Aidan Smith: The loveliest moment was Billy Gilmour’s chest-trap. Who knew he even had a chest?
What if the team played like the fan who bellyflopped butt-naked into the Serpentine? It’s not body-shaming to say he wasn’t in peak physical condition and neither was the supporter who got down on the floor on a hurtling Underground train and - I’ve checked with my dance-student daughter for the correct terminology - “did the worm” in his kilt, which soon rode up, exposing his hairy backside.
Or what if the team played like the fan who embarked on a diagonal stagger across a wide thoroughfare, bangin’ heid resting on one shoulder, so he didn’t see the motorbike approaching from the left. Mercifully it wasn’t travelling too fast. Still we were surprised to see the fellow rise to his feet so quickly and continue on his way, heid back in position.
Scotland got knocked down last Monday but on Friday night at Wembley they got up again. Miraculously and magnificently. The greatest 0-0 draw in our long history of moral victories and nearly-but-not-quites? Well, I think that’s still the Brazil blockbuster in Frankfurt back in 1974, but given the earlier disappointment this one comes close.
There was a lot that was very mid-70s about this game - the tackling, mainly. Lyndon Dykes took a Bruce Lee-style leap at a ball hoofed from kick-off and flattened Luke Shaw. Minutes later John McGinn fastened his legs round Harry Kane’s ankles like a pair of pliers (heavy-duty, tungsten carbide). The referee, Antonio Mateu Lahoz, sighed like a foreign guest at Fawlty Towers on being handed the wine list or learning the peaches were tinned. The British, they’re so unsophisticated! When will they ever learn?
But we didn’t want the Euros and clever, modern football stratagems in exactly these moments, we wanted the Home Internationals. Through half-shut eyes we thought we could see bubble perms, mutton-chop whiskers and windmill arms. We had feared we might have to watch this game between the gaps in our fingers but Scotland were in full-on throwback mode and playing with swagger and bite, just like the teams we used to send to London every other year.
Kane wasn’t really enjoying the scrap and he must have been worried about the prospects for his big dream of winning the tournament, to say nothing of his big move away from Spurs. As he hit the sodden turf yet again England really needed an admiral to steady the ship. Or maybe someone in an Admiral shirt - Gerry Francis or Kevin Beattie (RIP).
It was a battle and you might have called it the Battle of Mason Mount if that didn’t sound like one from days of Empire, English generals ordering
Scottish cannon-fodder to do their dirty work for them - “civilising” the savages or dying for the cause. But it wasn’t all crash-bang-wallop. We played some lovely football.
Rain dripped from the sharp features of Kieran Tierney and the sharper ones of Billy Gilmour. One had been held up, because of his absence through injury, as the reason we lost to the Czech Republic. The other had just turned 20 and was making his first start. There was huge pressure on both and they just shrugged it off to be at the heart of all our best moves. The loveliest moment? Gilmour’s chest-trap while crowded by white-shirted yeomen then a slick pass to ignite another break. Who knew the wee sparra’ even had a chest?
Lahoz eventually booked McGinn and Meatball was raging about that. Amid the general mimicry of old-school Scotland-England games, McGinn seemed to be specifically channelling the spirit of Graeme Souness when the latter had Bryan Robson in one pocket and Ray Wilkins in the other (Hampden, 1985, 1-0 to us). The yellow card meant no more thundering challenges but McGinn still had a fine match and in that rugby-style pile-up in our box near the end he was there to boot the ball to safety.
We’ve already triumphed at Twickenham this year; doing it at Wembley for a brilliant double seemed fanciful before the game, the notion of lunatics. There is huge satisfaction, though, in standing up to England’s Premier League and its great glamour, never giving an inch.
We saw off Kane. They brought on Marcus Rashford, the UK’s next Prime Minister. They brought on - eventually, once the elaborate ceremony of him removing all his layers of additional clothing was over - Jack Grealish.
Raheem Sterling, MBE, tried and failed to win a penalty.
None stood taller in a dark blue shirt than Stephen O’Donnell. That’s because he has a physique like Hen Broon. The “Prem” couldn’t get the better of the man from Motherwell. Not just that but a player who earlier in the week five million armchair pundits wanted gone. What a game O’Donnell had. That volley, those cool, crossfield passes, introducing himself to golden-boy Grealish with yet another tackle from the dusty archives.
Post-match, the players were at pains to stress that the stirring performance would count for little if the team don’t end up getting out of the group by beating Croatia on Tuesday. That’s the dispassionate view of professionals but the rest of us can savour it for a little bit longer and wonder: could the annual skirmish be revived? And how much fun would that be?
The English media and the FA think the Three Lions are above it now, but I’m not sure. Out on the pitch some of our internecine nearest-and-dearest seemed to quite enjoy the retro clattering.
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