The news that consideration is being given to resurrecting the Home Internationals as part of the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Football Associations brought a few thoughts to mind and more than a few memories.
The General Secretary of the FA, Alex Horne, went to great pains to make it clear that it any such endeavour would be limited to 2013 and it would not be mark a permanent return to yearly international soccer calendar.
It must admit to having mixed feelings about reviving the competition that ran for a century between 1883/84 and 1983/84 with the only breaks for two World Wars and the troubles in Northern Ireland which voided the 1981 edition.
Any hope that a round robin tournament involving England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales would somehow better equip these countries for international competitions such as the European Championships and the World Cup should be stillborn. Knocking the ball about? More a case of knocking each other about. Just think of the “passion” brought to local derbies in UK but in this case played at an international level.
I shudder to think what Fabio Capello would think of bodies clattering into each other at a rate of knots while the ball is of only passing interest to the combatants. Every historical grievance and national injustice – real and imagined – captured and presented within 90 minutes of what would be labelled as soccer.
On the other hand some of my greatest football memories are of the build up to the game against England or even better, being there. (Pause for second thoughts – some of my worst soccer moments have been after losing to England!)
English fans and players would always say that games between the Auld Enemies meant far more to the Scots than it did to them. Personally, I never bought that one and thought it a case of talking down the importance so it could be easily brushed off when they lost.
You can also tell how much it really meant to English fans by how quickly those that remember the time when Scotland and England matches were an annual occurrence can rattle off the scores and dates when England administered a sound thrashing.
1955 7-2; 1961 9-3; 1975 5-1; all at Wembley or more commonly known as the place where Scottish goalkeepers went to die. With each mistake a stake through the heart and each giving rise to a thousand jokes about Scottish goalies.
Noted Scottish football historian Bob Crampsey once said of Fred Martin who stood between posts in 1955 “when the mood was upon him, he could be very good, but at other times, he played exactly as you would expect an inside-right to play if shoved between the posts.”
The goalkeeper in 1961 was Frank Haffey and it led to the line “What’s the time? Nine past Haffey”
Within two years Haffey had left for Australia. The story goes that Denis Law (who also played in the 1961 game) bumped into Haffey Down Under while on a promotional tour nearly 40 years later. Haffey told Law that he was thinking of heading back to Scotland for a holiday but Law advised him that he should give it a few more years before he could safely show his face.
Then there was Stewart Kennedy in 1975 – any Scottish supporter who witnessed that performance cannot do anything but remember Kennedy whenever he sees a goalkeeper wrapped around a goal post.
Ironically the loss in 1961 had a restorative impact on Scottish fortunes and was to be the last in a run of ten winless games against England.
Scotland would win four, draws two and only lose once in the next seven years – the Golden Years. Included in the four wins was a hat trick of wins in 1962, 1963 and 1964 the first of which was Scotland’s first win over England in a quarter of a century. And of course there was the 1967 win.
There was also a rebound from the 1975 loss with wins in 1976 and 1977. Perhaps it was in 1976 that the goalkeeping curse passed to England?
As violence – as opposed to good natured property damage – took a grip of the game in the late 70s and 80s the annual match up just became too much of a bother and faded away.
Is it worth reviving? Probably not – it might be better just living with the memories, good and bad.