IF SCOTT Booth’s under-16 side can avoid defeat against England at Stark’s Park tonight and so become the first Scotland team to win the Victory Shield outright for 15 years, the experience will be a whole lot different to what it was for the triumphant class of 1998.
“They will get a few pictures or whatever, for a start,” said Scotland coach Booth. “I was speaking to Robert Rowan, our video technician, and he was saying he was trying to find images of the winning team from 1998. He was on Google and all sorts and couldn’t find anything. It’s incredible you can’t get a picture of them winning it or anything from then.”
The current 15-year-old internationals will have such modern magic as moving pictures – courtesy of Sky screening the game live – and later highlights packages that will be posted on Youtube for posterity, regardless of the outcome of their bid for Scotland’s name to be engraved on the trophy for the first time since it was scratched alongside that of England in 2004, the two teams then joint champions.
Even if it should be remembered it is schoolboys who will be on show at Kirkcaldy tonight, Booth conceded the better fortunes enjoyed by Scotland’s senior side under Gordon Strachan of late can percolate down to such a junior level. And he dares hope for a result this evening that may allow the sweet smell of success to waft back upwards.
“It definitely filters down the age group,” Booth said. “It really affects age group from 21s to 19s to 17s. It goes right through. The feel-good factor would again go up if we win this competition and it’s exactly the same with the national team. If they come out of a game and they’ve won it, the perception is that things are going really well. That is not always the case, the A squad and the under-17s are completely different. We’ll take as much of the feel-good factor that we can get at the moment, though.
“We are doing a programme here that is long-term and the more the feel-good factor stays here with us throughout that, then the better chance we have of getting where we want to be. It wouldn’t be fair for it to all come down to one age group, as if we’re waiting for them to come through and if they don’t make it, it’s bust. It’s a long-term project for the next ten, 15, 20 years.”
And that is where the difficulties come in about tonight’s intoxicating encounter. The chance to make a bit of history by socking it to the nation’s bitterest rivals will be filling the minds of the young Scots There must be headroom for much more though, Booth cautioned. He has spent 18 months working with this group of players, the last at their age group that won’t have had ramped-up coaching time afforded by coming through the SFA’s performance schools, and it hasn’t been all glory-chasing such as has been made possible by their Victory Shield efforts.
Booth explained: “We could go out purely with the attitude: ‘What could we do to win the game’?. If we did that, probably other than winning or not, that’s all they would get out of it. It is important to keep it in a little bit of perspective and remember what age group we are talking about.
“That’s not to say the kids don’t want to win; they are desperate to win. You are having to get the reins on them a little bit, because they want to win so much. That can affect it in a negative way itself, because they can forget all about everything else and it becomes all about the winning. It’s a good challenge for them to use what we’ve learned over the past 18 months and try and put it in practice.”
The other difficulty will be the opposition. While Scotland beat Northern Ireland 3-0 and drew 2-2 with Wales, both games away, to set-up the Auld Enemy decider they can afford to draw, for England it is must win because they lost 1-0 to the Irish. They did so, however, with a completely different squad from the one they used to defeat Wales 1-0 in their opening match last month. The squad to face Scotland will be a “best of” combination.
“I’ve got their squad now and there are two players from the Ireland squad, three new ones and the rest from the Wales game. They are very good, a very good side. England have greater choice and can afford to put out two different teams and still be strong. I thought we were clinical against Ireland, showed real resilience against Wales, as we always do. Now I’m looking for a little combination of the two, which would be nice.”
As would be the thought that those in their homeland tuning in to watch the young Scots tonight might be catching the first sight of some of the country’s major performers in future years. Booth is convinced they could be.
“They all have attributes that lead you to think if they continue to improve in those areas then they’ll be really good,” he added. “The problems are decisions, injury and outside factors. The next two or three years are really important for them. If they can stay switched on and not get distracted, and keep improving in their strong areas – though obviously you have to improve your weaknesses as well – they have a chance. I think we have four or five excellent prospects and I think the rest all have a chance.”
Victory Shield results:
4 October England 1 Wales 0
17 October Northern Ireland 0 Scotland 3
31 October Wales 2 Scotland 2
8 November England 0 Northern Ireland 1
21 November Wales 1 Northern Ireland 0
Tonight Scotland v England (Stark’s Park, Kirkcaldy)