England v Scotland: The top five Wembley wonders

Scotland fans on the Wembley turf in 1977. Picture: TSPL
Scotland fans on the Wembley turf in 1977. Picture: TSPL
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Ahead of Wednesday’s Auld Enemy clash, Matt Vallance concludes his look at the Scots’ victories in London with his top five picks

Fifth Place: England 1 Scotland 2

George Young and Billy Wright in 1949

George Young and Billy Wright in 1949

1977: Wembley Mayhem

Fifth place goes to the 2-1 win in 1977 – also known as the day the cross-bars came down and the pitch was dug up.

This wasn’t manager Ally MacLeod’s team – every Scottish player that day owed his status as an international player to the former gaffer, Willie Ormond, as Ally admitted post-match. However, Ally, still the new man in the job, through his infectious enthusiasm, had given the squad a lift and new belief. The Scots went into the game on the back of a four-game unbeaten run; new skipper Bruce Rioch gave a great lead, Don Masson ran the midfield, and, man for man, the Scottish team was better than England’s.

However, allegedly “better” Scotland teams have lost to supposedly-inferior English opposition, particularly at ­Wembley. Scotland hadn’t won there for a decade, so this still has to go down as an excellent Scotland win.

Jim Baxter is mobbed in 1967. Picture: PA

Jim Baxter is mobbed in 1967. Picture: PA

Gordon McQueen’s opener, just before the break, gave belief and impetus and, if Kenny Dalglish’s somewhat scrappy winner, on the hour, wasn’t his best-ever goal, it killed off England. The fact is, at the end of the 1976-77 season, that Scotland team was one of the top squads in Europe and had their trip to South America in 1977 been to the World Cup finals, rather than a recce for the real thing a year on – Scottish history might be a whole lot different.

This was a super win, but, like so many Scottish wins over the years, the timing was wrong.

Fourth Place: England 0 Scotland 1

1938: Made in Preston

In fourth place is the overlooked 1-0 win of 1938. That year is a strange one. Internationally, it was dominated by Neville Chamberlain and his trip to Munich to meet Adolf Hitler. In Scotland, the big story was probably the Empire ­Exhibition in Bellahouston Park.

Football-wise, 1938 was a very good year for Scotland, who went through it, not only unbeaten, but, winning every game. Beating England at Wembley was the third match in a seven-game ­unbeaten run and the second in a run of six straight wins. We have only had one year since, 1949, during which we won every game we played.

Just as when Scotland had last won in London, in 1928, the Home International Championship had gone, the team was playing for pride. Again, as in 1928, the selectors rang the changes for the game, discarding eight of the admittedly experimental team which had, last time out in December, 1937, thrashed Czechoslovakia 5-0 at Hampden. They picked four new caps, of whom goalkeeper David Cumming and inside left George Mutch would gain their only caps in a Wembley win and a third debutant, John Milne of Middlesbrough would win one more. The fourth newcomer, the right half, one William Shankly of Preston North End did, end up doing rather well for himself, but, he was damned with faint praise on his debut: “Shankly all through was industrious. He gave all he had. But I don’t think he has just enough to make a national player yet”, wrote the legendary RE “Rex” Kingsley in the Sunday Post.

So, why should a game, won by a sixth-minute Tommy Walker goal, have been so overlooked? Well, the timing wasn’t good – the world was preparing for war and sport wasn’t as important then as now. Still, this was a good England team, Eddie Hapgood, Stan Cullis, Stanley ­Matthews and Cliff Bastin were world-class, while, as he would prove with five goals against Ireland later that year, Willie Hall of Spurs knew the way to goal

Also, in truth, this wasn’t the strongest team the Scotland selectors might have picked; no Jimmy Delaney or Bob McPhail for instance. On paper, England had the stronger side. However, the underdogs, on the back of team spirit – four of the winning team were Preston North End team-mates, while a fifth had only just left the club – won. It was a better result than perhaps realised at the time.

Third Place: England 1 Scotland 3

1949: Jimmy Cowan’s Match

Third place goes to the 1949 winners of “Jimmy Cowan’s Match”, and that title explains why this win doesn’t rank higher. But for Cowan’s heroics during England’s opening fusilade in the first half-hour, the game might have been over with Scotland crushed before the break.

