We can be heroes, says Scotland midfielder James McArthur

James McArthur, centre, says spirit is good in the Scotland camp
James McArthur, centre, says spirit is good in the Scotland camp
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James McArthur can still remember the thrill of listening on the radio as Don Hutchison scored Scotland’s last winner against England.

And, as he looked ahead to Saturday night’s clash with the Auld Enemy, the Crystal Palace midfielder admitted the World Cup qualifying clash offers every member of Gordon Strachan’s team the chance to become such a hero.

But, he confessed, he would love to go one better than Hutchison that night at Wembley in 1999, his goal good enough for victory but too little too late to save the Scots as they ultimately lost the Euro 2000 play-off, Paul Scholes having scored a double for the English in the first leg at Hampden a few days earlier.

As a consequence Scotland’s quest to reach the finals of a major tournament for the third time in succession came to an end and, sadly, they have not qualified in the intervening period.

Again, the odds may appear stacked against Gordon Strachan’s players, fourth in qualifying Group F and six points behind leaders England, who have yet to concede a single goal.

But, claimed McArthur, that last-ditch victory over Slovenia in March has breathed new life into the Scottish bid to be involved in next summer’s finals in Russia although the 29-year-old did concede they remain very much the underdogs as they prepare to face the star-laden squad England boss Gareth Southgate enjoys.

Claiming that Chris Martin’s late winner against Slovenia had “changed everything”, the former Hamilton and Wigan player insisted: “A win will change it again. There’s a confidence we can put on a performance and get a result. We have the chance to become heroes for Scotland – that’s the opportunity every player has.

“Obviously it’s about staying in the group and that’s our main aim, to stay in it and try to qualify. But we have the chance to make history. Down the years every time we’ve beaten England people remember who scored.”

Hutchison’s 1999 header was 12-year-old McArthur’s first recollection of such an occasion. He recalled: “It was the last time we beat England so it was always going to stick in my head.

“I remember I had just finished training and was on the bus going home listening to the radio and the game was on.”

Playing his football in London, McArthur believes that despite England’s lofty position there is a pressure on them even though they defeated Scotland 3-0 at Wembley last November and can boast a glittering array of talent such as Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Dele Alli, Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling to name but a few.

He said: “I don’t really see everyone down there talking about how bad Scotland are, or at least I don’t hear that. But there is a lot of pressure on their players, coming to Hampden where we have a decent record.

“However, it’s going to take everything from everyone, the fans, the manager, the players, the staff having a really good night while hoping they have an off night and we have a famous victory.

“Everyone is expecting them to win, but we’ll be putting pressure on ourselves in our changing-room to go out there, put on a good performance and get a great result.

“At Wembley, I thought we were excellent. We lost 3-0 but we can take positives from it. We put them under a lot of pressure but when it went 2-0 and then they got a third they were able to pass it about and look comfortable because the game was dead.

“But we had opportunities that night and if we had taken one or two of them it would have been completely different. There were things we did wrong as well and we need to try to make that right but our last performance at home was brilliant.

“We were under such pressure but managed to stay positive and focused. We need to treat it like any other game – it’s not and we know that – but we have a professional job to do for the country, the manager and our fellow players.

“We can’t just be shouting ‘it’s England, let’s go, let’s go’. We need to stay positive and stick to the game plan.

“We’re looking forward to it, everyone is relaxed, enjoying training and working hard, people trying to do enough to give the manager a decision as to being played or being among the subs ready to come on.”

And, of course, there is that thought of emerging from the 90 minutes as a national hero.

McArthur said: “There’s the chance to make kids remember a goal the way I remember Don Hutchison’s.

“I don’t know what it means to England, but it means so much to us, the fans, the manager. If we got a victory it will be monumental for the country, not just in terms of qualifying.”