Paul Ince’s cheap shot. Arsene Wenger’s goodwill. Kevin Keegan’s Braehead confession. One of Scotland’s most glorious failures.
It’s now just over two decades since the Euro 2000 play-offs, when the Scots won 1-0 at Wembley to come achingly close to reversing a 2-0 defeat at Hampden.
As it was, England proceeded to the finals in Belgium and the Netherlands, although Craig Brown’s side almost made it as they produced one of the biggest results and performances in Scottish football history.
To reflect on the that combustible two-legged affair, BBC Scotland spoke to some of those involved in the Scotland camp at the time.
‘If Lambert played, they wouldn’t have scored twice’
After the sides were drawn in the same group at the previous Euro finals in 1996 – a meeting that England won 2-0 thanks to Uri Geller’s mind tricks and Paul Gascoigne’s wonder goal – there were calls to make international football’s oldest fixture a regular event.
Those calls were answered with the play-off draw. Scotland would welcome England to Hampden for the first leg, with the ‘Auld Enemy’ travelling north as favourites for what promised to be an epic confrontation.
Former Scotland manager Craig Brown: “You knew how big the game was with the demand for tickets, it was incredible. We were all struggling.
“We were underdogs, but we were a very good defensive team, so I didn’t think England would’ve got two soft goals at Hampden. Paul Lambert got injured the week before in the Old Firm game, which was a massive blow as he would’ve marked Paul Scholes. When Lambert was at Borussia Dortmund, his role was to nullify the best player of the opposition, so if he played, I don’t think Scholes would’ve scored twice. That’s my excuse, anyway.”
Former Scotland striker Billy Dodds: “I was at Dundee United at that point and Paul Sturrock was my manager. I remember him winding me up, saying big Sol Campbell was going to get me, but I played really well.
“People say Hampden’s got no atmosphere, but it was incredible that day. We were just so unlucky. Scholes scored twice when we were putting pressure on and I remember thinking: ‘How are we 2-0 down here?’ When I hit the bar, I knew it wasn’t going to be our day.”
From cruel journalism to Wenger’s kindness
Following the first-leg defeat at Hampden, the Scotland squad stayed in Troon before heading south to prepare for the second leg at Arsenal’s training facilities. What Brown may not have expected was to be treated better in England than he was in his homeland.
Brown: “We were in Troon and a reporter was pleading with me to do an interview with him outside. I only realised when I watched it on TV later that night that the interview finished with the reporter saying: “If Scotland fail to win at Wembley, it might be the end of the road for Craig.” Next thing, the camera pans from my face to the street name the hotel is on – Craigend Road. It was brilliant journalism to be fair, but it was cruel.
“We then headed down to Arsenal’s training ground. We got put on a pitch beside the motorway, which wasn’t really ideal because the players couldn’t hear me, so Arsene Wenger insisted that I moved to his number one pitch. Going to England as a Scotland team, you’d expect hostility, but Wenger couldn’t have been nicer. Of course, he isn’t English.
“I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect to go through with us trailing 2-0, so all I could say to the players was that they needed to give the supporters value. I demanded we gave a display that represented Scotland well and made the Tartan Army proud.”
Burns’ wisdom & Ince’s ‘cheap shot’
Scotland would win 1-0 at Wembley, putting in a monumental effort to dominate England on their own patch. But for David Seaman’s save from a Christian Dailly header, Scotland would have forced extra-time. The winner came from a first-half Don Hutchison header. Predominately a midfielder, the idea to play the then West Ham man in attack came from one of Brown’s old pals.
Brown: “England brought in Gareth Southgate for Martin Keown and, even though Southgate was a good footballer, he wasn’t as tough as Keown, so we moved Hutchison up front. I owe the late great Tommy Burns a lot of credit for that. It was him who tipped me off to play him there.
“I asked Tommy to take a Scotland B team to Wales and he told me I had to try Hutchison up front. He said he put him up there towards the end of the game and he held balls up, he won headers and he was competitive. I trusted Tommy’s judgement. He told me he wouldn’t let me down and he was right, the guy scored winning goals away to England and Germany for me.
“But the player who was absolutely outstanding that night was Barry Ferguson. England had a midfield of Paul Scholes and Paul Ince and Barry ran the game. He was only 21 at the time.”
Former Scotland winger Neil McCann: “We absolutely outplayed them. You look at the players in that England team and we still passed them off the pitch as well as running over the top of them with aggression.
“I remember Paul Ince came in with a cheap shot, he smashed me out on the line. I was on my back ready to bounce for him and, before I knew it, I had four guys right there getting a grip of him. After that, I think they knew we were down there to do a number on them, because it wasn’t just about ability, there was a real grit and determination. It was a special night.”
‘When I go to England, it’s still mentioned’
Even though Scotland ultimately went out 2-1 on aggregate and therefore failed to reach Euro 2000, they left Wembley with pride after putting in a performance that was worthy enough to turn the tie around. The performance generated huge praise not just from the media and fans but the England camp itself.
Brown: “Tony Adams acknowledged it. He singled me out at the end of the game and shook my hand. He complimented our performance and admitted they were incredibly lucky to go through. I didn’t know him and I had never met him before, so he didn’t need to do that.
“We gained respect. When I go to England now, people still talk about it and mention how good a team we had. I don’t get that much in Scotland. We were just unfortunate, all I think is what could’ve been. If the game went on another five minutes, I’m sure we would’ve got another goal to take it to extra-time.”
Dodds: “Nearly 15 years later, I met Kevin Keegan when he had his Soccer Circus up here in Braehead. I remember him saying: ‘I’ve never been as glad to hear a final whistle in all my life. If that had gone to extra-time, we were done.’ And I agreed with him. We totally dominated it. If only we could get one shot to do it again.”
McCann: “If I could replay one game from my career, it would have to be that night. We deserved it; we were so close. That’s the one real disappointment in my career.”
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