However, Cowan, the Paisley Buddie who played for Morton and who was “discovered” by the Scottish selectors when he had an outstanding game as the British Army of the Rhine beat a Scotland XI in 1946, soared to the heights. Gradually the Rangers trio of George Young, Sammy Cox and Willie Woodburn got on top of England’s danger-men, Tom Finney, Stan Matthews and Jackie Milburn and, with Bobby Evans, George Aitken, Jimmy Mason and Billy Steel winning the midfield battle and Bill Houliston’s unorthodox “rummel-em up” style putting the fear of God into the normally unperturbable Frank Swift and Neil Franklin, Scotland’s star rose.

Third Lanark’s Mason gave Scotland a half-time lead, Steel made it 2-0 early in the second, then, just after the hour, Reilly, who was playing outside left rather than his usual centre-forward position, scored the first of his six international goals against England to complete the win. In an ideal world, Milburn wouldn’t have scored a 75th-minute England consolation, denying Cowan his shut-out.

The victory gave Scotland the Home International Championship for the first time since 1936.

It was proof that, after the misery of the war-time internationals and a dire start to post-war ­international football, Scotland was back on-track and it sparked-off a very good year, Scotland would win this and the other three ­internationals they played during 1949. That day, Scotland beat a very-good ­England team, and beat them well.

Second Place: England 2 Scotland 3

1967: Unofficial World Champions

In second place is the 1967 win – the one by which we became “Unofficial World Champions”.

This one could have taken top spot, had the Scots’ shooting been better and had they been able to maintain their first-half momentum throughout the second. This was a decent Scotland team beating a very good England team with ease and indeed, a composite team chosen from the 22 men who were on the park that day would probably have included a minimum of six Scots to five Englishmen.

As it transpired, the respective go-to players: Greig, Bremner, Baxter and Law for Scotland and Banks, Moore, Charlton and Ball for England all played to form – but Scotland’s less-celebrated players, the full-backs, Ronnie McKinnon, Willie Wallace and Bobby Lennox for instance, played better than their English counterparts.

Perhaps Baxter’s: “Let’s humiliate them 1-0,” plan, in hindsight wasn’t the best one. Denis Law’s idea of “beating them with goals” would have sent a real ­message about Scotland’s class around the world. In 100 years time, a historian looking at the records will see only a narrow, single-goal win – the reality was much different – it could, indeed should, have seen more Scottish goals.

This match was the occasion on which Ramsey began to realise his World ­Cup-winners had reached the time to break-up. When the sides next met, at Hampden, ten-and-a-half months later, George Cohen, Nobby Stiles, Jack Charlton and Jimmy Greaves had gone from the England team – but only Baxter had left from the Scotland side.

The match was, uniquely then in the annals of Wembley clashes, about something more than the Home Internationals, it was also a European Championship qualifier. Granted, Scotland won the game, but, we lost the “war” since England ­qualified at our expense.

We won, but, strip away the emotion from the occasion and, against ten-and- a-half Englishmen – Jackie Charlton was a hirpling passenger for more than an hour, yet still managed to score – we perhaps ought to have done better.

Our team that day contained four Lisbon Lions – that’s some backbone; the two Rangers players would also play in a European final that season. We had Billy Bremner, arguably the best midfielder in English football at that time; we had Denis Law, arguably the best striker in Europe, and, we had Baxter – already on the road to self-destruction, but able on that afternoon to summon-up one last defiant act against the dying of his football light. That team wanted to win.

Against a team struggling without their centre-half, even if that team had won the World Cup a year previously, a 5-2 win would not have been too much to expect. To only win 3-2 wasn’t that great a result and against any other team, wouldn’t have elicited much comment. But, we did beat the World Champions, on their home ground, so that wins this game second spot.

First Place: England 1 Scotland 5

1928: The Wembley Wizards

Finally, the No 1, Scotland’s greatest Wembley win. No question, it has to be: the first, in 1928. This result, winning 5-1, isn’t merely our biggest and most comprehensive at the north London venue; it is the one against which all the rest have been measured, and found lacking.

We were raised on tales of the small Scottish forwards, not one of them taller than five-foot-seven, running rings round the giant England defenders, of Scottish skill beating English brawn, of intricate passing patters on a rain-sodden surface.

