Dalglish, Souness ... I was brought up with Scotland versus England
IT is the oldest rivalry in world football and, at times, the most fiercely-contested.
Partly, this is down to the fixture being put into cold storage in 1989 while it also hasn’t helped that both teams are a shadow of their former selves.
One man, however, who is delighted to see a resumption of the Scots taking on the Auld Enemy at Wembley is Dominic Matteo. The former Leeds United defender is the member of a very select band to have played international football for both England and Scotland so is delighted to see the fixture return to the calendar, albeit as a one-off to celebrate the Football Association’s 150th anniversary.
“I always loved this fixture when growing up,” said the 39-year-old to the Yorkshire Post. “My earliest memories are of watching Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and all those other great players take on the English.
“That was when the result really did mean everything to the two countries. Sadly, those days are gone. The gap between the fixtures has been such a long one that the rivalry has ebbed away. It doesn’t mean what it used to mean, which is a crying shame to me.
“But I still think there is a place for Scotland-England games.”
England have faced Scotland three times since the annual meeting was done away with. Gazza’s stunning winner is the undoubted highlight of those games, with the most recent clash seeing Don Hutchison wrap up a futile win for Scotland at Wembley after Kevin Keegan’s England had triumphed 2-0 at Hampden Park in the first leg of the Euro 2000 play-offs.
Matteo’s own international career spanned those three meetings with the then Liverpool defender making three appearances for England Under-21s in 1994.
Three years later, a senior call-up came under Glenn Hoddle only for injury to twice thwart any chances of making his debut.
Another Under-21 appearance followed for the Three Lions in 1998 along with a call-up to the England B squad but Matteo failed to make the cut for the 1998 World Cup, after which he fell out of favour.
Being born in Dumfries, Scotland should have had first call on Matteo who qualified for England through having moved to Southport when five-years-old. The Scots, though, showed no interest until the start of the new Millennium when Craig Brown was manager.
His senior debut followed in a friendly against Australia at Hampden Park, after which Matteo’s international career took another twist as Sven Goran Eriksson got in touch to ask him to return to England with a view towards partnering then club-mate Rio Ferdinand at the 2002 World Cup.
With his debut for Scotland having not been a competitive fixture, the defender could have switched back. Matteo, however, had no hesitation in sticking with the country of his birth.
Having had a foot in both camps, the former Leeds defender has an unusual insight into a footballing rivalry that began a little under 141 years ago with a goalless draw in Glasgow.
“The two countries might not have played each other recently but the rivalry is still there,” he said. “It might not be as fierce as it once was but it is still there among both sets of supporters.
“On a personal level, my history does make it difficult. I could never win over the rivalry. To the Scots, I was someone who had once played for England and they didn’t like that. Even though I was born in Scotland.
“And to England, I was someone who went to play for Scotland. It never got too bad, though I did cop some abuse from time to time. Japan in the 2002 World Cup was probably the worst. I’d played for Scotland in the qualifiers and we’d just missed out on making it.
“So, I’d travelled out there to watch my mates play for England and was sitting with all the families and friends watching one of the games.
“I nipped downstairs at half-time for a drink and all these England fans gave me all sorts of abuse. I took it in my stride but it wasn’t nice.
“Then, when on duty with Scotland, I’d come in for stick from the press up there. They said I wasn’t Scottish, which was a bit daft as you can’t get much more Scottish than being born there.”
The rivalry may have dipped since the days when Don Revie had to stop the practice of five-a-side games in training being played between the English and Scottish members of his Leeds squad for fear of anyone getting injured.
But Matteo insists: “I think the modern day footballer would get the rivalry a lot more if games were played like in the old days, once a season at the very end.
“I am old fashioned, I know that. But Scotland versus England is one of the great fixtures. Like the Ashes at cricket and the Lions rugby tours.
“If the fixtures were given the proper build-up and a decent place in the calendar – this one is a bit early, with the Premier League not even under way yet – then they could really take off. I am certain of that.”
As for tonight’s fixture, where do Matteo’s loyalties lay? “Scotland,” comes the instant reply. “I’ve always supported Scotland, I even had the kit when I was a kid.
“I do admit, though, that it could be tough at Wembley. England have to be favourites and I just hope Scotland put on a good show. We don’t want a 5-0 or 6-0 to England as it could put the mockers on any chances of the fixture being revived.”