There is hardly any greater honor in football than being the captain of the national team. Robert Gardner was the first person to play this role in the Scotland national team and thus became a trailblazer for many players.
Goalkeeper convert Gardner served as captain of the Scottish team in the first international match, which was played against England in November 1872. Gardner kept his box clear and the game ended goalless. A picture from a newspaper from the time shows Gardner standing at the gate with a long beard and wide eyes and a pointed cap on his head. The motto below is the Scottish motto “No one bothers me with impunity”—an allusion to the dogma of the English-facing enemy.
However, Gardner’s influence extended far beyond his role on the field. He was much more than a captain today, as Richard McBerty, curator of the Scottish Football Museum at Hampden Park, explains: “He was much more important than the captain of a national team today. But that’s about it.
Gardner, on the other hand, was a manager, office bearer, and captain. He was instrumental in organizing this first international match, putting together the Scottish team and fielding players. Since there was no coach on the spot, he also took tactical decisions or changed form during the game. It often meant – even in this international match – that he came out of the gate and played on the field.
DD Bone, the highly respected sports journalist at the time, described Gardner – at left in the photo from the latter game between Scotland and England – as “the most extraordinary player of his time. He was incredibly versatile,” Bone said. wrote. “I have seen him in all positions as a goalkeeper, a defender, a midfielder and even a striker. In the goalkeeper role, however, he was simply outstanding. Out of all the brilliant players standing between the posts since then None of the hands and bodies are used beneficially as a Gardner.”
Pioneer with a Pipe
The captain of Queen’s Park Rangers and the Scottish national team was considered not only the best goalkeeper of his time, but also a symbol of the era. His club team was often so influential that, according to a report from daily Record Sometimes “when they did not have to intervene for a long time, boredom was relieved by lighting a pipe on the playing field.”
According to one of his three sons, also named Robert, his father saw football only as “a means of demonstrating the values of the game”. Gardner Jr. continued: “He told me, of course, he wanted to win with Scotland, but even thinking about defeat shouldn’t lead to sleepless nights. It’s a series of exemplary players with a great passion for football. There was a meeting between the two teams, how it ends in the end, there is no reason to be outraged.”
However, Gardner in no way represented this attitude as merely a player. He not only served as the captain of the national team, but was also one of the founding members of the Scottish Football Association in 1873, after which he became president. His most important, though less well-known, legacy lies in these activities.
McBerty explains: “Gardner’s role as player and captain is well known. But at that time, with the development of the rules of the game and the development of the first structures in appropriate committees, important decisions were made for football – and Gardner was in it too. very impressive.
“You have to keep in mind that those early international matches were mainly scheduled because football was still pretty secret at the time. Rugby was far more popular and widespread in England and Scotland. Football was stronger in London and the surrounding area. were concentrated and was considered an elite sport, with many players in the first clubs coming from the highest social classes, who later became prime ministers and members Upper House, And so on. There was no indication that football would become the most popular sport across the UK, let alone achieving its worldwide status today.
“The people who promoted football at the time were very important to its development, and the international generated a lot of interest. Gardner was at the forefront of all these efforts. He not only played in the first international against England and After that he played in a few other games too. He was, but also involved in the organization so that such games could happen at all.”
Tragedy and Legacy
Unfortunately, less than a decade and a half after he made football history, the first captain of the Scottish team died of tuberculosis at the age of 39. But Gardner’s legacy remains and is kept alive by several exhibits at the Scottish Football Museum, such as an 1868 letter planning a game against another Glasgow club team. It is one of the oldest known documents on the subject of football.
“At the time, you needed a lot of correspondence to prepare for a game,” explains McBerty. “Since football was still at the very beginning, it had to be determined, for example, whether teams should have eleven, 15 or 20 players, or whether players on the field could touch the ball with their hands, which was still normal at the time.
“Gardner was an amateur in the truest sense of the word. His work on various committees and sports was purely a hobby for him. Everything was purely out of a love of football. It is clear to me that he was just a very He was not a strong and influential personality, he also had a real vision of where teams and football as a whole should go.”
Football and everyone who loves it owes a lot to men like Gardner, as the spectacular development of the most beautiful sport of all would have been simply unimaginable without such a visionary.
Total coffee specialist. Hardcore reader. Incurable music scholar. Web guru. Freelance troublemaker. Problem solver. Travel trailblazer.