Football in Scotland

Last updated
Football in Scotland
Country Scotland
Governing body Scottish Football Association
National team(s) Men's national team
Clubs Scottish Professional Football League
National competitions
International competitions

Association football is one of the national sports of Scotland [1] and the most popular sport in the country. There is a long tradition of "football" games in Orkney, Lewis and southern Scotland, especially the Scottish Borders, although many of these include carrying the ball and passing by hand, and despite bearing the name "football" bear little resemblance to association football. [2] [3] [4]


Founded in 1873, [5] Scotland has the second oldest national Football Association in the world (behind England's FA), and the trophy for the national cup, the Scottish Cup, is the oldest national sporting trophy in the world. [6] Scotland and Scottish football clubs hold many records for football attendances.


A game known as "football" was played in Scotland as early as the 15th century: it was prohibited by the Football Act 1424 and although the law fell into disuse it was not repealed until 1906. There is evidence for schoolboys playing a "football" ball game in Aberdeen in 1633 (some references cite 1636) which is notable as an early allusion to what some have considered to be passing the ball. The word "pass" in the most recent translation is derived from "huc percute" (strike it here) and later "repercute pilam" (strike the ball again) in the original Latin. It is not certain that the ball was being struck between members of the same team. The original word translated as "goal" is "metum", literally meaning the "pillar at each end of the circus course" in a Roman chariot race. There is a reference to "get hold of the ball before [another player] does" (Praeripe illi pilam si possis agere) suggesting that handling of the ball was allowed. One sentence states in the original 1930 translation "Throw yourself against him" (Age, objice te illi).

It is clear that the game was rough and tackles allowed included the "charging" and pushing/holding of opposing players ("drive that man back" in the original translation, "repelle eum" in original Latin). It has been suggested that this game bears similarities to rugby football. [7] Contrary to media reports in 2006 there is no reference to forward passing, game rules, marking players or team formation. These reports described it as "an amazing new discovery" but has actually been well documented in football history literature since the early twentieth century and available on the internet since at least 2000. [8] English public schools, such as Eton and Harrow, "civilised" the game by drawing up rules that encouraged players to kick the ball and forbid them from carrying it.

Scottish Football Association

The Scottish Football Association (SFA) is the principal organising body for Scottish football. Members of the SFA include clubs in Scotland, affiliated national associations as well as local associations. It was formed in 1873, making it the World's second oldest national football association.

The SFA is responsible for the operation of the Scotland National Football Team, the annual Scottish Cup and several other duties important to the functioning of the game in Scotland.


Professional league football in Scotland is run by the Scottish Professional Football League comprising 4 tiers. Feeding into the bottom tier of the SPFL is the Scottish Highland Football League, and the Scottish Lowland Football League. Other leagues - East of Scotland League, South of Scotland League and the North Caledonian League are deemed to be "senior" and are administered by the Scottish Football Association. Administered separately are clubs in the Scottish Junior Football Association and Scottish Amateur Football Association. In 2014-15 season, a promotion and relegation scheme between the SPFL and the Highland and Lowland Leagues came into operation. [9]

Rangers' record attendance of 118,567 is a British record for a league match. [10]

Scottish Professional Football League

The Scottish Professional Football League is a four tier football league system consisting of 42 teams. There are 12 team in the top tier, the Scottish Premiership, and 10 in each of the lower three tiers, named the Scottish Championship, Scottish League One and Scottish League Two.

The Scottish Premiership is the top league in Scotland, and consists of 12 teams. It has existed since 2013, when the Scottish Premier League and the Scottish Football League merged into the SPFL. The top tier of Scottish football was traditionally home to one of the world's most famous football rivalries, between Rangers and Celtic. Together the two clubs are known as the Old Firm, by virtue of the profitability of their rivalry. Rangers have won more top-flight, national league championships than any other club in the world (54 titles). [11] Celtic were the first Non-Latin and first team in Britain to win the European Cup, in 1967. The Old Firm rivalry was interrupted in 2012, when the company running Rangers went into liquidation and the club was forced to restart in the fourth tier.

The second, third and fourth tiers in the league structure are called the Scottish Championship, Scottish League One and Scottish League Two respectively, each consisting of 10 teams. Teams are relegated and promoted between the divisions. Relegation from the fourth tier may occur at the end of every season (from 2014-15 thereafter); the last placed team in the fourth tier will enter a play-off with a team nominated by the SFA from outside the SPFL to determine which team enters League Two for the next season. [9] Dismissal from the fourth tier is still possible, however, if a club finishes bottom three seasons in a row. In case of dismissal or withdrawal of a team (such as for economic reasons, etc.) a senior non-League level side can be elected in its place.

