Where were you when Scotland last defeated England? It’s a question likely to have been heard a lot this week as the countdown to Saturday’s vital World Cup qualifier at Hampden continues.
It was asked yesterday of James McArthur, one of those who could be in the fortunate position of emerging as the new hero. McArthur, pictured, was sitting on a bus as he returned from training with St Johnstone youths when he heard the news of Don Hutchison’s winner at Wembley in 1999, which remains the most recent time Scotland triumphed over the Auld Enemy.
“See when you go out on that pitch against England, you’ve got the chance to become a hero for Scotland, and that’s the opportunity that every single player that is playing on Saturday will have,” said McArthur, now 29. “Obviously it’s about trying to stay in the group and try to qualify, and that’s the main aim, but you’ve got the chance to make history. Every time you play against England, it’s famous, and people remember the players who have scored against them down throughout the years, and that’s the opportunity we’ve got.”
Hutchison certainly took his opportunity, heading in Neil McCann’s cross from the left to put Scotland within sight of a thrilling comeback after losing the first leg of the Euro 2000 play-off 2-0.
But while they were not denied victory on their last visit to the old Wembley, Scotland were left frustrated on the night, missing several chances to at least take the tie to extra-time. They haven’t really come close to beating England in the three meetings since, conceding three goals each time.
That has helped make Hutchison’s goal seem even more iconic. “I remember Don Hutchison’s goal, which is always going to stick in my head,” said McArthur. “That’s the chance you’ve got, to stick in the heads of young kids coming up.
“As a boy, you always remember where you were when that goal went in. I was on a bus, I had just finished training and the game was on the radio. It was my first proper Scotland memory.
“I was playing for St Johnstone as a kid at the time, and you’ve got a chance here to make one kid like me one day remember a goal like that.”
“I don’t know what it means for England, but it definitely means so much to us players, so much to the fans, the manager and the staff,” he added.
“It means everything for everyone here. If we got a victory, it would be monumental for the country, not just in relation to qualifying.
“It’s a very, very big game and everyone is looking forward to it.”
While McArthur could not affect the outcome after coming on as a second-half substitute in the most recent defeat at Wembley, the midfielder preserved Scotland’s chances of qualifying for Russia with a late equaliser against Lithuania in October.
This was one of six goals he has scored this season as he helped Crystal Palace secure their Premier League survival under Sam Allardyce, who has since left Selhurst Park. Allardyce, who was sacked by England in September after just one game in charge, had not taken over at Palace when Scotland faced England at Wembley in November. But McArthur revealed Allardyce was keeping quiet about the forthcoming re-match, perhaps understandably. “I was winding him up more than he was me,” he said. “He is Scottish really because his family is from Scotland so I like giving him a bit of banter about that.”
McArthur is happy with his form going into tomorrow’s clash, when he might have to accept another substitute’s role. But he’s hopeful he has given Gordon Strachan something to consider when pondering his starting options in midfield.
“When you get tense and are under major pressure you can either tighten up or relax and look forward to the occasion,” said McArthur.
“It all looks very relaxed but also with people trying to give the manager a decision to make about them playing or being ready to come on.”
“Overall, I think I can be happy with my season,” he added. “I scored five goals and got a goal for my country. I’ve added a good bit to my game. I got an injury to my back and I probably wasn’t the same player when I came back, but after that wee rest there I feel very refreshed.
“I’m training well and really loving it again.”