Friday, June 08, 2012

Scotland in 1996: Auld enemies, familiar feelings

Having become the first Scotland manager to take the country to the European championships in 1992 the nation eagerly awaited Andy Roxburgh’s encore.

Sadly his next trick was to bring to an end the proud World Cup qualification run.

He failed with a certain style. The campaign started with a 3-1 defeat away to Switzerland in a match that saw Richard Gough sent off for catching the ball after being deceived by its flight. It remains one of the more bizarre international red cards.

Worse was to follow on the road as Scotland were destroyed 5-0 by Portugal in a game that saw Ally McCoist break his leg and Gough call time on his international career after a fight with the manager.

Perfunctory wins over group minnows Estonia and Malta coupled with home draws with Switzerland, Portugal and group winners Italy took Scotland to 11 points but that was only enough for fourth place, four points behind the second placed Swiss.

The SFA's Jim Farry announced that he was standing behind Roxburgh but the manager himself decided he’d had enough of standing in front of Farry and Craig Brown took over as caretaker manager for the final two group games.

Scotland found themselves at a crossroads.

Qualifying for World Cups was what we did. It was all we did. If we didn't qualify we had nothing. And, as the rain fell that night in Portugal, it really did look like whatever we had was slipping away.

The SFA needed a charismatic, popular, inspirational manager to plot a new course.

Unable to find one they gave the job to Craig Brown permanently, the reasoning perhaps being that there was nothing so broke that Brown's reasonableness and experience at the side of Roxburgh wouldn't be able to fix it.

He knew exactly what he had to do. International tournament football was returning to England for the first time in 30 years in the summer of 1996. Brown had to make sure that Scotland didn't miss out this time.

Qualification for Euro 96 (the abbreviated title was officially used for the first time here, coined either by David Baddiel or someone who worked for Coca-Cola) saw 12 countries enter for the first time.

European cartographers were being kept busy and the reshaping of an old continent would have long term consequences for the national team.

For now, however, Brown got a group that although not without danger looked manageable, especially with the finals doubling in size from an elite eight teams to a more egalitarian 16.

Russia and Greece came from the top two pots of seeds with Finland, Faroe Islands and San Marino plucked from the three below Scotland in pot 3.

A 2-0 win in Finland gave Scotland the best possible start and, while a defeat in Greece wasn't ideal, two draws with Russia kept the pressure on.

When Greece came to Hampden in August 1995, Scotland needed a hero.

We found one in Ally McCoist. Coming on as substitute with less than 20 minutes to go McCoist scored with a header - his first touch in international football since breaking his leg in Portugal - to give Scotland a 1-0 win.

For me the night began with a Yorkshireman getting lost in Falkirk and ended with a friend falling out the back of a Transit van in the grounds of the private hospital at Murrayfield.

Somewhere along the way I’d been at Hampden as Scotland had seized the momentum. We closed out the group behind the Russians with an impressive enough points tally to qualify as one of the best runners up and, no doubt to Brown's great pleasure, the second best defensive record in the competition.

Football, we were told, was coming home. Craig Brown's Scotland were going to gatecrash.

The draw delivered a crackerjack. The Netherlands were perennial opponents, we'd had some recent history with Switzerland. And then there was England.

The first clash against the Auld Enemy for 16 years would be at Wembley in the finals of the European Championship.

Did we just accept that at the time? Or did we question if a corporate sponsor had been "heating" the balls before the draw was made?

Maybe in our excitement we didn't think about it or maybe we were less cynical in those days. Euro 96 was, after all, the first "modern" European Championship, marketed within an inch of its life and setting the template for all that's gone since.

Certainly we probably saw a group that was tough but not insurmountable and one that practically gave Scotland home advantage.

England and Switzerland got the group - and the tournament - underway with an uninspiring 1-1 draw at Wembley.

Two days later Scotland and the Netherlands matched them with an uninspiring goalless draw at Villa Park.

