Scotland v England: The Great British Face Off | @Alexecky

Part of a series of Scottish football history articles written for us by radio presenter Alex Horsburgh, today we look at the his first experience of football's oldest fixture: Scotland versus England.

For football daft Scots in the 1960s, 70s and 80s a certain football match was as much a part of their personal calendar as family birthdays, Hogmanay and holidays. It was the ultimate us v them encounter which always meant more to the man wearing the tartan scarf and waving the saltire or Lion Rampant flag.


Scotland v England is football's oldest international fixture

A right of passage for any young Scottish football fan pre-1990 was the annual 'Auld Enemy' encounter at Hampden or Wembley.

That first kiss, that driving test passed, the last day at school, the first job, the first record bought, if you were a young male north of the border in the three decades between the birth of the Beatles and the end of Thatcherism then you could add Scotland v England in football to that bucket list.

As fashionable then as the European Champions League now, the annual Home International Championship, played for by the four British nations, was a week long festival of football at the end of the domestic league season.

The finale was always England v Scotland in London or Glasgow. If the Charity (now Community) Shield was the season curtain raiser in the UK then Scotland v England was the all singing big show stopper at the end of the drama.

Scots head for London

My own first taste of the titanic yearly battle between St George's Cross and Saltire, that stuff of legend handed down and embellished with tales of personal jaunts to London and Glasgow by father, grandfather and yes, sometimes, even mothers or grannies, from Inverness to Innerleithen was Wembley 1979.

We had just about recovered from Argentina and a World Cup that promised much and delivered little a year earlier. Scotland had replaced the bluster of Ally MacLeod with the father figure that was the great Jock Stein, Britain's first European Cup winning manager with Celtic 12 years earlier in 1967, a man who could make players rise or fall with just a look.

Scotland were on their way back off the canvas after the knockout blow delivered by Peru in South America in the First Round of the 1978 World Cup. We had forgotten about the dreadful draw against Iran in the second game, and the what might have been had Archie Gemmill maybe completed his hat trick v Holland, Stein was coaching the nation back to life like Mickey slapping sense into Rocky in that famous first movie in the series.

I can't even remember how Scotland faired against Wales and Northern Ireland (lost 3-0 in Wales and beat N. Ireland 1-0 at Hampden says a quick Google) in the 1979 Home Internationals, and I didn't really care at the time, from late April I knew I was going to Wembley in late May and only victory over 'them' was in my mind.

Still proudly wearing my 'Argentina 1978' badged Umbro Scotland shirt, despite what had occurred on TV before my teenage eyes the summer before as Scotland embarrassed themselves in front of the football World, I would arrive in London via my cousins home near Bristol. He had an accent that was as West Country as the Wurzels (anyone under 40 Google it) but his parents were as Scottish as my dark blue fitba shirt having moved across the border for better jobs some years before.

Och aye met "Ooo arr" as me and cousin Andy travelled by train into Kings Cross from Bristol Templemeads on the morning of the match and before long we had joined the Republic of Little Scotland gathering on Wembley Way full of Braveheart spirit some 15 years before the film was even thought of.

Getting to Wembley by any means

In a crowd of around 90,000 inside the stadium at least 70 percent seemed to be Scottish and this could have been Glasgow or Edinburgh on a Saturday night as the match kicked off.

The last Auld Enemy match of the 1970's had the decade score before the 1979 fixture as 1 draw, England 5 wins and Scotland 3 wins. Scotland had won the last Wembley match in 1977 and the tartan team of '79 was regarded as nearly as good. There were survivors from the 1-2 win in '77, which had been our first in London in ten years.

The Scotland team starting the match was: George Wood, George Burley, Frank Gray, Gordon McQueen, Asa Hartford, Graeme Souness, John Wark, Kenny Dalglish, Joe Jordan, Arthur Graham, Paul Hegarty.

McQueen and Dalglish had scored the Scottish goals two years earlier at Wembley but injured Alan Rough was replaced in goals by George Wood of Everton. However, this was a time when Scotland was so blessed with outfield players that the goalkeeper was almost regarded as an afterthought.

