First Elevens - The Story Of Playing England Before We Played By The Rules

21 June 2012 07:15
Two cracking books on the early years of Scottish international football by the same guy - and I have copies as prizes. Questions will be posted soon.

Andy Mitchell, former head of communications at the ScottishFA, is a football fan. Working for ten years for the ruling body would have been a nightmare for him if he didn't love being immersed in the cut and thrust of being the conduit of information fed to the media on the Scottish game. His hectic day job helped him in his determination to have an enjoyable work-life balance. It just so happened that the relaxation element of his life meant he was still thinking about and loving football. Sport historian Mitchell has just published his fourth book 'First Elevens' looking back at the first five meetings between Scotland and England all before the playing of the officially recognised first game in the oldest international fixture in the world on 30 November 1872 at the ground of the West of Scotland Cricket Club. Mitchell is usually to be found helping UEFA with their media issues and would have been in the Ukraine or Poland during EURO2012 if it were not for him working for three months on promoting the Olympic football to be played at Hampden.

Andy Mitchell (c) Ger Harley | SportPix

While the FA celebrates their 150th anniversary with a game against their Auld Enemy Scotland on 14 August 2013, the first five games between the two countries were all played in London. While officially there have been 111 games between the two sides under association football rules, the series record shows 116 games played. As a fanatical football fan and sport historian, Mitchell came across tantalising crumbs of information on the games when researching his 2011 book 'Arthur Kinnaird; First Lord of football'. Kinnaird was football's first superstar, played in nine FA Cup finals (still a record), picked Scotland's first international team and was president of the FA for 33 years. He was held in such esteem that he was presented with the FA Cup in recognition of his influence on the game. The titbits of information picked up during his research refused to drop out of Mitchell's mind. Stories of players being picked on the basis that they may have had a Scottish sounding name and were handy on the nominated date of the games were apocryphal and, thanks to the tenacity of Mitchell and the wonders of the digital age, proved to be wide of the mark. Mitchell was able to trace all bar one player in the teams which played in the games between 1870 and 1872 and each one would be eligible to play for Scotland under the current eligibility criteria.While the players of today do not get a chance to keep anything of their lives secret, back in the 1870s things were a little different. Players in those days were more from the middle classes who had more leisure time to participate in sporting venture. Mitchell had his work cut out to not only get an accurate list of names (including correct spelling) but also to trace their descendents to enable him to complete their story. The book is full of stories we all love about players such as an England player who assaulted his wife with a chicken; Scotland inventing the overhead kick; players with money troubles; committing murder; being elected; having statues erected in their memory; and one who had a toad named after him! Typical of the player's tales is about one Robert Smith. Mitchell takes up the story as he said: "Smith played in the first international. He had gone to London a couple of years beforehand and had played in the unofficial games with England. He was a founder member of Queen's Park in 1867, his job took him to London in 1869, and was elected to the FA committee to represent Queen's Park and therefore represent Scottish football. He was quite a decent player and he played in the first two internationals and in 1873 he emigrated to America. All the reference books say things like 'went to the Rocky Mountains' full stop. He appears to disappear completely at that point. There was one tantalising clue in the history of Queen's Park, written in 1920,  that the club had sent him a congratulation message on his marriage in1879. This was crucial to my following his trail as the message was dated July 1879 and I looked in the on-line version of the Glasgow Herald for the following day and found for the notice of the marriage between Robert Smith, of Green River Wyoming,  and Georgina Kidd. This led me to search using Google for 'Robert Smith, Green River' and found vast amounts of information about this Scot who had come out to Wyoming and had founded the local Green River paper; had been elected to the Wyoming legislature for three terms; had become the honourable Robert Smith. But no mention of football. By more digging around, I found the Smith family tree; his son was a doctor in Chicago; his grandson survived unscathed the attack on Pearl Harbour at the start of America's involvement in the Second World War; from his obituary I found Robert's great-grand-daughter and she supplied me with pictures which are in the book. She had no idea about the football past of her ancestor. That story was one of my big successes in writing the book but has been repeated quite a few times as descendants have passed on pictures of players. This reverse genealogy process has allowed me to be helped and help the families involved complete the story of their famous forbears."  So, a book worth reading if you are a football fan and need to complete the record of the oldest international rivalry in the world. Mitchell has shown the way that technology can bring history to life and names on a faded picture can provide more than a brief footnote in Scottish football history but have gone on to make an impact in the rest of their lives. BTW: you can blame football for setting off the rugby internationals between the two countries as well. Mitchell found out that on hearing of the games in London between the followers of the round ball version of football, bastions of the Scottish rugby version invited their English counterparts to a game which now take place at Twickenham and Murrayfield.'First Elevens; The birth of international football' and 'Arthur Kinnaird; First Lord of football' by Andy Mitchell published by Andy Mitchell Media, Scotland. Available from and