The proximity of the tournament, Scotland's involvement and the fawning of the English press has put a sheen on Euro 96 that has never been justified - too much of the football was as uninspiring as these two games.

Not that Scotland cared. They'd stifled the Dutch - at one stage with a blatant yet somehow unnoticed John Collins handball - and if they lacked creativity themselves they had at least weathered the storm and emerged with a point.

We've had worse starts to tournaments.

I was on some sort of course at Stirling University with school when we played the Dutch. I can't remember much about the course but I do remember we were not flavour of the month when it was discovered a group of us had decanted to the pub to cheer every last stubborn, resolute Scottish tackle. Late night choruses of Rod Stewart's Purple Heather kept us in the doghouse for the rest of the week.

So to the big one.

England v Scotland. Wembley. 15th June 1996.

On the morning of the game an IRA bomb exploded in Manchester city centre. 212 people were injured - there were no fatalities - and a shadow was cast over England’s summer of sport.

Aware as we all were of events in the north of England, the show went on. I seem to remember a spectacularly long build up to the 3pm kick off.

In Scotland we got to relive the Wembley win of 1967, the joy of Jim Baxter in his pomp. It's possible the English build up might even have mentioned 1966.

On a sunny day barbecues sizzled, beers were downed and nerves grew.

Those two unispiring draws were indicative. England huffed and puffed. Scotland matched each huff and each puff.

0-0 at half time. Still anyone's game.

Stuart Pearce was withdrawn at half time and England manager Terry Venables replaced him with Jamie Redknapp.

That improved England's shape after a first half that saw Gary McAllister, John Collins and Stuart McCall dominate the midfield. Less than ten minutes into the second half Scotland were a goal down.

Gary Neville crossed, Alan Shearer met the cross. 1-0. A typical Shearer goal.

But Scotland weren't done. David Seaman saved well from a Gordon Durie header and, when Durie was brought down, the goalkeeper found himself facing a Gary McAllister penalty.

Do you need reminded of the rest? The ball moved, McAllister kept going, Seaman saved, England broke, Gazza flicked, Hendry slipped, Gazza scored.

It went something like that. The penalty was too much for me so I took to the garden. The disturbing lack of cheers suggested McAllister had missed. When I got back inside Scotland were two down.

It had taken the power of Shearer and the genius of Gascoigne to break Scotland and raise England from their torpor.

From ringleader of England's drunken bums, Gazza was once more celebrated as England's clown prince. The tabloids even apologised to him.

Gary McAllister has said that the moments after that penalty was awarded forever damaged him in the eyes of the Tartan Army. I'm not sure that’s true - I'd blame Brown's selection policy a couple of years down the line for any abuse McAllister received - but it's a shame he feels like that.

The ball moving - Seaman also moved - was a freak occurrence in a moment of huge pressure. McAllister and Scotland got unlucky, England got lucky and Gazza had the brilliance to capitalise.

Such is football.

With England falling in love with Gazza all over again Scotland were sent homeward via Villa Park and a meeting with Switzerland that could yet see them into the next round.

Scotland had to win, hope England could beat the Dutch and try and ensure goal difference worked in our favour.

We came so very close.

With a goal chase on the cards Brown gave Ally McCoist a start and, with the midfield again running the show, the striker twice had chances to put Scotland ahead.

It took him 36 minutes to do just that with a fine effort from outside the box.

Scotland were on their way. And so too were England. As Venables' side found their rhythm they took an unlikely 4-0 goal lead over the Dutch.

Scotland toiled to add to their solitary goal but that didn't matter - a 1-0 win coupled with a 4-0 win for England would be enough to get Scotland through.

And then Patrick Kluivert came off the bench. And then he scored.

And that was that. The Dutch consolation goal 12 minutes from time was enough to tip the goal difference balance in their favour and Scotland were unable to find a response.

Agonisingly close margins.

Admittedly relying on England to cuff the Dutch was never the most secure of plans and Scotland, with everything on the line, should have been able to find another way past the Swiss.

