A History of Scottish Players in Europe

scottish footballers in Europe

From the sun-kissed shores of the French Riviera to a Catalonian conquest, the global game of football has elevated the best and most endearing Scottish talents to European stardom. While the English top flight has long since waded through the wide pool of Scotland’s most gifted footballers, the continent has also benefitted from a steady influx of unsung Scots bringing flair and grit to some of the most memorable European sides.

Here we examine how Scottish players have influenced club football across Europe from the early 20th century to the present day.

La Liga

With world record transfer fees aplenty and blistering summer heat, the Spanish Primera División is rarely the first stop for most travelling Scottish footballers. And as such, only six Scots have appeared in Spain’s 92-year-old top flight.

Steve Archibald (Barcelona, 1984-87)

From working as a Glasgow car mechanic to the heights of winning La Liga in his sparkling debut campaign with Barcelona, striker Steve Archibald is the timeless blueprint for all Scots playing abroad. A nimble centre forward, often amongst the goals but always overlooked as a top marksman, Archibald lived up to his sizeable price tag as one of the most exciting foreign players in Spain between 1984 and 1987. The club’s long-awaited La Liga triumph in the 1984-85 season was spearheaded by the Scot.

Oliver Burke (Alavés, 2019-20)

Kirkcaldy-born winger Oli Burke arrived at Deportivo Alavés in 2019 on the back of a hotly-anticipated loan to Celtic which had delivered further inconsistency for the one-time great hope of Scottish football. Twice the most expensive Scot of all time, Burke featured 32 times for the Basque club and scored just once. In spite of his barren form in front of goal, then-Premier League side Sheffield United took notice of Burke’s Alavés displays and signed him on a three-year deal.

Jordan Holsgrove (Celta Vigo, 2020-present)

Scotland’s only current representative in Spain’s top division, midfielder Jordan Holsgrove is one of a number of promising talents playing around the continent to feature for the Scottish under-21 team. Picked up by Celta in September 2020, Holsgrove was a regular for the Galician club’s reserve team before stepping up to first team football earlier this year with three La Liga appearances and a brief Copa del Rey cameo which heralded a first Celta goal for the midfielder.

Alan Hutton (Mallorca, 2012-13)

50-cap full-back Alan Hutton took a lengthy route to becoming a cult hero at Villa Park. Later dubbed the “Scottish Cafu” by Aston Villa fans, the all-action right back spent six months on loan in the sunny Balearic island of Mallorca – enough to convince the ex-Rangers defender to ask to permanently sign for RCD Mallorca. Perhaps Mallorca’s legendary status amongst Scottish holidaymakers was central to Hutton’s thoughts, as his side were relegated from La Liga at the end of the 2012-13 season with 17 appearances to his name.

Ted McMinn (Sevilla, 1987-88)

Signed by veteran gaffer Jock Wallace in 1987, Scottish winger Ted McMinn ventured to the ancient city of Seville for one season in the 1980s. Sevilla secured a respectable 9th place finish in the Primera División with the crowd-pleasing McMinn turning out 22 times in the famed white jersey of Los Nervionenses. In spite of a host of appearances against Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid, McMinn headed home in 1988 for Derby County, and later cited language difficulties as the main reason for his quick departure.

John Fox Watson (Real Madrid, 1948-49)

Paving the way for these brief Scottish sensations in Spain’s top flight was centre half John Fox Watson – the first and only Scotsman to pull on the Real Madrid jersey to date. However, due to the brevity of his Madrid sojourn – making only one official appearance for Los Blancos in their 3-1 loss at the hands of Celta Vigo – much of the circumstances surrounding Watson’s move to the Spanish capital remains in mystery. Yet the John Fox Watson story is undoubtedly unique – a Hamilton lad and former trainee at Douglas Water Thistle Juniors made the grade at arguably the world’s biggest club.

Serie A

The beautifully defensive, harsh and vibrant world of calcio that is Serie A has played host to five Scotsmen since its inception in 1898. 

Liam Henderson (Hellas Verona, 2019-20)

The first Serie A Scot in over 30 years when making his top flight bow in 2019 for Hellas Verona, the midfield controller Liam Henderson featured four times for I Gialloblu in their 2019-20 Serie A campaign. Despite his limited impact on the division, Henderson is no stranger to Italian football having just completed his fifth consecutive season in Italy. Proving to be adept at Serie B level with Bari, Verona, Empoli and now Lecce, the former Scotland youth player will hope to re-establish himself as a Serie A player in the near future.

