Soccer Sport

Neil McCann: Scotland need to summon the spirit of '99

WINNING and still losing is possibly the most Scottish thing ever. Neil McCann acknowledges as much with a smile. That was the story back in November 1999, the last time Scotland played a competitive match against England. Often held up as a rare win on English soil, it was, in truth, only half a victory. Scotland won the match 1-0 at Wembley courtesy of Don Hutchison’s first-half header but having lost the first leg of their play-off 2-0 at Hampden a few days earlier, still didn’t qualify for the European Championships. Traipsing off the field, the Scotland players didn’t know whether to celebrate their achievements or mope about miserably at not scoring the second goal that would have taken the tie to extra-time.

They came close, though. Really close. David Seaman, who had previously broken Scottish hearts when he saved Gary McAllister’s penalty at Euro ’96, would prove his worth again, thrusting up a hand to somehow repel Christian Dailly’s header 10 minutes from time. It was a case of close but not quite close enough for Scotland once more.

“Ultimately it felt nice but we didn’t achieve what we went there to achieve, which was qualification,” recalled McCann who had provided the cross for Hutchison’s goal that had given the Scots fresh hope.

“But when you look back in it, it was quite an incredible night. To go and play for Scotland against England at Wembley and come away with a result was pretty special. Losing 2-0 at Hampden – and you look at the squad they had at the time – I don’t think many people would have given us a hope going to Wembley.

“When you look through England’s team it was incredible. They had Tony Adams and Gareth Southgate at centre-half with David Seaman behind them, also Sol Campbell and boys like David Beckham, Alan Shearer, Michael Owen and Paul Scholes.

“So they were a top class side but, as everyone knows, if Seaman hadn’t pulled off a world-class save we could have been in a tournament. I just remember we all jumped at the same time thinking it was in. It was a quite incredible save.

“That was a big regret of mine – not being able to play in a tournament – but you try and take crumbs of comfort and to win at Wembley was pretty special.”

A reprise of that performance would serve Scotland well on Friday night. The calibre of players – on both sides – may have dropped since that 1999 meeting but the levels of passion and commitment will likely be the same.

“We knew if we had a wee bit of bite and aggression when we went down there then it would show we weren’t going to be messed about,” added McCann. “I remember very early in the game Paul Ince came over and smashed me. I went to receive the ball with my back to play and he came in and it was a cheap foul, he knew he was going to give me a wee bit. As I’ve rolled and gone to get back up, in a classic Scottish manner, he had already been grabbed by Callum Davidson and Barry Ferguson. So I knew right away we were up for it.

“The game has changed but there is still a place for aggression. You have to curb it and you can’t be going grabbing people by the scruff of the neck at times. But I still believe there is a place for it.

“I remember standing on the field at the national anthems and getting absolutely battered by the crowd. The Tartan Army had booed their anthem at Hampden and they were giving it back. We were trying to get the words out but we getting totally hammered.

“It just make us roll the shoulders up and stick the chests out further, it only made us even more determined. It’s England. I loved my time playing down there and I’ve got a lot of English friends. But it’s England. That rivalry is always there. We’re Scottish and it’s deep rooted. It’s special when you get the chance to have a go at them.”

McCann believes a Scotland victory on Friday is possible, even if he gets funny looks for saying so. “I’m not going to kid anyone on. It’s a tough group. But I wouldn’t say I believed we could go down and win if I didn’t believe it. People look at you as if you’re on drugs by saying it. But I do believe we can do it, because I’ve been in that changing room at Wembley when everyone’s written you off.”

– Neil McCann was promoting the launch of North Lanarkshire Council’s Sporting Hall of Fame. Full details

Source : HeraldScotland

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