London – When England faces Scotland in Friday’s Euro 2020 clash at Wembley, the first meeting between the rivals in four years will renew a bitter feud stoked by centuries of antagonism and conflict.
From Scottish fans swinging triumphantly on the Wembley crossbar in 1977 to Paul Gascoigne’s virtuoso goal at Euro 96, the volatile relationship between England and Scotland has produced moments of anarchy and beauty in equal measure.
First officially played in Glasgow in 1872, the clash is international soccer’s oldest fixture, but meetings between the neighboring nations have always been more than just a game.
The enmity on both sides of Hadrian’s Wall is fueled by political posturing and ancient tales of William Wallace leading the Scots in the First War of Independence against England in the 13th Century.
The desire of many in Scotland to regain independence from British governance remains an emotional issue in the post-Brexit era.
Despite Scots choosing to remain part of the United Kingdom in an independence referendum in 2014, pro-nationalist parties won a majority in Scottish parliament elections in May.
Friday’s showdown will be the 115th between the countries and despite England’s superior talent pool, Scotland have managed 41 wins compared to 48 for the “Auld Enemy.”
“Historically, we’ve not always been the best of friends. They were great games to play in,” former Scotland captain Graeme Souness said.
“You could never play at Wembley enough and Hampden was a special occasion as well because you had over 100,000 people who were going crazy for it.”
There are iconic moments abound in the ancient rivalry, with one of the first coming in 1928 when Scotland’s “Wembley Wizards” thrashed England 5-1.
Arguably, Scotland’s greatest victory came in 1967 when Denis Law inspired a 3-2 success that handed England its first defeat since Bobby Moore lifted the World Cup a year earlier.
Scotland mischievously crowned itself the unofficial world champion that day.
But they last dominated the rivalry back in the 1970s when the Tartan Army would descend on London en masse, taking over Trafalgar Square in a bellicose display of jingoism.
A 2-1 victory at Wembley in 1977 triggered a pitch invasion from thousands of Scottish fans who broke the goalposts and crossbars in the ensuing chaos.
England supporters grew tired of the invading hordes running riot and the annual end of season meeting between the countries became friendly in name only.
Matches were often ruined as hooligan gangs clashed in the blood-splattered streets around Wembley and Hampden Park.
The violence became so spiteful and the number of arrests so high that by 1989 football authorities decided to abandon the fixture.
They didn’t play again for seven years until England won 2-0 in a Euro 96 group game at Wembley.
Gascoigne’s sublime goal and “Dentist’s Chair” celebration remains one of England’s iconic moments, while Scots still rue David Seaman’s save from Gary McAllister’s penalty moments earlier.
“I’ve never felt a buzz like it because it’s England-Scotland. What I’ll always remember is the atmosphere,” said Jamie Redknapp, who came on for England at halftime.
“The fixture is like no other. It’s just the fierceness of the rivalry.”
That was their only major tournament meeting until this week.
After 23 years in the international wilderness, Scotland fans — forced to support “Anyone but England” at tournaments since 1998 — finally have a chance to turn the tables.
But ominously for Steve Clarke’s side, England has lost only one of the last 11 encounters between the two teams over a 35-year period.
Even that 1-0 defeat in a European Championship playoff second leg in 1999 wasn’t enough to stop England qualifying on aggregate.
England also took four points from Scotland in their two most recent games as they reached the 2018 World Cup, while their rival stayed home.
Gareth Southgate’s men go into Friday’s game with the momentum after beating Croatia in their Group D opener, while Scotland lost to the Czech Republic.
An attendance of only 22,500 due to coronavirus restrictions, just 2,500 of whom will be supporting Scotland, won’t stop the volume being cranked up and sparks are sure to fly on the pitch as the fierce rivalry resumes.
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