Not even we Scots could turn a draw into a great result, so the top nine games pick themselves. The devil, however, is in the detail, just how do you rank those nine results?
There are legends built around most of these victories. We are told at our fathers’ and grand-fathers’ knee all about the iconic 1928 ‘Wembley Wizards’; the drama of ‘Jimmy Cowan’s Match’ in 1949; how ‘Ten Men Won’ in 1963. We relish ‘The Day We Beat the World Champions’ in 1967; ‘The Day The Goal Posts Came Down and The Pitch Was Dug-Up’ in 1977; and we ask: “what if?” of the ‘So Near Yet So Far’ meaningless win in 1999, the last time the Tartan Army marched on the southern citadel.
However, while there was undoubtedly something special around these six games, we ought not to believe the other three wins were inferior. Where it comes to Scotland v England, given the disparity in population, they always hold most of the aces; add home advantage and we did rather well to win on just under one in three of our visits to Wembley – for instance, our rugby team’s Twickenham record – four wins in 46 visits – is absolutely pathetic in comparison to our Wembley one.
So, with the Tartan Army about to march on Wembley for the first time this millennium, it’s time to have a go at ranking the nine wins in order of merit.
Any list such as this has to be just that, the opinion of one person and that opinion has to be challenged, so, we trust that you, The Scotsman’s erudite readers, will have your own ideas about how we have ranked the games, safe in the knowledge you will tell us where you feel we have got it wrong.
9th place: England 0 Scotland 1
1981: ‘Robbo’s Penalty’
John Robertson’s 64th-minute penalty goal was almost the only memorable moment from this largely forgetable game. “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland were particularly bad that year, which meant that neither England nor Wales travelled to Windsor Park for scheduled games, so, the season’s Home International Championship was never completed and the competition declared void for the only time in its long history. Therefore, this one meant nothing.
The match itself was dire. With Liverpool engaged at the sharp end of the European Cup, both countries were missing their Anfield aces, while Ipswich Town were also in the UEFA Cup Final, so, the teams weren’t truly representative – no Hansen, Souness, Dalglish or Wark in the Scotland squad for instance. England were poor all through the match, while Scotland struggled somewhat to recover from Asa Hartford’s 27th-minute departure with a dislocated elbow, and the consequential re-shuffle in personnel. It wasn’t a great spectacle – definitely one Wembley win which, mattered little, even if it was manager Jock Stein’s only victory at that ground.
Then England manager Ron Greenwood was also, like most England managers, under pressure and at war with the English media. Discord was rife in the England camp – they were ripe for the taking.
Robertson’s penalty was a cracker, however, the winger scoring after winning a battle of mind games with his Nottingham Forest team-mate, Trevor Francis, who delayed the kick while he told England goalkeeper Joe Corrigan where Robbo would place his kick. If he thought it would put Robbo off, he was wrong, the Scot put the ball exactly where Francis said he would, while Corrigan went the other way.
8th Place: England 0 Scotland 1
1999: ‘Too-little, too-late’
In eighth place is our last win at Wembley, in the 1999 European Championships play-off. This was another win which, in the end, mattered little. Wembley was a salvage job, an uphill battle – which we won, but, not by enough to complete the task in hand, which was to qualify for the Euro finals.
The Scots’ qualifying group, which pitted them against Bosnia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Faroe Islands and Lithuania was always going to come down to a battle for the automatic qualifying spot between us and old rivals the Czechs. They won both in Glasgow and in Prague, so Scotland’s hopes of reaching the finals in Belgium and the Netherlands the following summer rested on getting through a two-legged play-off, against the Auld Enemy.
England won the first leg, at Hampden, 2-0. We weren’t out of things then, the gap was bridgeable, yet, for the second leg at Wembley, on Wednesday, 17 November, 1999, four days later, the Scots had it all to do.
Manager Craig Brown tinkered with his squad, replacing Paul Ritchie of Hearts with Blackburn Rovers’ Callum Davidson, bringing in Rangers’ Neil McCann for Newcastle’s Kevin Gallacher, who was injured, and, perceiving Kevin Keegan’s decision to play Gareth Southgate instead of Arsenal’s Martin Keown as weakening their defence, he asked Everton’s Don Hutchison to play right on top of Southgate and win the aerial battle.