The top team in the Championship is eligible for promotion to the Premiership. Since the 2013-14 season, a second promotion place is available via play-offs between 3 Championship sides and 1 Premiership side. Falkirk were refused possible entry to the top tier in 2000 [12] and 2003 [13] due to not meeting the stadium requirements. Previously, requirements were that clubs had to have 10,000 seats in their ground, but this was changed to 6,000. Clubs must also have under-soil heating systems to prevent cancellation of matches caused by frozen pitches.

Queen's Park, uniquely, is the only true amateur (players are not paid) member of the League still standing, having been a League member since 1900. In theory the club could qualify for Premiership promotion due to its use of Hampden Park, but they have not played in Scotland's top flight since the 195758 season.

LevelDivisionNumber of Clubs
1Scottish Professional League Premiership12
2Scottish Professional League Championship10
3Scottish Professional League Division One10
4Scottish Professional League Division Two10

Senior non-league level

Immediately below the SPFL are two regionalised leagues:

At the end of the season a play-off is held between the champions of the Highland League and the Lowland League. The winner plays the bottom club in the SPFL League 2 for a place in League 2 in the following season.

Other "senior" leagues are

There is no automatic promotion between these leagues and the Lowland or Highland Leagues, however a play-off takes place between the champions of the East of Scotland and South of Scotland for promotion to the Lowland League, if both clubs meet the licensing criteria.

LevelLeagueNumber of Clubs (2018–19)
5 Highland Football League 18
5 Lowland Football League 16
Other Senior leagues
6 East of Scotland Football League 39
6 South of Scotland Football League 16
North Caledonian Football League 9

Clubs at level 6 automatically enter the Scottish Cup Preliminary Rounds provided they are members of the Scottish Football Association.

Junior football

Operating separately from the SPFL professional leagues and the three 'senior' leagues, are the 'junior' leagues. Although called junior, this refers to the level of football played, not the age of the participants. The junior leagues are organised by the Scottish Junior Football Association and are regionalised into three areas, North, East and West. There is a Scottish Junior Cup which all members of the association participate in, having done so since the Nineteenth century.

Junior clubs, unlike those in the senior non-league level, were not in the main eligible to participate in the Scottish Cup until 200708. The one previous exception to this rule, Girvan, participated in the Scottish Qualifying Cup (South) by virtue of the fact that they opted to switch from the senior level to the junior level, but still retained their right to attempt to qualify. From the 200708 Scottish Cup however, the winners of each of the three regional leagues and the winner of the Junior Cup will enter the first round of the Scottish Cup proper, following a decision by the SFA to allow them entry at their previous Annual General Meeting. Additional junior clubs (Linlithgow Rose, Banks o'Dee) have received an SFA licence which permits them to participate in the Scottish Cup.

SJFA RegionNumber of DivisionsNumber of Clubs (2018–19)
Scottish Junior Football Association, East Region 336
Scottish Junior Football Association, North Region 332
Scottish Junior Football Association, West Region 463

Amateur football

There are a vast number of amateur footballers in Scotland. [14] They play in leagues across the country of varying standard, usually confined to a specific localised geographic area. Many amateur clubs run teams in more than one of the amateur leagues. Some of the teams are well known with a history of success and producing players who go on to a higher level, such as Drumchapel Amateur. The activities of clubs at the amateur level are co-ordinated by the Scottish Amateur Football Association.

The winner of the Scottish Amateur Cup enters the Scottish FA Cup in the following season.

There are three categories of amateur football administered by the SAFA - "Winter" Saturday, "Winter" Sunday and Summer football. Summer football tends to be popular in the Northern and Western Isles and in the north of the mainland. In addition to the Scottish Amateur Cup (for 'Saturday' teams) there is the Scottish Sunday Amateur Trophy and the Highland Amateur Cup for summer teams.

