Tracking the American soccer scene is a full-time job. Fans require time, energy and resources to go beyond MLS and learn how we got to the present as a soccer nation. Those who search find the repetition of tearing down American soccer only to be “rebuilt” again. Consequently, there are years of history and stories discoverable.
It is easy to pin this on American sports culture. Yet, the reality is this cycle applies to all sports’ culture. No better book shows this than Jeff Webb’s new book, Scotland’s Lost Clubs: Giving the Names You’ve Heard the Story They Own. Published by Pitch Publishing, the book is a love story to Scottish soccer history with each chapter focusing on a different club. Additionally, the book shows stories forgotten and brands cast aside lines the country’s soccer history. Without these stories or ideas, the sport would pale in comparison to its status today, or it may not exist at all.
Soccer’s importance in Scotland
Scotland’s Lost Clubs begins not with soccer, but rather a brief history lesson. This sets the context of why a book about defunct clubs is so important to understanding not just the sport or its importance. Rather, the context lays down why the book and its remembrance of lost clubs is important to the nation as a whole.
Webb writes that Scotland relied on sports to thrive internationally.
“Scotland has a history of being unsure of itself…the only stage it would be able to show itself on as something separate was through its sport.”
Then, he delves into the history of Scotland and England between the reign of James VI/James I and Queen Victoria. This demonstrates how the Scottish people needed an outlet to express their individuality and culture. Railroads (the job creator) and Queens Park (the soccer club) showed Scottish towns a model for showing that pride.
The only other chapter not dedicated to clubs is the second on the founding of the Scottish Football Association. This event altered the history of many clubs – including some featured in this book – so it makes sense it gets its own chapter. It was the creation of the SFA and subsequent sanctioned professional leagues that impacted more clubs’ fortunes than even world wars or recessions. U.S. soccer fans can relate to this.
Scotland’s Lost Clubs
The clubs featured in the book are diverse. Some hail from the largest cities and some need a map to locate. All of the clubs individually featured had an impact on Scottish soccer in some way. The first club mentioned is Renton. This was one of, if not, the prime movers in the creation of the Scottish Football Association. Yet, skirting the rules of professionalism backfired, although nearly each club did it. The demise of one of the game’s most powerful brands began with that incident.
Many of the clubs discusses started in the late 1800s and lasted until the middle of the 20th century. Some, like Gretna, reached into more recent times before dissolving. Each club contains something special that allows it to stand out amongst its rivals. For example, eccentric businessman Brooks Mileson bankrolled Gretna for years. This continued until the club grew too rapidly in an area with a stadium that held just a few thousand spectators. Also, Edinburgh side St. Bernard’s looked set for success after lifting the 1895 FA Cup. However, other Edinburgh clubs blocked St. Bernard’s attempt to join the first division of the Scottish Football League. In the early years, votes decided promotion and relegation. The failure multiple failures of promotion doomed the club to mediocrity despite great success
Telling the story
Books like Scotland’s Lost Clubs easily fall into rote recitations of statistics. This is especially true when clubs’ source materials are not easily accessible due to their age. At times, Webb does slip into “in year X they finished Y.” Still, he does a good job overall of telling the tales of these clubs.
READ MORE: Scottish Premiership TV schedule and streaming links.
As you read individual club stories, you realize some important things about the game itself. First, success is not preordained. Many of these clubs had potential to compete for decades and become mainstays in professional soccer if a break or two would have gone their way. Second, the story of the game is incomplete without these clubs. Many of them recorded “firsts” in the game. They have a definitive place in history that if their names are not included would leave large gaps in the story.
The forgotten clubs paint the whole picture
Most importantly, you realize these clubs tell the stories of the people and places they represent. Even for clubs in places like Glasgow that have multiple clubs, these clubs represented people who chose them over Rangers or another club. The Airdrieonians brand keeps coming back because it represents something about the game and Scotland. Here Webb does a good job of showing without overselling. He could drone on about the people and culture and lose sight of the central point of this book, but he does not. It is concise with just enough detail to be informative and interesting.
This book is not for a newer soccer fan. Essentially, those who think Chelsea is a club that always competed for Premier League titles. Rather, this is a book for a fan with some experience. Moreover, it is for fans who want to know more about the culture of the game. If you like history, Scottish culture (even English culture a little), and soccer, this is your book. It is also the type of book that should give hope to all fans that your team you supported that no longer exists, or that league you wish you could have seen but ended years ago. What came before is critical to what is here now, and maybe their stories just need to be compiled.
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