Scotland coach Craig Brown will be looking forward with the rest of the soccer world to the next few days as the Battle for Europe heats up at Hampden Park and Wembley four days later. Soccer immortality awaits the eventual outcome for Craig – of course that may be good or bad. If Scotland emerge victorious, then Brown will be revered and endeared forever north of Newcastle. If as expected by most, England prevails, past accomplishments will be forgotten. It matters not that Scotland are on the verge of an unprecedented third consecutive major championships finals appearance. It matters not that they have won 13 of their last 15 internationals at Hampden. If they lose, Brown may find decent malt in a land of plenty hard to come by for a century or so.
King Kevin is on a hiding to nothing over the two games. Many platitudes will be delivered and political correctness will be in evidence right up to the second match kick-off. Saturday will not likely reveal all and some cards will still have to be played come the 17th. It will be breathtaking, breakneck speed, every tackle cheered and jeered, and the “fact” that England are a better team on paper will be worth less than the paper it’s written on. The first leg will be close and if the Scots don’t concede an early goal, then the Hampden crowd should play it’s part in keeping things that way until the Wembley encounter, at least.
The Scotland manager has been besieged to talk Battle of Britain all through the build up. It was nice to see him deflect the heat with Prime Ministerial competency and talk about the old days when he was in a singing group called Hammy and the Hamsters. “It was me and four other guys in the Dundee team led by Alex “Hammy” Hamilton, Scotland’s full-back, and we used to play at the ballrooms around the town. Mainly Beatles stuff.” The name of their only record, “My dream came true” might yet be heard on the streets of Glasgow live. It turns out, like many a Scotsman before him, that Craig has lots of tales to tell and would make for good conversation at a more appropriate time. As a player, he was signed at Rangers during the legendary reign of Jim Baxter. He recalls now, “I never got a first-team game because I was fourth-choice left-half – behind Jim Baxter, an amputee and a Catholic.” I’m sure Bill Shankly would appreciate that one.
Speaking of funny quotes, I was amused at Turkey’s manager Mustafa Denzili suggestion that he will need three men to mark Sunderland striker Niall Quinn in their crunch clash with the Republic of Ireland in Dublin. Perhapd he intends to play twin centre halves on top of each other to combat Quinn’s aerial prowess. “But after beating and drawing with Germany in the qualifiers we really deserve to be in the finals already,” he added. Go back to bed and dream on Mustafa.