`You show up at Hampden with those white shorts pulled up around your arses, get played off the park, and win one-nil'

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The Independent Online
When Martin Chivers put England 3-1 ahead with 20 minutes left to play at Wembley in 1971, a distinguished Scottish football writer threw down his pen and made immediately for the nearest exit. "I'm not putting up with anymore of this," he growled.

That and the gloating cry of "What does the World Cup mean now?" heard in the Wembley press box after Scotland's 2-1 victory in 1967 encapsulates the subjectivity that is sure to be evident among reporters from both camps today when proceedings get under way in north London.

The past has seen furious arguments in the press seats, even punch-ups. "Why do we bother with this meaningless fixture?" a famed Daily Express columnist goaded during a period of English ascendancy. "You show up at Hampden with those white shorts pulled up around your arses, get played off the park and win one-nil," a Scottish novelist once said bitterly to Bobby Moore. "Something like that," Moore replied.

Watching Alan Ball go off to play against Scotland, an Everton apprentice yelled: "I hope you get stuffed," across the car park. "It was the first time I'd ever heard him speak," Ball recalled. Jack Charlton had a similar experience when turning out for Leeds. "You must be joking," Alf Ramsey snorted when he was welcomed at Glasgow airport.

In ills real and imagined, the Scots see historical arrogance. Proving to be a much superior combination at Wembley in 1961, England simply piled on goals to win 9-3, a disaster still recalled gloomily. In similar circumstances, Scotland have been more concerned with taking the rise out of their oldest enemy.

Ramsey's second match as England manager brought a 2-1 defeat by Scotland at Wembley in April 1963, both the Scottish goals coming from Jim Baxter. After opening the scoring, Baxter stood with arms aloft. "That's the greatest goal in Wembley's history," he said as teammates arrived in congratulation.

No great names now, but to be drawn in the same European Championship group as Scotland was bound to make England nervous. "If I was coaching another country it would not matter so much," Terry Venables said a few weeks ago. "But for England the game presents special problems. If the Scots hadn't won for a year they would still be up for this one, giving everything they've got, playing with the tremendous passion I saw in Dave Mackay when we were at Tottenham."

The braveheart factor was clear in an interview Bill Shankly gave shortly before another match in the ancient sequence. Asked how it had felt in the dressing room before going out against England, Shankly employed the imagery for which he was famous. "Sitting there, you would hear the lion on your jersey say: `Go and sort out these English bastards' - but no - it's an English paper I'm appearing in. `Give everything for Scotland', that's what I'd hear the lion saying"

In his efforts to modernise thinking in Scottish football, Jock Stein attempted to play down the fixture's importance when it was played on an annual basis. "Of course it's always one that you want to win," he said. "A matter of great pride to Scotland, but people get carried away with the idea that nothing else matters. Beat England and that takes care of things for another season. That, I think, has held us back a bit."

This was equally true of the antipathy that grew up in Scottish football circles over the selection of English-based players. For example, Jimmy Logie, who was an outstanding inside-forward of the type known in his time as a schemer and also captained Arsenal, received only one cap. The greatest player in Tottenham Hotspur's history, Dave Mackay, was never a fixture. Even Denis Law was regarded with some suspicion.

If Scotland's greatest victory came in 1929 when a diminutive attack outplayed England 5-1 to become immortalised as the Wembley Wizards, more account is paid to England's first defeat as world champions.

Typically, the fact that England's defence was seriously weakened by an injury to Jack Charlton that left him to play most of the match as a limping centre-forward was not seen to be important by Scottish reporters, one dismissing it as a tactical ploy that backfired on Ramsey.

The intense fervour Scotland brought to that match was monumental, as though, in the words of one patriot, they were responding to a conviction that the rest of the world was conspiring to conceal how remarkable they really were.

Audacious infiltrations of a system that had restored respect for England internationally were inspired by the virtuosity that once characterised Scottish football.

Craig Brown will be sending out a far more functional team than the one of Baxter, Law, Billy Bremner, Bobby Lennox and Jimmy McCalliog - but what has it got to do with me, a neutral?