Euro 2020: Braveheart Scotland resume their battle with Auld Enemy England 25 years after Euro '96 heartache

Clash against Gareth Southgate's England rekindles memories of Euro '96 for Dubai-based former Scottish defender Derek Whyte

15 Jun 1996:   Paul Gascoigne of England is tackled by Gary McAllister of Scotland during the England v Scotland match in Group A of the European Football Championships at Wembley. England beat Scotland 2-0.

The last time Scotland prepared to face England at a major tournament, manager Craig Brown gathered his squad to watch a video he was sure would give them an edge.

A goalless draw with the Netherlands four days earlier had been a promising start to Scotland’s Euro ’96 campaign and raised hopes they could secure a famous result at Wembley. But the Scots were still the underdogs and Brown delved into his VHS collection to inspire them with some final video analysis.

An evening screening of 1995 blockbuster Braveheart was a tartan-tinged tactic that left his squad eager to charge into north-west London to take on the Auld Enemy like a team of kilted Mel Gibsons.

But such passion would not lead to points, with the second half of the match more akin to the Battle of Falkirk than Bannockburn. A penalty miss by Scotland captain Gary McAllister was bookended by goals from Alan Shearer and Paul Gascoigne that put the hosts on their way to the next round. Gareth Southgate, now England manager, was part of a defence that kept the Scots at bay.

It is about 25 years to the day that Brown’s side fell inside a raucous Wembley and now a new generation of Scots returns with ambitions of tasting European Championship glory at the expense of their neighbours.

Captain and Liverpool full-back Andy Robertson was only a toddler in 1996, while probable starters such as Arsenal defender Kieran Tierney and Manchester United midfielder Scott McTominay were not yet born.

But with Scotland without a win against England since 1999 and having never before progressed from the group stage of a major competition, they will all carry the weight of history on Friday.

Derek Whyte, Dubai resident and former Scotland defender, knows what it is like to shoulder that responsibility. He was part of the squads that competed at the European Championships in 1992 and 1996, and the World Cup in 1998.

Derek Whyte, AberdeenNo Use UK. No Use Ireland. No Use Belgium. No Use France. No Use Germany. No Use Japan. No Use China. No Use Norway. No Use Sweden. No Use Denmark. No Use Holland

He has fond memories of each tournament, but that match with England 25 years ago continues to be imbued with special significance.

"It's just a Scottish thing, isn't it? When it comes to England, everybody is just desperate to beat them," Whyte told The National.

“The crowd at the England game at Euro ’96 was incredible. You could hear the Tartan Army singing and the support that day was huge. The night before the game, Craig Brown put on Braveheart. If we were playing the game two minutes after that, we would have been running through walls. It gets you so hyped up for Scotland.”

Whyte has lived in the UAE since 2005, working first as a football analyst on TV before heading down a new career path at Japanese engineering supply company Torishima.

His connection with his homeland remains unbroken and he said he was “close to tears” when David Marshall’s emphatic penalty save against Serbia in November sealed a place at Euro 2020.

But the thrill of watching Scotland at a major competition for the first time since 1998 is alloyed with caution. Steve Clarke's Scots face an England team buoyed by an opening victory over Croatia, while Whyte played under former England captain Bryan Robson for three years at Middlesbrough and learnt that the historic rivalry does not end at the border.

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The crowd at the England game at Euro '96 was incredible. You could hear the Tartan Army singing and the support that day was huge

“The strange thing is that people think it’s only a big game for Scotland,” said Whyte, whose club career also included spells at Celtic and Aberdeen.

“But I played in England and Bryan Robson was desperate for England to beat us, as much as we wanted to beat them. We think that we’re Scottish, we’re hard, we can go and beat them, but they are right up for it as well.

“This Scotland team is a good mixed bunch, with players at the top level. I really like Steve Clarke as a coach and he’s got us organised and difficult to beat. We are a stubborn team and have had a lot of clean sheets under him.

“We’ve never been out of the group stage but I’m hoping we can sneak by this time. It’s always glorious failure with Scotland – so close and yet so far. Hopefully this time will be different, just for once. That would be brilliant.”

Scotland’s previous attempt, at France ’98, ended after defeats to Brazil and Morocco and a draw with Norway left Brown’s team at the bottom of Group A. Whyte said he boarded the plane home with valuable memories, a photograph with Brazil full-back Roberto Carlos and the satisfaction that, for a brief moment at least, he helped knocked the Brazilians off their stride.

“Nobody knew we were going to do it, but we walked out on to the pitch before the game with kilts on,” he said. “When we walked down the tunnel we went past the Brazilian boys, who were all there with their shorts on – they looked like they were going to the beach. You could see them all looking at us thinking, ‘who are all these boys with skirts on?’

“The hairs stand up on the back of my neck thinking about it. At the time, it feels like you’re dreaming. I’m so proud for Scotland to be back, because it just means so much to everybody.”

A famous win at Wembley on Friday will matter even more.

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