarke have grown to become one of the most promising Scotland teams in decades. We currently stand top of our European championship group, having racked up huge wins over Spain and Norway this year. We are starting to dream that this golden generation of Scottish players can go further than any other in history and make it out of the first round of the Euros, or even the World cup—although I have probably just jinxed any chance of that happening.
Tomorrow night at Hampden, in the 150th anniversary game, we are hoping that this Scotland team can replicate the success of the side captained by Andrew Watson long ago. Naturally, we would not dream of a 6-1 victory: these days, given the quality in the England team, a 1-0 win would be celebrated just as loudly and proudly. However the game goes, we are surely in for a great night of football.
Over the years, these clashes have produced moments of magic on both sides. We cannot forget the 1996 European championship, when Gazza knocked the ball over Scotland’s defence and scored one of the most memorable goals—and did one of the most memorable celebrations—of the tournament, or the famous 1967 game at Wembley, where an England team filled with World cup winners such as Bobby Charlton, Geoff Hurst and Bobby Moore lost 3-2. Scottish legends including John Greig, Jim Baxter, Billy Bremner, Denis Law and Bobby Lennox were crowned the unofficial world champions that day.
Of course, we should also celebrate the great successes of our women’s team. They missed out on qualifying for this year’s World cup, but they did make it to the world stage in 2019 and qualified for their first major tournament in 2017. The women’s team provided a new group of heroes for the modern era; some also featured for Team GB at the Olympic games, including Kim Little and Caroline Weir. Scottish players are at the peak of the game across Europe. Weir currently plays for European giants Real Madrid, and other players in the current Scotland set-up include Bayern Munich’s Samantha Kerr, West Ham’s Lisa Evans, Sophie Howard of Leicester City, Chelsea’s Erin Cuthbert, Martha Thomas of Manchester United, and numerous players for Rangers, Glasgow City and Celtic.
As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Moray, the women’s team are flourishing, and we look forward to seeing the prominence of women’s football continue to grow in the years to come, as future generations are inspired by the examples they see of women competing at the highest levels of football. On the 22nd of this month, the women’s team will also take on the auld enemy, and we will be cheering them on just as enthusiastically. There is a rich history of Scotland-England fixtures in women’s football too, of course: the first official international women’s game in the UK took place 51 years ago, when England narrowly defeated Scotland 3-2. The women’s game did not receive the support it deserved in those early days, but thankfully, that has changed in recent decades.
At club level, Scotland’s teams have also punched well above their weight. Celtic’s achievement in 1967, becoming the first British side to win the European cup, is made all the more historic by the fact that all members of the “Lisbon Lions” were born within 30 miles of Celtic Park. Rangers lifted the European cup winners’ cup in 1972, and have made two remarkable runs to the Europa League finals, the most recent being just two years ago. To this day, Dundee United are the only side to enjoy a 100% win record against Barcelona in competitive European ties, winning four games out of four, and 40 years ago, the Aberdeen side led by Sir Alex Ferguson beat the mighty Real Madrid to clinch the European cup winners’ cup.
Such successes are definitely harder to come by in the new age of football, where money matters more than the passion of the fans, but this United Kingdom Government are committed to providing support to the grassroots game in Scotland as we look to inspire the next generation of footballers who will create their own legacy. In his speech, my hon. Friend emphasised the importance of investment in grassroots sports—a point well made. From 2021 to 2025, the UK Government will provide the Scottish Football Association with over £20 million to build and improve grassroots football facilities across the length and breadth of Scotland, from Stornoway to Annan and from Kilwinning to Moray, and of course we are very excited about our UK and Ireland joint bid to host Euro 2028. It would be the biggest sporting event our islands have jointly hosted, and Hampden Park would play a starring role. It is also a really positive example of how Government partners can work together to deliver for communities across every part of the UK, and Ireland too.
A passion for football is ingrained in Scottish society, and I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate so that we can all join together in wishing Scottish football well for its next 150 years. I am confident that we will all wish both Scotland and England well when both the men’s and women’s teams face each other over the next two weeks.
Question put and agreed to.