By Martyn Herman
THERE was more to Gordon Strachan’s words than mere hype when he claimed on Tuesday that no match between Scotland and England could ever be bracketed as merely a friendly.
The oldest fixture in world football has disappeared from view in the past decade but at Wembley on Wednesday Scotland have the chance to give the ‘Auld Enemy’ a bloody nose as the Football Association marks its 150th anniversary.
Gone are the days when Scotland would regularly qualify for World Cup finals and European championships and the domestic game north of the border has hit hard times compared to the glamour and glitz of the English Premier League.
Any sense of inferiority will go out of the window at Wembley, however, where 20,000 Scots are expected to roar on their team against Roy Hodgson’s side in the first clash of the two nations since 1999.
The timing is hardly ideal, just three days before the start of the Premier League, but Scotland manager Strachan believes neither side will be holding back once the whistle blows.
“There is pressure there, trust me,” said Strachan, who is trying to revive the fortunes of the Scotland team which has slumped to 50th in the FIFA rankings.
“Because if there wasn’t pressure it would be one of these normal run of the mill friendlies that you play,” he told a news conference.
“It’s a fixture we all want to see more often. Players, fans, media, even people who are not really football fans are interested in that Scotland-England game.
“I know we play them in other sports but this is the sport where everybody can really attach themselves and enjoy it.
“It’s a friendly, it’s a celebration of football but as a game it’s got to be competitive, that’s for sure. You can tell the difference.
“When I was a player or a manager friendly games didn’t really turn me on. I think players could sniff that from me but it’s a bit different this one,” added Strachan.
Hoardes of Scotland fans were milling about London on Tuesday, a throwback to the days when they arrived en masse from north of the border to watch the now defunct Home Championship games between England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Not all the Wembley clashes between the sides were memorable for the right reasons, as was the case in 1977 when Scotland fans celebrated a 2-1 victory by invading the pitch, digging up the turf and snapping the crossbar.
While greeted with derision by the authorities, the “desecration” of Wembley by the so-called Tartan Army was greeted by some proud Scots in the same way as the portrayal of William Wallace in the Hollywood movie Braveheart years later.
The death of Alex Torrance, the man whose weight finally did for the Wembley crossbar that day, was even marked in national newspapers when he passed away aged 54 in 2010.
Such incidents, and the changing nature of world football, hastened the demise of the annual meetings between the two nations who have locked horns 110 times.
Scotland have had their fair share of victories, winning 41 compared to 45 for England and prevailed the last time they played, winning 1-0 at Wembley in the second leg of a European Championship playoff in 1999.
While Scotland’s standing has declined since that match, the long wait for another crack at England will add some feeling to Wednesday’s encounter, according to former Scotland striker Kevin Gallacher.
“The longer you keep the teams apart the more feisty it will become,” Gallagher told the BBC.
England skipper Steven Gerrard said any thoughts of the looming Premier League kickoff would be cast aside.
“It is important we go in with confidence, because this is a big game for us,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “There’ll be no holding back and we want to win.”
By Martyn Herman