Will this match
be about football
Scotland and England are to meet at Wembley on 14 August 2013 as part of the Football Association's 150th anniversary celebrations. It will be the first meeting of the two rivals since the 1999 two-legged play-off encounter for the European Championships. England triumphed 2-0 at Hampden thanks to a double from Paul Scholes and, while Scotland won at the old Wembley courtesy of a Don Hutchinson goal, the English persevered on aggregate.
The rivalry is considered to be the oldest in international football and the two sides first met in 1872 at the West of Scotland Cricket Club in Glasgow. Around 4,000 were in attendance that day but around 20 times that number will be there next autumn. Both camps are probably anticipating a high octane encounter with history seeping in around the edges. There was much appreciative purring coming from the respective managers following the announcement.
Scotland manager Craig Levein, quoted in the Sunday Herald, said: 'I am thrilled that we have reached agreement with the FA to play at Wembley as part of their 150th anniversary celebrations and I am sure the supporters will be there in their tens of thousands'. Roy Hodgson, the England manager seemed similarly enthusiastic. He said: 'For us, England v Scotland is one of the finest fixtures in international football and I know what this game means to both sets of supporters'. He continued: 'It will be a fitting part of the FA's 150th anniversary celebrations and the supporters, the team and my coaching staff are all looking forward to welcoming Scotland to Wembley next year'. Hodgson was possibly minded to add: 'Now let me get back to the competitive tournament that I'm involved in right now', but he has to play his role in hyping up the fixture.
The intervening 13 years since the last encounter have arguably seen the two nations grow apart according to various indicators. England have qualified for the majority of international tournaments while the narrow defeat to England was the closest Scotland have come since the last time they qualified for a major tournament back in 1998. Although the current England squad is widely considered to be on a managed downward trajectory, there is little evidence that Scotland are coming up to meet even this reduced quality.
The Tartan Army, that strange product of invented Highland culture filtered through the 20th-century urban experience, have almost assumed greater importance than the team they follow
The English Premier League has accelerated away from its Scottish counterpart at an alarming rate, fuelled by massive cash injections from television and global financial titans such as Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour. Andrew McFadyen noted in SR that the BBC has just spent £180m to retain Premiership highlights for the next three years. Yet even this sum is dwarfed by the £3 billion deal reached between the Premier League and Sky and BT. This sort of money isn't even discussed in the context of Scottish football – not even by those who claim Rangers were responsible for the recent collapse of HBOS and the Royal Bank of Scotland, among other things.
The accumulated evidence of the last decade means that England will go into the game as favourites regardless of what happens between now and August 2013. This will not deter the thousands of Scotland fans who will make the pilgrimage and perform the role bequeathed to them by tradition and legend. They will follow in the footsteps of past generations of fans even if they are fainter than they used to be when home internationals were a regular feature on the football calendar.
The Tartan Army, that strange product of invented Highland culture filtered through the 20th-century urban experience, have almost assumed greater importance than the team they follow. This is largely due to the fact that they seem to be widely esteemed while the national team evokes a combination of nostalgia and derision. As evidence of this inverted relationship, note the front page of the Sunday Herald sport section which read 'Wembley date for the Tartan Army', not Scotland.
As the underdogs and underachievers, Scotland will probably embrace this match with more enthusiasm than England. It will assume a more central place in the national imagination and its presence will probably become suffocating months in advance of kick-off. There is also an inevitability about the encounter being drawn into contemporary constitutional debates. Those on both sides who seem willing to play political football with any issue will surely find it hard to resist stapling politics onto this particular football match. Expect nationalists to highlight the behaviour, real or imagined, of the Tartan Army and claim that it is a microcosm of future attitudes towards England in an independent Scotland. Unionists will probably abandon nuance in favour of their preferred mix of clumsy sentimentality and fraught warnings. But at the very least it will be a chance to remind some that we still play football in these parts.
Alasdair McKillop is a member of the Rangers Supporters Trust writing in an independent capacity