CELTIC PARK today will stage the seventh match between Scotland and the Faroe Islands. But if you want a historic flavour of what the Scots and the Faroes have been about at football, you have to go much further back than 1994, the year of the two countries' first meeting and the start of much Toftir clifftop trauma for Craig Brown and Berti Vogts.

The footballing rivalry between Faroe and the Scots was captured in the old biennial match between Faroe and Shetland, a fixture first played in 1929 and involving choppy 14-hour boat trips by the visiting team and a week-long stay.

There are men in their mid-70s and older in Lerwick, still as bright as buttons, who recall those trailblazing matches which prefigured this afternoon's Euro qualifier in Glasgow. Back in the 1940s and 1950s Shetland versus Faroe was arguably a bigger game in prestige than this afternoon's tie, and was played for a trophy.

"To us it was like Scotland versus England, " says Ian Gray, now a retired headmaster, who played in many Faroe-Shetland matches in the 1950s and 1960s. "It was like an international fixture, both very exciting and extremely competitive. And it drew quite big crowds."

Gray made his debut as a 17-yearold in 1953: a result of the Shetland Football Association selection committee spotting him playing in the sixteam Shetland league in 1952 and portentously telling him: "Son . . . you're going to Faroe with us."

On the 14-hour sea crossing, says Gray, a throng of Shetlanders accompanied the team for the game, not at all disenchanted with the fact that it meant a week-long jolly in the north Atlantic archipelago.

The matches were highly competitive, especially when the glint of silverware became a factor. For reasons that are unaccountable today, a Glasgow-based building firm, Adam and Co, put up a trophy, the Adam Shield, overwhich the islanders laid into each other with ever increasing zeal.

In 1967, the Adam Shield was replaced by the North Atlantic Cup, overwhich the Shetland Times newspaperwould trumpet loudly whenever the Scots claimed victory.

The titanic struggles were played every other year in Lerwick or Torshavn. When it was the Shetlanders' turn to travel they were dependent on catching the Denmark-Faroe ferry. Once the Shetland team was aboard, a throng of supporters, some of them quite thirsty, would also join the assignment.

Eerily echoing the unnerved mood that would envelop both Craig Brown and Berti Vogts 45 years later, Gray says he has two vivid recollections of his first international trip in 1953 for Shetland: first, the strange Faroe pitch, and secondly, the jagged topography of the islands looming out of the Atlantic swell.

"The pitch was . . . well . . . I'm not sure how to describe it . . . it was something totally unfamiliar to us, " says Gray. "It wasn't grass as we knew it, but nor was it mud, either. It was a rough, sort of sandy surface . . . perfectly playable, but strange all the same.

"The other thing I recall about my debut in '53 was the dramatic scenery of Faroe: the steep hills and mountains and the long voes and fjords. " Arthur Robertson, now 76 and another survivor of the ShetlandFaroe matches, first played in the fixture in 1948: an affair that almost fell through because the Shetland players had trouble getting aboard their boat.

Whether the captain had failed to pay his harbour dues or not is unknown, but he never quite berthed in Shetland to pick up the team.

"We had considerable difficulty getting aboard in '48, " recalls Robertson, today a retired assistant head teacher in Lerwick. "The team and supporters had to get into a fishing boat to reach the main vessel. But we got to the game, eventually."

In 1967, after more than half a century of scraps between the teams, Shetland survived another hairy encounter en route to Faroe. In 1967 a dramatic decision was reached - for the first time the team would f ly to the match. Jim Peterson, now a retired Shetlander, recalls it as nearly the first and last f light of his life.

"I remember looking out of the window as we approached Faroe and gazing down on this rocky, scarpy landscape, " Peterson told me yesterday. "You couldn't see a flat piece of land anywhere, let alone any airport. As we approached Vagar, one of the northern Faroese islands where we were due to land, the plane sort of hovered in the air before suddenly divebombing in to land. It was quite a frightening experience. When we got off the plane I remember looking at the Vagar landing strip and seeing potholes everywhere. It was really a case of taking your chances."

Even though Faroe represented a small, windswept society on the edge of civilisation, the accounts of both Gray and Robertson ominously reveal a team geared towards football learning and progress.

Robertson remembers the Faroe players "jogging down from a mountain" as a a warm-up before the 1948 match, a game Faroe won 4-1. And, as a forerunner to the modern game, Faroe back then did not just hoof the ball up the field, but patiently held on to it as they considered their moves, unlike the forward-rushing Scots.

"That match in '48 was the first time that I'd come upon footballers actually passing the ball backwards, " says Robertson. "We weren't used to this. Indeed, I'd never come across it before on a football field. It's strange, but I remember that."

The regular Shetland-Faroe match petered out in the 1980s as Faroe joined UEFA and reached for greater status in world football. In all, though, over a sequence of 10 Adam Shield matches in the 1940s and 50s, Faroe won eight and lost just two.

Scotland be warned today. The Faroe Islands, despite having just 46,000 inhabitants, are steeped in football, as any Shetlander will tell you.

graham. spiers@theherald. co. uk