You would like to win. We need to

Ruth Wishart says there is more at stake than mere victory when Scotland play England today
Click to follow
The Independent Online
See you, Nigel? You know not the meaning of angst. What have you to worry your little English head about at 3pm this sunny afternoon? You will hope, of course, that Mr Gascoigne's culinary tastes will not have run to a late-night Chinese carry-out with a tequila chaser. You would be comforted to learn that your strike force had concluded that disco dancing was an imperfect means of attaining optimum match fitness.

But for you, it is truly only a game. Scotland v England. A sporting blip increasing marginally in importance because giving these whingeing Jocks a decent hiding would help ensure that the host nation did not depart Euro 96 embarrassingly early. So you would like to win. We need to. The prospect of beating England at Wembley causes the saliva glands of every humble footsoldier in the Tartan Army to move into extra time.

The Scotland manager publicly affects irritation that this army would swap a place in the next round for a 5-0 result in their favour today. In truth, while Craig Brown badly wants to buck the normal trend and get his team into the final stages of a major tournament, he too is a not- so-secret plaid-clad fanatic. Used to wear a tammy to matches, did Mr Brown, before he became manager.

So why should the Scots treat this minor sporting fixture - the 108th such clash - as a major national virility symbol? For they do. To the hunger to duff England up at soccer add the hysteria that greeted Scotland's Grand Slam rugby win over the ancient enemy in 1990, and the period of sustained mourning which followed the failure to produce a reprise in spring this year.

This year is the 250th anniversary of the battle of Culloden. It was not Scotland's finest hour. Prince Charles Edward Stuart had previously marched on England to claim the throne, but chose to make a tactical retreat home after reaching Derby. Back home, on Culloden Moor, it was not a game of two halves so much as a bit of a rout. Armchair historians prefer to gloss over the fact that there were actually Scots fighting on both sides. In popular mythology, the guys in the black hats were English. And a mission to avenge has been woven into the Scottish psyche ever since.

This afternoon, you will see many thousand of banners with Lions Rampant and bearing the arithmetical legend 1314. This is not the date of Culloden, but of Bannockburn, where Robert the Bruce gained a rather more favourable result. Eat your heart out, Mel Gibson.

Each visit to Wembley is viewed through the prism of Bannockburn, and each fan devoutly wishes to be there in person when we post one of our famous, if distressingly infrequent, victories. Thus far we have won just nine out of 28 Wembley encounters (though we would like five draws to be taken into consideration.) It will not shock you to learn that the recent repetition of TV footage lovingly recording England's World Cup victory in 1966 is not right at the top of the Scottish viewing charts. The hallowed memory for the Scot is one year later when Scotland came to Wembley and beat the world champions 3-2. Scottish logic asserted that if you beat the World Cup holders, you are clearly the best team in the universe. Those of us who have followed this team to many World Cups know this is not precisely the case. There are many memories over which a compassionate veil is drawn involving such stirring results as a 1-1 draw with Iran. But to be a Scotland fan is to be a born-again optimist. To know that by the law of statistical averages, hope will sometimes triumph over experience.

It did so in Birmingham last Monday when the Netherlands were not held to a draw by an equally skilful squad, but a desperately committed one. Part of the reason for that commitment was a heartfelt desire to make the starting line-up at Wembley today.

The thing is, chaps, we're all in this together. We all want very badly to beat you, Nigel. And that desire is fuelled afresh this week by what I can only call the casual arrogance displayed by many of my media colleagues in the South. What mastermind at ITV thought "Jerusalem" would an appropriate anthem for a UK-wide audience of Euro 96? Nice tune, shame about the lyrics. And the thought of the lyrics so infiltrated the nostrils of viewers in Scotland that Scottish Television had a hasty re-think and found a less inflammatory theme.

Neither did homebound Scottish supporters thrill to the constant, unthinking reference by TV pundits to England as "we", implying that Ingerland was all of us. We are us. You are them down there.

Then there is the perennial assumption that the other UK contenders for sporting glory are parochial no-hopers. I noted Bryan Appleyard, in this very newspaper, was musing about the possibility of a British team to which the cream of the four nations might aspire. But it wouldn't really do, said Bryan. Ryan Giggs would be the only non-Englishman worthy of serious consideration. Strange, then, that Monaco should have written a multi-million pound cheque for our John Collins. Or that Andy Goram's abilities in goal should have defied the Dutch magicians.

But there I go. Whingeing again. Just like a bloody Jock - chip on every available shoulder. I shall, of course, be there in person this afternoon, taking my place with my Scotland Travel Club platoon - the one that didn't stop at Derby or Birmingham but marched on to the capital with banners aloft.

After all, Scotland v England at Wembley used to be a biennial event, one for which Scottish fans saved in pubs and clubs for the pilgrimage. Deprived of that anticipation for eight years, the appetite is well and truly whetted. In the past, we used to run a pre-match victory lunch at our home before the Hampden leg - just in case there wasn't quite the same cause for jubilation at 4.45.

The precautionary measure this time is a holiday flight leaving London at dawn tomorrow. Not, of course, that we anticipate anything but glorious victory. But there's no point in hanging around, really. Just in case the English turn out to be bad losers.

The writer is a Scottish political columnist and broadcaster.