At the bar, one man in particular - a brute wearing a threadbare tammy, with Popeye forearms and crabsticks for fingers - eyed me with great suspicion. But undaunted, or only slightly daunted, I ploughed intrepidly into conversation. Was he brought up hereabouts? "Hereaboots, aye." Had he lived here all his life, then? "No, I lived abroad for six years." Really? Abroad? Somewhere nice? "No' really. A place called High Wycombe."
The thousands of Scottish fans who ventured abroad last Wednesday very nearly returned with something to tell their grandchildren about. A bit of a shame that their goalscoring hero, Don Hutchison, is considerably more at home on Tyneside and Merseyside than Tayside or Clydeside, but at least he has an unarguably Caledonian name. Which reminds me of the late Keith Mackenzie - formidable, charismatic secretary of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews - who once sat next to my friend Douglas Alexander at a sporting dinner. Although Doug's lineage is half-Scottish, his vowels are pure Maidenhead. He introduced himself to Mackenzie. "Damn silly accent for a man with such a damn fine name," the great man growled.
Ditto Rod Stewart, raised in norf London but, as everyone knows, a passionate follower of the Scotland football team. During half-time at Wembley I went to the loo, and there he was, peeing into the adjacent urinal. As claims to musical fame go, this almost puts me up there with the guy in Liverpool who boasts of the day that Ringo Starr's mother's dog mounted his bitch. Anyway, Rod was in good cheer at half-time. Not only were his boys deservedly ahead, but he also had the supermodel Caprice on his arm, although not in the gents.
I didn't see him during the match, so I don't know whether he joined in with the bulk of the Scotland fans, whose current favourite anthem, for some extremely curious reason, is "Doh a deer". Rod Stewart sings Rodgers and Hammerstein - it's an album waiting to happen. It would certainly be no less improbable than several thousand hard-looking Scots in see- you-Jimmy wigs bringing The Sound of Music to Wembley. And not only Wembley. I am told there was no sight more bizarre on the road to Euro 2000 than that of 10 elderly, drunken Glaswegians, with only five or six teeth between them, jigging up and down in a cafe in Prague's Wenceslas Square lustily singing "Doh a deer, a female deer ... ray, a drop of golden sunnnn..."
Still, if Chelsea fans can make "One man went to mow" sound threatening, and if England fans can spend 90 minutes humming the theme tune of The Great Escape, then anything can happen. And when I say anything... I would never, for instance, have backed myself to favour Scotland over England in a sporting encounter, but as full-time approached last week I found myself silently urging the Scots to score the equaliser they so richly deserved. If only because it would have compelled England to find the lustre they so pitifully lacked.
Afterwards, the throng leaving Wembley was decidedly unmerry. For the Scottish fans, a marvellous 1-0 victory over the Auld Enemy was tempered by the knowledge that 1-0 wasn't quite enough. For the English fans, delight at qualifying for Euro 2000 was tempered by the realisation that, on that kind of form, we'll be lucky to stay in the tournament much beyond the opening ceremony. True, Kevin Keegan had finally got England ticking like one of his old teams, but it was Liverpool, Hamburg or Newcastle United we had hoped for, not Scunthorpe reserves.
As I shuffled forward in a vast throng shepherded by dozens of mounted police officers, I saw a man bent double and swearing profusely. He was a Scotsman, but it wasn't English jamminess that was irking him, more the fact that he had just walked into one of the low iron bollards that pockmark Wembley Way. In a big crowd you don't see them until they have all but castrated you. I know, because it happened to me after an FA Cup final once.
So when they finally get round to knocking down the venerable stadium, I hope they will also melt down the bollards outside. That said, it was appropriate to find them still in place for England's farewell competitive performance in the shadow of the condemned Twin Towers. A load of annoying old bollards summed it up nicely.Reuse content