IF GORDON Strachan is to succeed in his grand mission, the ticker – which currently sits at 17 years – must be reset. It’s been that long since Scotland last qualified for a major tournament, that long since the Tartan Army last embarked on a summer tour. But after the dismal defeat in Georgia, Scotland will likely have to wipe another slate clean if they are to book their place at Euro 2016.
As Germany arrive in Glasgow for tomorrow’s pivotal qualifier, Strachan’s side must ponder how a first win over Die Mannschaft in 16 years would revive their chances of making it to France next summer. A match which once looked like a free hit at the world champions now suddenly weighs somewhat heavier. A result like the one achieved in Bremen in 1999 would come in handy.
Not many remember exactly how Craig Brown’s team managed to pull off such a result last time around, though. Not even the man who scored the winning goal can recall much of that night in Northern Germany. “Obviously I remember the salmon pink shirts… I think everyone remembers the salmon pink shirts,” says Don Hutchison. “But I don’t remember too much about the game itself, to be honest.”
The decisive goal was certainly memorable, though. With just over an hour played Billy Dodds found space down the left channel and teed-up the pull back for Hutchison, who fired a driven, side-footed strike into the bottom corner of Jens Lehmann’s net. It was enough to give Scotland the win, and it wasn’t a fluke either.
“We deserved the win, we played well on the night against some great players – Lothar Matthaus, Oliver Bierhoff,” the former Liverpool and West Ham midfielder explained. “That was the thing about that time under Craig Brown – we always fancied ourselves away from home. We had a different mentality playing at Hampden Park – as a counter-attacking side we were more relaxed when we played away from home. We were comfortable on the road.”
Indeed, Brown’s eight-year stint as national team manager now looks like something of a golden era for Scottish football, given the 14 years without a major tournament that have since passed following his departure from the role in 2001. And yet Hutchison – the winning goalscorer when Scotland last beat England too – looks back on that generation with at least a tinge of regret.
“I actually felt we should have kicked on,” he says. “I think we should have qualified for, and done better at, more tournaments. We had some fantastic players at that time and we had the quality to do really well. When I was in the team I felt we were unlucky in the draws we were given. We came so close so many times.”
A glance through the starting lineup that faced and beat Germany 16 years ago at the Weserstadion in Bremen gives an idea as to why Hutchison believes Brown’s Scotland never quite achieved its full potential. Neil Sullivan, Tom Boyd, Colin Hendry, Dodds, Ian Durrant, Allan Johnston and Paul Lambert all played, giving Brown the kind of big-game experience Strachan must surely envy. “I look at the team at that time and from 1 to 11, in every position, there was world-class talent,” the 44-year-old says.
Hutchison’s international career spanned just four years (between 1999 and 2003) and 26 caps, but as he points out, the midfielder suffered play-off disappointment in two separate instances against England and Netherlands. “There was the qualifier against Belgium as well,” he recalls. “We were in total control and their centre-half scored an equaliser with seconds to go. That was a tough one to take because we should have been comfortably finishing second in that group.” It’s a particularly pertinent sentiment following Scotland’s defeat to Georgia on Friday.
“But the one that really sticks out is the game away at Wembley against England… we deserved more. We deserved to qualify over the two legs that time.” Hutchison’s goal against the Auld Enemy is certainly his most renowned, but it understandably provides the source of his biggest disappointment as a Scotland player.
Seven failed major tournament qualification campaigns later and Strachan’s side – still hurting (and possibly sweating) from the loss in Tblisi – are now tasked with beating the world champions to reignite a qualification campaign that threatens to fizzle out.
Scotland have developed a habit of facing the world champions immediately after their coronation, with the national team drawing the World Cup winners in each of their last three European Championship qualification campaigns (Italy, Spain and Germany). “Over the years, even going back to when I was playing, I’ve always felt that Scotland are better against the bigger sides,” Hutchison insists. “We always seem to slip up against the lesser sides,” with Georgia a case in point.
He admits though that “this Germany team is a lot better to the one that we faced in 1999”. While the side Scotland faced in Bremen was in generational transition, the one that will arrive at Hampden on Monday are fully-fledged world-beaters.
“I still think Scotland can get a result against them, though,” Hutchison is quick to offer. “They need to get a result. [After defeat in Georgia] it’s not so much a ‘must win’ match, but it’s certainly a ‘must not lose’ match.”
Against Germany, on their own patch 16 years ago, Scotland imposed themselves on the hosts – with Brown’s side dictating large spells of the contest. That seems unlikely to be the case tomorrow, but if they can “keep it tight for the first 20 minutes and see what we can get on the break,” Hutchison is confident the Scots can pull off a shock. “I’ve heard the team talk a million times when you’re playing the best teams. We need to be hard to beat.”
Perhaps Hutchison will remember more of the victory over Germany should it happen again on Monday. Maybe he’d have more than just the salmon pink shirts to jog his memory on how it unfolded in Bremen. “I quite liked that shirt, actually,” laughs Hutchison. “I thought it was pretty cool.”