Scotland on their way back to London, but England match must wait a while

March 15, 2011

tartanScotland’s soccer team return to London for the first time since 1999 at the end of this month — but they won’t be playing England at Wembley.

Instead they will face five-times world champions Brazil in a high profile friendly at the Emirates Stadium which should be filled close to its 60,000 capacity.

If that game goes ahead without trouble — which is the most likely outcome — it could give added impetus to the English FA’s plans to host a one-off “home international” series in 2013 to mark their 150th anniversary.

That could then mark Scotland’s return to Wembley for the first time since the stadium was re-opened four years ago.

The game against Brazil though, and Scotland’s return to London, evoke memories of the days when Scotland were regular visitors to Wembley, playing England there in alternate years in the world’s oldest international series that began in 1872.

The reasons why the matches ended after the short-lived Rous Cup in 1989 following the demise of the Home Championship between the four British nations in 1984, have been well documented down the years.

Questions began to be asked after the 1977 game at Wembley when Scottish fans rioted after a 2-1 victory, demolishing the goalposts and wreaking havoc on the Underground and in central London.

By the end of the 1980s the English FA felt the Scots no longer offered stiff enough opposition and that the matches were an anachronism.

Although Scotland’s world ranking has dipped alarmingly since then, England are not exactly world beaters either and any match between the two would probably be very keenly contested.

And as any schoolboy will tell you, “the formbook is thrown out the window in a derby”.

In the last 22 years England and Scotland have met only three times: once in Euro 96 at Wembley when Paul Gascoigne scored a memorable goal in a 2-0 England win, and twice in November 1999 in a two-legged playoff for Euro 2000 with England winning 2-0 at Hampden Park and Scotland winning 1-0 at Wembley.

Over the last few years the two FAs have considered re-instating the match without discussions leading to much, but Scotland’s visit to London on March 27 could provide the impetus for the match returning to the calendar, albeit as perhaps just a one-off in two years time.

It won’t be the first time this month either that tens of thousands of Scots have visited London for a major sporting international.

Last Sunday thousands were at the Six Nations rugby match against England at Twickenham, the 100th anniversary of their first game at the English home of the union code.

As usual, the bars and pubs of the surrounding areas were heaving with groups of kilted fans travelling in hope rather than expectation in the wake of just four victories in the last 44 games and none since 1983.

Twickenham matches are the highlight of the year for most local pubs who go out of their way to welcome the drinkers.

Capturing the essence of the whole weekend perfectly was the Richmond Athletic Ground, the shared home of Richmond and London Scottish a couple of miles from Twickenham.

The ground was packed from mid-morning, appropriately split between England and Scotland fans, many of whom share the same bar on a weekly basis throughout the year anyway, with women and children heavily represented on both sides.

As England fans celebrated a 22-16 win and the Scots, again, drowned their sorrows deep into the night, there was not a hint of trouble.

Of course, soccer crowds are different from rugby and trouble following the Old Firm match between Celtic and Rangers recently was a huge blow to the image of the Scottish game.

Whether trouble would flare again if England played Scotland remains to be seen but I believe it’s highly unlikely. Alcohol control is better and policing is generally better.

There is always the potential for trouble, but then again, there is at every match.

Soccer likes to do things its own way, but inviting Scotland back to play at Wembley again for the first time since it was re-built, could lead to the return of one of the keenest rivalries in world soccer.

 (Mitch Phillips attended the Six Nations match at Twickenham)

Picture: Members of the “Tartan Army” play music after their team’s group A World Cup match against Norway June 16. The match ended with a 1-1 draw.

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