Floodlights In Scottish Football

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Floodlights and football go hand in hand these days. In fact, without floodlights football would be unimaginable. Here we will take a brief look at the history of floodlights in Scottish Football.

Floodlights and football go hand in hand these days. In fact, without floodlights football would be unimaginable. Here we will take a brief look at the history of floodlights in Scottish Football.

It wasn’t until the 1950’s that the use of floodlights changed the game of football across Europe – it allowed matches to be played in the evenings. Before such times, most matches in Scotland were played on a Saturday afternoon, with a 3pm kick-off. During the winter though, kick-off times were brought forward to 2pm because it got darker earlier. Sometimes, when matches needed a replay, games kicked off at 3pm mid-week – the affect was very small crowds. Floodlights changed all that and changed the face of the game.

The very first attempt at floodlights in Scottish football happened way back in October 1878. Third Lanark invited Vale of Leven to play a friendly match under lights. At the time, electricity was very much in its infancy. The ‘floodlight’ used was nothing more than a single beam that was operated from a platform fifty feet above the pitch. Much of the game was played in darkness as the operator struggled to move his ‘light’ to keep up with play. It was a decent enough experiment of playing under artificial light but it wasn’t going to catch on – not like that anyway. As an aside, the match finished 2-1 to Third Lanark.

It may have been an idea that wasn’t going to catch on but that didn’t stop a further ‘trial’ happening the following month when Hibs took on an ‘Association Team’. The lights, on this occasion, were provided by Mr E Patterson of London who gave three electric lights. The crowd was very small as a snowstorm hit Edinburgh that night but that was only half the problem. One of the lights failed to work before the start of the game, another light broke at half time. The game ended in a 3-0 victory for Hibs.

During the 1890’s, other Scottish teams experimented with their own attempts at floodlighting. In March 1890, Morton played St Mirren in a game lit by oil lamps. Celtic played Clyde on Christmas day 1893 under lights that were attached to wires only 12ft above the pitch – the wires sagged and the ball often hit them. Experiments with ‘floodlights’ were soon put on the back burner for 50 years.

From the turn of the century until 1950, midweek games had to be played before very small crowds in the afternoon. The fans were at work. During the spring and autumn, midweek kick-offs were left as late as possible to take advantage of the natural day-light but it was a problem that would one day need sorted properly.

(Ibrox Park - modern floodlights allow matches to be played in the evening - Image via Wikipedia)

The first match in Scotland played under ‘proper’ floodlights was in November 1951 in a game between Stenhousemuir and Hibs. It was only a friendly match and it took a while before such floodlights were allowed in official matches. Over the next five years many friendly matches were played in Scotland against English teams and European teams. By 1956, floodlit games were allowed in official competitions.

Despite certain protestations from some quarters, the SFA allowed two Scottish Cup matches to be played under floodlights on Wednesday 8th of February 1956. The two matches were East Fife V Stenhousemuir (3-1) and Hibs V Raith Rovers (1-1). The first Scottish League match played under floodlights was on the 7th of March 1956 with Rangers winning 8-0 against Queen of the South. The first international match in Scotland to be played under floodlights was a Scotland match against Wales in November 1961, the Scots running out 2-0 winners.

Ever since, floodlights have become part and parcel of the game of football and have allowed evening matches to take place throughout Europe (and beyond). Sometimes though, things do go wrong and the floodlights fail.

On the 28th November 2001, one such incident happened. The floodlights failed during a Livingstone V Celtic match that was being shown live on TV. The rules state that if the floodlights fail, and can’t be fixed quickly, the match must be abandoned or postponed. Disappointment for fans sure, but floodlights failing happens so rarely that it is never really an issue.