The established narrative of the birth of association football in Scotland generally starts with the foundation of Queen's Park FC in 1867. But if you look behind the bare facts of that event in Glasgow you will discover that a little village school in Aberdeenshire can stake a claim as a birthplace of Scottish football.
At least three of the founders of Queen's Park were educated at Fordyce Academy, while many of their fellow pioneers also came from Scotland's north-east. Their origins encapsulate a story which helps to explain why football north of the border evolved along different lines to that in England, with passing and teamwork rather than dribbling and individuality as its principal characteristics.
Scotland's first association football club came into being on 9 July 1867 when a group of young men met in Glasgow 'for the purpose of forming a Football Club'.
The minutes of Queen's Park's inaugural meeting were captured in beautiful script by 19-year-old William Klingner, a merchant's clerk, who was elected secretary. The single sheet recorded a few basic rules and a list of committee members from whom four office bearers were appointed to lead the club.
Unfortunately for researchers it is not possible to consult the original document, which was lost in a fire at Hampden Park on Boxing Day 1945. However, a picture of the minute was reproduced in Richard Robinson's History of Queen's Park, published in 1920. His book is widely accepted as the definitive version of how the club was formed, and who its founders were, but in the course of my research I became aware of a few anomalies in Robinson's version of events, which merited a close re-examination.
Dublin-born Robinson, the club historian, was in fact more of a cycling aficionado when he came to Glasgow in his youth and was one of the founders of the Scottish Cyclists' Union, elected its president in 1896. His day job was managing the Post Office telegraph office in the city, with a sideline as football editor of the Glasgow News and he also launched the Scottish Athletic Journal. Newly-retired at the time of the Queen's Park jubilee, he was in a good position to write the club's history.
In the build-up to the club's fiftieth anniversary there was copious newspaper coverage of some early reminiscences, and two books of press cuttings from 1916-17 are held in the Scottish Football Museum. These provide a number of pointers which are not in Robinson's book, which had to wait until the First World War was over to see the light of day.
What is clear is that the Queen's Park story began in the mid-1860s when a group of young men exercised together each Saturday on a patch of ground in Strathbungo, on the south side of Glasgow.
One of them was James Cruickshank Grant who, when interviewed in 1916 for the Athletic News, identified the initial group as comprising himself, Robert and James Smith, Donald Edminston, Lewis Black and 'a couple of others'. They were all north of Scotland men: Grant came from the Highland village of Duthil, not far from Black's home in Grantown-on-Spey, the Smiths had been brought up in Morayshire and Edminston was from Aberdeenshire.
Grant related how initially they practised traditional Highland sports at Strathbungo but when the ground became too confined they decamped to Queen's Park Recreation Ground in Langside. There, they encountered about forty youths from the local YMCA who were kicking a ball about and the men from the north joined in their game of football. They enjoyed it so much that they went into town to buy their own ball, as even in the 1860s footballs could be bought over the counter – there was a range on sale at the Royal Polytechnic Warehouse – which indicates the game was already popular in Glasgow.
As more and more people joined in their football games, in the summer of 1867 they decided to form a proper club, hence the meeting at 3 Eglinton Terrace in Crosshill. It was attended by about 20 young men, of whom 13 were elected onto a committee, and this is where the minute of that first meeting merits close examination, with a particular focus on those individuals.
William Klingner, the secretary, came from Portsoy on the Banffshire coast, the son of an émigré from Dresden who was village doctor.
The treasurer is recorded as 'Smith senior' to distinguish himself from 'Smith junior' who was one of the ordinary members. These were James Smith and his younger brother Robert, the sons of the Earl of Fife's head gardener at Innes House in Morayshire. (Richard Robinson got them the wrong way round in his book.)
The Smith brothers and Klingner were all educated at the same school, Fordyce Academy. It is really at the epicentre of Queen's Park's foundation as just five miles west of Fordyce is the coastal village of Cullen, birthplace of Queen's Park's first captain, Lewis Black.
Fordyce Academy was a remarkable institution. It was endowed in 1790 by George Smith, son of the village blacksmith who had made his fortune as a merchant in Bombay. He left £10,000, known as the Smith Bounty, to fund a schoolmaster and minister and to pay for the education of boys whose surname was, preferably, Smith.