Alex Jackson scored Scotland’s only Wembley hat-trick, goals in 3, 65 and 85 minutes; Alex James got the other two in 44 and 66 minutes, while Bob Kelly got England’s late consolation goal in the last-minute. How simple it all seems.

We know of skipper Jimmy Mc­Mullan’s pre-match orders to his troops: “Go to bed and pray for rain”, which duly arrived. The match ball, secreted off the park stuffed up the jumper of goalkeeper Jack Harkness is now arguably the single most-valuable artefact that resides within Hampden’s Museum.

Yet, as with so many great Scottish wins, this was a hollow one. England and Scotland weren’t playing for the Home International Championship, but, to avoid the wooden spoon. Wales had already won the Championship, Ireland would finish second and Scotland third.

The Times of London lauded the Scottish performance on the Monday morning. Under a two-deck headline: “ENGLAND OUTPLAYED” – “Scotland’s comfortable victory”, they called the ­result: “not so much defeat for England, as humiliation”.

“It was the strength of their half -back line, coupled with the weakness of England’s which gave them such an emphatic victory”, the most-influential newspaper in the country went on, ­demonstrating, then as today, midfield mastery wins matches.

Waxing lyrical, The Times’ man at the game almost became carried-away as he wrote: “There was a period in the second half when the Scottish football verged on the ballroom, Scottish players taking and giving their passes at a walking pace, ­underlining with crystal emphasis the ease with which they could draw the English defence out of position”.

The team, who were never again ­chosen as one – Harkness, Nelson and Law, Gibson, Bradshaw and McMullan, Jackson, Dunne, Gallacher, James and Morton – became Legends: ‘The Wembley Wizards’. In real terms, however, the match mattered little.

How typically, perversely Scottish – a game that didn’t matter became our greatest football moment.

Our list in full

1 1928: The Wembley Wizards England 1 Scotland 5 (Jackson 3, 65, 85, James 44, 65)

2 1967: Unofficial World Champions England 2 Scotland 3 (Law 27, Lennox 78, McCalliog 87)

3 1949: Jimmy Cowan’s Match England 1 Scotland 3 (Mason 28, Steel 52, Reilly 61)

4 1938: Made In Preston England 0 Scotland 1 (Walker 38)

5 1977: Wembley Mayhem England 1 Scotland 2 (McQueen 43 Dalglish 60)

6 1963: Ten Men Win England 1 Scotland 2 (Baxter 29, 31 pen)

7 1951: Mannion Carried Off England 2 Scotland 3 (Johnstone 33, Reilly 47, Liddell 53)

8 1999: Too-Little, Too-Late England 0 Scotland 1 (Hutchison 39)

9 1981: Robbo’s Penalty England 0 Scotland 1 (Robertson 64 pen)

Facts and figures


Only 35 Scots from 20 different clubs have scored at Wembley in internationals

Rangers have provided the most goalscorers with four, Jimmy Fleming (1930), Davie Wilson (1961), Jim Baxter (1963) and Colin Stein (1969).

Preston North End – Alex James (1928), Andy McLaren (1947) and Tommy Docherty (1955) have provided three, as have Hibs – Lawrie Reilly, pictured right, (1949-51-53-55), Bobby Johnstone (1951) and Pat Quinn (1961).

Clubs to provide two have been Celtic, with Bobby Lennox (1967) and Kenny Dalglish (1977), Derby County – Billy Steel (1949) and Bruce Rioch (1975) and Liverpool – Billy Liddell (1951) and Ian St John (1965). Denis Law, who scored in 1961 and 1967 is the only Manchester United player to have scored for Scotland at Wembley.

The individual goalscorers were: Willie Cowan (Newcastle United, 1924), Alec Jackson (Huddersfield Town, three in 1928), Tommy Walker (Hearts, 1936 and 1938), Jimmy Mason (Third Lanark 1949), Tommy Ring (Clyde, 1957), Dave Mackay (Tottenham, 1961), Jim McCalliog (Sheff Wed, 1967), Hugh Curran (Wolves, 1971), Gordon McQueen (Leeds, 1977), John Wark (Ipswich, 1979), John Robertson (Nottingham Forest, 1981), Graeme Souness (Sampdoria, 1986) and Don Hutchison (Everton, 1999).

