The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the old Home International tournament

14 November 2009 12:42
In a weekend when England go to Doha and there are a series of other lucrative and glamorous friendlies, STEVE CURRY looks back fondly at the old Home International tournament.

Jim Baxter playing keepy-uppy to taunt the world champions; running thegauntlet of security checkpoints on Belfast's streets; watching theTartan Army tear up the Wembley pitch.

These represented the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the old Home International tournament.

This weekend, oceans have been crossed in pursuit of the dollar andthe peso, the pound and the yen, but nestling at the foot of thefixture list today is a humble meeting of Wales and Scotland, twovanquished also-rans of the World Cup qualifying competition.

Fans mob Jim Baxter as Scotland beat England 3-2 at Wembley in 1967

This friendly at the Cardiff City Stadium is a throwback to those days when the oldest fixture in international history would stir British hearts.

No fixture did more to bring out the fierce Scottish loyalties than the annual meeting with the 'Auld Enemy' England, one year at Wembley, the next at Hampden Park.

In those days before the invasion from the Continent, the stars of the British game would come face to face and friendships were stretched to breaking point.

One man who revelled in the rivalries was that bulldog of a player from Tottenham Hotspur, Alan Mullery, as competitive as they come. He has fond memories of the competition that was suspended in 1984.

Mullery reflected yesterday: 'They were wonderful matches and great occasions, especially in the games when you found yourself playing against one of your club-mates.

'For me playing against Northern Ireland meant a date against Pat Jennings. If it was Wales it would be big Mike England and against Scotland it was Dave Mackay or Alan Gilzean. Those Scotland-England games were more like watching Braveheart.

'I remember going to Hampden Park and when we first went on to the pitch in our civvies to look at the conditions there were already 35,000 Scotland supporters in the ground and Alan Ball decided to wind them up. Next thing we were being bombarded from the terraces.

Flying Scotsman: Gordon McQueen nets at Wembley

'When Gilzean came on as a sub, I was standing by the dug-out and said "Good luck, Al" and he turned round to me and shouted "p*** off". That's what it was like, mates at Spurs, sworn enemies at Hampden.

'As the coach pulled into the car park I saw my wife June wearing a Tam O' Shanter. When I asked her why after the game she said, "I was told it would be safer".'

One player who always illuminated the games Scotland played in was Kenny Dalglish, without question one of the greatest ever to come from that country. He looks back with some fondness on those encounters now.

'We always enjoyed them, even if they were played at the wrong end of the year when the pitches tended to be dry and the ball was difficult to control,' he recalled yesterday. 'But it was always good pitting your wits against the other countries and it led to some very good banter in the dressing room at Liverpool.

'For the Scottish fans, the game at Wembley was a huge occasion. Supporters would form Wembley Clubs and save for two years so that they could make the pilgrimage down to London. It was a major highlight for the Scots.

'I'm not so sure there would be the same feelings now or that the games would be so well attended, but I have some fond memories of those years.' I t was ultimately the replacement of respect and rivalry by hatred and hooliganism that was to spell the beginning of the end of the Home Internationals.

Keeper Harry Gregg is escorted off

What had been good-hearted banter was replaced by yobbishness, wrecked trains, pitch invasions and vandalism that deeply affected those running football, in particular the Football Association.

T he FA secretary at the time of the 1977 pitch invasion, when the cost of the damage done at Wembley ran to £10,000, was the late Ted Croker and in his autobiography, The First Voice You Will Hear, he expressed his deep concerns.

'It was unfair on the ordinary people of London that some 30,000 Scots should invade the capital every two years and cause so much disruption, particularly in the West End where their drunkenness and grossness offended both residents and tourists alike.'

It was Dalglish's second-half goal that won the game for Scotland that fateful day, when he put the ball past his Liverpool team-mate Ray Clemence in the England goal.

The fixtures became increasingly difficult to accommodate amid the demands of the World Cup and European Championship campaigns. With the relentless sore of hooliganism and the continuing troubles in Northern Ireland, the FA decided that the 1983-84 season would be the last of the championship.

With the decision taken, the 'weaker' teams of Northern Ireland and Wales came first and second that year and the trophy remains in Belfast - the Irish are still British Champions.

In the very last game, England drew 1-1 with Scotland at Hampden Park, a match in which a young striker came on as a 73rd-minute substitute. His name was Gary Lineker and a star was born.

 Explore more:People:Kenny Dalglish, Gary Lineker, Alan Ball, Harry GreggPlaces:Liverpool, London, Belfast, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom, Hampden ParkOrganisations:Football Association

Source: Daily_Mail