When the newest managers of the two oldest international football teams both made their first squad selections this week, the thing that occurred to me was how exciting it would be if they were due to play each other in their first match.
Think about it, as if there isn’t already enough on an England v Scotland match, this would be the tastiest friendly in years; a new England era looking to lay fresh foundations after the unceremonious crumbling of the old empire, and Burley’s Scotland, with the new man under the unusual pressure of having to be as good as his two predecessors.
As it turns out, there was such a match in the pipeline this summer, with both sides apparently at a loose end. This has been cancelled however, because many Scotland players would have been unavailable due to the much more vital business of going on pre-season tours with their clubs.
What kind of killjoys are running football these days? Cancelling an England v Scotland match because of pre-season tours? Who’s wearing the trousers here? More to the point though, why on earth hasn’t the annual meeting of the auld enemy been restored?
Had this planned fixture gone ahead, it would have been the first time the two sides had met in a ‘friendly’ international since 1989 – the last instance of the Rous Cup fixture which was played for on five occasions after the annual British Championships were curtailed in 1984. Since then only two meetings have taken place, both the result of tournament draws; Euro ’96, and the two-legged Euro 2000 qualification play-off.
The reason the England-Scotland fixture was brought to an end was recurring crowd trouble. However, the 1989 fixture was played only six weeks after the Hillsborough disaster; since then football stadia have changed beyond recognition, and these changes have virtually eradicated hooliganism from inside grounds, so why hasn’t it been brought back?
One could argue that that the Home Internationals should return too, but the England-Scotland fixture is one that deserves special recognition, and in fact should be played each year independently of any other tournament. We are talking, after all, about the two teams who contested football’s very first international back in 1872 – the year of the Football Association’s formation, and the first FA Cup tournament. The annual renewal of this fixture ought to mark the anniversary of what was effectively the birth of competitive football, and quite frankly, a revolutionary world event.
Yet we have been robbed of this annual celebration by those at the FA and SFA who seemingly just can’t be bothered to pick up the phone and book the fixture, and when they can, the smallest excuse is found to call the whole thing off. This shouldn’t be allowed. There ought to be a preservation order slapped on it; in the way that no bulldozer is allowed within 100 miles of a UNESCO world heritage site, no possessor of a grey suit should be allowed to faff about with the England-Scotland game.
So next week, when you’re watching the new England or the new Scotland doing their best to get a game out of barely interested opponents far more concerned with self-preservation before the Euro 2008 finals, have a think about the game you could be watching, and drop the FA and SFA a line.
Since yesterday, the SFA and Burley have come out and said that Scotland want to preserve the gravitas of the fixture by making sure the game is played where both sides can field strong starting XIs. Whether this is definitely the case remains to be seen.