Newcastle’s Willie Cowan was the first Scot to score at Wembley, in 1924 on his only Scotland appearance. This was also the first international goal to be scored at the ground.

Don Hutchison, in 1999, was the last Scot to score there.

Lawrie Reilly (1949, 1951, 1953 and 1955) is the only Scot to score in four consecutive Wembley appearances. Reilly also played in 1957, making him the only Scot to make five consecutive appearances in the fixture.

Willie Cowan (1924), Andy McLaren (1947), Bobby Johnstone (1951) and Jim McCalliog (1967) are the only players to make scoring debuts for Scotland at Wembley.

Scotland’s earliest Wembley goal was Tommy Ring’s first-minute effort which gave us the lead in the 1957 game, the latest was “Last Minute” Lawrie Reily’s 89th-minute equaliser in 1953.

Scotland failed to score in seven Wembley matches – those of 1932, 1934, 1959, 1973, 1983, 1988 and 1996. They kept a clean sheet in three matches, in 1938, 1981 and 1999.

Scotland have scored three or more Wembley goals in just five games, the victories in 1928, 1949, 1951 and 1967 and the 9-3 defeat in 1961.


Twenty-three Scots have captained their country at Wembley. Of these, nine have been Rangers players: Davie Meiklejohn (1930), Jimmy Simpson (1936), George Brown (1938), Jock Shaw (1947), George Young (1949, 51, 53 and 57), Eric Caldow (1963), John Greig (1967), Sandy Jardine (1975) and Colin Hendry (1999). There have been four Celtic captains at Wembley: Bobby Evans (1959), Billy McNeill (1965), Danny McGrain (1981) and Roy Aitken (1988).

Leeds with Billy Bremner (1969 and 1971) and Gary McAllister (1996) and Liverpool, Kenny Dalglish (1979) and Graeme Souness (1983), are the only other clubs to have supplied more than one captain at Wembley.

George Young captained Scotland at Wembley on the most occasions, four (1949, 1951, 1953, 1957). Jimmy McMullan (1924 and 1928), Eric Caldow (1961 and 1963), Billy Bremner (1969 and 1973) and Graeme Souness, pictured below, (1983 and 1986) are the only other players to have twice captained Scotland at Wembley.

Souness’s penalty goal in 1986 is the only one scored by a serving Scotland captain at Wembley, although Rioch had scored in 1975 when Sandy Jardine led the side.


Wembley has been refered to as: “The Graveyard of Scottish goalkeepers. Jack Harkness (1930), Fred Martin (1955), Frank Haffey (1961) and Stewart Kennedy (1975) all lost five or more goals at Wembley. Harkness played in the 5-1 win in 1928 and the 5-2 defeat two years later.

Bill Brown (1959-63-65), and Alan Rough (1977-81-86) are the only Scottish goalkeepers to make three Wembley appearances.

Dave Cumming (1938), Alan Rough (1977) and Neil Sullivan (1999) are the only Scottish goalkeepers to have kept a clean sheet at Wembley.

Twenty-two different goalkeepers, from 16 different clubs, have back-stopped Scotland teams at Wembley. Rangers have supplied four keeper: Tam Hamilton (1932), Jerry Dawson (1936), Stewart Kennedy (1975) and Andy Goram (1996). Celtic have also supplied four, Willie Miller (1947), Frank Haffey, pictured left, (1961), Ronnie Simpson (1967) and Ally Hunter (1973). Aberdeen have supplied three, Fred Martin (1955), Bobby Clark (1971) and Jim Leighton, (1983 and 1988).

Only two Hibernian goalkeepers, Willie Harper in 1924 and Alan Rough in 1986 played for Scotland at Wembley while with the club. However, Willie Miller (1947), George Farm (1953), Tommy Younger (1957), Simpson, Jim Herriot (1969), Goram and Leighton also played for Hibs.

Jock Stein, no great supporter of goalkeepers, believed that Frank Haffey was only at fault for three of Scotland’s nine goals conceded in the 1961 match. Yet, ever since, Haffey has carried the can for the record defeat.