Friday 11th November 19.45
Before corporate hype had consumed the totality of sporting events, matches had to sell themselves on their own merit. Not that they ever used such a hackneyed term then but the ‘product’ was the thing. Nowadays, by way of shiny graphics, excitable voice-overs and other gimmicks, TV rights holders would have you believe that a Monday night clash between Stoke and Everton is an event of rare importance.
Most people will understand such hullabaloo for what it is but when wave after wave, season after season, of such hyperbole continues to crash in upon your audio and visual receptors, the effect can be felt in the form of numbness, a detachment from the genuine emotions you once felt for the game.
No need for pageantry
In an ideal world, this match would be the perfect tonic for all those burnt-out by the relentless hype machine. Traditionally, England v Scotland needs no introduction let alone buffoonery from blowhards with bullhorns. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the oldest rivalry in international football. For those of you who weren’t there, Scotland faced off against England in 1872 in an exhilarating contest where both sides fielded more than 12 forwards between them. Contemporary reports stated that England were somewhat taken aback by the cheeky Scots and their passing game – the rotters.
Liking them before they were cool
When you think about it then, Scotland must be the hipster’s hipster, revolutionizing football some 100 years before Ajax and Johan Cruyff’s successful implementation of total football. Unfortunately for Scotland, they haven’t really built on such a promising beginning and it’s been a long time since they’ve been associated with anything beautiful in the football game. In fact, the present mood amongst football people in Scotland is, much like their weather, miserable.
A downward spiral?
Optimism briefly raised its head during qualifying for the recent Euro 2016. Not only did Scotland beat Ireland, they also put in spirited performances against both world champions Germany and Poland. However, a loss to Georgia appeared to knock the stuffing out of players and management alike and they have been largely awful since. Yes, their sole win in this group was an encouraging 5-1 away victory but that was to an awful Malta team who have yet to gain a point. Their next game up saw them held to a draw by the mighty Lithuania. Discontent amongst supporters is rife.
An unfavourable result against the old enemy might well see Gordon Strachan lose his job. The Scottish manager is as combative now as he ever was as a player, traits that are standing to him now as he fends off sections of the press who are upset not only at his team’s performances but also his squad selection. Many are puzzled by the continued exclusion of Charlie Adam as well as the curious case of Celtic captain, Scott Brown, the midfielder has come out of international retirement for this match and reports suggest that he will retire again after it.
A modern malaise
There is a hint of deckchairs-on-the-titanic about all of this because the sad truth is that no matter which way you cut it up, Scotland are not producing anything like the quality of player that they used to. Much the same might be said about England. We haven’t mentioned them as of yet because really, what can we add that the papers haven’t been scraping over for some time now? They are still without a permanent manager following Sam Allardyce’s resignation so Gareth Southgate will continue in a caretaker capacity. Whilst he can’t claim to come anywhere close to Sam’s 100% win record (from one game), no losses from his first two games means he hasn’t yet been crucified by the rabid English press.
A loss at home to Scotland would probably do just that, however. In terms of injury concerns, England will be forced to do without Delle Alli. That might not be too big a loss for them as the Tottenham Hotspur man has been short of form this season but in better news, his Spurs teammate, Harry Kane, is fit and ready for action. England are always puzzling insofar as they generally seem to be worse than the sum of their parts. They have lot of decent players and one or two quite good ones, a situation that should be enough to do reasonably well in international football but we all know how that particular story generally ends.
Time to draw from a proud heritage?
The days of parity between these teams is a long time gone. As noted above, Scotland are not producing players like they used to do. Neither for that matter are England but they can get away with it to a degree by virtue of a much larger population to draw from. The hope must be that the Tartan Army do their utmost as away fans to add a crackle and intensity to the atmosphere and, with a lot of luck, Scotland might make a match of it. In fairness, if they can’t get it going in a match against England, then they might as well just give up.
Pressure and character
There is always pressure on England internationals. Much of it is over the top but that expectancy remains. Everyone saw what pressure can do them (step forward, Iceland) so the question is, do they have the character to prevail over the Scots here? In terms of skill and quality, it’s theirs hands down but the mental aspect is the key to victory here. Gareth Southgate is a calm and considered presence so the hope is that this transmits to the team. If it does, the full time job could be his. If not, more instability and doubts for England. Suffice it to say, there’s a lot riding on this match.
The bookies think so little of Scotland’s abilities that many are offering 10/1 for the away win. That’s probably about right as it’s difficult to see where their goals are going to come from. This column wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a tight game throughout but with England eventually breaching the Scotland rearguard the required amount to grab the win. Best price for that outcome is 4/9 from BetVictor. Mind you, with they year that’s in it, who knows what the hell will happen? That first match between them in 1882 ended up a 1-1 draw, after all…