Scotland face England at Hampden Park on Saturday for only the second time in 28 years. The rarity of the event means all involved should savour the experience. After all, the last home win over the Auld Enemy came more than three decades ago in 1985.
Three meetings between the neighbouring nations in the last three years have restored football’s oldest international fixture back to its rightful, prominent place. Yet there is no guarantee of its future. This weekend’s World Cup qualifier is one of the biggest episodes in a series dating back to 1872, but which became banned back in 1989.
On Saturday May 27 that year, at a very different looking Hampden with concrete terracings, red crush barriers and a rickety old main stand, England won a friendly 2-0 thanks to goals from Chris Waddle and Steve Bull. It was the Rous Cup era of the home internationals. Crowd trouble and violence on the streets of Glasgow before and afterwards continued a trend running for years and forced the authorities to put an end to Scotland v England matches.
The only time three lions have been seen in Mount Florida since was ten years later in a European Championship play-off. They triumphed 2-0 in that game as well.
Dave McPherson won the second of 27 international caps that day in 1989 and was entitled to expect more chances to sample the rivalry against England. The defender, then a mainstay at Hearts, represented Scotland at the 1990 World Cup and the 1992 European Championship. However, he only ever faced England once.
“Games between Scotland and England used to be every year,” he recalled. “When I first started my career, you would look forward to those games. It was a good experience to play against them but I didn’t know at the time that it would be the only time I’d play in that fixture.
“I couldn’t have savoured it any more, personally. Representing your country, I savoured every single match and every single moment in a Scotland jersey. I often get asked what was my favourite international match, was it Brazil or was it England? For me every match was great, even playing against Malta. You’re playing for your country, there’s a load on your shoulders to do well because a lot of fans turn up to follow the national team. You want to do the best you can in every game.
“Players are more used to playing against England now, but I don’t think it diminishes the prospect of facing the Auld Enemy. It’s one of those games which every Scottish and English player will put a bit more impetus into. They will all be trying to do well and win the game.
“Playing against England at Hampden is a massive experience. It was something myself and the whole team were looking forward to back in ’89. The England team was full of big names, Steve Bull played and scored, although he wasn’t one of the more recognised English strikers at that time. He was definitely a great striker on his day. We were up against it from the word go. I enjoyed the game but it was difficult, I’ve got to say.
“They had a fantastic squad but playing against good players lifts you as well. You want to compete against the so-called better players and show them that you’re an equal on the day.
“The dressing room afterwards was pretty dejected, as you can imagine. Losing against your enemy is never a great experience. When it happens in front of your own fans it’s pretty disappointing. It’s certainly something the Scotland players and fans won’t want to repeat this weekend.
“You want to beat England as much as possible to get one over on them. It’s a bigger version of a derby match, really.”
Scotland’s task 28 years back was daunting but they had reputable internationalists like Mo Johnston, Alex McLeish, Roy Aitken and Jim Leighton, plus Pat Nevin, Paul McStay and Ally McCoist.
“There were a lot of good home-grown players in that team who had come through the ranks,” said McPherson. “They all played international football at an early age, so everybody all knew each other. The squad is slightly different now, as is the style of football, but back then I thought we had a great squad.
“We were building year-on-year, getting better and stronger. That’s why we ended up qualifying for World Cups and European Championships back then.”
England’s side had two Rangers defenders, Terry Butcher and Gary Stevens, plus Trevor Steven who was about to join the Ibrox side. Bryan Robson, Des Walker, Stuart Pearce and Peter Shilton added further quality. Intriguingly, Bull was called up despite playing in the third tier of English football with Wolves.
“Looking back, the teams were a bit more balanced in 1989. Now, I think England have the edge,” admitted McPherson. “It’s an international derby match and you can’t rule anything out. Scotland will be well up for it.”
MCPHERSON OFFERS AMERICAN DREAM TO YOUNG FOOTBALLING TALENT
Dave McPherson is aiming to save the careers of young footballers by enrolling them for USA scholarships. The former Hearts defender is helping to run a new company specialising in college places in America.
Although still working as an agent in Scotland, McPherson has branched out with two associates to start Global Sports Recruitment.
“We got it off the ground about a year ago and we’ve been live for the last six or seven months,” he said. “The players we deal with aren’t big-name, they’re still in education at the moment and looking to go to America to get a degree. If they’re good enough, they can get a sports scholarship.
“I would like to get involved with professional clubs’ academies and I’ve spoken with a few of them but it’s difficult. You’re almost telling kids they aren’t going to make it at these academies. A lot of them aren’t but they’re scared of you telling them that. It’s been mainly England and Ireland so far. We’ve done assessments in Spanish schools and we’ll try to target Australia. It’s a lot of travelling at the moment to try and set things up.”
Those who enlist are guaranteed both academic and sports education in the United States.
“You will get a degree at the end of it. A scholarship is full-time student and full-time athlete. If you’re going to the US to play football, if you don’t maintain a C Grade average then you won’t get to play football. They are pretty strict,” explained McPherson. “If you’re out there on a sport scholarship, you need to keep up that C Grade average. The academic side is just as important as the football.
“That’s the way they Americans like it. A lot of their top sportspeople go through the college system and don’t turn professional till they’re a wee bit older. Here, you basically need to make it when you’re young or that’s you finished.
“I meet kids at 19 years of age who are expecting to get great scholarship deals but they have nothing on their CVs. You’re trying to make them realistic. That’s the difficulty we have with academy coaches.
“We’re not telling kids they have to do this, but surely it would be good to speak to them and let parents know this is an option. You aren’t setting them up to fail but you’re saying: ‘If it doesn’t work out for you in this academy, this could be a great avenue for you. Have a think about it and prepare in advance.’”
More details can be found on the company website: www.globalsportsrecruitment.com