Flower of Scotland stirs the passions

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AS THE MEDIA clamour kicks in before next month's collision of Scotland and England, it is sobering to reflect on the humble origins of the world's oldest international football fixture. When they first locked handlebar moustaches and centre partings, on a wet Glasgow afternoon in 1872, a photographer was invited along. He left without taking any pictures because the players refused to guarantee that they would buy any.

AS THE MEDIA clamour kicks in before next month's collision of Scotland and England, it is sobering to reflect on the humble origins of the world's oldest international football fixture. When they first locked handlebar moustaches and centre partings, on a wet Glasgow afternoon in 1872, a photographer was invited along. He left without taking any pictures because the players refused to guarantee that they would buy any.

That game, a goalless draw at the West of Scotland Cricket Ground in Partick, launched a series which, after the games at Hampden Park and Wembley, will have run to 110 meetings. England, with 44 victories to Scotland's 40, have the edge, although the statistics do not begin to reflect the almost primordial passion which the game inspires, particularly among the Scots.

The "national anthem" that will shiver many Scottish spines before the forthcoming matches, "Flower of Scotland", gives a clue as to why the play-offs will generate such fervour north of the border. The song relives the bloody confrontations of the 14th Century, too gory to be controlled by any referees' clampdown, and expresses the desire "to be a nation again". For as long as England and Scotland have been restricting their battles to the sporting arena, football has been the Scots' principal channel for asserting national identity.

Which may partially explain, if not excuse, the peculiar glee with which the Tartan Army ransacked Wembley in the 1970s. In those days, the ground seemed full of Scots, as were the fountains in Trafalgar Square, the pubs of Soho and every train that pulled into a mainline London station for days before and after the match.

It was a different story when Scotland headed south for the inaugural return fixture in 1873, which England won 4-2 at The Oval. Their funds ran to only eight train tickets for players, so the team was reinforced by three forerunners of Craig Brown's Anglo-Scottish goalkeepers, Neil Sullivan and Jonathan Gould. One of the London-based trio, the Rt Hon Arthur Kinnaird, qualified by virtue of owning land in Perthshire.

In 1888, England inflicted the first real humiliation in the history of the encounter, their 5-0 success at Hampden being Scotland's first home defeat. Such results nudged the Scots towards accepting professionalism, and within eight years they also agreed to allow Scottish players based with English clubs to represent their country.

Yet four months into the new century it was the only amateur in their ranks, R S McColl, "the Prince of Centre-forwards" from Queen's Park, who scored a hat-trick in the 4-1 embarrassment of England. McColl later opened a chain of newsagents' shops which bear his name and initials to this day.

The 1906 match in Glasgow attracted the first six-figure attendance for an international match anywhere, and England's biannual visit to Hampden regularly drew in excess of 120,000. Not until the new Empire Stadium was opened at Wembley in 1923 did the English have a comparable capacity, although "only" 65,000 watched the first, drawn meeting there.

Wembley quickly became a magical place for the Scots, players and supporters alike, revelling in the great excursion and the opportunity to show the auld enemy how the game should be played. No game did more to cement the venue's status as a Caledonian grail than that of 1928, when Scotland won 5-1.

Of the five attackers immortalised as the "Wembley Wizards", only Alex Jackson stood above 5ft 6in. England's main tormentor, however, was Hughie Gallacher of Newcastle. By coincidence, one of Scotland's probable first-choice strikers next month, Kevin Gallacher (no relation), has just joined the Tyneside club.

Scotland won at Wembley only once over the next decade, in 1938, when a half-back called Bill Shankly helped make the only goal. When they finally repeated the feat in 1949, the bonus organised by the Scottish Football Association secretary, George Graham (again, no relation), was a seven-week cruise on the Queen Mary to play exhibition games in North America, plus £50 a man.

