The England – Scotland Football Rivalry: How It Started

The England - Scotland Football Rivalry

In all sports there is an element of rivalry between two teams, however in football perhaps the best-known rivalry of all times exists between the English and Scottish national teams. While the two countries are joined by a land border, there has always been an element of rivalry between them in everything they have done, and now soccer has become no exception. It dates back more than several 100 years; in more recent times it has come out between the Scottish fans and the English fans on the football terraces of games between them. So just why are these countries quite so set on having a fierce rivalry?


Hadrian’s Wall was one of the first indications that all was not well between the two countries. It was in AD122, but the emperor Hadrian wanted the wall built after the invasion of Britain from the Romans. He was determined to separate his Caledonian tribes from the English people in order that the Roman forces were not able to govern or control his country. Or remain separate for some time until William of Normandy decided to invade Scotland having made a successful invasion of England in 1066 and taking control there. It was a few years later in 1072, but he was able to bring down the reign of King Malcolm the third of Scotland taking over the country and his son Duncan as a sign of power. Over the years power returned to Scotland with King John taking the throne, but all peace ended again in 1296 when King Edward the first of England, decided to have a go at invading Scotland. This was the beginning of the rise of William Wallace, and they defeated England during the battle of Stirling bridge. Once more or was quiet and William Wallace became the Guardian of the round for Scotland and remained in power until 1305. At this point, he was captured once more by English forces and they had him executed for treason. Fans of the film will recognise this storyline as being from Braveheart which also extends far enough in history to the next clash in 1314 at the Battle of Bannockburn. In this battle King Edward, the second lost to Robert the Bruce and Scotland secured its independence which was made official by the English in 1328 in the signing of the Treaty of Northampton by King Edward the third.

The England - Scotland Football Rivalry

Not a Football in Sight

At this stage, it was certainly not about the sport; it was a very serious business. However, the attack and defence do have a resemblance to the fair game. In 1512 Scotland decided to take on England this time with help from the French. Henry the eighth decided to attack France so King James, the 4th of Scotland, retaliated by invading England sadly he was then killed at the battle of Flodden Field. The history continues this way when Mary Queen of Scots faced execution because Queen Elizabeth the first was aware that she had plans to take the throne. Her plan backfired a little because although she removed the direct threat from her lifetime, she died without an air leaving the throne in the hands of King James the 6th of Scotland who became the ruler of England meaning both countries were united for a while. In 1707 the active union also saw the combining of both Scottish and English parliament. It was at this point that Great Britain was created. 

Not a True Peace

Although legally the two countries combined forces, there was still dissent. In 1745 it came from Bonnie Prince Charlie who wanted to claim both the English and Scottish throne initially he was successful thanks to his Jacobite army but went on to be defeated by the Duke of Cumberland and his British Army at the Battle of Culloden. Once more things went quiet until the 18th and 19th century saw the introduction of Highland Clearances. This brutal action saw English landlords removing tenants from the Highlands in order to create more farmland. In cases where the tenants refused to leave the English burnt them out which did not go down well as you can imagine.

The England - Scotland Football Rivalry

The First Football Match

Finally, we arrive at the point of time in history where the football pitch came into the story. It was in 1872 and Scotland were the home team at Hamilton Crescent, Glasgow. The first international football match officially played between the two teams and ended in a nil-nil draw. Many of the rivalries in modern history seem to stem from the government link between the two countries. In 1934 the Scottish nationalist party formed and since then the country has made many attempts to become independent from the United Kingdom. These rivalries and feelings of not wanting to be part of the same country naturally spill out into other areas of life including sports giving Scotland and England a massive rivalry. When Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister, there was an enormous workforce loss within Scotland, and in 1989 Scotland became the first country to have poll tax a whole 12 months before England. Although Scotland has a parliament that was formed in 1999, it still remains part of the United Kingdom despite wishes to become independent. In the most recent times, things have become slightly more clouded. Although international teams remain, league football can have players in Scotland who are English and in England who are Scottish which tends to muddy the waters somewhat.