But it was so, so close. A somewhat shamefaced Dutch side realised they'd done enough while being humiliated by England and Scotland were once again left to ponder what might have been.

A win, a draw, just the one goal scored.

It wasn't earth shattering form.

But it was so nearly enough...

As it was our experience of European Championship finals reads six games played with two wins, a draw and three losses. Four goals scored and five conceded with Scotland drawing a blank in four games.

Much like our World Cup record: when we got there we didn't really know how to stay there.

Scotland's Euro 96 squad

Manager: Craig Brown

Andy Goram, age 33, 35 caps (Rangers)
Jim Leighton, age 37, 74 caps (Hibs)
Nicky Walker, age 33, 2 caps (Partick Thistle)
Tom Boyd, age 30, 34 caps (Celtic)
Colin Calderwood, age 31, 10 caps (Tottenham Hotspur)
Colin Hendry, age 30, 17 caps (Blackburn Rovers)
Stewart McKimmie, age 33, 37 caps (Aberdeen)
Tosh McKinlay, age 31, 3 caps (Celtic)
Derek Whyte, age 27, 9 caps (Middlesbrough)
Craig Burley, age 24, 8 caps (Chelsea)
John Collins, age 28, 32 caps (Celtic)
Scot Gemmill, age 25, 6 caps (Nottingham Forest)
Eoin Jess, age 25, 11 caps (Coventry City)
Stuart McCall, age 31, 33 caps (Rangers)
Gary McAllister, age 31, 40 caps (Leeds United)
Billy McKinlay, age 27, 17 caps (Blackburn Rovers)
Scott Booth, age 24, 11 caps (Aberdeen)
Gordon Durie, age 30, 28 caps (Rangers)
Kevin Gallacher, age 29, 21 caps (Blackburn Rovers)
Ally McCoist, age 33, 51 caps (Rangers)
Darren Jackson, age 29, 12 caps (Hibs)
John Spencer, age 25, 8 caps (Chelsea)

  • Average was just under 30, although only Collins, Booth and Gallacher were under 30 in the starting XI v Netherland, Collins and Spencer v England and Collins and Burley v Switzerland
  • Scotland's warm up fixtures included a 2-1 defeat to the USA. We might take that now.
  • Ally McCoist's goal against Switzerland was his first in eight appearances in the finals of a major tournament (1990 World Cup, 1992 European Championship, 1996 European Championship)

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Scotland in 1992: Living in the group of death

By the early 1990s Scotland had qualified for five consecutive World Cups.

No matter how meagre the feast when we got there, we were remarkably adept at scavenging invitations to dine at football's top table.

Yet this success was not replicated in the European Championships.

As with the World Cup we didn't actually bother with the tournament at first, sitting out qualification in 1960 and 1964, possibly in protest at 'UEFA European Nations Cup' lacking a certain oomph as a name.

By 1968 we'd crawled into the fold and were ready to take our place among the Euro elite.

We'd have to wait.

Six more tournaments came and went with Scotland's players left pottering about at Butlins.

This might speak of the internationalism of the Scottish psyche. With World Cups to compete for, European competition could only constrain us.

Or it might speak of a country so adept at World Cup qualification that we found the cycle hard to break, the European Championship (as it was known from 1968) becoming a victim of Scotland's global success.

But it probably speaks of neither of those things. 14 European teams played at the 1986 World Cup and 13 at the 1990 World Cup.

Before 1980 only four teams made it to the European Championships. From 1980 that number was doubled to eight.

UEFA's own event celebrated the European elite in a way that the more generous World Cup did not.

A competent Scottish team had more chance of making it on to the global stage than the European one.

And so it proved.

Not until 1992 were finally ready to take the leap and qualify for the European Championships.

Typically getting to Sweden that year was a close run thing, Scotland eventually topping the group by one point with four wins, three draws and a defeat.

