Football: Midweek auld enemies returning home as best of club pals
Friday 19 November 1999
Everything has been said. In advance of England-Scotland (as, indeed, before Manchester United-Bayern Munich in May), my ITV colleague Clive Tyldesley, who has commentated on both this year's "matches of the millennium", made the smiling observation that, by kick-off, there would be no undiscovered angle left for him.
Of course, Clive wasn't really worried, because he was safe in the knowledge of homework completed. Like any professional sufficiently capable and successful to be broadcasting such matches, he makes it his business to explore the angles others haven't even considered finding. (We commentators can be a pretty focused breed, you know. There are 960 pages in the current edition of the Rothmans Football Yearbook and any single one of them might hint at the line that no-one else has thought of).
Still, I take his point. Football is afforded a finite (if vast) amount of limelight which, when shared equally around Britain's regular weekend programme of 50-plus matches, might leave a line or two unwritten or unspoken. When it's all splashed onto one event... well, I challenge you to offer an original perspective on, fact about, or reaction to, this week's events at Wembley.
Forgive me, however, if I sigh with English relief, pity for the Scots, and exhaustion at the whole fantastic shooting-match before re-posting the "Business as usual" signs on the national game's front door. Well, almost.
In the aftermath of all this fuss, there will be no more interesting venue than Goodison Park over the weekend. It offers a gripping case-study in the psyche of the English football fan. Don Hutchison and John Collins, arguably Scotland's best two players this week, will run out in blue again - for Everton: what does the Gladwys Street end make of that? Should the Scots be victimised for daring to excel against the country of their employ? Should they be politely and patronisingly applauded for their "plucky" effort against the conquering English? Teased or targeted? Or simply cheered again just for being Evertonians? Will Walter Smith forgive and pick them?
Their chairman apart, Chelsea - Everton's visitors - are more or less free of employees with an interest in the week's parochial affairs. To De Goey, Zola, Babayaro, Deschamps etc the matches were, presumably, little more than a distant source of amusement. But there might be a jape or two exchanged if Gianluca Vialli allows Dennis Wise closer to Collins and Hutchison than Kevin Keegan did.
All over the country, relationships will be re-adjusting. Kevin Gallagher and Alan Shearer can hold hands again for Newcastle at Watford. Emile Heskey will hope that, at Filbert Street, he actually has the chance to shoot at Neil Sullivan. Steve Guppy will presumably take off his track- suit and provide the crosses.
Scotland's Blackburn boys will reconvene for their club in a fixture whose irony should not be lost on them. Christian Dailly - a brilliant reflex save away from severely damaging Kevin Keegan's "Club England" - now faces Fulham (the product, to a large extent, of Keegan's pre-England energies).
There is fun to be had at Highbury where Paul Ince, fresh from his relieved embraces with Messrs Adams and Seaman, will seek to galvanise Middlesbrough against them. Kevin Phillips might appreciate the chance to stretch his unused legs in juxtaposition with Michael Owen when Liverpool visit Sunderland.
Lucky boy that I am, I was in the posh seats and, after a half-time cuppa, happened to be following Sir Bobby Charlton back up the steps. Evidently anxious not to miss the re-start, English football's foremost ambassador put his head down and started to make brisk progress. Unbelievably, he was brought to order by a stewardess (select your own description from the following: irritatingly officious, archetypically jobsworth, blissfully ignorant, delightfully innocent) who demanded to see his ticket.
To his immense credit, the man reacted with absolute humility. Not a hint of "Don't you know who I am?" He dug deep into his breast pocket and came up with the required document. Catching him on the steps, I impudently observed that "they can be a bit like that at Wembley, Sir Bobby. Haven't you been here before?" "Aye," he replied. "Once or twice".
Peter Drury is an ITV football commentator
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