The Scottish Mail on Sunday
Three minutes of glory... then heartbreak for Tartan Army
FOR a few precious moments yesterday, Scotland’s journeymen footballers flirted with the prospect of World Cup immortality.
Fifty years after the Wembley Wizards humbled England’s world-beaters, Gordon Strachan’s Hampden Heroes were within seconds of a historic, thumping victory over the Auld Enemy.
Two late free kick goals by Man of the Match Leigh Griffiths in the 87th and 90th minutes sent the national stadium into raptures, the Tartan Army dancing a jig of delight in the evening sunshine.
But in true Scottish style, just as the final whistle tantalisingly approached barely three minutes later, the Mount Florida mood swung to despair and gut-wrenching disappointment after England captain Harry Kane levelled the score at 2-2 with almost the last kick of the game.
Former Scotland captain Graeme Souness, who was on the winning side against England in 1985, summed up the feeling on Sky Sports, saying: ‘That will haunt Scottish people for decades.’
Yesterday’s qualification tie for the World Cup finals in Russia next year was two years in the making, the draw having paired the oldest of foes in Group F in July 2015.
After recent terrorist attacks, armed police were positioned near the stadium and at railway stations in Glasgow.
A minute’s silence was perfectly observed by 50,000 fans of both nations before kick-off, in memory of those who had died in the Manchester and London outrages.
Rocker Rod Stewart had double reason to celebrate – at least before England’s equaliser.
Griffiths plays his club football for Celtic, Stewart’s favourite team, who had five players in the starting 11.
Scotland manager Gordon Strachan tried to put on a brave face after the result, by comparing his lower-league players with the superstars of the English Premiership.
One of his defenders, he said, ‘couldn’t get a game for Derby’.
He further compared the match to a gruelling boxing bout, with a ‘middleweight’ up against a ‘heavyweight’.
Had his ‘middleweights’ prevailed for the remaining few seconds when they led 2-1, the 60-year-old said, it would have been ‘the best result of my career’.
As they filed out after the match, Scotland fans were brutally honest about how they felt.
Darren McGarry, 30, from Whitburn, West Lothian said: ‘I was crying. We went from euphoria to being stabbed in the back.’
His friend, Shaun Simpson, 29, also from Whitburn, said: ‘It’s heartbreaking. I could greet.’
Former England internationalist Gary Neville, now a TV pundit, confessed he was taken aback by the emotion of the occasion. He said: ‘I have not experienced an atmosphere like that at a football match for a very long time.’
But diehard England fan Jenna Green, 15, who had travelled from Doncaster, had a different opinion. She said: ‘It was rubbish. England weren’t bad, just boring.’
Scotland remain in fourth place in the qualifying group of six.
Police Scotland said there had been 13 arrests, all for minor public order offences. Chief Superintendent Brian McInulty said: ‘The policing operation to assist supporters attending and leaving the stadium has passed off well.’