WHAT place links Rabbie Burns and football? A surprising question that has an unusual answer. It is the city of Seville, in Spain. Capital of Andalusia: the southernmost region of Spain. This connection was born out of the cultural and scientific genius of the Scots.

In the 19th century, if you needed to give your nation a scientific or academic boost, you most likely called on the Scots. Scots engineers for your ports, factories, railways and mines. Scots to educate your children. Scots to found your schools. And though you did not realise it: what you really, really wanted was Association Football.

For those of you who have no obvious interest in football, let me bless you with one crucial idea. Without the people of this intelligent nation, we would not have the world’s most influential sporting phenomenon. Football is Scotland’s game. It is Scottish culture in pure, sporting form. It has been played for at least 500 years in every part of the country. Like architecture, painting, music or any other of the high arts, football tells the world, who we are.

It will not surprise you that Dundee: the city of jute, jam and journalism, has an important role to play in this story. And yes – the link to football and Rabbie Burns is Seville oranges. Note that I am yet to mention a football ground, a scorer, or a famous player. They are not relevant to my story.

We even have a name for those men and women, who took football around the world. Scotch Professors. They played a game which was scientific, logical and heartbreakingly beautiful. Everywhere they went, Scotch Professors took football with them.

Love it or hate it, you cannot ignore the “Scottish combination game”. The entire globe has just enjoyed Argentina winning the World Cup. An Argentina who was taught how to play by immigrant Scots. Lionel Messi and his band of brothers are the children of the Scotch Professors.

Scottish football is not the chaotic version that you see in pictures or old history books. That is nothing to do with the modern game. “Mob” football was just an excuse to punch the dislikeable guy, from the next parish. Strike it from your thoughts. We will never mention it again.

The football to which I refer is the regular game that was played on High Days, Holy Days and Market Days. Regular football: played before church, during church and instead of church. Regular football: played before the Reformation, during the Reformation and after the Reformation. Football was one of the few things that survived from the times of the Old Religion, which is why it was often seen as suspiciously papist.

Over the years, Scotland developed their game. In the 19th century, as a result of the Industrial Revolution, Scottish engineers, teachers and railwaymen took football to almost every country on Earth. If you think you know your history, this might surprise you. Remember those general football books? They all refer to England founding football. I have news for you: it isn’t true. The Scottish people founded modern world football.

Football is the sporting wing of the Scottish Enlightenment. The same cultural and scientific genius that nurtured gifted individuals like Adam Smith, gave us modern world football. The same system that made Edinburgh a world centre of legal and medical brilliance in the 18th century, produced a sport worthy of supremely intelligent people.

Why is this of importance to non-football fans? For those of you who have only a passing interest in football, remember one truth: the last thing that football is about, is 22 men kicking a bag of air, up and down a field. This is about Scots passing on their culture. Changing the world, and Seville, for the better.

We all know the unlikely legend: how a “cargo” of Seville oranges had been bought by James Keiller of Dundee in the late 18th century. He could not sell his produce, for it was too bitter. However, his mum Janet took her recipe for quince jam and put the oranges to work, creating marmalade. That’s the story. There is some truth in all myths. Our truth is the link between the jam makers of Dundee and the orange growers of Andalusia.

The link between Scotland and Spain was assured, thanks to the Scots of Seville, on Burns Night 1890. A night, not just for honouring the great man. A night on which Scottish footballers founded Spain’s oldest club, dedicated solely to the Scottish combination game.

The Scots had been there for decades. Ships from Seville took oranges to Dundee. There were even Spanish shipping lines in the city. In 1770, William MacAndrews from Elgin had started a business in Liverpool. He sold fresh fruit, imported from Spain. In 1853, Robert MacAndrews and Company was founded in London. They bought one small steamer in 1857, specifically for their Spanish trade. By 1900, they had 23 ships operating under the Spanish flag. Robert MacAndrews and Co had transported fruit from Seville since 1859.

The National:

One of the owners of MacAndrews was Edward Farquharson Johnston. He had been born in Newmill, Elgin in 1854. His mother’s family were related to the MacAndrews.

In 1871, at the tender age of 17, he was transferred from London to Seville and the Spanish branch of the company. His general success can be seen in the fact that he acted as British vice-consul between 1879 and his retirement, in 1906.

He wasn’t the only one. Hugh MacColl from Glasgow was a marine engineer. Born in the Gorbals, in 1861, he ended up in Seville. He worked for the Portilla White Foundry. He had been apprenticed to Napiers in Glasgow and had possibly worked for Howden as chief draughtsman. Hugh spent only six years in Spain. It had a lasting effect on him, for he changed his name to the more Spanish-sounding “Hugo”. We took him back, for he died in Glasgow in 1915 and is buried in Cathcart Cemetery.

