How Global Football Began With a 0-0 Draw

The first international football match, contested by Scotland and England in 1872, lit the spark for today’s televised extravaganzas

Published 19 Nov 2017, 23:10 GMT, Updated 2 Jul 2021, 13:50 BST
Wembley Stadium hosts a night time qualifying game for the World Cup.
Wembley Stadium hosts a night time qualifying game for the World Cup.
Photograph by Football Association\The FA via Getty Images

Shortly after 2pm on 30th November 1872, Scotland and England kicked off the first official international football match in history. Each side featured eight attackers but scored no goals. Up to 4,000 spectators – with the men wearing top hats and the women admitted free - surrounded the pitch at the West of Scotland Cricket Club in Glasgow. Scotland’s players wore dark blue shirts decorated with a single lion, and pointy red hats known as cowls. England’s team sported white jerseys emblazoned with three lions, and blue caps. The players smoked pipes as they warmed up.

On a rain-soaked pitch, both sides attacked. The England goalkeeper Robert Barker even switched positions with striker William Maynard in search of a goal. Scotland’s Robert Leckie came closest to scoring, hitting a shot against the tape which was strung up between two posts as a makeshift crossbar. But despite the fierce national rivalry (the Manchester Guardian described the match as “vigorously contested”) and the fact both sides fielded eight forwards, the match somehow finished 0-0.

An artist's impression from 1872 captures the rough and ready nature of the first international football match, staged between England and Scotland.
Photograph by Chronicle / Alamy Stock Photo

After the formation of the English Football Association in 1863, which codified the laws of a game, several contests took place between the two nations in 1871-72. But with Scotland’s team selected only from London-based players, the matches were not recognised as official internationals. This time, with Scotland represented by players from Scottish club Queen's Park and England’s players drawn from clubs such as Oxford University and Sheffield Wednesday, football had its first bona fide international.

The match paved the way for the British Home Championship between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the 1880s – the oldest international football tournament in the world – and the launch of the first FIFA World Cup in 1930. A concept born with a 0-0 draw in front of 4,000 spectators in 1872 has now morphed into a global phenomenon, with the most recent 2018 FIFA World Cup reaching 3.5bn television viewers worldwide and raising £3.9bn in revenue.

This article was updated in 2021.

The stage is set for international glory... or misery at Wembley Stadium.
Photograph by Jan Kruger - The FA/The FA via Getty Images
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