Aaron Hickey (Bologna, 2020-present)

Teenage defender Aaron Hickey swapped Heart of Midlothian’s Tynecastle for the esteemed setting of Stadio Renato Dall’Ara in 2020. Reportedly rejecting European giants Bayern Munich in favour of a move to Serie A, the Glaswegian plays with the composure of current Scotland heroes Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson. This ability was transmitted to Italian audiences in the 2020-21 season, as Hickey broke into the Bologna team with 12 appearances and a nomination for the 2021 Golden Boy Award.

Joe Jordan (AC Milan, 1981-82 & Hellas Verona, 1983-84)

While an almost stereotypically Scottish persona has followed Joe Jordan throughout his career in football, the former Scotland striker was also a fine goalscorer in his prime. Yet there was no glorious fairy tale for the tall centre forward at San Siro, as his debut campaign largely passed him by before spending his second season in Serie B as a result of the Rossoneri’s match-fixing punishments. The Scot then transferred to Hellas Verona for the 1983-84 season, bringing just one goal in 12 games. Although Jordan spent only three years of a 20-year playing career in Italy, he is said to have loved his time with Milan and Verona.

Denis Law (Torino, 1961-62)

Denis Law, arguably the most gifted Scottish footballer of all time, was the first Scotsman to play in Serie A. ‘The King’ ruled Manchester with City and United in between his short spell with Torino in 1961-62, rocking up at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino for a British transfer record of £110,000. Even though a 10-goal return in 28 matches followed, the Scottish legend’s talents were largely disrupted by the catenaccio system of heavy defensive play, coupled with off-pitch troubles which saw Law desperate to return to England after one season in Serie A.

Graeme Souness (Sampdoria, 1984-86)

In an era which defined the nostalgic culture of Italian football, Graeme Souness’ iconic move to Sampdoria in 1984 was one of a number of transfers which heralded an unprecedented level of interest in Serie A from British audiences. Sporting a heavy mane of hair and equally dashing moustache, Souness joined one of the most memorable Sampdoria sides in history and often provided the firepower for attackers Trevor Francis, Roberto Mancini and Gianluca Vialli. In the classic Blucerchiati strip of blue, white, red and black, the gruff Scotsman lifted the 1985 Coppa Italia to cement his place as one of the best Scottish exports of all time.

Bundesliga

Before the impressive fan power, promising young stars and hated Monday night matches of today’s Bundesliga, a steady flow of Scottish players in the German top tier between 1983 and 2001 issued the league with a reputation as a home away from home for many Scots.

Scott Booth (Borussia Dortmund, 1997-98)

Scott Booth followed fellow countryman Paul Lambert to Borussia Dortmund in 1997 after seven seasons with hometown team Aberdeen. A prolific striker across the continent and on international duty, Booth ultimately failed to break into the team at the Westfalenstadion despite netting in a 3-0 away victory in Prague as Dortmund tested themselves in the Champions League. With 22 Scotland caps to his name, the forward quickly settled in Dutch football and was a popular figure with Utrecht, Vitesse Arnhem and Twente following his swift departure from Germany.

Oliver Burke (RB Leipzig, 2016-17)

One of few Scottish footballers to notably appear in two major European leagues, Nottingham Forest’s academy graduate became the most expensive Scottish player ever when he signed up with RB Leipzig for around £13 million in 2016. Leipzig, a club commended for their youth focus, appeared the ideal breeding ground for Scotland’s hottest prospect who delighted the excited Tartan Army with an assist on his Bundesliga debut. Playing out wide or as a striker, Burke was unfortunately used sparingly for much of the season and headed back to Britain the following summer.

Paul Lambert (Borussia Dortmund, 1996-98)

Paul Lambert in a fluorescent Dortmund jersey – is there anything more 90s Bundesliga? Adored by Dortmund’s renowned Yellow Wall, Lambert played his best football with BVB which likely sets him apart from other Scottish arrivals on the continent. The combative defensive midfielder remained in Germany for just a year and a half, making 64 appearances on the way to setting numerous British records when he started, and won, the 1997 Champions League Final against Juventus.

Murdo MacLeod (Borussia Dortmund, 1987-91)

Prior to the emergence of Scott Booth and Paul Lambert at Borussia Dortmund, the club’s links to Scotland were established by the 4-year stay of Glaswegian midfielder Murdo MacLeod in Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia area. Leaving behind a painful era on and off the pitch, Horst Köppel’s BVB won a domestic double in 1989 as they lifted both the DFB-Pokal and DFB-Supercup – Murdo MacLeod started both finals.

Mark McGhee (Hamburger SV, 1984-86)

A star for Alex Ferguson’s fabled Aberdeen side of the 1980s, Scottish striker Mark McGhee made European headlines with a strike against future employers Hamburg to win the 1983 European Super Cup for the Dons. McGhee made the jump to Bundesliga football in 1984 for £330,000 – scoring 12 times in his sole campaign with Hamburger SV. Injury problems hampered McGhee’s otherwise significant strike rate in club football whilst at Hamburg, and he swapped the blue of HSV for Celtic’s green hoops 16 months after signing at the Volksparkstadion.