Brown’s tactics worked perfectly. Hutchison won the air war, allowing Billy Dodds to scamper forward on to his knockdowns. England were kept on the back foot and, as a bonus, McCann supplied the cross from which Hutchison headed the Scots in front in 38 minutes.
A goal up and with some momentum, Scotland probably should have gone on to at least take the play-off into extra time and perhaps a penalty shoot-out, but, they didn’t. Certainly David Seaman had one fantastic second-half save, to deny Christian Dailly in 79 minutes, but, it was a case of chances missed and too-little, too-late.
The match was perhaps best summed-up by The Times, the voice of the establishment, who put the boot in post-match; thundering: “It began in mediocrity, mediocrity ran all the way through it, so it was fitting that England’s halting, ill-tempered struggle to reach the Euro 2000 finals should end in mediocrity”.
7th place: England 2 Scotland 3
1951: ‘Mannion carried off’
This is the single Wembley game which Scotland won, but, the team was slaughtered afterwards by the Scottish football writers, the legendary “fans with typewriters”.
Sure Scotland won, but, they were only playing against ten Englishmen for all but the opening 12 minutes. That’s when the great Wilf Mannion was carried-off with a fractured cheek bone, following a clash of heads with Billy Liddell; so, the narrow one-goal win was hardly cause for celebration, reasoned the football writers of the time.
But, as was often proved in those pre-substitute days, losing a player so early in a game gave the remaining ten a psychological boost, pulling out that bit extra to make amends. That certainly worked for England that day, with Huddersfield Town’s Harold Hassall, the least-experienced player on the park, becoming a hero by operating as a one-man left wing, following Mannion’s withdrawal.
This was still, with the likes of Stan Matthews, Tom Finney, Stan Mortensen, Alf Ramsey and Billy Wright all playing, a very good England side and, but for some goalkeeping heroics from Bert Williams in the England goal, this might have become a massacre.
That said, Scotland, who fielded Jimmy Cowan, George Young, Sammy Cox, Bobby Evans, Willie Woodburn, Willie Redpath, Willie Waddell, Bobby Johnstone, Lawrie Reilly, Billy Steel and Billy Liddell, weren’t themselves short of legends. 3-2, going on 6-2 might be a better assessment of the win, which gave Scotland its only incedence of back-to-back Wembley wins.
Mind you, as 11 beating ten, this one was always going to be a win for which insufficient credit was given. Debutant Johnstone, Reilly and Liddell got the Scotland goals, Hassall and Finney scored for England.
6th place: England 1 Scotland 2
1963: ‘Ten men win’
This match, 50 years ago, is known as: “ten-men” win. One instance where the ‘Liberty Valance Rule’ – “When the truth belies the legend, print the legend”, shouldn’t work. Ten Scotsmen didn’t beat 11 Englishmen; the reality was that ten beat 10-and-half. Certainly skipper Eric Caldow was carried off with a broken leg after less than five minutes; but, what has been forgotten since is, Spurs’ Bobby Smith, whose tackle injured Caldow, was also stretchered off, only returning to the fray five minutes before the break, by which time Scotland were 2-0 up and cruising. He then proceeded to be voted England’s most-dangerous forward over the remaining 50 minutes.
The winning Scotland side was, undeniably, a very-good one; we had the 1960s Holy Trinity of Law, White and Baxter, who dominated Wembley and scored both Scotland goals; we had two terrific wingers in Davie Wilson – the man of the match for his performance, like Hassall for the opposition 12 years previously, as a one-man left wing – and Willie Henderson; we had Ian St John.
Dave Mackay gave a wonderful lead after taking over the captaincy from the injured Caldow and we had Mr Dependable, Bill Brown, in goal and two Dundee players in Alex Hamilton and Ian Ure who were then in marvellous form for club and country.
Scotland won, yes; Baxter became a legend, opening the scoring in 28 minutes, then scoring a second from the penalty spot two minutes later. But, in truth the legend has coloured the reality – this was a somewhat lucky win, even if it did secure back-to-back Home International Championship wins for the first time in over 25 years.
England were rebuilding under new manager Alf Ramsey, a couple of their team plainly weren’t England class; Jimmy Greaves had a nightmare, missing five or six gilt-edged chances he would normally have been expected to convert, while Jimmy Armfield’s mistake for Baxter’s first goal was totally unexpected.
Perhaps we should, Caldow’s injury not withstanding, have won by more than a single goal, we had the better side.