It is good to see England taking on the “old enemy” once more, despite the fact that both nations, from an international football perspective, are faded forces.
England v Scotland used to be the ideal fixture to bring the curtain down on the season. It meant a lot to both countries, although it seemed to matter more to the Scots, who would come down to London and flood the capital in “tam o shanters”, tartan scarves and cans of McEwans lager. Occasionally, things got out of hand, such as in 1977, and that’s why the game disappeared from the calendar.
In the days when the two countries still had some gravitas, Scottish fans would take their hatred of England abroad with them. Anyone who holidayed on the Costa Brava in the 1970s will be more than familiar with the hordes of Scots abroad, singing “Flower of Scotland” and boasting about hardmen like Tom Forsyth and Jim Holton. It wasn’t easy being an England fan at the time – Scotland had qualified for both the 1974 and 1978 World Cups, while England, frustratingly, had missed out. What’s more, between 1974 and 1977, the Scots won three of the four meetings. For a while, the Tartan Army had the upper hand.
Of course, in days gone by, Scottish domestic football was in far better shape than it is today. Almost all successful English teams had at least one Scot in their line-up. Celtic and Rangers, it was said, would live with the best the English game had to offer. That view was vindicated, to some extent, by Celtic’s two-legged semi-final European Cup win against the mighty Leeds in 1970. On the international stage, however, Scotland remained also-rans until their string of World Cups. It should be added, however, that the Scots never made progress once they arrived in the finals, despite having some outstanding players in their ranks over the years. It was never quite the same once “Ally’s Army” came back from Argentina with its Loch Ness monster of a tail between its legs!
But the England v Scotland meeting was the highlight of the Home International Championships, but meetings with the other British nations have also been relegated to the occasional European Championship qualifier. Over the years, there have been some great games in the series, such as the 1968-69 championship when England put on a great show against Scotland to win 4-1, thanks to a sparkling display by the World Cup winning duo of Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters.
It’s arguable that both Wales and Northern Ireland have missed their regular games with England and Scotland as they continued their decline into the backwaters of football, the same fate that has now befallen the Scots. Perhaps it is time to rekindle the Home International Championship – it may the only chance any of the four (why not invite Republic of Ireland and make it the equivalent of Rugby’s five nations?) have of international success! In the meantime, whatever the outcome, Scotland’s return to the England fixture list should be encouraged.