Scots' twin torture at the Twin Towers

Euro 96: The oldest of fixtures may become permanent again but the Tartan Army are not impressed; Stan Hey witnesses a stirring revival of England's eccentric playmaker
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The Independent Online
It isn't likely that the Scots will want this fixture returned to the international list after the twin tortures inflicted upon them in the second half yesterday. After witnessing their captain missing a game-saving penalty, they had to suffer the pain of seeing their very own Footballer of the Year, Paul Gascoigne, kill them off with a superbly taken individual goal.

The victory lifted England's spirits - if that is the tactful word to use - after a traumatic week of national recrimination. The Scots' gallant performance would also give them some hope that they could beat Switzerland and still qualify for the quarter finals.

In the longer term, however, the pulsating second half of the match, and the tremendous atmosphere that it generated, confirmed the viability of reviving this most traditional of fixtures.

The last game between the two nations had been in May 1989, just a month after English football's horrendous disaster at Hillsborough. An outbreak of terrace violence at Hampden Park had clearly pushed the authorities into the inevitable abandonment of a fixture, tossing it into the dustbin of history after 125 years.

At the time few people in football were sorry to see it go - played at the fag-end of both domestic seasons it had become, after the genuinely epic contests of the late 1960s, a museum exhibit akin to the mummified corpse of British football.

Yet there was some hope of revival yesterday as the pre-match songs created a thrilling tumult. The sight of the flags and St Andrew fluttering again at Wembley brought a sense of reunion to the occasion, of blood- brothers meeting fondly after years of futile enmity.

The harmony and good humour around the stadium - with Scottish fans reclaiming their old chant "Here we Go" - even generated some expectation that the football itself might also have benefited from the seven-year abstinence and become less like a tribal warfare and more like the international symposia which both Premier divisions now resemble.

Unfortunately, the first half offered little other than nostalgia to those comforting the influence of modernism. It was neither visceral or sophistical but just dull. Indeed, when the players first staggered to the touchline for drinks after just 15 minutes, they might well have been served by a uniformed butler so genteel was the action.

Even Gascoigne, a focus for the vocal cords of both sets of supporters, seemed to have been tranquilised after his frenzied start against the Swiss last week. One suspected that during the week the England management had conducted a "Cold Gazzarous" experiment, putting their erratic midfielder on a bed of crushed ice and wiring his head to a television monitor with jump leads in order to find out what was going on inside.

After images of Mars bars and lager-tops had been screened, the England trainers reversed the blow, showing Bobby Moore lifting the World Cup in 1996 symbolising the virtues of calm, purposefulness. However, the jump leads appeared to have been applied to a different part of the England team's anatomy during the interval because they produced an electrified start to the second period.

The Scots, who made continued progress down the right of England's defence, suddenly found their own left flank under threat as the youthful legs of Jamie Redknapp were brought on, allowing Gascoigne to preserve energy for the second half.

Gascoigne's pass was instrumental in the first goal and there was no disputing the authorship of the second, only moments after David Seaman had made his dramatic save from Gary McAllister's penalty. Gascoigne's ecstatic reaction to the goal bore the hallmarks less of self-justification than of lessons learnt. There were no gestures to his tormentors in the press box, just a salute of gratitude to the crowd for its support.

Whatever has been said to or written about Gascoigne this past week, it did genuinely seem yesterday that he had acquired some wisdom and for once applied it in all the right places.

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