A tale of passion for England v Scotland at Wembley

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Thistle come as no surprise to those who know me but a fierce football rivalry between England and Scotland was imbued in me by my late father.

A normally easygoing happy-go-lucky chap, when it came to football matches between the two countries he was gripped by a curious passion which wanted the Scots buried whenever the sides met.

It was not surprising, then, that on Saturday May 24 1975, my dad could not contain his delight as he at 51 and the teenage me were in our seats at Wembley watching England annihilate Scotland 5-1.

Except my dad was not in his seat. He was standing on his; arms aloft, chanting “Easy, easy, easy.”

The stadium was almost full to bursting with a 98,000 crowd and all around us – for amazingly Scotland fans seemed to permeate all sections of the ground – there were tartan-clad, tam o’ shanter-wearing Scots, frothing with rage.

Discretion being the better part of valour saw my backside firmly glued to my £5 South Stand seat. Not so my dad. That was until a particularly large gentleman in the row in front rose to what seemed a Hagrid-like height, turned to face my father on his now-elevated perch, and gave him the sort of look which clearly suggested something that might hurt would follow.

Never a man of violence, my dad swiftly weighed up the situation and took the wise decision to resume his seat, and restrain his celebration.

Nonetheless, of course, the deed on the pitch had been done and it was a very contented father and son who made their way back to Sussex that evening.

The Home International tournament at the end of each football season was as much part of the football-watching fabric as the FA Cup Final in those days, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland playing each other home or away in alternate years.

In an earlier blog post, Striking in claret and blue, I spoke about the occasion in May 1972 when I went to see Brighton & Hove Albion’s very own Willie Irvine playing for Northern Ireland against England at Wembley. A decade later I had the good fortune to see two Albion players in opposition in the same fixture when Steve Foster played one of his three games for England and left back Sammy Nelson was playing for Northern Ireland.

But back to 1975, and that trouncing of Scotland. The experience had started well for me because my footballing hero of that era, Alan Ball, had led out the England team; manager Don Revie having given him the honour of captaining the side.

However, it was to be QPR’s Gerry Francis who made the headlines that day, scoring twice as Scotland’s calamitous goalkeeper Stewart Kennedy abandoned the art of keeping the ball out of the net. Defender Kevin Beattie, mercurial midfielder Colin Bell and centre forward David Johnson also got on the scoresheet and Scotland could only reply once through a Bruce Rioch penalty.

Make no mistake, this was some result because we’re not talking about a Scotland side of modern day standards: their team, managed by Willie Ormond, included giants of the era like captain Sandy Jardine, Danny McGrain, Gordon McQueen and Kenny Dalglish.

If the atmosphere generated by the Tartan Army was designed to put the frighteners on the English, the only person it seemed to be rattling was goalkeeper Kennedy, who put in what can only be described as a butterfingers performance.

It was all to the great amusement of my dad! This wasn’t the first time I’d seen him euphoric at the outcome of this fixture, although the margin of victory was a lot narrower on the previous occasion when, two years earlier, on 19 May 1973 to be precise, a single England goal did for the Scots with Martin Peters taking the honours on that occasion.

I had been to Wembley before but I had never experienced an atmosphere quite like the one generated by the Scots.

What was supposed to be an England home game felt like anything but, with Scotland fans dotted around the whole stadium. Somehow or another they managed to purloin tickets, even if they were at inflated tout prices, to ensure vast swathes of the stadium were occupied by boisterous, vociferous Scots.

Not that all members of the Tartan Army actually got to see the action. I recall the wide-eyed me looking round and seeing men draped in the famous blue and white Saltire, clearly off their faces, slumped forwards in their seats fast asleep.

Empty bottles of whisky littered the concrete floors of the stadium and, wherever you looked, the Royal Banner of Scotland (yellow and red flag) and the Saltire were being waved in unison with multiple renditions of Flower of Scotland.

One such polythene version of the Royal Banner floated on the breeze and landed on my head. It seemed to me to be the ideal souvenir of a memorable day out and I’m delighted to say on my recent loft clearance I found said flag together with the matchday tickets from both the 1973 and 1975 fixtures.

I wonder how many dads in their fifties together with their teenage sons will return from Wembley on 11 November 2016 with memories that will last a lifetime.

 

 

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