IT WAS the greatest moment of Don Hutchison’s football career – and one of the proudest moments of his father’s life.
Relatively few Scots have played against England, and fewer still gone on to score the winning goal against their oldest rivals, but Hutchison achieved that feat at Wembley in 1999, nodding in the only goal of the game in a play-off for the European Championships the following year.
Born in Gateshead, Hutchison had been brought up by his dad, Douglas, to dream of turning out for Scotland. So that night 14 years ago was special for both men, as Hutchison recalled yesterday on a visit to Glasgow.
“My dad was a miner,” he said. “He was 6’4’’ and he was a man’s man. He never really showed any emotion when I was growing up as a kid.
“The only time I ever saw him with a tear in his eye was at Wembley after that game. And he didn’t need to say anything. I could see that his eyes were red.
“I only saw him for 20 seconds before I went into the dressing-room. Obviously, I met him again in the players’ lounge afterwards.
“He didn’t have to say anything: I was able to tell by his body language that he was really proud.
“Not long after that he passed away. I always left a ticket for him, a spare for the game. So it was sad when he passed away, but I think that night I made him immensely proud.
“It was through him that I qualified for Scotland – he was born in Nairn. He helped make me feel Scottish. When I was a kid on holiday at the likes of Butlins I would be the only one with a Scotland top on.
“It was never like a choice between England and Scotland for me. It was always Scotland. I had the top and that was what my dad wanted me to do if I was ever lucky enough to play football at that level. It was a natural thing and it was always going to be Scotland for me.”
The jubilation had a bittersweet side to it, of course. Having lost the home leg 2-0, Scotland lost the tie on aggregate and so failed to qualify for Euro 2000.
“I was one of the last ones to come through the dressing- room,” Hutchison continued. “I was wanting to go in there and celebrate. But I looked around the rooms and all the lads were crying. They were sitting down, heads down, beaten.
“There was a bigger picture – we didn’t go through. So it was a really bizarre feeling inside, that I wanted to celebrate but knew I couldn’t, because we had been beaten over two legs.
“You could celebrate it in the days after that, recognise the win as a good achievement. At the time, though, that wasn’t really possible.”
Even so, that match represented the pinnacle of his career for a man who ended up with 26 caps, and played for Liverpool, West Ham and Everton in a club career that stretched for almost two decades.
“Absolutely tops,” the 42-year-old, now a television pundit, said when asked where that Wembley win rated. “I had a decent career, played football in the Premier League, one of the best in the world, and did okay.
“But, internationally, that is where you judge yourself. What were you like playing for your country?
“I feel sad that I never played more than 26 times, but maybe I wasn’t good enough at the time. Perhaps I only got in my prime when I was 28, 29. But that’s certainly tops for me.”
Tomorrow night’s match at Wembley will be the first meeting of the two countries since 1999 and Hutchison, who will be there, sees no reason why Gordon Strachan’s team should not have a realistic expectation of a positive result. “It would be great if Scotland go down there and put on attacking performance.
“I think Gordon will. They should be open but not too open, because you don’t want to go down to Wembley and get done two or three. I know Gordon as a man and as a coach and I feel he will go there with youth in mind and try a few things. I would be delighted if Scotland walk away with a win.
“It’s going to be hard. I’m not saying we’re going to trounce England by two or three goals. If Scotland get a draw that would be a good result, but I don’t see any reason why we can’t go and get the win.”
And if Scotland do win – or even merely manage a goal – Hutchison will no longer be our last player to have scored at Wembley. All the same, that night will remain special, not only for the man himself, but for the thousands of supporters who still remind him of it at every opportunity. As if he needed reminding.
“I remember my goal, obviously. I remember Neil McCann crossing it – he had a great game. Barry Ferguson actually had an easier chance than mine from a McCann cross, so we knew that his pace, trickery and crossing from the left would be a threat.
“He played against Sol Campbell that night – and he tore him to shreds. It was the perfect delivery, I hung in the air and, lucky enough for me and the team, it went in the back of the net.
“People still mention it all the time. I’m on Twitter and Instagram – and all week people have been on there telling me it was one of the best nights of their lives. I always say: ‘Yeah, me too, I echo that. It was my pleasure.’
“A lot of the Scotland fans say it’s one of the best nights they’ve ever had. I feel lucky to be part of that.”