Not surprisingly, there was fierce competition for places, with entrance exams for seven bursaries each year as well as for private fee-paying pupils. This gave it a cosmopolitan mix of pupils from different classes.
With the benefit of their surname, the Smith brothers from Morayshire were among the bursary pupils, probably as boarders as the family home was about 25 miles away. Klingner, however, could easily have travelled the three miles from home to school each day.
The Academy only had about 40 pupils, but the education they received could be life-changing and former pupils included surgeons, barristers and men such as Thomas Glover, responsible for introducing Western technology to Japan, and Sir James Clark, physician to Queen Victoria. The school enjoyed immense prestige in the Victorian era, described on occasion as the 'Eton of the North' (although it must be admitted that the term has been applied to several other schools such as Sedbergh, Rossall, Glenalmond and Fettes). In 1902, HM Inspector of Schools wrote 'The position of this school is now well established as the most important feeder of the university outside the city of Aberdeen.'
The last of the four Queen's Park office bearers was 30-year-old Mungo Ritchie, chosen as president, who came from Madderty in Perthshire. Lewis Black would succeed Ritchie as club president the following year.
The other members of the club, at least those who can be identified, came from various parts of Scotland ranging from Ayrshire to Inverness-shire and it appears that only one of them, the future club captain Robert Gardner, was a native Glaswegian.
With so many different backgrounds, and with none of the club members coming from schools with written rules, one of the first acts of the new committee was to decide which form of football to play. They wrote to Lillywhite's sports shop in London to ask for examples, and soon adopted their own 'Rules of the Field'. These were based on those of the Football Association and copies were printed in 1868 for the members, although none are known to have survived. Thankfully Robinson reproduced them in full in his book.
Rather than adopting the FA's rules entirely, the Queen's Park pioneers took their own view, and a sub-committee redrafted some of the text. Crucially they came up with a different wording to Law 6, covering offside.
The original text reads: When a player has kicked the ball, any one of the same side who is nearer to the opponents' goal-line is out of play, and may not touch the ball himself, nor in any way whatever prevent any other player from doing so, until the ball has been played, unless there are at least three of his opponents between him and their own goal; but no player is out of play when the ball is kicked from behind the goal-line.
The text in italic was altered to read: 'unless there are at least two of his opponents between him and their own goal, who must not be more than fifteen yards from the goal-line'.
By relaxing the number of opponents from three to two, and introducing a stipulation that those opponents had to be performing a defensive role in the last fifteen yards of the pitch, there was clearly a desire to have greater freedom to pass the ball forwards. This indicates that the Queen's Park players had an understanding about how to play football that was based on a passing game. They did not have the mental baggage that constrained public school-educated footballers in England.
They were not alone in choosing this approach. Also playing football in Glasgow then were young men from Callander, brought up in the tradition of the town's Hansel Monday game. One of them, John B Connell, claimed to have brought the first football to the city back in 1862 and his team, the Thistle, was Queen's Park’s first opponents in August 1868. Connell's story of the early games on Glasgow Green was related in The Mighty Kick, published in 1933.
From these pioneers' approach to the rules there is a strong inference that they already knew how they liked to play the game, and the outcome of that understanding is that Scottish football in the 1870s and 1880s was defined by the ability to pass the ball, while English football foundered on its 'manly' origins that valued strength over teamwork.
The challenge for the football historian is to demonstrate the facts behind this theory, as there are few written records. The complete truth of Scottish football's origins will probably never be known as there is little hard evidence that boys played a kicking and passing type of football at Fordyce Academy, or at other Scottish rural schools, in the 1850s and 1860s.
What is evident, however, is that while the pioneering club in Scottish football was founded in Glasgow, the roots of the club and its founding fathers can be traced to a small school at the other end of the country.
Today, Fordyce is a conservation village caught in a time warp. It boasts a medieval castle at its centre, a church which has stood since Pictish times, and a historic schoolhouse. Fordyce Academy may have closed in 1964, and the building is now a private house, but its legacy remains.