Neil McCann knows how it feels to look at the big names on England’s teamsheet and fear the worst, He also knows how to fight that fear and use it as motivation.
In November 1999, Scotland had lost the first leg of their Euro 2000 play-off against England when Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes scored both goals in a 2-0 victory for Kevin Keegan’s side at Hampden.
Rangers winger McCann was on the bench that afternoon, but he started at Wembley the following Wednesday. Manager Craig Brown spoke about taking the game to the Auld Enemy, but most pundits regarded those comments as whistling in the dark and murmured darkly about damage limitation.
It did not, of course, turn out like that. Instead, we had the classic Scottish victory which, with crushing inevitability, amounted to yet another glorious defeat.
McCann, now a match analyst for Sky Sports, believes that the current team can draw inspiration from what he and his team-mates did in winning 1-0 17 years ago.
“I was talking about the game with David Tanner the other night and, when you look through England’s team it was incredible,” he said. “They had Tony Adams and Martin Keown at centre-half with David Seaman behind them.
“Then there were other top players; Sol Campbell, David Beckham, Alan Shearer, Michael Owen and Scholes.
“So they were a top-class side but we went there and, as everyone knows, if Seaman hadn’t pulled off a world-class save from Christian Dailly at the death we could have been in a tournament.
“That was a big regret of mine, not being able to play in a finals but you try and take crumbs of comfort and to win at Wembley was pretty special.”
Of course, that satisfaction was tempered by disappointment, as McCann concedes, even though he had bamboozled Campbell before crossing for Don Hutchison to head home the solitary goal.
“It felt nice but, ultimately, we didn’t achieve what we went there to achieve, which was qualification,” he said.
“But when you look back at it, it was quite an incredible night. To go and play for Scotland at Wembley and come away with a result was pretty special.
“Looking at the squad they had at the time, I don’t think many people would have given us a hope going to Wembley.”
There was, quite literally, a fighting spirit in that Scotland squad and McCann insists that controlled aggression will be essential when Gordon Strachan’s players attempt to emulate that victory on Friday evening.
“We knew we had to have a wee bit of bite and aggression when we went down there,” he claimed. “We had to show we weren’t going to be messed about.
“I remember very early in the game Paul Ince came over and smashed me. I went to receive the ball with my back to him and he came in and it was a cheap foul: he knew he was going to give me a wee bit.
“Then, as I’ve rolled and gone to get back up, in a classic Scottish manner, he had already been grabbed by Callum Davidson and Barry Ferguson so I knew right away we were up for it.
“There is 100 per cent still a place for that kind of thing but, unfortunately, you can’t lay the boot in as heavily as maybe you could have done in the past.”
He does accept, however, that the Scots are unlikely to frighten their English counterparts with their physiques.
“They are not going to be bullied,” he said. “Kyle Walker and Danny Rose might be young but they won’t be messed around because they are imposing figures.
“I was quite surprised when I saw them from the touchline at Celtic Park two years ago. It struck me then just how big they are. They are physically huge, proper athletes so I don’t think we’ll bully them but we can’t show too much respect and stand off them.
“When you read out the names of the teams their boys play for and then look at our lads, on paper you’d think that England are far superior but they’ve never managed to galvanise themselves into the team unit that we’ve always had,” he said.
“We maximise it to drain everything we can possibly get so there’s no reason why we can’t go down there and get a result.
“You look at Iceland’s squad and when that game [at Euro 2016] came around no-one would have given them a hope when you’re looking at the two teams on paper.
“We need to get a grip of the midfield. Scott Brown is the obvious one. I am delighted he’s back and I’d like to see him committing himself to the rest of the campaign.
“Scott has always had that natural aggression you need in a team. You need that driving force.”
l Neil McCann was speaking as North Lanarkshire Council announced their intention to incorporate their own Sporting Hall of Fame at Ravenscraig. Details of the initiative can be found at www.northlanarkshire.gov.uk/halloffame.