Failure in football sometimes can be worth a crust, however difficult that can be to swallow. An England-Scotland clash at Wembley as awaits on Friday evening will always be accompanied by Gary McAllister being asked to chew over his penalty miss at Euro 96.
The former Scotland midfielder accepts “that will never go away” and it is something he “has to live with”. At least the 51-year-old didn’t attempt to cut himself a slice of cash courtesy of his spot-kick being saved by David Seaman to pave the way for an England victory in June 1996.
McAllister’s penalty wasn’t the most famous to be blocked by a goalkeeper at Wembley in the tournament. That dubious honour belongs to the man who will be managing England this week, Gareth Southgate. His sudden-death slip-up in the semi-final shoot-out allowed Germany to end what Terry Venables’ stylish side, and their nation, had started to tell themselves was an end to 30 years of hurt.
The hurt felt by Southgate appeared to dissipate faster than that still felt by McAllister, though. Soon afterwards he was appearing with a paper bag over his head in a jokey Pizza Hut commercial with fellow penalty miss-creants (there are many plays on the word ‘miss’ in the ad) from previous tournaments Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle. The sort of brown paper bag, indeed, in which you could stuff the sort of wad that such a cash-in secures.
McAllister admits that exploiting his Wembley spot-kick suffering in similar fashion to Southgate could have happened had he not been troubled by the thought of doing so. “There were a few things mooted, but I shied away from that,” the 59-times capped Scotland midfielder said. “It wasn’t a situation that I wanted to ridicule. It is a bad memory.”
Southgate could be a bad memory for the England faithful – though not as much as his one-game predecessor Sam Allardyce – if Scotland this week can somehow make a virtue of the vulnerabilities that patently exist within Gordon Strachan’s opponents. McAllister, based in England from where he performs an ambassadorial role for Liverpool, believes those of us in this country consumed by Scotland’s plight underestimate the parallels south of the Border.
If massive underdogs Scotland cannot put the bite on their most illustrious neighbours, Strachan will be expected to consider his position. If they do, though, Southgate will not be considered for his position. A scraped draw in Slovenia that followed a wholly unimpressive 2-0 home win over Malta has hardly provided a great first half to the four-game try-out for the post that ensued from Allardyce’s indiscretions.
Scotland’s myriad shortcomings in the desperate defeat in Slovakia that followed a last-gasp draw at home to Lithuania suggest strongly they should not give many problems to an England team with top-class talents in practically every area. Yet if they do, there might be calls for Southgate to hook up with Allardyce, Stuart Pearce, Peter Taylor and Howard Wilkinson in some fast-food ad as those who have quickly come and gone in helming their country.
“Gareth Southgate is a man I admire, but it is a big shift up from where he’s been to where he is now. There’s a lot of pressure on England. It will build and build as we go away from the league games and build up for this international break. It is 16, 18 pages of all the papers down the road. Who’s playing? Is it Rooney? Is it this one or that one? You would have to say that, if results don’t go well for him against us and Spain in a friendly, that will be the barometer for him. It is top-end football and it comes with pressure.”
McAllister is a close friend of Strachan – they were team-mates in Leeds United’s 1992 league-winning side – and was invited to training before the ill-starred double-header last month that has left the country, by the manager’s own admission, needing “birdies” to get World Cup prospects back on track.
“I was surprised by both results,” he said. “I think there will be a reaction at Wembley. We go there as underdogs but we’ll definitely up our game. The last few times I’ve been there watching Scotland we’ve played well.
“I can see something similar happening this time. England aren’t playing well. Confidence isn’t high there either. So it’s two teams who maybe aren’t playing particularly well. We all know what the situation is with England as well so the pressure is definitely on them as the home side. For England, it’s a conundrum that’s been going on for the last three or four major tournaments. On paper they look as good as anyone in the world right through the team. But when they come together it doesn’t seem to happen for them and nobody can really put their finger on why. They’ve tried different types of managers: foreigners, Kevin Keegan who was the people’s man, they’ve had tacticians – and they’ve always underachieved. But knowing the guys that I’m watching closely, the Liverpool players [Jordan Henderson, Nathaniel Clyne and Adam Lallana], they’ll go into it full of confidence. But something seems to happen when certain players pull on the white of England.”
McAllister is sure Strachan can delve deep to pull something from his modest squad because of rage he will be feeling inside at the recent turn of events for Scotland that have marked regression as he passes three-and-a-half years in charge.
“Gordon’s a bad loser. I played with him for six years at Leeds and he didn’t like even losing in the five-a-side on a Friday morning. He’s hurting, that’s obvious, but he’s really embraced this job. He’s really comfortable in this role as Scotland manager. He enjoys the fact that he can spend time with his family and the job isn’t every day of every week.
“So when they meet up he can’t wait to get going again. So after this wait since the last two games, he’s itching to get the lads back together again to put things right. Those were two disappointing results and you can’t hide from that. I know Gordon well and I can tell just by his face what he’s going through. When he was in the job at Celtic I could tell facially the ups and downs he was going through then, just as I could with Ally McCoist – another old pal – when he was Rangers manager. It’s all written on their faces. But Gordon is enjoying this job. It’s a big honour to manage your country.”
Both managing and playing for your country should be honours too great to become cheesy over for the sake of easy money, indeed.