Willie Miller: Day ‘boys from the sticks’ beat England

John Robertson slots his penalty past England goalkeeper Joe Corrigan to clinch Scotland's 1-0 victory over England at Wembley  in  May 1981. It was a win which, according to Willie Miller, the English just didn't think was possible.
John Robertson slots his penalty past England goalkeeper Joe Corrigan to clinch Scotland's 1-0 victory over England at Wembley in May 1981. It was a win which, according to Willie Miller, the English just didn't think was possible.
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It should surprise no-one to learn that Willie Miller is a proud man. This is, after all, the man who captained Alex Ferguson’s all-conquering Aberdeen team to glory at home and abroad and represented his country on 61 
occasions.

As he looks forward to 
Friday’s pivotal World Cup qualifying tie against England in London, however, he has no difficulty in nominating his happiest moment in a dark blue shirt.

It says much about Miller’s sense of self-worth and the nature of that cross-border rivalry that it did not involve any of his appearances at Spain 1982 or Mexico 1986.

“My biggest memory of Scotland-England? Humping them one-nil in 1981 with John Robertson’s penalty,” he said.

“Without a doubt, that was huge in my career and huge in big Alex McLeish’s career, too. We were the boys from the sticks going down to 
Wembley and doing something the English just didn’t think was possible.

“Their commentators were looking at us as a couple of guys from a provincial club and just dismissed us.

“I had gone through the whole period in the 1970s of trying to break into the international team.

“At that time, you had players from the Old Firm and Anglos. There weren’t any Aberdeen or Dundee United players; 
we were considered sub-standard.

“So that was a big occasion for us in ’81 and we knew it at the time. To come out of that game with not only a victory but a clean sheet, having kept out Tony Woodcock, Trevor Francis – who came on for Woodcock – and the big lad, Peter Withe, that was something. They were the best that England could throw at us. And it was huge that we kept them out.”

Miller admits that he and McLeish were fired up by the perception that they were being patronised by pundits south of the border.

“There was definitely a snobbery about me and big Alex so, absolutely, we had a point to prove,” he added. “The 
[English media] didn’t know who we were, didn’t know our names, didn’t know our 
history – didn’t know anything about us whatsoever.

“I think that kind of a snobbery still exists now, where they don’t really understand the Scottish game.

“They think Rangers and Celtic are okay but the rest are not worthy of much comment and that was even more prevalent in those days.

“So there was still a big barrier to break through, in terms of proving to the world that you were worthy of being a 
Scottish internationalist while playing for a small club.

“I always thought that the English players felt they were superior to us. That was the overwhelming impression I got, any time they played us. The English always felt that our game was inferior.”

Miller may have celebrated that victory with vigour but he could hardly claim that he had been travelling in style that day.

“After the game I got my case, met my wife – and then we went on the Tube with all the Scotland fans,” he explained. “We dropped the case back off at the hotel and then went to Stringfellows, which was actually a night club where you could take your wife at that time – it wasn’t what it became later.

“But aye, we just travelled on the Tube with the Tartan Army because we were staying down in London for a couple of days. There weren’t limousines waiting to take us wherever we wanted to go. You had to get your case, get on the Tube and off you went and the Tartan Army certainly rejoiced in us being there.

“I don’t remember any of them buying me a drink – although we certainly had a couple of bottles of champagne at Stringfellows, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

“However, Mr Stringfellow didn’t come through to see us. I didn’t see any of his girls, either – be sure to mention that!”

Miller, now a respected pundit on BBC Scotland, does not view Friday’s match as a lost cause for Gordon Strachan, his former team-mate with club and country.

Indeed, Miller regards this encounter as the perfect opportunity for some of the Scots to justify the belief their manager has shown in them.

“It’s a huge game for Scotland, the manager and the players,” he said. “Gordon has shown a lot of faith in the players. He’s sticking with the same group, with maybe one or two younger ones, who failed in the European Championships, and he’s taking them into a World Cup that has got to be a success, for all of their sakes.

“Having shown this faith in the players, he needs a bit of a return from them and you can’t ask for a bigger return than beating England at Wembley.”

l Willie Miller inducted former Aberdeen manager Alex Smith into Scottish Football’s Hall of Fame last month.