Alan McInally (Bayern Munich, 1989-93)

Alan McInally is the only Scot to feature for Bayern Munich in history. Whilst a first class goalscorer at Aston Villa and Celtic, the Ayrshireman is perhaps best remembered for his stint with the serial German champions due to his loveable reminiscing on Sky Sports most weekends as a pundit. McInally, a tough target man for any opposition defence on his day, was a hit in Munich after netting 10 goals in 31 matches to fire Bayern to a twelfth Bundesliga title in the 1989-90 season.

Vincent Mennie (1. FC Köln, 1983-86)

Although other Scottish players grabbed the sports page headlines with big money moves to the Bundesliga in the following decades, Vince Mennie was the first of his nation to play in Germany’s top flight. Eligible for Scotland and Germany having been born in Dortmund, the midfielder played for FC Köln between 1983 and 1986, scoring once to write more history as the first Scottish goalscorer in the Bundesliga. 

Brian O’Neil (VfL Wolfsburg, 1998-2001)

Capped 7 times by Scotland, Paisley-born midfielder or utility man Brian O’Neil still enjoys wonderful cult status with supporters of Bundesliga mainstays VfL Wolfsburg. Proving to be a useful footballer with Celtic and Aberdeen, O’Neil’s career transfer fees totalled over £1 million after making the move to Germany in 1998. The Scot appeared in 50 league matches for Die Wölfe, notably playing his part in the club’s first UEFA Cup qualification.

Ligue 1

Seemingly the preferred destination for Scottish players moving abroad, Ligue 1 has been thriving with the best of Scotland’s footballing talent since the wartime era due to its geographical proximity.

William John Aitken (Cannes, 1932-34 & Antibes, 1937-39)

From Peterhead to the south of France via Rangers, Newcastle and an intriguing two-year stint as manager of Juventus, few Scots have served French football with the distinction of Willie Aitken. A regular goalscorer in Britain, the striker was able to prolong an already lengthy playing career by moving to France in 1932. While Italian league rules prevented him from pulling on the Juve shirt as player-manager, he faced no such obstacle with AS Cannes and FC Antibes. His biggest achievement came in the form of a Coupe de France triumph and subsequent Ligue 1 silver medal whilst in the employment of Cannes.

Eric Black (Metz, 1986-91)

Centre forward Eric Black was another of legendary Aberdeen gaffer Alex Ferguson’s charges at Pittodrie in the trophy-laden 1980s to leave British football for a lifestyle change on the continent. Arriving at Metz with his best years still ahead of him, Black did achieve an excellent scoring record of 34 goals in 95 appearances in a 1988 Coupe de France-winning Les Grenats side before recurring back issues forced the talented Scotsman into early retirement in 1991.

Alec Cheyne (SC Nîmes, 1932-34)

Alec Cheyne – the founder of the famous ‘Hampden Roar’ – played Ligue 1 football with Nîmes for two seasons in the period before the Second World War. A deadly inside forward born in Glasgow, Cheyne scored goals for fun at Aberdeen and Chelsea until Les Crocodiles tempted him away from Britain in 1932.

John Collins (AS Monaco, 1996-98)

After a decade of great service to Hibernian and Celtic, John Collins headed to Monaco in 1996 with little to prove – yet he ultimately excelled in France’s top flight during his two seasons at Stade Louis II. Gracing Ligue 1 with his skill and professionalism, the goal-hungry midfielder won the 1997 league title and reached a Champions League semi-final to cement his status as a Tartan Army favourite. Appearing at Euro 96 and the 1998 World Cup as a Monaco player, Collins made 53 Ligue 1 appearances in total, scoring seven times.

Steven Fletcher (Marseille, 2015-16)

Well-travelled Scotland forward Steven Fletcher spent six months on loan at Marseille in the 2015-16 Ligue 1 campaign, scoring three times in 13 games in the OM jersey. Les Olympiens had struggled to bring back the exciting atmosphere provided by coach Marcelo Bielsa in the years following his shock departure, and the signing of a veteran Scotsman was sadly ineffective in improving the club’s fortunes – ending the season in Marseille’s lowest Ligue 1 standing in 15 years.

Jeremiah Kelly (Rennes, 1933) & Phillip McCloy (Rennes, 1933)

Both hailing from the west of Scotland, former Ayr United teammates Jeremiah Kelly and Phillip McCloy spent a matter of weeks at the Stade de la Route de Lorient in 1933. With McCloy as player-manager and Kelly his right-hand man on the pitch, the promising Scottish adventure in France was cut short when the latter’s contract was ripped up due to the sheer dreadfulness of his single match as a Rennes player. McCloy resigned in disgust, and it could be argued that Rennes has proved to be a cursed destination for Scottish players since.

