The defining memory of Euro 96 for most England fans isn’t the sumptuous 4-1 win over the Netherlands but the Scotland game and Gazza’s rascal goal.
Paul Gascoigne’s chip over Colin Hendry’s head and cheeky finish would stick in any nation’s head. So would the satirical dentist chair celebration. But there was another reason to enshrine these images. In 1996 a tribal victory over the Scots in a thrilling game was still more highly valued than a rare artistic schooling for the Dutch.
High on the wall of a cricket club in Partick in Glasgow is a plaque commemorating game No 1 in the official history of international football.
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A 0-0 draw between Scotland and England there on 30 November 1872 was the genesis of everything we’re watching at Euro 2020.
This week’s England-Scotland group game marks 149 years not only of football’s quintessential rivalry but the international game itself. This will be their 115th meeting. They confront one another now with the political divide wider than at any point in that century and a half.
One day soon Scotland could march out in these games as an independent state, against a rump nation gripped by English nationalism. Political scientists will search for deeper meanings in Friday night’s match.
Even with a reduced crowd, this is more than a routine ‘round 2’ game in a group where Scotland’s 2-0 defeat to the Czech Republic threw a wet towel over the ardour of their return tournament return 23 years on from the 1998 World Cup.
Phil Foden, Marcus Rashford, Jude Bellingham and Mason Mount are among those who weren’t alive during Euro 96 - yet they too understand the resonance. Rashford says: “I think for our careers this is going to be up there with one of the best games we play, one of the games we remember for the rest of our careers.”
To study the England-Scotland antipathy as I’ve done for two years, in book research, is to be cured of any sniffiness about the game’s continuing relevance.
For sure there have been times when the rivalry has descended into neighbours artlessly throwing rocks at each other over a garden fence. Sterile affirmations of British technical and tactical flaws have been numerous. But as Euro 96 showed, the rivalry is underpinned by an innate sense on both sides of its role in shaping who both countries are.

Gascoigne's celebration remains one of the most iconic images from the fixture

Image credit: Getty Images

Since ’96, the Euro 2000 qualifiers of 1999 and World Cup qualifiers in 2016-17 have kept the antagonism going. Game 115 is 60 years on from England’s 9-3 Wembley win, featuring a Jimmy Greaves hat-trick and a goal for Bobby Robson, who caught the train and bus back to his home in West Bromwich and had to walk the last part in his socks to soothe his blisters.
Among the misconceptions though is that Scotland have always been the underdogs in the feud between “Saxons and Caledonians,” as early newspapers called it.
Not so. In the early days of the late 19th century it was Scottish pass-and-move that forced the English to stop regarding football as a sport of individual dribbling. Hampden Park was the envy of the English Football Association and the prime motivation for building the old Empire Stadium, now rebuilt as a £757m luxury arena.
That England have won 48 and lost 41 of those 114 games shows you how tight the duel has been. Scotland’s ‘Wee Blue Devils’ for instance inflicted woe on England, who stumbled from 1927 to 1939 without winning at Hampden, a ground that induced dread in English teams. On the train to Glasgow in 1939, Eddie Hapgood, the England captain, tried desperately to persuade his team the Scots “weren’t supermen.” His oratory was rewarded with a wildly emotional 2-1 win.
The scrapping of the Home Championship in 1984 ended more than a century of annual grappling. By then hooliganism, fixture congestion and the growth of World Cups and European Championships rendered “Auld Enemy” games a drag on progress. The Scottish pitch invasion and goalpost climbing contest at Wembley in 1977 induced both moral panic and some classic images. Denis Law claimed he saw Scotland fans trying to take a crossbar home: “Have you ever lifted a crossbar?” Law asked. “It is unbelievably heavy. They wanted to take the crossbar on the tube.”

Scotland fans leave their mark on Wembley after a famous win in 1977

Image credit: Getty Images

For Scotland the parade of great players who’ve graced these games tends to be more vivid because the supply of great names stuttered after Dalglish, Souness and Hansen. Now at Euro 2020, Scotland are already playing for survival while England, with their vast bounty of Premier League academy graduates, can fairly identify Friday night’s guests as the weakest team in the group.
But Scotland at least know the side they finished with against the Czech Republic was stronger than the one that started. The subs, Che Adams, Ryan Fraser and James Forrest added impetus. Their otherwise accomplished goalkeeper David Marshall is also unlikely to stand 35 yards up the pitch again and invite an English ‘iron’ shot over his head.
“It’s going to be a game where we’re going to have to be good at things that are outside of our comfort zone, as you could call it,” Rashford says. “Scotland are effective in different ways, so we have to be able to match them, compete with them and then get the ball down and play our football as well.”

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If emotion scrambled Scotland’s minds against the Czechs (“calm down,” their captain Andy Robertson pleaded), Wembley against a confident England side won’t be the easiest place to find serenity.
A rivalry replaced in English eyes after 1966 by the one with Germany flared back to life in 1996, when Terry Venables’ team beat Scotland with Gazza’s wonder goal but were no match for German penalty-taking in a semi-final. With every England-Scotland match there’s a small commemoration of international football’s birth and a big blast of fresh antipathy. These two were the original noisy neighbours.
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