How Scotland silenced England’s ‘pop stars’

Scotland celebrate the victory over England in 1985. Photograph: SNS
Scotland celebrate the victory over England in 1985. Photograph: SNS
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The firsts and lasts abound when it comes to Scotland’s defeat of England at Hampden on 25 May, 1985. Not least because this Saturday Gordon Strachan’s men will seek to replace the 1-0 win that day as the last time the national side defeated its oldest footballing adversary on home soil.

The meeting in 1985 was the first between the nations subsequent to the demise of the home internationals the previous year. It also marked a first outing at Hampden in dark blue for 22-year-old Maurice Malpas, and a first taste for him of the game’s oldest fixture. It was to be the last time the Dundee United full-back sampled victory in it. But then he was not alone. No member of the Scotland camp that afternoon ever again felt what it was like to get one over on the old enemy.

That included manager Jock Stein, whose death in Cardiff just under four months later made the success over England – the only one of his two spells in charge – also the last time he would lead his nation out at Hampden.

Malpas can recall how Stein made sure that pre-match chatter about the game would prove bogus. For there were fears the absence of the home internationals would reduce it to an exhibition-style contest. The concerns resulted from the fixture being the first to be played as the Rous Cup. The pursuit of silverware (named after former English FA secretary and Fifa president Sir Stanley Rous) was supposed to add spice. The reality was, though, that no extra seasoning was ever going to be required as Scotland set about claiming the, mere, five-year contested trophy for the first and last time.

“I’d love to say that we wanted to be the first winners of the Rous Cup, but it didn’t figure; we were playing England and when we Scots play England, beating England is all that matters. And it mattered to Big Jock that we beat England,” said Malpas, whose only previous cap then had come a year earlier in a friendly defeat away to France.

It was Malpas who early on disabused any observers of the notion that the clash had the potential to slip into end-of-season friendly slop. He did so by cementing Sampdoria’s Trevor Francis... to earn a yellow card from French referee Michel Vautrot and roars of approval from the Scots making up the vast majority of the 66,439 crowd. They would later provide nastiness all of their own when England fans who had bought tickets for the home east terracing required to be removed for their own safety amid scuffles. In Malpas mollicating Francis, he was simply following orders to create his own personal scrap.

“Big Jock had me wound up in the dressing room before it. He said to me ‘right you are up against a player who is quick, is skilful, but doesn’t like the physical stuff. That means the boy needs to be kicked, son’. And when Big Jock tells you to kick someone, you do your best to see it through.

“I’m not boasting about this, but it was just the way the game was at that time. For the first five or ten minutes of a game you would be allowed to go in hard on an opponent. Against Francis, I got the chance to do that, and took it. After that he seemed to disappear over to the other wing and later in the game Chrissy Waddle came on to play on my side. I don’t know if I made things better or worse for myself.”

Malpas admits he adopted an “us against the world” attitude when “playing the pop stars” – as he always thought of games against the more feted English performers. Yet, although the visitors could boast such as Milan pair Ray Wilkins and Mark Hateley and luminaries of their domestic game in Bryan Robson, Glenn Hoddle, Terry Butcher, John Barnes and Peter Shilton, Scotland were hardly slouches.

Steve Archibald featured straight after having helped Barcelona to the title as the club’s replacement for Diego Maradona, with Graeme Souness then at Sampdoria and Strachan with Manchester United. Chelsea’s David Speedie earned a debut, with Malpas the other relative newcomer in a team that leaned heavily on the home grown with his United defensive colleague Richard Gough, the Aberdeen triangle of Willie Miller, Alex McLeish and Jim Leighton, with Celtic captain Roy Aitken a midfield enforcer to allow Souness to play passes.

“It was never a game that would be about playing silky soccer, never our strength, but about giving everything with that crowd roaring us on. Unbelievable noise came from those old high slopes of Hampden, and this game was the one the punters wanted to win, had thought about us winning, all year.”

A tight encounter was settled by a Richard Gough header midway through the second period as Scotland’s force of will allowed them to prevail. Malpas, who would later captain his country during a 55-cap career, felt that May day a real sense of being the boyhood fan who had achieved an ambition by helping Scotland defeat England. Immediately, though, attentions were required to turn to a World Cup qualifier away to Iceland on the Tuesday.

“Big Jock didn’t say much in the dressing room afterwards,” he said. “He didn’t have to, since the win meant job done. My memory is that we flew out to Iceland the same night, on a real happy flight, and within 24 hours were sitting in hot geysers. I would call it a bath; today they would say between-match regeneration.”

It worked, with another 1-0 win recorded that kept World Cup qualification hopes firmly on course. Malpas, like most, remembers the night for Souness’s shocking tackle on Siggi Jonsson. He has different reasons for doing so, though, with the victim later his United team-mate. “Siggi used to talk about having watched our England win at Hampden and admiring Graeme, only for him to be breaking his leg days later,” he said.

Tragic events within football across 1985 led Malpas to consider Scotland supporters’ memories of their team’s last home soil England win were firmly overtaken. Only four days later the Heysel Stadium disaster occurred. That resulted in the loss of 39 lives, mostly Juventus and Italian fans, before 
the European Cup final with Liverpool and led to a five-year
Uefa ban for all English clubs. The death of Stein as Scotland made it to the World Cup play-offs with the narrowest win away to the Welsh in September is what Malpas believes all followers of the national team are drawn to when they remember 1985. As he is, even if it was the year he cemented his status as first choice for his country.

“Everybody loved Big Jock. I loved him. I was intimidated by him but, having being used to Jim McLean and his many systems at club level, I appreciated the fact that Jock kept it straightforward and had simple instructions about what he expected of you in any game.

“And I’ll never forget the year before and being in the airport after United had lost to Roma in the European Cup semi-final. Jock had been invited as a guest of United and he called me over. When he did I was peeing myself, but he then stood and spoke to me for 15 minutes, telling me how well I had been doing, and how I would get my chance for Scotland. He was as good as his word in giving me my debut against France shortly afterwards. I was a fortunate boy to have the chance to speak to him like that, and a fortunate boy to play a few games under him.”