There is, from time to time, mutterings over the re-establishment of the Scotland v England games. This is usually followed by statements from the FA like 'crowded fixture list already... difficult to see a window of opportunity to arrange the fixture etc etc etc'. the SFA are usually more forthcoming and 'welcome the opportunity to consider the idea'. Time and time again, however, the two teams are drawn together anyway in the international fixtures arranged for Euro/World championships. There have been accounts published recently on travels to San Marino, Croatia and Wembley. Here is my response to the invitation to offer memories of days and travel gone by.
When Scotland were drawn in England's group for the 1996 European Championships, a large number of Scotland supporters were provided with an opportunity to complete their inauguration into the fraternity that has been dubbed the Tartan Army. Going to Hampden is one thing but until you have survived the traumas involved in heading south you are still at the cadet stage.
Junior officers in the Tartan Army (allsports)
Always trumpeted as the oldest international fixture in the world, the Scotland v England match has been on hold for some time due to the FA not being able to guarantee that their supporters would not embarrass them in front of a large TV audience. (The next bit has to be read in ''holier than thou' tones). As we all know their crowd have been known to cause trouble at friendlies. Not that they ever caused trouble in Scotland. The English never caused trouble in Glasgow because the away supporters rarely headed north in any numbers to be noticed.
However, anonymity is at least one a charge which could not be successfully pressed on the away supporters when the game was played at Wembley. England v Scotland at Wembley was always traditionally viewed by all of Scottish extraction as a home game. It was quite a surprise to come across an English person when heading to the game and if you spotted an English flag or scarf in the crowd you won a prize. However, you did not win a prize if the flag was borne by that sad old git in the top hat and tails who always seemed to turn up at all sporting occasions with a British connection waving his English flag and looking like a right burke. The things people will do to get into a game for nothing!
A number of our older reader will recall a long, long, long time ago there was an annual contest between the association football teams from Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales. While the matches involving the latter two teams were attended by crowds which numbered at least a dozen or maybe two if the weather was OK, the matches between the former two attracted full houses wherever they were played. The lack of vocal support for the players with 3 lions on their chests when the game was played in Scotland was mainly due to the fact that their supporters were scared of the reputation of the home supporters. Whatever gave them the idea we did not like them I wonder? A similar lack of vocal support for the home team when the match was played in England was due to the ground being filled to beyond capacity with Scotsmen.
Every two years the offices of the Football Association were flooded with letters bearing Scottish postmarks containing ticket applications for the Wembley game. Due to the limited number of tickets available it was not unusual for several applications to be posted from the same address and I recall my brother sending at least 40 for the first year we intended heading south to fully test our drinking capacity, oops sorry, watch Scotland fully test the English defensive qualities. This first excursion onto foreign soil was to be undercover, undercover in the sense that the car we were traveling in was covered in tartan scarves, Scottish flags and anything else that we could find that was vaguely Scottish. My mother's worried face was a picture as she waved 'her boys' off to "be careful among the English" as someone once said.
I cannot remember the type of car in which we headed south but it must have been a sturdy old thing as it contained 5 large lads and at least 24 cans per person of their preferred refreshment. OK! OK! I may have exaggerated how many cans we started out with, it may have only been 23 cans each! The driving was to be split between the traveling party and anybody who was scheduled to drive had to stay off the drink. Luckily enough I could not drive at the time (still can't, Ed) and so I was free to do my bit in reducing the weight that the car was being asked to transport to England.
Kenny not on the winning side this time (allsports)
The journey passed happily enough with various similarly draped vehicles joining the convoy heading for the bright lights of London. I forgot to mention that this journey was taking place on the Thursday before the game. The reason for this early start had been relayed to spouses, partners and mothers as being required due to the expected traveling difficulties. You will have already figured out the real reason, to sample as many pubs as possible prior to the game! Scots have many faults, we live in the past, and use the phrase "if only" a bit to often for my liking. That is not to say that others do their unthinking best to rub us up the wrong way. You will have heard the weather forecast which covers every possible area in the country when the phrase we are all familiar with appears "...and finally to Scotland".
Why Scotland is the last on the list, without fail, for things like the weather but first on the list to test political ideas like the poll tax and pay per view football I will never know. Now, this section is not a tirade on the good or bad points of the government or TV suppliers of today or any other day (thank goodness! Ed), but on the lack of thought when dealing with peoples' feelings when their area or team is in the spotlight. The TV news and sports reporters who long ago reported that there would be dancing in the streets of Raith after a particularly good result have been followed by several others who are insensitive including the classic reference to "Georgie Road" (sic), a certain thoroughfare in Edinburgh where a pink stand resembling a certain Mr Blobby has been built.
