Glasgow Green and Sport- Part Two

By Ged O’Brien, Dr Fiona Skillen and Ingrid Shearer


99% of the world’s population think that football was invented in England. The modern international game was invented by the Scots. Its home is our Dear Green Place. Let me be specific: Glasgow Green and its surrounding areas provided many of the pitches and the people who turned the Scottish Game, into the World Game.

Long before the 20th century, it was played in the streets and on the grassed areas of a city huddled on the north bank of the Clyde. But how do we learn the story of a sport, which was played by people who did not write down their lives? Here is where we can turn for help, to Thomas Sulman.

The Sulman Map was published in 1864, just as football was about to explode. Though he did not mean it, Sulman performed a great service. He included, three areas known to the history of the game: 1) Glasgow Green; 2) Glasgow University and 3) Glasgow Barracks. 

Fig 1: Sulman's map, 1864


It might seem obvious, but the Green was ideal for football. It was flat, it had areas which were about the size of a modern football pitch and it was close to the houses of the people. Over the centuries, the Green was improved. The Camlachie Burn was culverted and marshy areas drained, until it was completely fit for modern football, by the 1850s. 

We know, from Andrew McGeorge, that Glasgow Magistrates ‘encouraged and promoted’ football. It was regard as ‘innocent recreation’. The Burgh Minutes from 1575 record the price of a football a two pence. They were made by the Cordiners (leather workers) of the City.

Between 1450 and 1792, Glaswegians had a chance to play on the Green. In 1792, Flesher’s Haugh, just to the south east of Sulman’s map, became a part of the Green. In the 1860s, clubs sprung up and disappeared again and again. It is recorded that Eastern beat Celtic 4-0 on Flesher’s Haugh 25th January 1873. Not the current Celtic, of course. There were more than a dozen attempts to create a football club for the Irish immigrants, huddled around the Calton. The ‘new’ Celtic of 1887 was the one which took hold and prospered.


The Green drew in both migrants and immigrants. Two years after Sulman, we know that Orkney exiles played a game on Glasgow Green 12th January, 1866. One of the first opponents of the Queen’s Park FC of Glasgow, founded 1867, was the Drummond Club. They were Perthshire migrants, who wore Clan Drummond Tartan caps and had a connection to the Glasgow Perthshire Society. Their ‘headquarters’ were on Glasgow Green. Though they are long gone, the link remains in the Glasgow Perthshire Junior FC: founded 1890.

The author of the first book on Queen’s Park, published 1919, said that Drummond ‘played a roughish game; tripping and charging were their strong points’. Like hundreds of Glasgow clubs, the Drummond FC lasted a few years. In fact, when it played the Spiders, on Queen’s Park Rec., two pupils from the Deaf and Dumb Institution (the old Langside College) had to help them out. 

The Thistle Club Glasgow Green team are famous, because they are also recorded as playing Queen’s Park. I will bet that most towns in Scotland had a Thistle FC, at some point, in the 19th century. They challenged QPFC in July 1868 and lost 2-0. It seems that they were dead by 1873 and had merged into the Eastern Club. Just to confuse you, another Thistle appeared at the same time, on Glasgow Green. They had moved to a pitch on Dalmarnock Road, by 1875.

The Green was the place for Glasgow football. Rangers were founded in 1872. They played their first game against Callander. One of the first of the Rangers’ greats was Tom Vallance, from Cardross. He came to football via the Clyde Rowing Club. He was also in the Clydesdale Harriers. Their headquarters were on Dundas Street. His pals were the McNeil brothers. Henry played for Queen’s Park. Moses and Peter founded Rangers. The Harriers also contained the Maley brothers: Willie and Tom. They co-founded Celtic, in 1887.

Fig 2: View from College Green, looking North-East, Glasgow. Image courtesy of University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums.


Glasgow Green would have had scores of teams, getting in one another’s way and fighting for space. The ambitious clubs like Rangers, quickly found other places to play. Glasgow University Old College, was lucky, in this respect. It was a few hundred metres north of Glasgow Green. It had a large area for a football pitch, known as the College Green. David Murray, co-founder of McLay, Murray and Spens noted that Robert Smith Candlish, the famous Free Church leader played on that pitch, in 1822. 

In the 1860s, with football becoming more official, the University built a ‘shed’ under which fans could shelter. It can be seen in a photo of the pitch, in front of the Hunterian Museum. The spoil in the picture is from the demolition. The stand is possibly the world’s oldest known image of a football building.

The other patch of green on Sulman, which deserves a mention, is Glasgow Barracks. It is immediately to the east of the Old College and north of Glasgow Green. There are Drill Grounds, on which you can see soldiers marching. On the west gable of the Barracks, there is a Handball court. It is reasonable to assume that both cricket and football were played on these areas. In 1848 Clydesdale CC were founded by Archibald Campbell, with players from Glasgow Green teams. Clydesdale were the losing side in the first ever Scottish Cup Final, in 1874, at the First Hampden Park. Campbell became the first President of the Scottish FA.

Football was truly the people’s game and the people of Glasgow loved it. Murray said that golf and football were equally popular ‘amongst all classes – men and women, boys and girls’. We still have people who hold that football is not a sport for women. They have been playing it in Glasgow, for centuries. 

Think of the young Thomas Lipton. He studied at St. Andrew’s Parish School, on Greendyke St, between 1853 and 1863. He will have crossed the street to play football on Glasgow Green. In his adult life, as the Lipton Tea and coffee empire grew, he never missed a chance to spread football around the world. He helped found Uruguayan and Argentine football with his Copa Lipton.

As we saw in our previous blog, no rules or threats would stop Glasgow’s citizens from using Glasgow Green, as their football home.


G O’Brien, Played in Glasgow, (Malavan Media, 2010).

R. McBrearty, Glasgow Before The Explosion: the role of migration and immigration in the development of football cultures in the city prior to 1873,

Ged O’Brien is the founder of the Scottish Football Museum at Hampden Park. He is the discoverer of Andrew Watson: the world’s most influential player of colour. He is the author of ‘Played in Glasgow’ and is currently writing ‘The Scottish Game: How Scotland invented Modern World Football’.

Dr Fiona Skillen is a senior lecturer in History in the Department of Social Sciences, in the School for Business and Society at Glasgow Caledonian University. Her research interests concern modern history, in particular aspects of sport, gender and popular culture. She is particularly interested in women’s sport during the late 19th and 20th centuries and has published extensively in this area including her monograph Sport, Women and Modernity in Interwar Britain (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2013). She is a former Chair of British Society of Sport History, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and an editor of the International Journal of the History of Sport.

Fiona Skillen

Ingrid Shearer is Heritage Engagement Officer for Glasgow Building Preservation Trust, a charity that rescues, repairs and repurposes historic buildings for the benefit of their communities. A former archaeologist, she has worked in the heritage sector for over 25 years. Her practice is embedded in the principle that heritage matters and has the potential to change people’s lives in a positive way.


  • Part three of this series explores the use of the River for sport around the Green.
  • Join us for our online talk, ‘Glasgow: The Home of Modern World Football’ by Ged O’Brien on Wednesday 16th March
  • Check out our Gallus Glasgow map and explore more stories of the Victorian city. Once there, why not add a few stories of your own?
  • Prints of the map are available to buy in our online shop

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