FOR Roy Hodgson, the flickering black and white images on his television screen of a genius at work in 1967 left a lasting impression of international football’s oldest fixture’s capacity to thrill.
At the time, he was a 19-year-old defender playing non-league football for Tonbridge Angels after his own dreams of gracing the game’s big stages had been dashed by his release from Crystal Palace.
Even then, Hodgson was turning his attention to a future in coaching and what he witnessed as Jim Baxter inspired Scotland to their famous 3-2 defeat of reigning world champions England at Wembley had a significant effect.
Last August, England manager Hodgson saw his team enjoy a reverse of that scoreline in London when they defeated the Scots in a thrilling renewal of the old rivalry which continues at Celtic Park tonight. He is predicting another memorable encounter to add to the list.
“I’m expecting to see a classic game of football where both teams want to win, where both believe they have the ability and quality to win,” said Hodgson.
“Both teams, when they get the ball, will be attempting to create goal chances which will inevitably lead to some counter-attacking football.
“The one memory of England-Scotland games that sticks out for me is when Baxter ran us ragged at Wembley just after the World Cup. I didn’t go to the match, you couldn’t get tickets for Wembley in those days, but I watched it on television.
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“I was just starting out in football, just getting interested in football tactics, so I watched it with great interest. Scotland came down in ’67 and gave that wonderful display, which was personified by Jimmy Baxter in the middle of the park. That is my abiding memory. But there is no point in me talking about it with my players, because they weren’t even born then.”
Had Hodgson’s far-travelled managerial career taken a different turn, Scotland might have been one of the jobs added to his lengthy CV. In 2002, when the SFA were seeking Craig Brown’s successor, he was among those linked with the post before it was fatefully given to Berti Vogts.
“It might have been on my horizon if they’d have offered it to me,” he said. “In 2002, where was I? I’ve tried in the past to play down those so-called linkages, unless a situation has arisen when I’ve been sitting down being interviewed or offered the job. I’m sure you have the information, and it was correct, but I can’t remember too much about it.”
Hodgson is currently rebuilding England’s pride and self-confidence in the wake of their chastening first round exit at the World Cup finals in Brazil. Five consecutive victories this season have helped the process of putting that disappointment behind them.
“The World Cup was a real cold shower for us, a real bad moment,” admitted Hodgson. “I thought we were doing quite a lot of things that were leading up to see what we’d hoped for at the finals. Then we lost our first two matches and we’ve hit a wall, and supposedly we have to start again.
“I don’t think we’ve started again. We did have a massive barrier to get over after the World Cup, because we created that barrier by losing two matches. We erected the fence. But I don’t think we started after the World Cup and have now got somewhere. We’d always been working towards what we’re getting today”.
Both teams will be allowed to use a maximum of six substitutes tonight. Hodgson is prepared to take full advantage of that facility but is keen to stress it will not be at the expense of the level of intensity and commitment England bring to the occasion.
His level of experimentation may extend to adopting a diamond midfield formation but his primary focus is on securing another victory.
“I will probably use all six subs,” he said. “This is the last time we will be together as a squad, training and playing, for a few months. So there are quite a few players who didn’t get a look-in for our game against Slovenia on Saturday who I might want to look at this time. If I make changes or substitutions, it will be for that reason.
“I haven’t been asked by any club manager to spare his players, or anything like that, which I appreciate. When that happens, it puts you in a difficult situation. If you spare one manager’s players, you’re not sparing someone else’s.
“The friendlies we have played in recent times have been against strong opposition – Italy, Sweden, Germany, Ireland and now Scotland for the second time. We’ve chosen to play teams who are capable of beating us. When we have lost a game, we’ve put our hands up and accepted it.
“We have never looked for excuses, such as having made a lot of substitutions in the game. So if we lose to Scotland this time, it will be because we haven’t played well enough or Scotland have been better.
“There are not huge differences in the formations we employ. The players can adapt easily to slight variations. We are working to make sure we understand the principles and not get bogged down. It can’t become like Animal Farm – diamond formation good, other formations bad. We have to use our players to the best advantage and that’s what we’ll try to do against Scotland.”
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