John Harley 1886-1950

In Scotland, John Harley is almost unknown. In Uruguay he is revered as ‘El Reformador’: the reformer of Uruguayan football. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of one of South America’s greatest Scotch Professors. You have to look on Spanish-language websites to get an idea of how crucial he was to the development in Uruguay.

Jon Harley was a railway draughtsman in Springburn. His skills where eagerly sought after by any country that was trying to build a national transport network. That is how he found himself in Argentina. He worked for the railroad companies in Bahia Blanca, Santa Fe and then for the Ferrocarril Oeste. Of course, the company had a football team, founded in 1904. They are still going, more than a century later.

He was known as ‘El Yoni’. More importantly, he was known as the first ‘tactical’. Uruguayan websites comment that, before he arrived, ‘the English style long ball game’ was the game that everyone play. As you know, this game is as dead as the dodo.

Harley brought the intelligent game of the Scots to Uruguay, when the club that would be renamed Peñarol would steal him away from Argentina in 1909. It is incredible to think, that one man, playing as a midfielder, would change the footballing direction of an entire nation.

The Uruguayans saw how he moved the ball around with short passes, ensuring that the entire team was involved in the game. You know: the game Queens Park FC had introduced to an international audience in 1872. It was this game which the world plays, rather than English individualistic and ultimately pointless, dribbling.

He is credited with creating concept of the ‘Number 5’ the the central midfielder of Peñarol, who was the brains of the side. He was so good, that he played seventeen times for Uruguay, between 1909 and 1916.

Jon Harley was honoured June 19, 1952 during a match between Peñarol and Rampla Juniors where he was officially named the ‘Reformer’ of Uruguayan football. He was presented with an album of appreciation, signed by 5,000 of his fellow sportsmen. He was called ‘Maestro de Maestros’.

Imagine that. A young man from Springburn, in front of 45,000 fans was led onto the pitch with an honour guard of players from the national team and other clubs against whom he had played.

Penarol John Harley

Giving History a Sporting Chance