THE FINAL WORD; As good as the battle of sideburns

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It must have been a horrible sight for England's milkmen this morning. All week supporters of the national football team had suggested they would happily swap disembowelment and decapitation as long as their foot soldiers beat Scotland in the European Championship. They would rather not win the tournament if they lost to the greatest enemy the hordes protested, apparently regardless of the fact that one would almost certainly lead to the other.

The commentators spent most of Saturday telling us how different the atmosphere was from other matches between the two sides, giving the impression the disparate groups were mingling inside Wembley and making daisy chains together. This image shrivelled as soon as "Flower Of Scotland" was attempted. I never knew the tune was just one long boo.

Partisanship in this encounter will never die. It never does between great rivals. When I was a lad at Queen's Road Primary School, I was the captain (an office some linked to the fact that my mother taught at the school and picked the team) and the boys to beat were Orrishmere. No other game mattered. One world-shattering day I scored an own goal in the fixture and Mark Summerfield was so nasty to me that I blubbered all the way home. I had made a fool of myself both on and off the pitch but my parents forgave, in fact thought better of me, when they saw the tears streaming down my face. News of this image-building technique was to find its way up to Geordie junior football.

This has been a watershed year in north-east football. The identity of the bete noire has changed. The Toon Army have for long saved the bulk of their spittle for Sunderland but that has gone. "They are not worthy of our hate" was a line in the Mag fanzine this season. Manchester United are now the despised team, not least because Newcastle supporters believe they have hijacked the generic United to mean Manchester specifically.

Old Trafford is now the abhorred location of British football, a crown of thorns last worn in the early 1970s by United (Leeds). The chain gang of Bremner, Hunter and Giles upset a lot of people but nobody more than my brother. Whenever he got a football annual for Christmas he systematically tore out all the Leeds players and flushed them down the toilet. I'm not sure he didn't do something rather vile in the loo before he sent them on their way either.

Tim used to stand on the Kippax at Manchester City with his hairy-backed mates alternating between something sweet like singing "We love you City" and shouting the sort of abuse at United (Manchester) fans you would not direct at a farmyard animal.

Which brings us round to Gazza. Lester Piggott took the headlines the previous week despite having very little to do with a Derby victory and old watery eyes did pretty much the same on Saturday. (His stunning piece of skill came after the Scots were beaten and consoling Gary McAllister). According to the studio, he was a refreshed figure in this game but, to me, he looked rather knackered, like the big drinker from the pub who tries some athletic pursuit after being sponsored. Perhaps Gazza is collecting his charity money today.

The turning point, if you believe the panel on the swivel chairs, was the half-time substitution, which seemed to ignore the fact that the new man, Jamie Redknapp, had little to do with the first goal. The turning point was when England remembered they are not the nation that spends all day poncing around in midfield and keeping possession, but a land where the best teams profit by quick balls out to the wing and slashing crosses. Shearer's goal was typical Premiership.

The missed penalty was typical, self-destructive, Scotland. My father- in-law is Scottish, which goes to prove that you can't pick your family. I first met him in an Edinburgh hotel, where they were celebrating a centenary by offering pints of beer at 1d, the price 100 years previously. He was in the corner sipping water, waiting for happy hour.

Max's favourite "auld enemy" Wembley game is the 2-1 victory for his boys in 1977, after which the Caledonian landscape gardeners got to work on the hallowed turf. I prefer the 5-1 win for Albion two years previously, the one where they keep poking the ball through Colin Bell's legs to advertise a free-kick routine but Gerry Francis scores all the same anyway. Kevin Beattie scores as well, as Stewart Kennedy crashes into the post with his groin, ensuring that at least there won't be any grandchildren to revisit his day of shame. They may have won at Bannockburn but we won the battle of the sideburns that day. That's my favourite. But Saturday was pretty close.

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