Guided by what he saw happen when passion got the better of judgement during Old Firm matches, Gordon Strachan is determined to ensure Scotland are not deflected from their purpose by over-zealousness when they face England at Wembley tonight.
The 14-year hiatus since the countries last met has contributed to the excitement among Scotland supporters, over 20,000 of whom are expected to be at Wembley for the Teenage Cancer Trust international friendly match. Strachan has warned his players not to let their emotions run away with them.
The manager wants to them to keep calm and carry on from Zagreb, where a 1-0 win over Croatia in their last match was earned through a disciplined, fully-focused performance in a partisan environment.
Strachan assured reporters that there were no plans to sit the players down in front of the film Braveheart on the eve of the match. “That’s not really a true story anyway,” he said. “It was kind of made up a bit.”
He wants the concept of freedom to be exhibited in the way the players play – unencumbered by thoughts of a wee bit hill and glen and other such notions that he believes have little relevance to a football match and which could, he fears, disrupt his side’s effectiveness.
The manager decided to cancel last night’s planned training session at Wembley in a further bid to keep emotions in check. He hopes the isolation of their base at a country hotel in Hertfordshire – the players have been training at the Watford training ground, where the turf is as good as Wembley’s according to Strachan – has helped divorce the players from the fervour which surrounds the fixture, even if it has tended to be generated mostly by Scots in the run-up to tonight’s clash.
“You don’t want to get carried away with this passion thing,” he said. “Fighting and scrapping, we’re the Scots and you took land off us so many hundreds of years ago. Forget that. If you are really passionate then jump higher, run quicker, run further.
“Don’t go fighting and screaming at referees and crashing into people,” he continued. “The good thing about the Croatia game was that we were all disciplined and nobody was arguing with the referee or making daft tackles. Instead the players were using all their energy for doing what the team needed them to do. That is what has to happen tomorrow.”
Strachan watched some of his Scotland team-mates succumb to the frenzied atmosphere in the four clashes against England that he was involved in as a player. Scotland only won once – when Richard Gough headed the only goal in a 1-0 win in 1985. Strachan lost twice at Hampden while the other match finished in a 1-1 draw. “I have seen players get carried away at previous Scotland against England matches and because they went crashing into tackles, the crowd all cheer. But I always thought: ‘Wait a minute, we are now defending a free-kick because you have gone crashing into a tackle,’” he said.
Also helping persuade of the need for calm heads is his experience of the Old Firm derby during his four-year stint as Celtic manager. “I always felt the first team that lost their temper in an Old Firm match generally lost it,” he said. “I always felt that.
“The one who loses their discipline and starts fighting with referees. You had players on either side who, just to keep the fans happy, would go careering into tackles and kick somebody in the air and the crowd would clap as they got sent off.
“I always thought ‘well done, we are down to ten men and you are clapping them like a hero. You are no hero at all, you are ill-disciplined’. I didn’t buy that clapping thing when players were sent off.”
Scott Brown will lead Scotland out at Wembley, 46 years since another son of Hill of Beath in Fife famously indulged in a keepie-up routine in a 3-2 victory for Scotland over England. The memory of Jim Baxter’s gallusness still holds a charge. Likewise, the Celtic midfielder is not someone who immediately springs to mind when contemplating restrained operators on a football park.
However, Strachan has no worries on that front. “Broony has definitely got more disciplined over the last while,” said Strachan. “He still has that manic, comic thing about him. But it has calmed down. There is a more mellow man there now.”