In 1955 the 40-year-old Stanley Matthews dribbled an unfortunate Scottish left-back named Harry Haddow almost senseless and Dennis Wilshaw scored four in a 7-2 rout, but six years later England eclipsed even that spree. Notwithstanding the presence in the dark blue of such players as Dave Mackay, Billy McNeill, Denis Law and Ian St John, and with a young Dundee player named Craig Brown among the tartan-clad hordes watching aghast, Walter Winterbottom's men exploited a nerve-ridden goalkeeping display by Frank Haffey to win 9-3.

Scotland's revenge was sweet and swift. Two years later, despite playing with 10 men for 85 minutes after Eric Caldow had suffered a broken leg in a challenge with Bobby Smith, they ruined Alf Ramsey's first home match as England manager and Gordon Banks' international debut by winning 2-1. "Slim Jim" Baxter scored both goals.

Baxter was a little thicker of thigh when he returned to the twin towers in 1967, but gave another virtuoso performance. Even though Ramsey fielded 10 of England's World Cup-winning team, the Scots, who had not even qualified for the global extravaganza, made the most of a brilliant and often arrogant show by the Rangers schemer.

Ramsey exacted retribution with a St Valentine's Day massacre in 1973, months before his demise. The match was supposed to celebrate the Scottish FA's centenary, but at a frosty Hampden, England took the wind out of their bagpipes by humbling Willie Ormond's team 5-0.

Scotland also unwittingly provided the highlight of Don Revie's ill-starred reign, losing 5-1 at Wembley in 1975 to ensure that Stuart Kennedy inherited Haffey's unhappy mantle. The Scots' last win in England came courtesy of John Robertson's penalty in 1981, while Richard Gough, still theoretically available and belying his age with Everton, scored their most recent winner in Glasgow four years later.

Although England are unbeaten in five meetings since then, only one of those games, the slightly flattering 2-0 win at Wembley during Euro 96, was in the past 10 years. England expects, but history shows that Scotland, always more dangerous as underdogs, could yet turn the weight of expectation into a psychological burden.

THE BEST OF ENEMIES: SIX EPIC ENCOUNTERS

1900 SCOTLAND 4 ENGLAND 1

The only amateur in Scotland's team, R S McColl, marked the first game of the century with a hat-trick, his first arriving inside a minute. The Scots, featuring five Rangers men on Celtic turf but just one Anglo, wore pink and primrose hoops, the racing colours of Lord Rosebery, the Scottish FA's honorary president.

1928 ENGLAND 1 SCOTLAND 5

Scotland was gripped by the depression. The "Wembley Wizards", eight from English clubs, magically lifted it. A rain-soaked Wembley pitch suited their small forwards, who ran amok after England had hit the post in the first minute. Alex Jackson scored three, Alex James two and Hughie Gallacher outshone Dixie Dean.

1961 ENGLAND 9 SCOTLAND 3

The margin remains a record for the fixture, yet after 55 minutes England led 3-2 and with 14 minutes left it was still only 5-3. Bobby Robson scored the first and Jimmy Greaves bagged a hat-trick, but the home side were indebted to hapless goalkeeping by Celtic's Frank Haffey, who never played for Scotland again.

 

1967 ENGLAND 2 SCOTLAND 3

England's World Cup triumph was like a red rag to a bull for Scotland, especially Jim Baxter. They had only Denis Law's goal to show for their superiority until the 80th minute, and though England twice halved a two-goal lead, their 19-match unbeaten run ended and the Scots proclaimed themselves "world champions".

1978 SCOTLAND 0 ENGLAND 1

With the World Cup looming, Ally MacLeod had stoked Scottish expectations to fever pitch. This defeat ought to have been a warning of what lay ahead, Scotland dominating possession but failing to trouble Ray Clemence. Steve Coppell silenced Hampden with an 83rd-minute goal after Alan Rough dropped a cross.

1996 ENGLAND 2 SCOTLAND 0

Craig Brown's team looked better prepared than Terry Venables' until the second half of the Euro 96 showdown. Alan Shearer's headed goal reflected England's improvement but Scotland hit back strongly until David Seaman saved Gary McAllister's penalty. Paul Gascoigne promptly danced through a dazed defence to seal it.

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