Saturday Amateur LeaguesNumber of DivisionsNumber of Clubs (2018–19)
Aberdeenshire Amateur Football Association 573
Ayrshire Amateur Football Association 444
Border Amateur Football League330
Caledonian Amateur Football League 332
Central Scottish Amateur Football League 336
Dundee Saturday Morning Amateur Football League334
Glasgow & District Saturday Morning Amateur Football League228
Glasgow Colleges Football Association331
Greater Glasgow Premier Amateur Football League336
Kingdom of Fife AFA 335
Lothians & Edinburgh Amateur Football Association660
Midlands Amateur Football Association 228
North & South Lanarkshire Amateur Football Association 116
Paisley & District Amateur Football Association217
Perthshire Amateur Football Association 329
Scottish Amateur Football League 441
Stirling & District Amateur Football Association 444
Strathclyde Evangelical Churches Football League334
Strathclyde Saturday Morning Amateur Football League442
West of Scotland Amateur Football League 19
Sunday Amateur LeaguesNumber of DivisionsNumber of Clubs (2016–17)
Aberdeen Sunday Football Association115
Airdrie & Coatbridge Sunday Amateur Football League333
Ayrshire Sunday Amateur Football Association114
Dundee Sunday Amateur Football Association18
Dumfries Sunday Amateur Football League218
Fife Sunday Amateur Football League226
Forth Valley Amateur Football Association110
Lothians & Edinburgh Amateur Football Association547
Stewartry Sunday Amateur Football League17
Sunday Central Amateur Football League555
West Lothian Sunday Amateur Football League222
Summer Amateur LeaguesNumber of DivisionsNumber of teams (2016)
Uist & Barra Amateur Football Association 16
Caithness Amateur Football Association 217
Deeside Welfare Football Association17
Inverness and District Football Association 325
Lewis & Harris Football Association 18
North West Sutherland Amateur Football Association110
Orkney Amateur Football Association 214
Shetland Amateur Football Association 215
Skye & Lochalsh Amateur Football Association19

Cup competitions

Scottish Cup

The Scottish Cup is the world's oldest national cup but not the oldest competition, first contested in 1873 and being predated only by England's FA Cup. It is a pure knockout tournament with single matches, with replays being held if the first match is a tie. All 42 SPFL clubs automatically enter the tournament. A number of non-league clubs used to participate by virtue of having qualified through one of two regionalised qualifying cups (since 2007–08 they have qualified automatically for the First Round); or since 2007–08 by having won the Scottish Junior Cup or one of the three regionalised Junior leagues. The final is usually played at Hampden Park. The attendance of 146,433 for the 1937 Scottish Cup Final between Celtic and Aberdeen at Hampden Park is a European record for a club match. [10]

Scottish League Cup

The Scottish League Cup is open to members of the SPFL, and has been contested since the 194647 season.

Scottish Challenge Cup

The Scottish Challenge Cup is open to members of the SPFL clubs contesting in the Championship, League One & League Two and the top two clubs in the Highland League since 2011, and has been contested since the 199091 season.

Scottish Junior Cup

The Scottish Junior Cup is contested by all members of the SJFA and has been competed for since the 188687 season. Currently, 163 teams are eligible to take part.

Scottish Amateur Cup

The Scottish Amateur Cup is the principal competition for amateur clubs, competed for since 1909-10. Currently around 600 clubs enter.

Scottish Irn Bru Schools Cup

The Scottish Irn Bru Schools Cup is contested by Scotland's Schools and has been done since 1999. Currently 190 schools can take part.

Current Scottish national cup eligibility summary

LevelLeague(s)Scottish CupScottish League CupScottish Challenge CupScottish Junior Cup
1SPFL PremiershipYesYesNoNo
2SPFL ChampionshipYesYesYesNo
3SPFL League OneYesYesYesNo
4SPFL League TwoYesYesYesNo
5Highland /Lowland LeaguesYesLeague Champions4 teams from each leagueNo
East of Scotland/South of Scotland LeaguesLicensed clubs and championsNoNoNo
SJFA Junior LeaguesRegional league winners, Scottish Junior Cup winners and licensed clubsNoNoYes
Scottish Amateur FAScottish Amateur Cup winnersNoNoNo
Additional participantsGolspie Sutherland (North Caledonian League), Glasgow University (Caledonian League)No12 x U20 Teams, 2 x Welsh Premier League teams, 2 x NIFL Premiership teams, 2 x English National League teams No

European Competitions

Three Scottish clubs have won UEFA competitions. Celtic won the 1967 European Cup Final, then lost the 1970 European Cup Final. The highest ever attendance for a UEFA competition match was in the 1969–70 European Cup semi-final at Hampden Park, Scotland's National stadium. A record 136,505 people attended that Cup semi-final played between Celtic and Leeds United. [10] Celtic also reached the 2003 UEFA Cup Final, which they lost after extra time. Aberdeen won the 1983 European Cup Winners' Cup Final and then also won the consequent 1983 UEFA Super Cup. Rangers won the 1972 European Cup Winners' Cup Final, and have also reached other finals, most recently the 2008 UEFA Cup Final. Both Celtic and Rangers have qualified for the knock out stages of the UEFA Champions League. Dundee United reached the 1987 UEFA Cup Final, which they lost to IFK Gothenburg, but their fans won an award for their good behaviour from UEFA. Celtic won a similar award after the 2003 UEFA Cup Final.

