THOUGH I suspect many people have missed it, 2017 has been declared Scotland’s year of History, Heritage and Archaeology. Since we are positively festooned with the three things, I’m sure that it will be a great success, especially as VisitScotland are involved and I have a great deal of respect for their efforts on behalf of the nation.
Unless I have not seen it, however, there does not as yet appear to be any major event to mark Scotland’s incredible sporting history.
So often we are told about the unique contribution which Scotland has made in many fields. Scots invented the telephone, television and radar not forgetting the pneumatic tyre and even the tarmacadam roads on which we drive. No doubt that rich inventive heritage will be celebrated this year, but I would like to suggest that Scotland’s invention in sport should also be marked, and it could be a money spinner for the country.
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Other nations may claim that they played an ancient form of golf, but the rules of the game were undoubtedly formulated here in Scotland and the astonishing thing to me is that the original 13 rules of golf as written down by the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith, later the Honourable Company of Edinburgh golfers, in March, 1774, are still recognisably incorporated into the modern rules produced by the Royal and Ancient and the US Golf Association.
You can see the original “Articles and Laws in Playing at Golf” at the National Library of Scotland. There are also important documents in the archives of the City of Edinburgh Council which conclusively prove that these were the original rules of golf. For in a splendid piece of bureaucratic meddling, the old Town Council insisted that if they were to present a silver club for an Open competition on Leith Links, then there had to be a set of rules that players could abide by. Duly minuted and recorded, the original rules are thus very much part of Edinburgh and Scotland’s history.
I have always loved rule no 8: “If you should lose your Ball, by its being taken up, or any other way, you are to go back to the Spot, where you struck last, & drop another Ball, And allow your adversary a Stroke for the misfortune.”
Don’t you just get that word ‘misfortune’? I have often said to fellow players that I did not suffer a hook or a shank that put my ball into irrecoverable perdition, it was just a ‘misfortune’ – “and it says that in the rules of golf so it must be right,” I would argue with them.
If only for golf, sport should be front and centre in Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.
Yet there is so much more. Take football, for instance. There is no question that various forms of fitba’ were played in Scotland for many centuries – the Ba Game in Kirkwall and other local variations are descendants of mass games played on or around Shrove Tuesday and other times of the year.
Famously King James I in 1424 got the Scottish Parliament to pass an Act which banned ‘fut ball’ so that Scotland’s yeomanry would practise more at archery and other warlike sports. But did you know that the world’s oldest example of a football is Scottish, dating from around 1540 and found during the renovations of Stirling Castle in 1981.
More pertinently, the modern form of Association Football was invented and pioneered here in Scotland. As that great sportwriter Patrick Barclay recorded in The Independent before the England v Scotland match that celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Football Association – no doubt England saw the original rules drawn up – it was Scots who invented the modern passing game that enabled them to dominate any English opponents for the first 15-20 years of organised football until Preston North End and other clubs got Scots to show them how to pass the ball.
This year is also the 50th anniversary of Scotland’s greatest footballing year – we became world champions when we beat World Cup holders England, Celtic really did become European champions, Rangers narrowly lost out on the Cup Winners Cup and Kilmarnock made the semi-final of the Fairs Cities Cup. Surely that’s worth marketing?
As for so many other sports, Scotland has a fabulous history. We played England in the first rugby union international in 1871 – and beat them!
The Scottish Rugby Union is the second oldest in the world and over the years, great Scottish players have made their impact on the sport. We should mark Scottish rugby history if only to celebrate David Bedell-Sivright, GPS McPherson, Dan Drysdale, Herbert Waddell and his son Gordon, Ian Smith, WID Elliot, Ken Scotland, Jim Telfer, Sandy Carmichael, Ian McLauchlan, Gordon Brown, Ian McGeechan, Jim Renwick, Andy Irvine, John Jeffrey, Finlay Calder and his brothers, Roy Laidlaw, David Sole, the Hastings brothers, Doddie Weir, Gregor Townsend and Chris Paterson – I’ve left out many, including all the current players.
We have had so many great sportsmen and sportswomen down the decades, and now in tennis we have the greatest Scottish sporting individual of all – Sir Andy Murray. You don’t agree he’s the greatest? How about Donald Dinnie, Old Tom Morris, Eric Liddell, Sir Jackie Stewart, Liz McColgan, Sir Chris Hoy? Well wouldn’t that make for a great debate?
Sport is an important part of Scotland’s history, heritage and even archaeology – Archibald Leitch’s amazing stadia are now almost all but gone – and in 2017 we must do something to celebrate the history of Scottish sport. I will be delighted to assist in any way.