This feature is a part of RETEUROSPECTIVE
It felt like it was never going to arrive. From the moment the two protagonists of international football’s oldest fixture were drawn in the same group in December last year, the Auld Enemies had made claim upon counter-claim about what would happen at Wembley on 15 June.
What is certain is that nobody predicted how the game and possibly the entire tournament would turn inside of 60 incredible second-half seconds.
Going into this game, the mood in the two camps could not have been more contrasting. Scotland were buoyant and confident following their opening 0-0 draw with the perennially talented Netherlands. Meanwhile, Terry Venables’ England seemed to be fending off criticism from the press at every turn – in particular, the witch-hunt that has started to develop surrounding not only the fitness and form of Paul Gascoigne, but also whether he should have been included in the squad following the now-infamous visit to the ‘dentists chair’ at the China Jump bar in Hong Kong.
A laboured 1-1 draw in the opening game against Switzerland, arguably the group’s weakest opponents for England, was compounded by an anonymous performance from Gascoigne. Substituted after 77 ineffectual minutes. Gascoigne and England it seemed were the ones with everything to lose going into this crudely tabloid-titled ‘Battle of Britain’.
They say “form is temporary, class is permanent”, and ultimately it was the class of Gazza that settled this most historic of international fixtures.
The heat that greeted that the players at pitch level certainly seemed to play its part in the relatively slow and cagey opening. For those expecting the likes of Ince, McCall, Hendry and Shearer to be at each other’s throats were sorely disappointed. Both teams seemed content to feel their way into the game. England not wanting to engage in a physical battle and Scotland aware that the onus was on England to attack meant that both sides were happy to just play the ball around without any real penetration.
McManaman and Anderton were retained and expected to provide width, while Ince and Southgate had the job of minding the midfield and allow Gascoigne the freedom to roam and create. None of the above happened in a very dour and uneventful first half. The Scottish midfield of McAllister, Collins and McCall seemed to be the more composed and had more of an influence on the game.
After 40 tiresome minutes, Shearer did the job of the wingers and whipped in a cross for a decent Sherringham header, while Gordon Durie split his eye after a challenge with Southgate. With that, the forgettable first half was over. England, as tournament hosts and with the weight of expectation, had produced three halves of very average football.
Whatever was done and said by Venables in only his second competitive international half-time team-talk needs bottling and selling to tournament managers everywhere. Pearce was off and Redknapp was on. England were looking to try and create more, which based on the aforementioned 135 minutes of football would not be difficult.
McManaman, who had been conspicuous by his first-half absence, took the initiative, the game, and quite possibly the belief of an entire nation into his own hands inside the first 15 minutes of the second half. Running with intent and purpose at the Scottish backline, all of Wembley – blue and white – sensed a shift in momentum. Playing with a sudden swagger and belief, the Liverpool creator seemed to mesmerise and provide unanswerable questions to Craig Brown’s men.
On 53 minutes, a move that switched the Scottish lines from right to left and back again saw England engineer an overlap down the right side, McManaman released Gary Neville who put in a wonderful far post cross. The cross was met by the only certainty of England’s campaign so far, the dead-eyed marksmanship of Alan Shearer: 1-0 and the tension that had stifled England’s performance so far evaporated into the cloudless London sky.
However, this Scottish side were not about to surrender to England’s newfound exuberance. Weathering the aftershocks created by Shearer’s goal, Scotland regrouped and began to prey on growing anxiety that the Swiss comeback could be repeated. David Seaman produced a wonderful save from a Durie header. But then it happened. History has a way of repeating itself, only this time it skewed off on an unfathomable tangent.
On 78 minutes, Tony Adams mistimed his challenge on Durie and the referee inevitably pointed to the spot. Gary McAllister, the impressive and reliable Scottish captain, took responsibility. This is where history skewed 90 degrees. The ball was struck firmly, but Seaman guessed correctly and stuck out an elbow to fire the ball over the bar.
From the resulting corner, a goal kick was won and history skewed a further 90 degrees. Seaman played the ball long; in three touches it was at Gascoigne’s feet. The much-maligned and lambasted midfielder lifted the ball over Hendry’s head, his second touch a volley past Andy Goram. Class is permanent.
As if to rub salt into his detractor’s wounds, Gascoigne ran to the touchline and laid down, head back and mouth open. His teammates picked up the bottles and squirted water into his mouth. The dentist’s chair had relocated from Hong Kong to north London, and this time it was cheered and admired as comedic genius by the England fans.
Sixty seconds was all it took from the ball striking Seaman’s elbow to crossing the Scottish line – 60 seconds in which England went from a potential early exit to an almost certain quarter-final place, and which Gascoigne went from irresponsible joker to a footballing genius. Sixty seconds in which England’s quest to become champions of Europe was finally taken seriously.
Now all that’s left is for Venables’ men to take this confidence and the now-celebrated Gascoigne into the game against the Netherlands and try to further convince England fans, and themselves, that they really do have a chance of “bringing football home”.
By Stuart Horsfield @loxleymisty44