National team

The Scottish national team represents Scotland in international football and is controlled by the Scottish Football Association. The team has played international football longer than any other nation in the world along with England, [15] whom they played in the world's first international football match at Hamilton Crescent, Partick, Glasgow in 1872. [16] Scotland have qualified for eight World Cups and two European Championships, but have never progressed beyond the first round.

The majority of Scotland's home matches are played at Hampden Park in Glasgow, opened in 1903. The Scottish team have become famous for their travelling support, known as the Tartan Army, who have won awards from UEFA for their combination of vocal support, friendly nature and charity work. The attendance of 149,415 for the Scotland vs. England match of 1937 at Hampden Park is also a European record. [10]



The following articles detail the major results and events in each season since 1871-72. Each article provides the final league tables for that season, with the exception of the current one, as well as details on cup results, Scotland national football team results and a summary of any other important events during the season.

1870s 187172 187273 187374 187475 187576 187677 187778 187879 187980
1880s 188081 188182 188283 188384 188485 188586 188687 188788 188889 188990
1890s 189091 189192 189293 189394 189495 189596 189697 189798 189899 189900
1900s 190001 190102 190203 190304 190405 190506 190607 190708 190809 190910
1910s 191011 191112 191213 191314 191415 191516 191617 191718 191819 191920
1920s 192021 192122 192223 192324 192425 192526 192627 192728 192829 192930
1930s 193031 193132 193233 193334 193435 193536 193637 193738 193839 193940
1940s 194041 194142 194243 194344 194445 194546 194647 194748 194849 194950
1950s 195051 195152 195253 195354 195455 195556 195657 195758 195859 195960
1960s 196061 196162 196263 196364 196465 196566 196667 196768 196869 196970
1970s 197071 197172 197273 197374 197475 197576 197677 197778 197879 197980
1980s 198081 198182 198283 198384 198485 198586 198687 198788 198889 198990
1990s 199091 199192 199293 199394 199495 199596 199697 199798 199899 199900
2000s 200001 200102 200203 200304 200405 200506 200607 200708 200809 200910
2010s 201011 201112 201213 201314 201415 201516 201617 201718 201819 201920

Women's football

As in the men's game, the women's league structure consists of a Premier League and a Football League with Divisions One and Two, but the second division is split into North, West, and Central & East regions. In the women's SFL, reserve and youth squads may compete as long as they do not compete in the same division as the titular club. There are also four cup competitions, the Scottish Cup, Scottish Premier League Cup, Scottish First Division Cup and the Scottish Second Division Cup.

See also


  1. "Football - Talent Scotland". TalentScotland. Archived from the original on 2013-02-10. Retrieved 2013-02-13.
  2. "Scotland's amazing role in football's success". The Scotsman. 29 June 2006. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
  3. Barclay, Patrick (11 August 2013). "After 150 years the truth: Scotland invented football". The Independent. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
  4. Spence, Jim (25 March 2011). "Jim Spence: Should Scottish football go back to go forward?". BBC. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
  5. "Scottish FA > About". Scottish Football Association. Retrieved 2013-02-13.
  6. "Scottish Cup > History & Archives". Scottish Football Association. Retrieved 2013-02-13.
  7. Karon, Tony (2012-04-02). "Why England Is Playing Catch-up In Global Soccer |". Retrieved 2013-12-04.
  8. [Marples, Morris. A History of Football, Secker and Warburg, London 1954]
  9. 1 2 "The Rules of the SPFL" (PDF). Scottish Professional Football League . Retrieved 5 May 2014.
  10. 1 2 3 4 "Football". Retrieved 2012-08-01.
  11. "Glasgow Rangers Win World Record 54th Scottish Football League Championship". Bleacher Report. 2011-05-15. Retrieved 2012-08-01.
  12. Sinclair, Paul (1 April 2000). "SPL throw out Falkirk's Murrayfield plea". Daily Record. Trinity Mirror. Retrieved 27 March 2014.
  13. "SPL nixes Falkirk promotion bid". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 24 May 2003. Retrieved 27 March 2014.
  14. "Outdated football culture has meant the modern game has passed us by . ." Herald Scotland. 2012-10-17. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
  15. "The first international football match". BBC Sport. Retrieved 2007-05-15.
  16. "This day in history". The History Channel. Archived from the original on 2007-04-30. Retrieved 2007-04-13.