Talking of the Hearts, I bought a CD some time ago (I refuse to divulge the artist in case I am tarred as a poser at my advanced age) and as is my wont. I was merrily reading the sleeve notes when I came across the usual "and thanks to my mother. Bill at the studio for all his twiddley bits, etc. etc, etc", when the following appeared unannounced. 'and to all at Hearts FC'. The blatant disregard for others' feelings astounded me and it took me some time and persuasion not to return the offending article. Other thanks were awarded to the Betty Ford Clinic so I presume the artist giving thanks was of the piss rarity.
As I was saying some lines ago, I have visited Wembley before but just on a couple of occasions. The first visit coincided with the end of Stuart Kennedy's career as a first class (?) goalkeeper. Losing 5 goals, with the blame laid at his door for most of them, plus sticking the head on the goalposts, would dent the confidence of the most brilliant 'keeper.
Big Jim saves this one but not the game. 1-0 to England back in 1988 (allsports)
I am not sure if the resilience demonstrated by Mr Leighton (known as the come-back kid when picking up the pieces at Hibs) could have stood up to a performance of that ineptitude. Speaking of Rangers players, I must have been dreadfully drunk during the game way back then as I recall chanting 'There's only one Sandy Jardine' (now there is a name from the past!) at the top of my voice whilst leaving the ground with my equally dreadfully drunk brother. The fact that we had imbibed pre-match, managed to smuggle a few cans into the ground and were left a large carrier bag full of lager by disgruntled fans who left early may have something to do with my confused state. It would be interesting to view the game now just to check how bad Scotland were on the occasion and if I really have any reason to be embarrassed when I recall my drunken chanting.
None of you will remember that the game was played in the year that the underground trains had been cancelled for the day of the match, as 2 years previously a guard had been pushed onto the line and badly injured. The English thought that the strike would stop such large numbers of tartan clad hordes coming down to the game and for once they would be heard during the game. Little did they know that this minor inconvenience would be overcome or ignored by people desperate to get away from home life for a weekend or a week for the dedicated drinker, err I mean fan. The terrible result that year did not have much effect on the amount of fun had drinking done by the group of reprobates that I had traveled with.
The type of hotel we were in crams as many rooms as possible out the available space on each floor but warns residents not to test their swinging cat routine. The booking was for bed and breakfast and I suppose you could call one rasher of bacon and a small egg to be eaten in the basement kitchen breakfast but I would rather pass. Thank God, we were rather tired most mornings and missed out on the meal that should set you up for the day. After a few drinks the eyesight of my compatriots became suspect to say the least as I recall one guy spending a considerable time chatting up the barmaid throughout one evening and did not notice that she was at least eight months pregnant!
One relaxing evening once the pubs had shut (You may recall that back in those days pubs closed at 10.00), we took to walking the streets of London looking for the hotel in which someone's mate had suggested we should meet. The hotel was eventually found and we managed to persuade the doorman we were residents. Now, I'm the kind of anonymous kind of guy who can walk round Edinburgh and never meet anyone I know. However, travel a couple of hundred miles and it's a different story. At the hotel I bumped into 2 guys I knew, one whom I had not seen since school, and by the way have not seen again, and another from my work at the time.
The guy from my work was a sight to behold. Drunk was not the word for it! He wrestled with the glass front door of the hotel for at least 10 minutes until someone took pity on him and told him to try pushing rather than pulling it open. At work he was somewhat aloof. He knew me but did not necessarily talk to me. Once in London and I was greeted like a long lost brother, as I was his ticket to staying in the hotel for more drinkies. He needed me then but not when we got back to work. Ignorant person of non-specific parentage!
Isn't it strange the personality changes which happen so far away from home? I am as law abiding as the next person but for some reason when I had a drink or two back then I admit I strayed slightly from the straight and narrow. At the end of the night, I have the vague memory of 'borrowing' a bike and riding back to Victoria in some style. If the owner of the bike ever gets to read this, sorry but the gears eventually gave out and I had to leave it halfway down a cellar so that it did not constitute an obstruction.
The next visit to Wembley two years later was more of a works outing. A group of us, including the aforementioned ignorant person of non-specific parentage, agreed that a savings account was required to ensure there was enough money available for traveling expenses. The account was opened under tile name of 'Ra Bevvy for Ra Boys' much to the disgust of the bank teller. The name of the account may provide you with a clue what we planned to consider as traveling expenses!
The months leading up to the trip were filled with saving and praying that the required tickets could be obtained. Luckily. one of the 50 postcards I sent requesting tickets was selected and I knew I would be seeing the game live, as long as I kept my ticket safe in London.
The trip was to be via a coach with a number of like-minded groups sharing the bus. As you may know long journeys can be dull. Thankfully (?) someone decided to liven up the trip at regular intervals. The first highlight coincided with the first stop. One part of the coachload (not ours honest) decided to lift anything in a shop in Berwick that was not nailed down to a counter; and several things which were. The next entertainment was during a refreshment stop over the border at a transport cafe. This time I hardly got off the bus when the owners of the cafe chased everyone back on, with 2 Alsatian dogs straining at the leash. I found out later the same trick of attempting to lift freebies did not work this time.
