WEMBLEY veteran Mark Burchill has called on Gordon Strachan to let James Forrest loose on England tomorrow night – but hopes the Celtic star doesn’t suffer the same abuse as he did 14 years ago.
Burchill, then just 19, was part of a bitter-sweet Wembley victory over England in the play-offs for Euro 2000 and he would love to see Forrest get the chance to make his mark in the resumption of the oldest rivalry in international football.
However, the Livingston player/assistant manager sincerely hopes that the atmosphere is not as poisonous as it was back in 1999.
Burchill, then a rising star with Celtic, could not believe the venom of the England fans as the Scotland team bus approached Wembley for the second leg of the play-off with the Scots trailing 2-0 from the opener at Hampden.
And he will never forget the crescendo of jeering when Craig Brown introduced him as a substitute for Neil McCann in the wake of Don Hutchison heading the Scots into the lead.
Burchill said: “It would be fantastic if James Forrest was unleashed on England. I think he has been showing some great form for Celtic and he is a player who is definitely ready and can take England by surprise.
“Hopefully he can do what we all think he can do on the big stage – if he is given the opportunity.”
Burchill was a similarly precocious talent back at the turn of the century and although in the end it was glorious failure for the Scots, he remembers it all vividly. He said: “It was a fantastic occasion for me being 19 and playing at that level against England.
“The atmosphere was very eerie because it was a Euro 2000 play-off match so it was like the World Cup final for us.
“I remember driving in on the bus to Wembley and we got some abuse from the England fans but that just highlighted the tension that was attached to the game. It was just an amazing game to be involved in and to be so close and yet so far, it was an incredible night.
“If Christian Dailly’s header had gone in five minutes from time then it would have changed everything.
“However, I still look back and feel proud that I was involved in that game and I’m sure the lads who will play tomorrow night will be absolutely buzzing because it’s a game you can tell the grandkids that you were involved in.
“The first thing I remember was getting booed by 80,000 people when I came on the pitch but that only motivated me more.
“There is not much bigger than Scotland-England and even although this match is not a qualifier it is still such a big game.
“Hopefully the match will be good fun this time among the supporters because it was a bit nasty back in 1999.
“We are both desperate to beat each other but I hope it’s in a good spirit – if that’s possible between Scotland and England.
“Gordon Strachan will have his boys right up for it and after the last result [the 1-0 win in Croatia] I think we can take something out of this game.”