Five Years Ago . . . . .

Five years ago on March 27th, 2011 Scotland faced Brazil in a friendly at the Emirates Stadium with Craig Levein in charge. Oh how things have changed since then. In the starting line-up Scotland had seven players who played regularly in the English Premier League, one who played in Turkey, two from Rangers and a lone Celt. Starting that day were; Allan McGregor (Rangers), Alan Hutton (Tottenham Hotspur), Stephen Crainey (Blackpool), Christophe Berra (Wolves), Gary Caldwell (Wigan), Steven Whittaker (Rangers), Charlie Adam (Blackpool), Scott Brown (Celtic), Kenny Miller (Bursapor . . . God, I had forgotten that one.), James Morrison (West Brom) and James McArthur (Wigan).
Despite this, Scotland were never really in contention during the game and always seemed one or two steps behind the Brazilians. Brazilian teenage sensation Neymar would score both goals but there would be some after match controversy over him.
During the game Neymar was rounded on by Scots fans for his playacting each time a Scottish player went near him. There was also a banana thrown on to the field. This led to claims that the Scottish had been racist and led to a few of the Brazilian players speaking out. The truth of the matter was that Neymar had infuriated the fans with his antics and deserved to be booed at; as for the banana; this was thrown by a German tourist in the home fans end i.e. from the Brazilian fan area.
Given this was a friendly Scotland used six subs during the course of the game with among them Robert Snodgrass of Leeds United making his second appearance for Scotland and making his debut from the Mighty Peterborough United, Craig Mackail-Smith. Craig at the time was freely scoring for the Posh to deserve his inclusion. However, like James Mackie, he never really shone enough to suggest he had the class to become an International striker but he was quite a bustling hard working striker and never gave the opposition a moment’s rest. He does deserve recognition for one thing; Liechtenstein 0 Scotland 1. Can you imagine the embarrassment had he never scored?


Ten Years Ago . . .

Ten Years Ago on March 1st, 2006 Walter Smith was in charge of the Scotland team as we played a friendly against Switzerland at Hampden. Did we get beat? Of course, we did, 3-1. I don’t know about you but for the last twenty years all the friendlies at Hampden seem to have merged into one with Scotland continuously getting stuffed. I know there were some victories but a lot of them seemed to happen away from the National Stadium at places like Easter Road and Pittodrie and even though Strachan’s record in these types of games isn’t too bad it still doesn’t comfort as you contemplate heading up to Hampden next Tuesday night. Of course, if you head up you might be able to purchase a copy of the latest Epistles mag; if you can spot me and Robert selling them in some sheltered part of the Hampden approaches but that’s another story for another time.
Anyway back to the Swiss game. Scotland fielded quite an experienced side with Nigel Quashie being the least experienced with only twelve caps to his name. The team was as follows; Craig Gordon (Hearts), Christian Dailly (West Ham), Graham Alexander (Preston North End), David Weir (Everton), Andy Webster (Hearts), Barry Ferguson (Rangers), Darren Fletcher (Manchester United), Gary Caldwell (Hibs), Kenny Miller (Wolves), Quashie (West Brom) and James McFadden (Everton). Eight of these players would play in the famous win against France at Hampden in October that year.
However, on this night it was the Swiss who took the lead with first half goals from Barnetta and Gygax. Smith would make his only changes at half time, which given how ridiculous some friendlies can be with substitutions, has to be applauded with Neil Alexander of Cardiff and Gary Teale of Wigan coming on for their debuts, as well as Stephen Caldwell then of Sunderland making an appearance.
Kenny Miller would pull one back in the 54th minute but a goal fourteen minutes later from Cabanas would seal for the Swiss.
Here’s hoping next year or whenever it is, UEFA brings in their plans for friendlies to be part of a UEFA League of Nations we start to see better games and performances form a Scotland team.

Neil Alexander Of Cardiff City

Fifteen Years Ago . . .

Well if you thought five and ten years ago were miserable, it was worse than that fifteen years ago particularly at 16.50hrs on March 24th as Scotland lost a 92nd minute goal to feckin’ Belgium!! It had all started so well in Scotland’s 4th game of the 2002 World Cup Qualifying campaign.
Scotland had already picked up away points with two wins in Latvia and San Marino and a credible draw in Croatia. A crowd of 37,480 turned up to watch Scotland play the first home game of the campaign and most were barely seated when Billy Dodds put Scotland into the lead with only two minutes on the clock.
Things were to get better in the 29th minute as Dodds doubled the lead from the penalty spot after Deflandre handled on the goal line but 13 minutes after the restart Wilmots brought the Belgians back into it and worse was to follows in the 92nd minute Van Buyten equalised. Croatia would go on to win the group but it was Belgium who progressed through to the play offs and this game would pivotal to that with Belgium finishing two points ahead of Scotland.
The team that broke our hearts that day were Neil Sullivan (Tottenham Hotspur), David` Weir (Everton), Matt Elliott (Leicester City), Colin Hendry (Bolton Wanderers), Tom Boyd (Celtic), Craig Burley (Derby County), Barry Ferguson (Rangers), Paul Lambert (Celtic), Dominic Matteo (Leeds United), Don Hutchison (Sunderland) and Billy Dodds (Rangers).
A few days later on March, 28th Scotland beat San Marino 4-0 with almost the same team. Colin Hendry would score two goals but a retrospective six game ban for elbowing an opponent would end his Scotland career prematurely. Dodds and Colin Cameron of Hearts scored the other two.
Of course, worse was to follow as Craig Brown quit after the failure to qualify and left us in the mire of the Vogts years.


Twenty Years Ago . . .

And a victory at last as Scotland beat Australia 1-0 at Hampden in a friendly. Scotland had qualified for the Euros 96 to be held in England and were beginning their regime of friendlies to get them ready for the competition. However, does it seem strange to anyone else that to get us ready to face the best teams in Europe, Scotland would play Australia, USA and Colombia?
Craig Brown would dish out one new cap on March, 27th 1996 to Celtic’s Brian O’Neill. Brian would only gain seven caps in his time and the last one would come under Walter Smith in 2005 as a Preston North End player; the five in between would be as a Wolfsburg player.
20,608 fans turned up to see Scotland line up as; Jim Leighton (Hibernian), Brian O’Neill (Celtic), Colin Hendry (Blackburn Rovers), Tom Boyd (Celtic), Craig Burley (Chelsea), Gary McAllister (Leeds United), Paul McStay (Celtic), Billy McKinlay (Blackburn Rovers), John Collins (Celtic), John Spencer (Chelsea) and winning his fiftieth cap and captain for the night; Ally McCoist of Rangers.
Given it was Super Ally, is it any surprise that it was he that scored the only goal of the game in the 53rd minute. Ally would be replaced in the 80th minute by Pat Nevin who would be making his 28th and final appearance in a Scotland jersey. Pat was a Tranmere Rovers player at the time and it surprised me when I looked it up that 14 of his caps came as a Rovers player with 8 and 6 coming as an Everton and Chelsea player respectively.
As for the other warm ups; Scotland got beat by Denmark 2-0 in Copenhagen; 2-1 in New Britain to the US and 1-0 by Colombia in Miami. Not the pre-tournament confidence builders them.

Brian O’Neill

David Stuart