Luck of the draw at this summer’s Euro96 championships has thrown up a game against England. the first since I989. giving Scotland the chance to take consolation from inevitable overall failure in the tournament. That's always been the way. from Archie Gemmill's wondergoal against Holland in 1978 to our utterly inconsequential win over the former Soviet Union in the last European Chatnpionship Finals. This time. the stakes are higher. with ottr neighbours convinced they can emulate their home territory success of 30 years ago.
The Tartan Army's infamous display of exuberance — or. as the English would have it. wanton vandalism — after Scotland's Wembley victory of 1977 was the first nail in the coffin of the Home Internationals. abandoned in the mid- SOs in the face of increasing crowd trouble and decreasing interest in the Wales—Ireland result. There is some corner of a foreign field that is forever evidence in the case against reviving the competition. but Auld Enemies die hard. and speculation about the resurrection of an annual squaring-up between Scotland and England is a perennial pub topic.
As Bobby (‘harlton (one of the few players who commands universal respect even in a white jersey) noted. we wouldn’t mind being drubbed by a Rockall Xl provided we win the one that really matters. and preferably at Wembley. So when a makeshift Scottish side
travelled to the. abern. ‘home of football‘ the year after England won the World Cup. our 3-2 victory made us. at least in our own minds. the
best on the planet. The sight of Slim Jim Baxter
striding down the touchline. keeping the ball in the air and Alan Ball in his place. before booking the ball through for Dennis Law to take on his chest. is cruelly majestic. as is the neverending sequence of passes which made the heroes of 1966 look like dogs chasing their tails.
The match has gone down in Hampden lore as one of our greatest triumphs. although one
which is indicative of the Scottish psyche. never
more at case than when crowing over a moral
These tiny triumphs, nestling like diamonds in a dungheap of disasters, are our nation’s alternative history, even if in recent years there has been little to choose between the football field and the battlefield.
victory. We know they were outclassed. but anyone glancing through the record books will barely notice the apparently narrow win. Instead. the standout scores of the postwar era are not in our favour — 7-2. 9-3 and 5— l. which. along with the SPA centenary ‘celebration‘ (5- (l at Hampden). make up the final element in Scottish football’s triumvirate: faith. hope . . . calamity!
Bremner. Law, St John. Greig — some of the key players from Scotland’s past - give John Richardson the insider’s view on Scotland-England games.
If there was any game where the Scottish national team could be relied upon to put partisan club loyalties to one side. it was the annual encounter with the English. That‘s a fact that Billy Bremner. the fiery Leeds mid—fielder and one-time Scotland captain. is quick to confirm. ‘It was the game of games,‘ he remembers. ‘the one we all looked forward to because of the history and because we like to beat the English. l played my club football with Jackie Charlton and Norman Hunter. but there was no holding back when we played England. You just got stuck right in there.‘
Ex-Rangers captain John Greig agrees that the fixture against England was tremendously important to both the players and the supporters.
‘It was the game of games, the one we all looked forward to because of the history and because we like to beat the English.’
The defender picks out 1967‘s triumph as the most important game he had anything to do with.
‘They were World Champions,‘ Greig recalls. ‘but we had enjoyed a good run against them and, after failing to qualify for the 1966 World Cup, we were determined to make a point at Wembley that year. The final score was 3-2. but we could have scored five or six. We had some tremendous individual players — Jim Baxter. John White and Dennis Law. Those were guys who could turn the game for you.‘
Although he plays down his own contribution to the victory. footballing legend Dennis Law agrees that beating the English in 1967 was a career highlight. ‘I managed to knock one in.‘ he says modestly. ‘It was a fluke, I think. but it was tremendously important to beat the World Champions. l have a number of outstanding memories — beating them at Hampden Park in 1962 was fantastic. it was our ﬁrst victory there since the war.
lan St John was still playing for Motherwell when he made his debut against England at Wembley in
‘ “,tf»;*;:.‘.‘:~“§i;~.-.«. - r‘ " Dave Mackay (left) and Billy Bremner argue the flner points of football and (rlght) Dents law gets some rough lustlce. Photographs from Hampden Babylon by Stuart Cosgrove (Canongate £9.95)
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Just as Scotland's unfortunate goalkeeper in the debacle of l96l took most of the flak (prompting the playground bowler. ‘What's the time‘." — ‘Nine past l-laffey‘). the enduring image of 1975‘s Wembley nightmare remains that of Stewart Kennedy clinging to the post while a weak England team struck five blows at the heart and soul of the nation. Kennedy may have been king of the swingers on that black Saturday. but the other twelve monkeys in the Scotland squad tnust shoulder some of the responsibility — if only for not breaking his arms before the match.
For an equivalent Scottish win. you have to go back to Alex James‘s Wembley Wizards of l928. but only the most desperate fans could continue to revel in a 70-year-old triumph. We do. We‘re desperate. liven if the inevitable happens. and Scotland take the low road north after three games. the match on l5 June has assumed the importance of a final. We know it shouldn‘t be so. We know that international achievement is measured on an international scale. We know that victory won‘t be a true reflection of our abilities as a footballing nation. But we also know too well the awful feeling of being sent homewards to think again.
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l96l. ‘It was good to get out of the country and get down to London in those days.‘ he says. ‘although the game where we were beaten 9-3 isn‘t a memory you like to keep. My highlight came a couple of years later. when we beat them 2-0 at Wembley with only ten men. Eric Caldow broke. his leg, but Jim Baxter went on to score a goal and a penalty.‘
The players all agree about the importance of the support. ‘The Tartan Army used to take over Wembley,‘ Bremner says. ‘I don’t know what the ticket allocation was in those days, but when you came out of the tunnel. there would be tartan everywhere. That sort of support is a big boost for the players because we never wanted to let them down.’
Bremner has no doubt that the support will be as passionate when Scotland come up against England in Euro96, and he insists that Scotland are in with a chance. ‘You’d be a fool to write Scotland off.’ he insists. ‘There‘s no telling what might happen in a one-off game like that. If we can contain the Dutch and beat the Swiss. then qualiﬁcation for the second round would come down to the England game. And who would bet on that?’
The List 3| May-l3 Jun l99611