Memories of a Wembley winner

John Robertson is the last man to give Scotland victory under the twin towers. As he tells Phil Shaw, it is a claim to fame that he fervently hopes will be displaced by Saturday evening
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When the midfield general of Wollaton Hemlockstone FC wishes aloud for a Scotland victory over England on Saturday, it is no ordinary Nottinghamshire Sunday League bruiser blethering.

As the man who scored the goal which retained the European Cup for Nottingham Forest, and whom Brian Clough cast as both a genius in the Stanley Matthews mould and an overweight slob, John Robertson's place in football lore is assured. But Robertson has another claim to fame which he fervently hopes is no longer his come the final whistle at Wembley.

Rewind to May 1981, when 90,000 spectators are watching England play Scotland beneath the twin towers. A goalless game is in its 65th minute as Robertson takes up the story: "Davie Provan played a great long ball through. Steve Archibald came on to it on the blind side of Bryan Robson, who tripped him.

"It was a blatant penalty. My hands went up for it until I realised I was going to have to take it. I started panicking a bit, and it didn't help when Trevor Francis [a Forest team-mate] ran from the half-way line to tell Joe Corrigan where I was going to put it.

"I stuck it exactly where he'd said I would, to the keeper's right, which was my favourite side. Big Joe dived to the left. When I asked him about it years later, he said he changed his mind at the last moment."

Scotland won 1-0, but the next three visits ended in defeat. After the 1989 meeting in Glasgow, the world's oldest international (dating back to 1872, and beyond if you count Bannockburn and Culloden) was scrapped. Robertson thus became the last Scot to score the winner against the auld enemy at Wembley.

Nowadays he assists an old Forest colleague, Martin O'Neill, by scouting for newly promoted Leicester City. At 43 he is still winning championships, albeit in park football, and still mesmerising defenders with a skill which belies his thick-set frame and smoker's husky drawl.

As Clough put it: "When I felt off-colour I'd sit next to Robbo because then I'd look like Errol Flynn. Yet if you gave him a ball and a yard of grass, he became an artist." He hopes to live up to the second part of that description in a veterans' match before Saturday's game.

Going off to represent Scotland provided Robertson with "an escape" from his manager's tiresome teasing. He made the ill-fated trip to the 1978 World Cup in Argentina with a single cap to his name. "Looking back, Ally MacLeod made a mistake taking me," he admitted. "Although I'd just won the title with Forest, I was overawed by the stars around me.

"Ally put me in the side after Willie Johnston was sent home for failing a drugs test. We drew 1-1 with Iran, not one of Scotland's greatest results, and I had a nightmare."

After the finals, Jock Stein took over as manager. He was an "imposing, dominant figure", not unlike Clough, although Robertson saw Stein as more of a coach: "He liked to work with a blackboard, ask everyone to do specific things, whereas Cloughie never really bothered."

Opponents who failed to see beyond the chunky winger's languid style and tendency to hug the left touchline were frequently caught out by his delivery from confined spaces. He went on to collect 28 caps, scoring eight goals, and played alongside Dalglish, Souness, Hansen, Strachan and Nicholas in what hindsight may claim as Scotland's last golden era.

"I'm reluctant to do the old pro's bit of saying things aren't what they were," Robertson said. "In fairness to today's team, we certainly never qualified for the European Championships when I played.

"We always had great players, going back to the Laws, Baxters and Bremners, but we had problems gelling as a unit. You watch the Germans, always regimented and disciplined. They play with their heads. We played with our hearts. We should've done far better."

The prospect of "gubbing" England had a knack of uniting the Scots, whatever religion or region they came from. Robertson laments the passing of the annual fixture, for as a boy in Drumchapel he had fantasised about donning the dark blue at Wembley. Surprisingly, he feels the English approached the game with similar primordial passion.

"Alan Ball was the most obvious example, always going on about beating the Jocks. Sir Alf Ramsey was another. And I know Tony Woodcock and Trevor Francis were bitterly disappointed when we beat them."

Robertson remembers feeling mentally and physically drained after facing England. ("Mind you, I was knackered at the end of most games"). For this one, despite pre-tournament talk about the need for patience, he predicts a "typical British cup-tie".

The day he scored against England, the stadium seemed to be wreathed in tartan. Ticket restrictions mean the Scots will for once be in a minority. Nevertheless, another imposing performance by Gary McAllister could, Robertson argues, tilt a tight tussle Scotland's way.

He had feared that Craig Brown might have cut off his nose to spite his face by ignoring Richard Gough, but was heartened by Monday's backs-to- the-wall draw with the Netherlands. The capacity to grind out results was an option seldom considered in his day.

With Scotland bereft of natural attackers from the flanks, how Brown must wish he could call on Clough's "shuffling hulk" now. "We used to have Davie Cooper, Davie Provan, Peter Weir and myself," Robertson recalled, "and before that, Willie Henderson, Jimmy Johnstone, Willie Johnston and Eddie Gray.

"The likes of Liverpool and Aston Villa do well using wing-backs, but genuine wingers appear to be a dying breed. I honestly don't know why."

The width Robertson gave Scotland was too often obscured by talk about the width of his waist. The frenzy of Wembley, which he rose above 15 years ago, may be a reminder of what the game has lost in the interim.

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