England starting XI: Ray Clemence, Mick Mills, Phil Neal, Phil Thompson, Dave Watson, Peter Barnes, Trevor Brooking, Steve Coppell, Ray Wilkins, Kevin Keegan, Bob Latchford.

Goalkeeper Clemence had failed to hold back the Scotland attack in tartan triumphs v the Three Lions in 1976 and 1977 but with  Liverpool team mates Neal and Thompson in front of him it would be a battle Royale as they would try to hold back team mate and, potentially Scotland's match winner, King Kenny Dalglish.


Scotland took the lead via John Wark in the first half and I can certainly remember the ball hitting the net but the next thing I saw was sky as I was propelled from what seemed like the middle of the terracing, almost directly in line with the centre line, to somewhere near the safety fences as a surge of Scots pushed forward to celebrate the opener.

Welcome to the Scottish occupation of Wembley Stadium!

Scotland were in control and still leading 1-0 as the first half drew to a close but with Jock Stein making his way round the track to the Wembley tunnel before the half time whistle there was a feeling amongst some that maybe Big Jock knew England still had something in the tank. Stein obviously wanted his team in the dressing room as quickly as possible so he could spill words of wisdom.

Time added on at the end of the first half came from the most unlikely of sources, as a man with a tartan tammy managed to get onto the pitch and do an impersonation of a fairly decent forward at Twickenham as he evaded several London Bobbies, before being felled after a zig zag beer fuelled run across the hallowed pitch. Play was halted for a full three minutes as the farce of the foolish interloper played out.

It turned out the 'Scotsman' was an Everton fan from Merseyside who got on the field to shake Everton goalie George Wood's hand at the Scottish end.

This idiot so-called supporter produced a catastrophic own goal of sorts for the visitors as Peter Barnes of Man City edged a half hit shot past Wood with the last kick of the first half. This bought the home side time and provided a platform for them to build on in the second half.

To beat the Auld Enemy was the best feeling
It turned out to be the classic game of two halves in the end as Scotland disappeared from the match following the unexpected equaliser, thanks, in part, to the Everton fan on loan to the Tartan army.

Brooking and Keegan formed a double act after half time that would see the Scots this time sent homeward to think again, and I could personally not believe how possible triumph had turned into definite tragedy within 45 minutes. Final score 3-1 to England.

The cheeky Wembley Public Address system announcer would play the first few bars of the Hot Chocolate hit of the time 'So you win again', as the shell shocked Scottish fans left the ground before lifting the needle off the record, but this was not lost on the young music fan heading away from the scene of an English smash and grab.

England would end the 70's with their sixth win in ten annual matches against Scotland in that decade. Scotland 's best run in the decade was three wins from four auld enemy clashes 1974-77.

There was no repeat of the 1977 pitch invasion

And so home to the east coast of Scotland in the May of 1979 straight after the game on a train full of tartan army foot soldiers bound for Edinburgh from Kings Cross.

The final insult of the Wembley weekend of 1979 would be delivered by a pin striped suited, bowler hatted, brolly assisted, briefcase carrying archetypal London City gent of all people as the train moved off bound for Scotland's capital.

The 'gentleman' timed his walk from the back of the train platform as well as Keegan's runs on the pitch an hour and a half previously as he meandered up to the train window before tapping on it with his brolly. A group of Scotland fans near me turned round, reacting to the earnest tap of the umbrella, as one to be met by the middle finger of the city gent's left hand, the finger that always shows contempt. It was then I realised England liked to beat us as much as we like to beat them.

I prayed I'd see that particular non attending England fan two years later in 1981 when I returned to Wembley to see Scotland win 1-0 with a John Robertson penalty but luckily the scoreline that day was the only reply to city gent and Wembley 1979 that mattered.


This piece was kindly written and given to @TFHBs by Alex Horsburgh - you can follow him on Twitter: @Alexecky

©The Football History Boys, 2020
(All picture borrowed kindly and not owned by TFHB)

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