Sunday, 31 March 2013

England v Scotland programme, 1969

The final crucial game in the 1969 Home International Championship saw the holders and world champions England facing the only team that could top the table in their stead - Scotland.

The match was played at Wembley and for the first time in decades the Home International competition was played at the end of the season. Rather than having all matches scattered from October to February, the Home Internationals were now played over the course of one week in early May. It was physically more demanding for all the players involved and also less significant than the previous tournament that had acted as a qualifying contest for the 1968 European Championships.

Nonetheless, the old rivalries still remained and England fancied their chances of retaining their title. A 3-1 win over Ireland and a 2-1 win over Wales meant England needed only a draw against the Scots who knew they had to win. Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Kent was the invited Royal guest, and she, along with 90,000 or so others would ultimately witness a high-scoring and enjoyable match.

Inside the programme, Brian Glanville set the scene by reminding us that this was all part of England’s preparation for the 1970 World Cup Finals as well as being a much welcomed annual grudge match. Only the right sort of players would be included in the Mexico '70 squad and the feint-hearted need not apply:

“The question of ‘big match temperament’ becomes increasingly vital” said Glanville. “It is risky to make quick judgements on whether or not a player has this temperament. In 1934, after Stanley Matthews, in his second international against Italy, had had a poor match, a columnist wrote in the Daily Mail that he’d shown ‘the same faults of slowness and hesitation’ as in his first match, against Wales. ‘Perhaps’ wrote the columnist ‘he has not got the big match temperament.’”  That’s the Daily Mail for you, Brian…

The England team was in the early stages of transition after the success of 1966 and, as Glanville had pointed out, Ray Wilson and George Cohen were no longer among the squad players listed at Sir Alf Ramsey’s disposal. Instead, new faces were emerging including Everton defender Gordon West, Blackburn full back Keith Newton and a promising young Leicester striker called Allan Clarke.

On the visiting side’s roster were numerous quality players, many of whom had stopped England from beating Scotland at Wembley since 1961. With Celtic's Tommy Gemmell at the back, captain Billy Bremner of Leeds United in midfield and Rangers striker Colin Stein up front, the Scots had more than a fighting chance of winning.

The England manager, however, was focused on the longer term plan of retaining the World Cup the following year. In ‘Sir Alf Speaks’, Ramsey explained the preparations already well underway in the lead up to the competition: “You are probably aware that in a few weeks the senior squad of players, most of whom I trust will be in the World Cup party next year, leave to play two matches in Mexico. Then we go on to play Uruguay in Montevideo and Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. While in Mexico I intend to finalise accommodation and training arrangements for our stay there next year. I am reasonably aware of the problems facing us, particularly from a climatic and altitude viewpoint.”

Aside from match practice and accommodation, however, Sir Alf was also looking at the clothing his players would be wearing at the World Cup, and here we were given something of an exclusive: “We have been testing light-weight shirts, boots and equipment for some time. In the World Cup, we shall play in an all-white strip, which affords maximum advantage and comfort under the conditions. Our change strip will be all sky-blue.” Nice…

Back at Wembley, the fans had everything they needed in their programme to feel the sense of occasion alright. There was a quiz featuring ten questions that only the most die-hard fans could have answered, and there were trivia facts galore about the match to come.

One surrounded the fact this would be a live match covered by BBC Television – something of a rarity back in the 1960’s. A large audience watching from home was hoped for, and even an all-time record wasn't out of the question: “It will take 27 million, the number which saw the World Cup Final and almost half Britain’s entire population. One million fewer watched Manchester United beat Benfica – also at Wembley – in last year’s European Cup Final.” No pressure then…

The actual figure for that final TV audience sadly remains something of a mystery, but for the England fans witnessing the match in person, there was at least a happy ending. England won the match 4-1 and the Home International championship was there’s once more. A suitable occasion to celebrate with a glass of a well-known brand of Pale Ale, no doubt...


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