Scotland vs England: Roy Hodgson ready for 'fierce footballing contest' against likeable Scots

Hodgson has talked up the international friendly but believes the bad blood between the two nations is a thing of the past

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It is an oft-told tale that when Sir Alf Ramsey was welcomed to Scotland by a local journalist at Glasgow Airport in 1967 England’s World Cup-winning manager brusquely replied with the sort of language that would require bleeping on national television.

Ramsey, though, was merely in tune with the spirit of the times. Two years earlier Nobby Stiles, playing for England under-23s, had trotted over to his friend Denis Law before kick-off, extended his hand, wished his Manchester United team-mate luck, and was stunned to be told, ‘F*** off you little English b*****d’. Stiles promptly kicked Law around the park in a game so brutal England finished with nine men - due to injuries, not dismissals.

In the wake of the highly-charged Devolution referendum it might be thought that passions at Celtic Park on Tuesday will run even higher, but if they do it will be largely one-sided. The globalisation of the Premier League, and the reduction in Scottish players in England’s top flight, means much of the edge has gone out of the fixture for the visitors. This is especially so for the manager, Roy Hodgson, who may have a tendency to swear, and to speak his mind, but is unlikely to repeat Ramsey’s crude retort.

 

“I rather like the Scots,” he said. “I have a lot of close friends who are Scots, that the idea that because you are English you immediately dislike the Scots that passed me by.

“We will take the game very seriously, but my 100 per cent focus has been on [yesterday’s Euro 2016 qualifier] against Slovenia. It’s a great game to play, a great occasion, but from my point of view it is a friendly and there is no comparison in importance. Qualifying is what counts - friendlies are opportunities to have a look at one or two players who didn’t play in the qualifier.”

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Wayne Rooney could be rested for the match against Scotland

Ramsey, perhaps because he transmitted his animus to his players, had a good record in Scotland, winning three and losing only the first of six matches. Hodgson is unbeaten against them. He oversaw a win in the friendly at Wembley last year but says “the important games for me” were with Switzerland in the early Nineties. Hodgson recalled: “At the time Switzerland had not qualified for a World Cup since 1962 whereas Scotland had not missed one for five tournaments. And we beat them in Berne. That was a big result for us.” Later the teams drew in Aberdeen, a result that effectively secured Switzerland’s place at USA’94, and Scotland’s absence.

By contrast Tuesday’s match has low stakes, indeed, Hodgson even thinks it could be a good game. “The matches when you can say ‘you can take the ball out of the game’ are fewer and far between.

“Scotland are a footballing team. I’ve worked with guys like James Morrison and Graham Dorrans [at West Brom], they are good footballers and I think we’ve got good footballers. So I think it will be a fierce footballing contest rather than a fierce physical contest.”

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