Richard Sutcliffe: Old rivals stand united at Wembley to pay tribute in defiance of FIFA

England captain Wayne Rooney sporting the poppy on his armband against Scotland last night (Picture: Mike Egerton/PA).England captain Wayne Rooney sporting the poppy on his armband against Scotland last night (Picture: Mike Egerton/PA).
England captain Wayne Rooney sporting the poppy on his armband against Scotland last night (Picture: Mike Egerton/PA).
IF FIFA had not already got the message, by kick-off surely even the hardest of hearing among football's governing body must have been left in no doubt.

The poppy, that symbol of remembrance and hope, was everywhere. On the black armbands being sported by the players, displayed on the giant screens that can be found at each end of Wembley and sitting proudly on the lapels of both Gareth Southgate and Gordon Strachan throughout a fixture that eventually went the way of the hosts.

So prevalent was the emblem FIFA had tried to ban on the grounds it was a political symbol that the message from two nations was unequivocal: Don’t tell us how to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

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Not, it should be said, that this was a points-scoring exercise at the expense of such a disgraced institution. Far from it.

Ninety thousand people simply wanted to do what was right by honouring the memories of the war dead on the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

It is why the only soundtrack to the lone bugler playing The Last Post ahead of kick-off was a police helicopter hovering above the stadium as both sets of supporters fell silent.

This coming together, of course, only went so far. This was England versus Scotland after all.

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Before and after a remembrance ceremony that was as dignified as it was defiant, supporters gave full voice to a rivalry that is not only football’s oldest but still one of its fiercest.

‘Cheer up Gordon Strachan,’ roared English voices before pointing out the former Leeds United captain’s misfortune in managing a ‘s*** football team’.

Back from one section of the travelling hordes came the ‘Viking clap’ that Iceland’s fans became renowned for during Euro 2016, a clear reference to one of English football’s most humiliating episodes.

So intent had some of the Tartan Army been to mock the Auld Enemy that yesterday afternoon was spent hunting for branches of Iceland supermarket to re-enact that famous celebration and then post on social media. Impressive commitment to the cause, by any standards.

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The invasion from north of the Border had begun on Thursday, but it was the morning of the game by the time the Tartan Army was properly mobilised.

King’s Cross was awash with excited Scots from early in the day. Many, fittingly, headed to the nearby Caledonian Road to sample the delights of the various pubs and clubs that dot this main artery through North London.

Others were destined for Trafalgar Square, a mecca for so many generations of the Tartan Army in the days of biennial trips to Wembley for the Home Nations.

The early arrivals hoisted commemorative flags, complete with poppy, in honour of Armistice Day and the two-minute silence at 11am was immaculately observed.

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Soon, though, Nelson was looking down on a scene more reminiscent of those past invasions by those from north of the Border as songs were sung and cans drained amid the November sunshine. One fan even went for a dip in the fountains to leave the intrigued tourists from abroad shaking their heads in disbelief.

Once darkness descended, attention turned to the match and the need to get to Wembley. From tea-time onwards, those whose commute involves either the Jubilee or Metropolitan lines of the Underground were lucky to be able to squeeze on board packed trains.

Rival fans traded insults and chants, but the mood was far from menacing. Sadly, the less tolerant among both sets of fans could not resist booing their neighbour’s national anthem.

It is an ugly trait that football within these shores has been unable to shake off, no matter the strides made elsewhere.

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Thankfully, once the action got under way, both sets of fans contributed to the kind of atmosphere that is scarcely seen at the new Wembley

By the final whistle, the home fans were the ones celebrating after getting one over the noisy neighbours and ensuring that the fine that is likely to come the Football Association’s way for defying FIFA will not be the abiding memory of the 113th instalment of football’s oldest rivalry.