As you will know, any journey that involves football fans usually has at least one eegit on it. In fact, when the buses head off to a match, the police stop you and check that you have a least one complete plonker per 30 fans. If you cannot produce the evidence that you have the statutory fool that meets the requirements they assign a qualified twit. We were lucky. We appeared to be well stocked with people that met the stringent criteria.
I have found that an early start on a long journey does have a soporific effect on me (I fall asleep on the bus to work). Members of another group did not suffer in a similar manner. While not being a stick in the mud, singing tunelessly 'We're the greatest team in Europe and we're going to Wembleee, Wemblee!' Etc etc etc at the top of their voices for over I00 miles does get on one's nerves. The singers (?) did take occasional refreshment breaks but came back more tunelessly than ever. The numpty-in-chief thought that he could take his drink. Wrong!! He had been prancing up and down the bus, bottle in hand or mouth, like some demented soul on an Orange Walk for what seemed hours. Then a strange slow motion effect took over his whole body. One second he was singing (?) the next he was turning a slight shade of green (no bad colour) then a deeper shade of green with yellow tinges.
In an ideal world he would have asked the driver to stop so that he could grab a breath of fresh air. As you know this is not an ideal world his self-control deserted him as he opened his mouth to request a short stop. I will not try to describe the next bit but suffice to say he ruined one guys trip (and clothes, hair and shoes). The trip took place prior to the days of luxury coaches with facilities at the back, so those affected had to jump off at the next lay-by and clean themselves up as best they could with grass. It was comical to see the attempt at an apology offered up by the swaying Orange Walker to the guy he had just blessed with his breakfast. With his apology ignored, the Walker turned abusive (as if he had not been abusive enough already) and tried to start a fight. With his faculties impaired he was a sitting target for the sweetest of right hooks I have ever seen.
He never saw it that's for sure. Following contact on the sweet spot of his chin, there was that split second where the walker carried on as if nothing had happened. Then someone must have cut his strings and he collapsed in a heap. As you would expect this did have a dampening effect on the rest of the journey. However, the rest of the weekend could not have worked out better. The room I was sharing was better stocked that the hotel bar by the time we had unloaded the booze from the bus. There were a number of beds in the room but I do not recall anybody actually using them for sleeping purposes. Somehow, once someone has emptied a can of lager on the sheets the prospect of sleeping in the bed does not seem so attractive.
In those days it appeared as if I could carry on drinking all day and night and not suffer too badly. As long as I did not stop, that is. The guys I was sharing with did not appear to want to stop so who was I to be the odd one out? One of the guys was the brother of Woody of Bay City Roller fame (?). You can gather from that statement that he was well supplied with tartan. I still have a newspaper clipping somewhere that proves that my memory of him striding up Wembley Way with tartan underpants outside his jeans is not a figment of my imagination. I am convinced Madonna must have seen the same clipping and took the wearing of underwear as outerwear several stages further.
As The Proclaimers might have sung 'Twin towers no moooorrrreee'(allsports)
The game took the anticipated path with Scotland winning 1-2. This was the match that resulted in the pitch heading North in sections following the final whistle. The trains were back on that year and I recall walking along one of the many interconnecting tunnels between 'lines' heading for the appropriate underground connection to anywhere near the hotel. Being tall, I could see over the crowd of heads ahead of me that both platforms were filled with Scotsmen covered in tartan, feathers in bunnets, grass in hand with flags flying with the effect of the trains rushing by. It was like Braveheart just before the big battle scene. The sound track kicked in slowly, swelling in volume as more voices were added. It had to be Flower of Scotland.
I must admit that the effect of hearing this song on that occasion has never been surpassed, even on the most emotional Hogmanay. Even as I type this, I can see, hear and smell it all as clear as if it was happening here and now. What a sentimental old fool I've turned out to be!
The evening after the match was taken up with watching the highlights on the TV and toasting the heroes once again. I remember that one guy kept on arguing with Ally McLeod whenever he appeared on the screen. Despite numerous request to 'SHUT UP!!!!' he went on and on and on. Perhaps, on reflection we should have listened to the punter rather than believe Ally had got the blend right. That is why Ally is not allowed to make custard (to misquote a certain Mr Denis Law).
The journey home was not as exciting as the journey to London. A card school started at the back of the bus, people slept and I spent the journey trying to ensure that the contents of my bottle of Pernod did not reach the border. When Edinburgh was finally reached the last I saw of Woody's brother was of his back as he headed for another bar. I made my excuses and headed for home. My body was due to make me pay for my recent liquid consumption before returning to work on Monday and I needed to find a bed. Could I take another trip like the one experienced all those years ago? I doubt it but I am confident that many others will make sure that the traditional Scotland home game at Wembley will be always be memorable.