FOR a Tartan Army intent on striking a blow in the heartland of its oldest foe, the waiting is almost over.
Followers of Scotland’s national team began to gather in London yesterday – with tens of thousands expected today – ahead of tonight’s eagerly awaited showdown with England.
Although it’s a friendly, the clash will give the victors bragging rights, especially since fans have had to endure a 14-year wait for the latest and 111th meeting between the sides.
Although football’s oldest opponents squared up to one another in 1999 – when Scotland achieved a memorable 1-0 victory on Wembley’s turf – this evening marks the first time since 1989 the two have met on a date of their own choosing. The event is being held as part of year-long celebrations to mark the 150th anniversary of the Football Association.
While the game has cheered publicans, police from both sides of the Border are mounting a large-scale operation to keep the atmosphere friendly.
Speaking yesterday, Scotland manager Gordon Strachan expressed hope the tie could be played more frequently.
He said: “It’s a fixture we all want to see more often. Players, fans, media, even people who are not really football fans are interested in the Scotland-England game. I know we play them in other sports, but this is a sport where everybody can really attach themselves and enjoy it.”
Fan Charlie Cunning, who travelled on a bus from Dunoon with his sons Jamie and Andrew, said: “I’m just looking forward to attending a Scotland versus England game with my two sons for the first time.
“I used to come to all the games in the 70s and 80s. They were raucous trips – absolute carnage. The difference now is that we have a support that polices itself. We look after one another. In those days it was total chaos – and the trains were horrible.”
It may be a fixture rich in tradition and memories – such as the occasion in 1977 when Scotland fans celebrated victory by digging up the Wembley turf and the crossbars were broken – but officials have warned that criminality will not be tolerated.
A heavy police operation is in place across London for the game, the history of which stretches back to 1872. The FA said a considerable amount of “intelligence-led work” has been undertaken, with the police prepared for an influx of fans.
Police Scotland has sent 12 intelligence staff to work alongside the Metropolitan Police and root out trouble-makers, with officers particularly wary of fans amassing in their long-standing meeting point, Trafalgar Square.
Eleven pubs around Wembley have been reserved for Scotland fans only in an attempt to prevent any trouble. Trains travelling from Scotland will be patrolled by additional officers from British Transport Police.