With San Marino propping up the table our competitors were Switzerland (last major championship appearance in 1966), Bulgaria (last major championship appearance in 1986) and Romania (top seeds on the back of a last 16 appearance in the 1990 World Cup).

Exactly the sort of group that made qualification look possible.

It was a nervy one though. In the closest of all the qualifying groups Scotland lost 1-0 away to Romania in our penultimate game.

In our final match Paul McStay, Richard Gough, Gordon Durie and Ally McCoist combined to smash four past San Marino. On the same night Romania beat Switzerland 1-0.

Having played all their games Scotland had 11 points. That was one more than Switzerland whose defeat in Romania finished their hopes of qualifying.

Bulgaria, on eight points, were also out of the running with only two points awarded for a win. But the Bulgarians could yet dictate qualification with Romania to play in their final match.

20 November 1991: Nasko Sirakov became the toast of all Scotland as his 55th minute goal cancelled out a first half effort from Adrian Popescu to deny the Romanians the win they needed.

That draw saw Romania finish level with Switzerland with only two points separating four of the five teams.

But Scotland were top of the pile.

Time for the Swedish to lock up their policewomen.

A major tournament featuring only eight teams is always going to throw up tough groups.

Yet we can probably still argue that Scotland were particularly unlucky to find themselves in less the 'group of death' and more the 'group of is there any point actually getting on the plane' in 1992.

Germany were the reigning world champions and the Dutch were the reigning European champions.

Scotland would have to play them both. For good measure we would also meet a team that would exist only for this tournament.

A side formed from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) took the place of a Soviet Union team that had qualified for Sweden amid the turmoil of the collapse of the Communist bloc.

If uncertainty and the impact of political change meant the CIS teams were an unknown quantity the heritage of the Soviet Union in this tournament was clear: winners in 1960 and three times runners-up, most recently to the great Dutch side of 1988.

Scoland were going to have to do it the hard way.

Our tournament started in Gothenburg on 12th June 1992 against the Dutch.

It's worth taking a look at the starting line ups that day:

Netherlands: Hans van Breukelen, Berry van Aerle, Adri van Tiggelen, Ronald Koeman, Jan Wouters, Dennis Bergkamp, Frank Rijkaard, Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Rob Witschge, Bryan Roy

Scotland: Andy Goram, Richard Gough, Paul McStay, Maurice Malpas, Ally McCoist, Dennis Bergkamp, Brian McClair, Gordon Durie, Dave McPherson, Stewart McKimmie, Stuart McCall, Gary McAllister

There were some great players in that Scotland team and some long time servants, honest and true.

But the Dutch? Gullit, van Basten, Bergkamp, Rijkaard, Koeman.

Players who will echo down the ages.

Little surprise then that Scotland were forced to mount a display of defiance, of defensive bravery in the wave of a cultured onslaught.

And we so nearly held out. 75 minutes had passed before Bergkamp broke the deadlock.

Manager Andy Roxburgh withdrew Brian McLair and threw on Duncan Ferguson - his only appearance at a major tournament in a short Scotland career defined by "what might have been" - to hunt for an equaliser.

It didn't happen.

A defeat in the opening game was far from ideal. But this was not a repeat of the disaster against Costa Rica in 1990, this was a Scotland team competing against one of the world's best and running them very close.

With Germany just snatching a draw against the CIS in their opener there were reasons for optimism for the clash with the world champions in Norrköping.

That optimism looked well placed as the game got underway.

Roxburgh stuck with the same starting line up as the but the match did not follow the same pattern.

Here Scotland were on the front foot, looking the more likely team in the opening exchanges and forcing German goalkeeper Illgner Bodo Illgner into a number of saves in the opening half hour.


Jurgen Klinsmann got the better of Richard Gough and combined with Karl-Heinz Riedle who beat Andy Goram in the 29th minute.

Still Scotland didn't cower, refusing to be outclassed and enjoying their share of scoring opportunities.

1-0 at half time. The game still very much alive - and with it hopes of qualification from the group.

