Auld Enemies

Scotland want return of England international

January 14, 2010

Gordon Smith has insisted the Scottish Football Association remain fully committed to the first Scotland v England international for more than a decade.

Scotland Secretary Jim Murphy told MPs this afternoon he had spoken to the SFA about the return of the fixture, adding: "Bring it on''.

At Commons question time, Murphy also pointed to the imminent return of the Home Internationals, with the Republic of Ireland replacing England.

Murphy claimed the SFA withdrew from an agreement for Scotland to play England in a friendly two years ago.

SFA chief executive Smith, who has long championed the return of the fixture, said: "There has long been a debate on the viability of restoring the historic Auld Enemy fixture against England but many circumstances have prohibited this, not least available dates on an already congested domestic and international fixture schedule.

"It is my wish that the game can be revived in some form in the near future and, indeed, we came close to reaching agreement with the Football Association in England to organise a friendly match two years ago.

"Nothing has changed in that regard since then but we are, as always, willing to engage in open dialogue with our English counterparts.

"The Scottish FA has always been receptive to new ideas, culminating in the conception of the Four Nations tournament - incorporating Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland - which is scheduled to commence next year.''

The annual football tournament between the UK's national teams lasted for a century until 1984.

Responding to a suggestion from independent MP Andrew Pelling (Croydon Central) that the promotion of Scottish culture throughout the UK could be encouraged by having the Old Firm play in the English leagues, Murphy said: "What I do think would enhance cross-border cultural exchange would be a return of the Scotland versus England friendly football matches.

"The Home Internationals will return shortly I think, with Ireland replacing England, but I think there's now a commitment for a return of the Scotland v England football matches.

"I've spoken to the SFA about it; there was an agreement to have it in 2008 but Scotland withdrew from that. I think it would be a remarkable sporting event and a highlight of the football calendar so bring it on.''

First Minister Alex Salmond said: "I like Scotland-England games like anyone else. If there are friendly games with England - if the SFA organises these - I'll be delighted to see them.

"But remember what Jock Stein always said. He said, 'Look, one of the problems with Scotland is we're too focused each year on beating England and not focused enough on establishing our place across the world'.

"Some generations of Scots were quite happy if we beat England - it didn't matter about all the other things. Well, the other things really matter: the European Championships, the World Cups are what we want to qualify for.

"We want to be taking on England, not just in friendlies; we want to be taking on England in the later stages of these competitions. That should be our target, not absorbed with the be-all and end-all of a match against England.''

Any attempt to revive regular friendlies would not fit in with the FA's current strategy, but they are keen on occasional one-off meetings.

An FA spokesman said: "We are aware of the significance of an England-Scotland fixture and the high level of interest it would generate. We tried to arrange one in 2008 but unfortunately it could not take place.

"Our focus around the England team at this time is building towards this summer's World Cup.''

The two teams last met in 1999 at Wembley in a play-off for a place at Euro 2000. England won the tie 2-1 on aggregate.

Former Scotland midfielder Paul McStay, who played in more than one match against England in the 1980s before the annual fixture was scrapped, was sceptical about the game being brought back on anything other than a one-off basis.

McStay, who also gave his full backing to new national team boss Craig Levein, said: "Great occasions but I'm not sure where they'd fit it in. I think the fans would love it, the players would enjoy it.

"Against that is the reality of having to fit it into a very, very tight schedule.''