June 23, 2023
Scottish football has played a major role in some of the greatest club sides ever assembled. Sir Alex Ferguson stands as the exemplary figure of such a statement, but you only need to transfer your gaze from Manchester to Liverpool and see Bill Shankly and Kenny Dalglish waving. All this focus on their impact on English football, in particular, overshadows what Scottish football has achieved for itself.
So here, in this guide, while nodding at the impact exported Scots made abroad, we will focus on the legacy Scottish football has for its people and its fans.
Scottish Football: 101
- The first four tiers of the Scottish football league system are national leagues. From the fifth tier to the tenth are regional, amateur leagues.
- The leagues in Scotland are much smaller than England, Italy, France, Germany, and Spain. For instance, the top four national tiers of Scottish football comprise only 42 teams, with the biggest league holding 12 – the Scottish Premiership, which is the top tier. 250 clubs are spread over the fifth to tenth tiers.
- Financial disparity plagues Scottish football, particularly in the Premiership, where the two powerhouses of Scottish football, Celtic and Rangers, have wage bills four or five times bigger than their closest competitors, let alone those who finish in the relegation spots.
- Aberdeen, Celtic, and Rangers are the only Scottish clubs to win European competition, with the last victory coming in 1983 when Aberdeen, coached by Sir Alex Ferguson, clinched the European Cup Winners’ Cup and the UEFA Super Cup.
The Unique History of Scottish Football
Much like football south of the border in England, Scottish football has a recorded form from the 15th century. It wasn’t, however, until the late 1800s that Association football was born.
In 1873, the Scottish Football Association was founded, making it the second oldest in world football. No formal league was introduced for many years, with clubs playing friendlies and knock-out cup competitions during this period. When England founded its Football League in 1888, many of the best Scottish players headed there to play their football. This migration and loss of talent from the Scottish game prompted figureheads at the Scottish clubs to consider founding a league.
And so, in 1890, the Scottish Football League began. As was common with the formation of leagues across European football, many clubs opposed the embrace of professionalism, with Queen’s Park – the oldest Scottish team – a firm believer in amateurism because it felt that was the best way to ensure fair competition and the continued existence of smaller clubs. Celtic, Rangers, Hearts, St Mirren, and Dumbarton are the only remaining teams from the original 11 to compete. After finishing level on points and with their play-off decider finishing as a 2-2 draw, Dumbarton and Rangers were joint champions in the inaugural season.
A Second Division was introduced for the 1893/1894 season because the First Division was proving to be so popular. Automatic promotion, however, didn’t exist until 1921. Before then, clubs were promoted based on a ballot.
By 1923, after WWI, during which the First Division continued but the Second Division was suspended, the Scottish football system had expanded to include a Third Division. However, financial losses led to the collapse of that Third Division in 1926.
Post WWII, Scottish football underwent another structural change. A Third Division returned, but the three leagues were renamed A, B, and C. Reserve squads from higher-division clubs played in the C division. However, this stopped in 1955 and the C division folded, as Scottish football once again consolidated into two divisions.
The Mid Century Onwards…
However, these two divisions became quite large in comparison with previous iterations. Throughout early Scottish football until the next millennium, the national leagues were exclusive. This meant that no team could be relegated from the lowest division. Clubs could join the leagues only through ballots and elections, much like the premise set out when the Second Division was introduced in 1893.
1975 saw the return of three divisions – named Premier, First, and Second. 38 clubs competed in this system during this period until 1994.
The 1990s, When Football was Changing Across the UK…
The 1990s was a busy period for both English and Scottish football. A proposed Super League between the top clubs of Scottish football roughly coincided with the formation of English football’s Premier League. While Scotland’s Super League never came to be, more teams were elected to the league system which instigated new reformations. In 1998, Premier Division clubs split from their league to create the Scottish Premier League, inspired by England’s Premier League. It offered clubs a means of fully controlling commercial revenues, rather than adhering to the distribution required by the previous structure. As such, for the first time in its history, Scottish football had four tiers.
Through the 2000s, conversations surrounding the formation of a pyramid structure heated up. Before this, as mentioned, Scottish football was an exclusive system. No club from the regional, amateur divisions could enter the national system via a promotion/relegation mechanism.
July 2013 saw these structural changes enacted after complex, years-long negotiations over league mergers. The Scottish Professional Football League was founded. It consisted of four tiers and two domestic cup competitions. In addition to this, clubs from the regional leagues could enter the national tiers via a promotion play-off, based on performance merit, rather than a ballot. This is how Scottish football has remained to this day.
The National Team
We can’t talk about Scottish football without mentioning its national team.
Despite the success of producing incredible players and managers, the national team has often struggled on an international and continental stage. Charlie Nichols, Gordon Strachan, Graeme Souness, Alan Hansen, Joe Jordan, Jimmy Johnstone, Billy McNeill, Andrew Robertson – all these greats have graced the pitch, representing Scotland, but without bringing home a trophy.
Across 8 appearances at World Cups and 3 appearances at European Championships – from 1954 to the present day – no Scottish national men’s team has gone beyond the Group Stage.
13th, in October 2007, was the highest the team has climbed in the world rankings—a rise from 88th, in March 2005, which was its lowest.
Kenny Dalglish and Dennis Law are the joint top scorers for their country, with 30 goals each, while Dalglish holds the record for the most caps at 102.
Scottish Football: DAZN Bet’s Pop Quiz
Which club has won the most top-division titles?
Rangers have won the most top-division titles in Scottish football. Their most recent title in 2020/2021 was their 55th. After winning last season’s league, celtic have 52 titles to their name. Some way behind these two is a three-way tie on 4: Aberdeen, Hearts, and Hibs.
Who was the longest-serving Scotland National Team manager?
From 1993 to 2001, Craig Brown coached the national team for 71 games. He had a win percentage of 45.07% (32/71). He led Scotland to appearances at Euro 96 and the World Cup in 1998. However, he failed to follow up those successes with repeat appearances, failing to qualify for Euro 2000 and the World Cup in 2002.
What was the most-attended game in Scottish football history?
On 2nd January 1939, Rangers played Celtic at Ibrox Park with 118,567 in attendance. The Old Firm derby, despite not achieving such figures since, is still the event of the Scottish football calendar.