And then it was over. Two minutes after the restart Stefan Effenberg enjoyed a deflection off Maurice Malpas that left Andy Goram with no chance.


Scotland didn't wilt, the Germans knew they were still in a game. But the damage was done and the chance was gone.

Those two goals were enough. Different tournament but same old story for Scotland: elimination in the group stage.

Going into the final matches Germany and the Netherlands were tied on three points with CIS on two after a couple of draws.

All three could still qualify, all three were desperate not to join Scotland on the plane home.

With nothing left to lose Scotland produced the performance of their tournament, a 3-0 win that proved the plaudits they'd won in losing the first two games were not undeserved.

CIS had gambled that defensiveness would see them through against Germany and the Netherlands and that the Scotland game would take care of itself.

And they did indeed dominate possession against Scotland. Unfortunately they didn't really know what to do with that possession when the object of the game was suddenly to win not just avoid defeat.

Scotland, who'd soaked up so much pressure against the Dutch and shown such attacking intent against Germany, found themselves in a perfect place to make the most of their opponent's inefficiency.

Paul McStay opened the scoring inside 10 minutes and Brian McClair - scoring his first ever international goal - doubled the lead on 16 minutes before Gary McAllister rounded things off with a second half penalty after Pat Nevin had been tripped.

For Scotland the European Championships had followed the pattern of so many World Cups: qualify, a brave performance here and there, then hame tae think again.

That's perhaps slightly harsh.

The Dutch and the Germans were formidable opponents and Scotland refused to be outclassed.

The 3-0 win over CIS might represent the most clinical a Scottish team have been at a major tournament - albeit in a game that came too late.

And, even if the group wasn't as daunting as others, getting over the qualification line for an eight team tournament was a unique achievement for Andy Roxburgh.

This was also the tournament where Tartan Army legends were born, the image of Scottish fan kissing a policewoman encapsulating the spirit Sweden tried to give their tournament and helping the Scottish fans win a special UEFA award.

Past masters at getting to World Cups, Scotland could now look ahead to a future where an international tournament punctuated every second summer...

1992 European Championship Scotland squad

Manager: Andy Roxburgh

Andy Goram, age 28, 20 caps (Rangers)
Richard Gough (captain), age 30, 56 caps (Rangers)
Paul McStay, age 27, 57 caps (Celtic)
Maurice Malpas, age 29, 50 caps (Dundee United)
Ally McCoist, age 29, 38 caps (Rangers)
Brian McClair, age 28, 23 caps (Manchester United)
Gordon Durie, age 26, 19 caps (Tottenham Hotspur)
Davie McPherson, age 28, 20 caps (Hearts)
Stewart McKimmie, age 29, 17 caps (Aberdeen)
Stuart McCall, age 28, 17 caps (Rangers)
Gary McAllister, age 27, 15 caps (Leeds United)
Henry Smith, age 36, 3 caps (Hearts)
Pat Nevin, aged 28, 12 caps (Everton)
Kevin Gallacher, age 25, 9 caps (Coventry City)
Tom Boyd, age 26, 9 caps (Celtic)
Jim McInally, age 28, 7 caps (Dundee United)
Derek Whyte, age 23, 4 caps (Celtic)
Dave Bowman, age 28, 2 caps (Dundee United)
Alan McLaren, age 21, 3 caps (Hearts)
Duncan Ferguson, age 20. 2 caps (Dundee United)

  • Average age was 27 years, average age of the preferred starting XI was 28 years - the ideal Roxburgh profile
  • With four players each Rangers and Dundee United were most represented in the squad
  • This was more players than Rangers sent to any previous Scotland tournament squad and as many as Dundee United had managed in the 1986 World Cup squad
  • 12 of the 1974 World Cup squad were playing in England, by this squad in 1992 only five of the 20 were "Anglos."
  • Captain Richard Gough and manager Andy Roxburgh were not best friends but managed to lay their difference aside for the good of the squad. Could anyone learn lessons from that?