CRAIG Brown’s Wembley memories stretch back further than most. Fifty years ago, he made the pilgrimage south for the first time with his Dundee team-mates and watched Jim Baxter score twice in a famous 2-1 win.
“Everyone had a Wembley club in those days,” he recalls. “You put a few bob in every week to save up for the trip to Wembley to watch Scotland every two years. That 1963 game was my first time.”
A few years later, when he was playing for Falkirk, Brown found the jaunt south costing him more than he bargained for. High jinks in London were not confined solely to the Tartan Army.
“Falkirk took the whole squad down and gave us each ten bob and a ticket for the game,” he smiles. “Guys like John Lambie, Ian Hunter and Dougie Moran were among my team-mates and there are a few tales I can’t repeat!
“Suffice to say the Falkirk secretary wasn’t too impressed by our conduct in the hotel the night before the game. He got the bus driver to take us to Wembley at 10am on matchday. We found our way to a restaurant where Lambie and company made a sharp exit and left me with the bill.
“I didn’t have enough to pay it and briefly thought about doing a runner, but I stumped up what I could and gave them my name and address to collect the rest. That was an expensive trip.”
Little could Brown have envisaged then that he would one day be in charge of Scotland beneath the famous Twin Towers. He did it twice, first at Euro 96 when Gary McAllister’s penalty spot failure and Paul Gascoigne’s individual brilliance combined fatefully in a 2-0 defeat.
Brown remains the last manager to enjoy a victory at Wembley in the world’s oldest international fixture. But that 1-0 win back on 17 November 1999 remains a bitter-sweet memory, Don Hutchison’s winner not enough to cancel out England’s 2-0 success at Hampden four days earlier in the first leg of the Euro 2000 qualifying play-off.
He remains convinced that had the SPL not scheduled an Old Firm fixture immediately before the play-off games, Paul Scholes would not have been afforded the time and space he was given to score both English goals in Glasgow.
“Paul Lambert was our best player at that time,” he reflects. “Playing for Celtic against Rangers just a few days before the Hampden game against England, Paul lost four teeth when he smashed his face in an accidental clash with Jorg Albertz.
“It was frustrating that an Old Firm game had been scheduled at that time, because players always expend so much energy in those games and there is an after-effect for international managers to deal with. So the fixture schedule didn’t help us.
“Losing Paul was a major blow because he would have been our anchor man in midfield. There is no way Scholes would have scored two goals if Lambert had been playing, I’m certain of that. We kept clean sheets in games against Holland during my time, once in Euro 96 and another in a friendly in Arnhem, because Lambert marked Dennis Bergkamp and never gave him a kick of the ball.
“Having said that, our midfield players were excellent when we won the second leg at Wembley. Barry Ferguson, in particular, was brilliant that night. He ran the game down there and I’d say it was the best I ever saw him play, either for Scotland or any club side.”
Brown will be at Wembley tomorrow night for the resumption of a rivalry he still relishes with considerable fervour.
“England’s not England, England is ‘them’,” he says. “You’re not beating England, you’re beating ‘them’.
“That’s been the traditional feeling. I was involved in seven games against England, as assistant manager and manager, and any time we played England I would hear fans telling me they didn’t care if we lost every other game, so long as we beat them.
“That was the perception, the fans were desperate to beat them. It’s still the same. We beat Germany away from home when I was manager but that didn’t get the same plaudits as beating England. That was the ultimate.”
• Craig Brown is driving to Wembley, via Sheffield for tonight’s under-21 international, and will share his memories and anecdotes along the way on Scotland’s YouTube channel at youtube.com/scotlandnationalteam