This assimilation is a big deal. More often than not, the Scotch Professors became part of their new culture. Wherever they went, they welcomed the locals to their clubs and taught them how to play the Scottish combination game. I must emphasise this. There was a tendency for the English abroad to stick to their own. I give you the Genoa Cricket And Football Club of Italy, founded in 1893. One of the first rules was “no Italians”.

The 1890 edition of Burns Night was the occasion at which Edward Farquharson Johnston from Elgin would found Sevilla FC with Hugh MacColl and a supporting group of friends. Johnson was in his mid-20s. MacColl was 28.

It will not surprise you to learn that we know of this historic meeting, due to information sent back home. In its March 17 edition, The Dundee Courier produced a story from a “Seville Correspondent” entitled: “First Football Match in Spain.” It made reference to a meeting in a café some six weeks [sic] previous.

“After a deal of talk and limited consumption of small beer, the ‘Club de Football de Sevilla’ was duly formed and office-bearers elected. It was decided we should play Association rules. We were about half and half Spanish and British…”

Another word or two of advice: be very careful when you read that a football club or player was “British”. This often means “English”. Outwith the UK, there is very little understanding that Scotland is an entirely distinct country. It is one of the main reasons why people mistakenly think that England invented Scotland’s game.

On that night dedicated to honouring one of Scotland’s finest, Edward Farquharson Johnston was elected the first president of Sevilla FC. MacColl was elected its first captain. By the way, don’t think of the captain as we know them now: the person marshalling the team for 90 minutes. In the days before leagues, managers, boards of directors; the captain was God. They picked and trained the team. The first secretary was MacColl’s colleague Isaias White. His responsibility was to try and find other teams they could play against.

With that momentous decision out of the way, attention turned to one of the first questions, on which any club has to decide: the colour and design of their shirts. In Sevilla’s case, they went for the red and white stripes of Sunderland. It is claimed that the link between MacAndrews and Sunderland was the reason. Possibly.

Men from the coal and shipbuilding industries bankrolled Sunderland. Unsurprisingly, Sunderland FC was founded by a Scotch Professor. James Allan, from Ayr, was a product of the University of Glasgow. He had moved to Sunderland to teach. He founded what was originally called the Sunderland And District Teachers’ Association FC. Sunderland FC, in the 1880s and 1890s, was essentially a Scottish club that happened to play in England.

Sevilla was now in existence. It might be a schoolboy question, but it has to be answered: “If Sevilla was the first-ever team dedicated solely to football, then who could they possibly play?”

The answer is – another team of Scotch Professors. They found one at the operations of the Rio Tinto Mining Company [RTC]. That would be the Scottish Company named after and based on an Andalusian river, run by Hugh Matheson from Edinburgh.

Scottish commercial brilliance is the driver, yet again. Matheson had body-swerved his family’s firm of Jardine Matheson. He set off for Spain in 1873, buying the Rio Tinto copper mines. He promptly imported his Scottish compatriots, to organise digging the stuff out of the ground.

Huelva is about as far south as you can go, without self-declaring as a camel. Too far away for the Scotch Professor? Not a bit of it. By now, you know that the second thing you do after securing a job in a foreign country is to set up a game of football. And thus it was, on December 18 1889, that Dr. William Alexander Mackay of RTC and Lybster in Caithness, founded Recreativo.

The pitch was provided by Charles Adams from Paisley, who ran the Huelva Gas Company. The men of RTC formed the team and played ad hoc games against men from Tharsis – a Glasgow-based mining company. There would also have been English-speaking sailors, to contribute makeshift opposition. Officially, Huelva answered Isaias White’s call. The first-ever football game in Spain took place on March 8, 1890 between Sevilla and Recreativo.

Remember the English merchants founding Genoa as an English team? For the most part, you knew you were in the presence of a Scottish club because English was not the only language being spoken. There were English people in Huelva. In 1916, they built their Scheme: Bella Vista, on a small hill to the west of Huelva. The houses – in a town nearer to Morocco than Marylebone – looked like they were from the Home Counties. They had a wee park named after Queen Victoria. Not that one – the “Spanish” Eugenia of Battenberg. Mind you, she was born in Balmoral: to Victoria’s youngest daughter, Beatrice.

The Spanish know their nations. The Huelva website is clear that Mackay was from a different culture to the Dodoball of England.

Mackay wanted to differentiate himself from what happened with other recreational activities practised by his compatriots since he did not restrict participation to the British, but strongly encouraged local young people to play.

The club founded by Scots brought in Spanish players. José García Almansa, Ildefonso Martínez and Alfonso Le Bourg can be considered three of the first-ever Spanish footballers. When the Scots died, assimilated, or went home, it would be Spaniards, who would carry on the game from the hills and glens.

Sevilla won that first match 2-0, but it doesn’t really matter. A beautiful thing was born in 1890. Andalusia is keen to claim the Spanish “Dean” of football (the oldest current club playing football) in Recreativo Huelva. It claims the oldest top-flight club, founded solely for football, in Sevilla. Two Spanish institutions, created by the Scotch Professor. Rabbie Burns would have been proud.