For your average Leeds United fanatic – or even for an iconic one such as myself – the sight of a club legend in Gordon Strachan having his nose well and truly rubbed in it can rarely be pleasant viewing. Equally, for a devotee of all things righteously White, to behold the over-rated and grossly over-hyped Mr Wayne “Shrek” Rooney filling his boots at the expense of said legend would normally be an uncomfortable not to say painful experience. But last night at Celtic Park, both circumstances came to pass – and yet it was an evening of unalloyed pleasure for any England fan who grew up to a background of Auld Enemy rivalry.
Back in the day, the England versus Scotland mini-war was an annual fixture, alternating between Hampden Park in Glasgow and Wembley, the latter drenched in Tartan every other year as the unwashed made the pilgrimage south. It was the perpetuation of the original and best International Football rivalry; the very first ever match between two countries was Scotland v England on 30 November 1872. 4,000 people saw a 0-0 draw on that occasion – the great days of this fixture were still to come.
The great days of Leeds United also lay far in the future – and in that era of Revie’s Super Leeds, the club boasted a cadre of fine Scottish international players (see picture above) who I and thousands of other United fans worshipped as footballing Gods. But once a year, when England met Scotland, they were The Enemy – and I for one wanted nothing more than to see the likes of Alan Ball, Mike Channon and Kevin Keegan stamp the Sweaties into the turf, North or South of the border. Sometimes it happened, sometimes we were disappointed. I remember regarding Gordon McQueen with a particularly baleful eye after his two goals sank England at Wembley, on a day when the Scots appropriated the crossbars as souvenirs of a memorable win.
Over the years, the two nations battled nip and tuck for historical supremacy, each having periods of dominance. In the almost 142 years since that first fixture, England have edged it. Last night’s victory by 3-1 was the Three Lions’ 47th such triumph, with Scotland trailing in at 41. This latest success must have been one of the most convincing by England, certainly in recent times. Scotland had a job done on them, big time. England’s performance was emphatic, conclusive, and the boys in blue had no answer to the white tide which engulfed them.
This tone had been set right from the first minute with Woy’s Warriors setting a pattern of dominance in the early stages they would maintain throughout. The breakthrough was half an hour coming and somewhat overdue when Oxlade-Chamberlain, somewhat lacking in delivery with the ball at his feet, found a sublime headed touch from Wilshere’s laser-accurate deep cross, finding the corner of the Scottish net. So it remained at the interval but, despite the narrowness of the margin, Scotland had been on the end of a footballing lesson.
The consensus of agreement among the half-time pundits was that the hosts could not afford to go two down if they were to salvage anything from the encounter. This, however, they proceeded to do a mere 90 seconds into the second half as England took a vice-like grip on proceedings. The origin of what proved to be a killer goal was in a crude and stupid foul from Mulgrew who cynically took out the stampeding Ox as the Arsenal youngster raced down the right. Mulgrew was a little fortunate to escape with a mere yellow, but the fallout was to prove fatal for the Tartan Army. From the free kick, the ball was half-cleared and then bobbled about in the Scottish area before sitting up for Rooney to flex his neck and direct a fine header past helpless sub goalkeeper Gordon.
True to the intense rivalry of this fixture, Scotland did appear to fight their way back into the match with a goal after good work between Robertson and Russell ended with the former squeezing the ball between Forster and his near post. England, rather than quailing and succumbing to late nerves, simply appeared to be provoked into further action. The ball was played down the right from the restart and, from a throw in, the visitors contrived a spell of consummate possession under pressure on the Scottish left flank, before Lallana was released into the area to set up a sitter for Rooney’s second of the night.
3-1 and finis. England were probably worth a goal or two more; despite the creditable battling of the Scots, they had in truth been completely outclassed and outplayed. The most jarring note of the whole night was struck by England coach Roy Hodgson in his post-match remarks, when he saw fit to apologise for any offence caused to anyone who might have had their feelings hurt by some anti-IRA chanting from the England support. Things have come to a pretty pass, surely, when a football man in the afterglow of a fine victory should seek to soothe the wounded sensibilities of those negatively affected by anti-terrorism sentiments. It was an odd end to a fine night for England. Scotland, fresh from a run in which results and performances have been positively encouraging, will have a new awareness this morning of their actual place in the scheme of things.