Ray Stephen (AS Nancy, 1987-91)

Of all the Scottish exports to Europe, striker Ray Stephen may have been the most consistent. Relatively unknown to most supporters in his homeland, the Scotland under-21 international assimilated into French football at AS Nancy after ending his seven-year stay at Dundee in 1987. Making 152 appearances and scoring 55 times in France’s top two divisions, Stephen had been signed by a youthful Arsène Wenger tasked with keeping Nancy in Ligue 1.

Andrew Wilson (SC Nîmes, 1932-34)

Scotland’s joint-tenth highest scorer of all time journeyed to SC Nîmes in 1932 to bring an end to a historic 20-year playing career. Forward Andrew Wilson was one of the greatest Scottish footballers of the early 20th century, netting over 100 goals for Middlesbrough and Chelsea in the 1920s. Lanarkshire-born Wilson arrived in France amid a flurry of Scottish signings in the country, retiring in 1934 having paved the way for further Scots in European football.

Other Scots in Ligue 1: Seton Airlie (Cannes, 1947-48), John Baker Muir (Excelsior Roubaix, 1933-35), John Blane (Cannes, 1947-48), John Donoghue (Excelsior Roubaix, 1932-35), Peter Dougall (Sète, 1932-33), Willie Dowall (Red Star, 1937-38), Thomas Dunsmore (Sète, 1946-47), Edward Edmunds (Red Star, 1932-33), Jamie Fullarton (Bastia, 1996-97), Fraser Hornby (Reims, 2020-present), Allan Hutton (Cannes, 1947-48), Allan Johnston (Rennes, 1996-97), James Keenan (Red Star, 1937-38), Derek McInnes (Toulouse, 1999-2000), John MacGowan (Olympique Lillois, 1932-34), MacLaren (Cannes, 1947-48), Alexander MacLennan (Excelsior Roubaix, 1934-37), George Mills (Cannes, 1933-34), Bill Murray (RC Roubaix, 1937-38), George Nicol (RC Roubaix, 1935-37), Denis O’Hare (CA Paris, 1932-34), Harold O’Neill (Red Star, 1935-36), Thomas Francis Pritchard (Marseille, 1932-33), John Renwick (Excelsior Roubaix, 1935-36), Alexander Patterson Sherry (Marseille, 1932-33), Gary Smith (Rennes, 1996-97), George Alexander Smoker (Alès, 1932-33 & 1934-36), Ian Wallace (Brest, 1984-85).

Elsewhere in Europe

Kenny Miller (Bursaspor, 2011)

In the form of his career as SPL top goalscorer for season 2010-11, Kenny Miller departed the slowly sinking ship that was pre-liquidation Rangers for Turkey. The Gers’ talismanic striker performed the same role for Bursaspor for the remainder of the season as they mounted a European challenge, with Miller finding the back of the net five times in 15 games – including vital goals against Galatasaray and Sivasspor.

Jimmy Calderwood (Sparta Rotterdam, 1979-80, Willem II, 1980-82 & Roda JC, 1982-87)

Jimmy Calderwood – a popular figure in the fanatical world of Scottish football as manager of Dunfermline and Aberdeen – has the peculiarity of never representing a Scottish club during a 17-year career. The small Glaswegian midfielder is as well remembered by Eredivisie fans as in his homeland having played hundreds of Dutch top flight games with mid-table Sparta Rotterdam, Willem II and Roda JC as well as a spell outside the top tier with Heracles Almelo.

Ally Dick (Ajax, 1986-88)

The Scotsman signed by John Cruyff – up-and-coming midfielder Ally Dick was the first (and only) Scottish footballer in Ajax’s 121-year history upon making the move in 1986 from Tottenham. Destined for greatness, injury halted his progress in a star-studded Ajax team of Bergkamp and van Basten. Dick later finished his career in Australia and South Africa.

Ryan Gauld (Sporting CP, 2014-19, Vitória de Setúbal, 2016-17, C.D. Aves, 2017-18 & Farense, 2019-present)

Dubbed the Scottish Messi as a teenager, Ryan Gauld is the underrated representative of the Scottish game in Portugal. His football journey to date has been one of hype, disappointment and redemption following the £3 million deal which took him to Sporting CP in 2014 – a contract that included a €60 million release clause. Disregarded in Scotland after appearing almost 100 times for Sporting’s B team, Gauld is now the uncapped favourite of many watchful members of the Tartan Army having become a Primeira Liga star with Farense, scoring 18 times since his permanent transfer in 2019. Fluent in Portuguese and attracting interest around Europe, Gauld is the highest profile Scot currently playing abroad.