05/10/2013 10:51 am ET Updated Jul 10, 2013

English Soccer and the Scots

Getty Images

Historically, Scots crossed their southern border to set fire to England but when the fuel ran out, they took up posts as coaches of England's soccer teams.

Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson and his heir, David Moyes, hail from Glasgow, Scotland's largest city, famous for its kissing between clashing foreheads.

Before Fergie stamped his greatness on the storied club, another Scottish coach, Sir Matt Busby, ruled the legends at Old Trafford, United's home. Both Fergie and Busby came from a world of heavy industry -- Fergie forged in the shipyards of Glasgow, Busby from working down the coalmine.

Liverpool FC is England's other famous club. Their legendary Scottish coach, the late Bill Shankly, is revered, and famous for his transcendental Scottish thinking: "Some people believe football is a matter of life and death... It's much more important than that."

Scots like to leave their mark on things. Should you find yourself hiking through the mystical Scottish Highlands haunted by the bagpipe lament of lost nationhood, you will find a little shop selling dish towels imprinted with a list of inventions attributed to their people. Everything from the television to the telephone, to the raincoat, to the steam engine, to discovering penicillin, to tarmacadam, to the deep-fried Mars Bar and free market capitalism -- all invented by the Scots. Oh wait... they also invented soccer.

The English like to claim that last one but it was the Scots who invented the passing game. Before passing, players ran with the ball straight ahead, crashing into each other like Higgs boson particles inside the Hadron Collider. (Did the Scots invent that too?)

This is how it went -- one wet day, in the 19th century, the English crossed the border for a game of footie and were shocked to see Scots making a pass. They left bewildered and shocked, sending them home to think again, and to pretend that they invented soccer.

The Scots chased them down and took over their teams playing big parts in the drama of English football. Too bad Shakespeare wasn't around to see the world's nations obsessed with kicking balls. No doubt, England's great bard would have written a complex play called Fergie -- we happy few -- hail Scotland, waiting for tomorrow, although Fergie likes being a Brit living in England.

It's complicated. Like Shakespeare. Like Scotland and England's beef. And next year, the Scots will vote for or against becoming an independent nation. Something new to invent, perhaps?

Alan Black is the soccer correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle. This post was originally published here on May 9, 2013.