Scotland supporters of a certain vintage all remember where they were when Jim Baxter performed his keepy-uppy in the fabled 1967 win over England at Wembley. Only Jim McCalliog was a few yards in front of the mercurial midfielder, though, having set in motion a brief passage of play that will forever be embedded in the psyche of football fans in this nation.
“I actually back heel the ball to him before he starts the keepy-uppies so I was quite happy to see him do that,” he recalled this week. “I wasn’t being disrespectful doing that, there was just no pass forward and I knew Jim was behind me. And then he flipped it up and started doing his juggling with the ball. That was just Baxter. Four years before that he had basically beaten England on his own when he scored the two goals. He was amazing to watch as nothing fazed him at all.”
What happened that day, as Scotland ended a 19-game winning run for the world champions on the very patch where they had claimed the Juliet Rimet trophy ten months earlier, has been mythologised out of all proportion within these borders. Yet that doesn’t matter. The fact is that the 3-2 victory was special, Baxter – even if then out of shape and past his best – was special. As was practically every player who contributed to a success that McCalliog believes should be an inspiration to Gordon Strachan’s side as they head to Wembley next week for a resumption of competitive hostilities between the rivals following a 16-year hiatus.
Yet McCalliog’s back story is more special, in its own way, than that of any other performer in dark blue that day. As a 20-year-old debutant and scorer of the third and clinching goal – which made it 3-1 in the 87th minute – it says everything about the lore that surrounds others in that team – fellow scorer Denis Law, Billy Bremner and Baxter – that the story of how the then Sheffield Wednesday youngster came to enjoy his greatest day in the game is a tale less told.
As a trim 70-year-old – and with a “fantastic memory” of all the events on April 15, 1967 because “I didn’t touch a drop of alcohol until I was 23” – it is a tale McCalliog would never tire of telling. “The thing about that game was the way [manager] Bobby Brown set the team out. I don’t think he was a great tactical person but he knew exactly how we were going to play. There were a lot of great players in that time but I had never played with Willie Wallace and I thought he was a really intelligent player. Between us, we gelled it all together, and let the other boys get on with their game. To have Denis Law and Bobby Lennox up front, that’s a dream if you’re a midfield player.
“The feeling before the game was that we could beat anyone. Although England were the world champions and had won 19 on the bounce, there was certainly no lack of confidence in our team at all. I looked around and you see Law, Baxter, Bremner, [Bobby] Lennox, [Ronnie] McKinnon and [John] Greig – all fabulous players. So why shouldn’t we be confident?
“The first training session was on the Thursday afternoon before the game. The guys came out with the balls and were so cocky and confident in everything they did in training that I felt great after that. The only time I felt like that was when I was a kid at Chelsea and Tommy Docherty told us the Rest of the World team would be training with us at Stamford Bridge and we were in awe..”
McCalliog was in something of a world of his own as a Scot at that time. Having gone south in his youth, he was actually pleased to see England winning the World Cup in 1966. “It gave English football a big boost, at the end of the day,” he said. Equally, his national triumph at Wembley – a ground at which he had also scored the previous year as Wednesday lost 3-2 to Everton in the FA Cup final – didn’t spark a three-day knees-up for his folks back in the Gorbals. “My dad was there, my mum didn’t go. She was quite nervous. My parents were Irish so it perhaps wasn’t as big a thing for them as it would have been if my parents had been Scottish but it was the biggest thing in my life,” said McCalliog, an FA Cup winner with Southampton in 1976.
Life didn’t progress as he hoped.The following year he had a move to Manchester United blocked because the Hillsborough club “asked for too much money”. And Scotland failed to capitalise on the Wembley win, missing out on qualification for the 1968 European Championship thanks to a poor Home Internationals the following season. “It should have been a platform,” said the five-times capped McCalliog; a storied generation of 1960s Scottish footballers never competing in a major finals across that decade. “The thing was, that team never played again. For me, that was a bit sad. Possibly Bobby Brown would have liked to get that team together again. But he might have looked at it and though that was his team for the day. Maybe if it was another time playing England, he might have done it another way.”
Strachan has to do it another way a week on Friday if Scotland are to retain any realistic hopes of ending a two-decade exile from international tournament football. “We’re searching, as most countries are, for a hero. The only way we are going to come out of it is if we beat England in the next game. That would give us a big confidence boost. I think we can [do it]. We had that attitude 50 years ago, that we could beat England, on their own turf. They might have been world champions. So what? Hopefully, for Gordon, the lads will go out in the game and do something.”
n Jim McCalliog is the organiser of the Legends of Football series, the first of which features Graeme Souness and Joe Jordan in conversation at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow this Thursday, November 3.