1996 England: Scotland
In 1996 Scotland met the ‘Auld Enemy’ in a competitive match for the first time since the end of the Home Championship in 1984. The occasion was the first major tournament to be held in England since the 1966 World Cup and the country was keen to see England go all the way but first there was a tricky group stage to navigate.
Ancient RivalryEngland against Scotland is the oldest football rivalry in the planet; as the first international football match was played between the two in 1872. They remained the sole contestants until Wales joined in, five years later, followed by Ireland in 1882. The first competition to determine the world champions, the Home Championship, was an annual contest between the four teams which started in 1883 and went on (with Northern Ireland rather than Ireland after partition in 1921) until it feel by the wayside in 1984.
Since then the number of times that the two have met has dropped significantly. The annual Rous Cup was instigated to keep the traditional summer meeting between the two sides, but even that fell away after five years. So now it’s become a case of waiting for chance to throw the teams together in competitions.
One such chance meeting occurred in 1996, when England and Scotland were both drawn in Group A of the final tournament for the 1996 European Championships, hosted by England.
Football Came HomeAs hosts, England hadn’t had to go through qualifying. Terry Venables had been in charge since early 1994, taking over from the hapless Graham Taylor, and had had added young talent in the form of Steve McManaman, Gareth Southgate, Darren Anderton, Jamie Redknapp and the two Neville brothers, Gary and Phil, to seasoned players such as Tony Adams, Paul Ince, Alan Shearer, David Seaman and, of course, the mercurial Paul Gascoigne.
Although people were worried that England hadn’t been playing competitive matches, the side looked strong. The main creative force was Gazza, looking good after playing most of the season without major injury, but not as mobile as he had been a few years earlier, and Shearer, the main goal-scorer, was enduring a long dry spell, not having scored for eleven games.
Scotland No PushoverThe Scotland side, who'd come through qualifying with only one defeat, was composed of players from the English and Scottish Premier leagues (and indeed Gascoigne, at that time, was also playing in Scotland for Rangers), with the exception of John Collins, who had just moved to AS Monaco, so there was quality throughout the side. Captain Gary McAllister was in his prime at Leeds and running midfield alongside Gordon Strachan. They had a strong back line including Colin Hendry, performing miracles at Blackburn Rovers, and Andy Goram, one of the finest Scots keepers for many decades. They were concerned, however, that they were fielding more players aged thirty or over than any other side to face England before or since.
The Scots knew they had an excellent chance of going through. Although they were the third strongest team on paper in the group, Holland, although English bookies had them down as favourites and they’d played brilliantly to qualify past the Republic of Ireland in a play-off, were not the force they had been in the past. The other team, Switzerland, were not expected to trouble anyone, so inevitably, England failed to beat them in the opening game, but at least Alan Shearer got off the mark in the 1-1 draw.
Hot Day in JuneThe match opened in the cauldron-like atmosphere on a hot June day at Wembley with the Scots fans outnumbered but not out-sung, even though the Euro-fever that had swept across England on the back of the ‘Three Lions’ song meant that the English were louder than usual.
This truly was a game of two halves. The Scots midfield wouldn’t let England settle, and England’s defensive midfield wouldn’t let the Scots through either, so by the end of the first half, both sides had only had one clear chance each, neither of them put away.
Half-time Pep TalkVenables had to make changes, and he made them at half time. England were playing three at the back and he took Stuart Pearce off, moved Southgate back to replace him, and brought on Jamie Redknapp for more creativity in midfield. He also got Anderton and McManaman to swap wings. The change was immediately effective, with space opening up on the wide Wembley pitch and on fifty-three minutes, Shearer opened the scoring.
Shearer Scores!Gary Neville, playing at right back, over-lapped to take a pass from McManaman and send a cross deep to the far post, which Shearer claimed from both Hendry and Sheringham, his team-mate!
The floodgates threatened to open, with McManaman driving a shot just wide and Sheringham’s header from a Gazza free kick produced a superb save from Goram. But Scotland weren’t going to put up with that and got back into the game, Seaman having a nervous moment at the other end, just keeping Gordon Durie’s header out as he got on the end of a John Collins cross.
The Scots manager, Craig Brown, made a bold substitution, sending on striker Ally McCoist and soon the action was more in the England half than the Scots’. This culminated in a penalty awarded after a sliding tackle by Tony Adams on Durie.
Two Key IncidentsWith hearts in mouths on both sides, McAllister stepped up to despatch the penalty in his usual calm manner, but the ball moved slightly as he approached it (later Uri Geller claimed to have been responsible) and he didn’t catch it right. Although Seaman was already going the wrong way, he managed to get his elbow to the ball and deflect it over.
A couple of minutes later, Gascoigne, who was looking likely to be substituted, ran on to a chip forward by Anderton, and, on the edge of the box, flicked the ball over the stunned Hendrie, ran round him as he stumbled and volleyed the ball past his Rangers team-mate Goram. Scotland, who looked like they were getting back into the game, could not respond.
Memories of WembleyGascoigne’s goal was voted the best at Wembley in a poll taken by Nationwide to mark the demolition of the old stadium. Gary McAllister had different memories. Speaking on a BBC programme in January 2007, he said: "I've never really spoken about this…. I'm committed to strike and the ball half turns. It was one of the few penalties I had ever just blasted because I feared I would just fall over the ball.”
What Happened Next?England seemed to reserve their best performance for their next match, the 4-1 demolition of Holland. They then scraped through against Spain in the quarter-finals (England’s only success in a penalty shoot-out to date) and followed that up with the agonising despair of losing on penalties to the Germans, who went on to take the trophy in a final against the tournament’s surprise package, Czechoslovakia.
It wasn’t quite the end for Scotland. Scotland beat Switzerland in their final game but by only one goal, despite making many more chances. They needed England to put a lot of goals past Holland, which they did. But in the dying moments of the England vs. Holland game, the Dutch scored a consolation goal, and although they lost the match, that goal was enough to put them though and the Scots out.