Provan sees no need for regular Auld Enemy games

Davie Provan: Wembley memory. Picture: SNS
Davie Provan: Wembley memory. Picture: SNS
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THERE will be no “Wembley weekend” for Scotland supporters travelling down to the home of English football courtesy of next week’s game between the great rivals having a Wednesday night slot. It was once the tradition for the fixture.

Then again, there wasn’t supposed to be a Wembley weekend for Scots when the two teams met in the home internationals in the London capital in 1981, but it is seared into Davie Provan’s consciousness that thousands of his countrymen – almost exclusively men – savoured the biennial sortie.

By the end of the 1970s, they were doing so in mortifying fashion. The Tartan Army then weren’t the boozy bonhomie merchants of present-day repute but drunken louts who trashed tube stations, fountains and the terracings under the twin towers. If the goalpost-buckling and turf-tearing of 1977 had a certain japery about it, the wanton destruction of 1979 that brought 349 arrests, 144 further ejections from the ground and a pitch invasion that forced the game to be temporarily stopped did not. As a result, come 1981 English FA secretary Ted Croker slapped a ban on Scotland fans buying tickets.

“Then when we came out of the tunnel that day there were about 60,000 Scotland fans with their Lion Rampants waving,” recalls Provan, who modestly says that the ball he played for Steve Archibald to win a penalty when bundled over by Bryan Robson – subsequently converted by John Robertson to secure a 1-0 victory – was “the only thing I did in the whole game”. “It was incredible, it was like a home game. Gordon McQueen had warned me what it was going to be like but it was an amazing sight to walk out in the home of English football and see so many Scots there. And to beat them is something that stays in your mind. To go to Wembley Stadium and win as a Scot is terrific.”

More terrific than for an Englishman inflicting defeat on the team from north of the border. There has been much chat of reinstating the Auld Enemy fixture ... from within these borders. Provan, a respected analyst with Sky, is not a believer in a yearly return for an encounter being played next week as part of the events to mark the English FA’s 150th year. The former Celtic winger is not one of those oblivious to the fact that England would rather play more glamorous and worthwhile opponents than a team that could be another generation away from competing in a major finals as they last did 15 years ago.

“I’m looking forward to the game [but] I don’t see any need to bring it back on a regular summer basis because both teams are usually going to be weakened at that time of the season. But it’s been so long since we’ve played them [1999] it will be great, and particularly coming off the back of the Croatia result, which was a real shot in the arm for every one of us. We go there in half decent shape and it would be great to go down there are beat them again.

“Traditionally our best results have come at the start of the season. Our players are going to be fresh and it would be great to go down there and give the FA a happy birthday by beating them. They do have a rather disparaging opinion of the Scottish game, at the moment anyway, and it would be great to go down there and beat them.

“[They don’t want to play us every year, though]. They didn’t want to play us in the Celtic Nation’s Cup in Dublin. It didn’t interest them. But with the history between the two nations it’s apt that Scotland have been invited to play in these celebrations. Because it happens so rarely it’s a game everyone is looking forward to.”