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It’s said by the experts that the word ‘gallus’ dates back to Ancient Greece, a reference, they say, to the river of the same name whose waters drove those who drank from it stark raving bonkers. Fair play to the historians, and their big boffin heads, but we’re not buying it.
Search around and you’ll find different theories on its origin. It’s French, it’s English, it’s a Roman word in honour of the soldier and poet Gaius Gallus, a bit of an operator around 29BC when lining up alongside a young Giorgio Chiellini and the up-and-coming Leonardo Bonucci in Julius Caesar’s army in that business with Mark Anthony.
Sorry, but that’s nonsense too. Everybody in Scotland knows the word was created on the last day of March 1928 when Hughie Gallacher’s Wizards stormed Wembley and did the English 5-1; 5-1 also being the approximate height of each of the wee geniuses that tormented their visitors that day.
They were gallus – cheeky as hell – in 1928. They were gallus again in 1967 when facing into a game against the then world champions. “Beat them?” pondered the great Jim Baxter of Rangers in the days before the game. “We will not just beat them, we will humiliate them.”
And they did. The score was 3-2, but it was three going on four, five and six. Baxter did his keepy-uppy, mocking England with his craft. Denis Law went crackers, angry at Baxter for wasting time showing off when more goals and further mortification for Bobby Moore’s boys was still possible.
Slim Jim had his own ideas on how to torment England. Had Scotland gone on to make it 4, 5 or 6-2, it couldn’t have been any more memorable than those pictures of Baxter winding up the world champs. Look up the dictionary for gallus and you’ll find Gallacher and Baxter and Jimmy Johnstone staring back at you.
And who are those gallus ones now? By God, Scotland needs them. Above all others, Kieran Tierney has that devilment, but can he recover from his calf injury in time? The renewal of the old rivalry is intriguing, but let’s not pretend that it retains the same air of unpredictability that it once had.
If anything, the preamble has been low-key, reflective of the changed nature of the fixture and the huge tag of favouritism attached to England. It doesn’t have the resonance this time.
The build-up has been pretty sedate. The greatness of this game was not created by everybody involved tickling each other’s tummies. That’s pretty much what’s been happening all week. It’s been nice. Almost too nice.
We go back to the spring of 1977 and the halcyon days. If you’re old enough to remember the greatness of Shoot! magazine – and, if you’re not, you have my sympathies – then you’ll recall how potty they went in the build-up to the clash of the Auld Enemy. They’d never gone pottier than they did that week, when the Scots won at Wembley, then collapsed the goalposts and stole half the turf in celebration.
This writer had never been to England or Scotland at that point, but the magic of it was exhilarating. Irish, eight years old and in thrall, we fashioned Tartan scarves out of the leftovers of a recently laid carpet and stuck the remaining straggly bits to the side of the trousers, a la Bay City Rollers, lest there was any doubt where the heart lay.
Not that we knew anything about the world outside Limerick City, but we presumed everybody on the planet was going crazy for this game. Were you England, or were you Scotland?
I was Scotland, but there was a complication. Emlyn Hughes was playing for England. I loved Liverpool and I loved Emlyn Hughes.
I wanted to take Emlyn as my confirmation name until my mother and father intervened. “There’s no such person as Saint Emlyn!” they said, citing the criteria for these things. “Yes, there is!” My own personal beatification of the Liverpool legend didn’t cut it. John, it was.
Back to Wembley ’77. Big Gordon McQueen got the first. “Asa Hartford was told to aim a ball at the biggest thing in the stadium – my head. Och, Ray Clemence didn’t even get it on the way out,” said the giant centre-back.
It finished 2-1. A pitch invasion, a bendy crossbar, a broken crossbar, a storming of the Scotland dressing room by the Tartan Army. There’s people in the bath. They think it’s all over…
“I got the train home the next morning. Scotland fans everywhere,” said McQueen. “They were asking me to sign bits of turf. I said, ‘I can’t sign turf, it’s impossible’. They were going, ‘Just put your finger in it, big man, scratch it, do something’. The boys hadn’t had much sleep.”
Everybody loved those days. There was a mayhem about them that spawned a thousand stories.
To some extent, when this fixture comes around again, the Scots find refuge in reliving the glory era when the country produced world class players at an unbelievably rapid rate for such a small nation.
The past is so inviting. You can pick and choose what memories you wish to recall.
“When people talk about the good old days, I say, ‘It’s not the days that are old, it’s you that’s old.” wrote the fashion designer, Karl Lagerfeld. “I hate the good old days. What is important is that today is good.”
Today is different, that’s for sure. In football, in culture, in politics. Two years after McQueen scored at Wembley, a poll showed that support for a fully independent Scottish Assembly stood at 14%. At the 2014 referendum, it was 45%. The drive for a fully independent nation carries on. The union has never been under greater threat.
Football-wise, the chasm between the domestic games has never been wider. Between 1978 and 1984, Scots picked up 25 European Cup winners medals. Dundee United made the semi-final. Aberdeen beat Real Madrid in a Cup Winners’ Cup final then followed it up by beating Hamburg in the European Super Cup final. Money has disfigured the landscape.
The raw intensity of the rivalry has changed too. Every interview that comes out of the England camp ahead of Friday’s renewal makes Scotland’s job all the more Herculean, the search for an English baddie upon which to build a temple of bitterness proving challenging, to put it mildly.
The golden generation – how the Scots revelled in the eulogies bestowed on the Beckhams, the Lampards and the Gerrards and the whole cringe-making idea of football coming home – are gone and in their place are people who are fiendishly difficult to dislike.
Where’s David Batty when you need him? Where’s Dennis Wise? Where’s Stuart ‘Psycho’ Pearce? What’s happened to all the English pantomime villains?
Gareth Southgate is a quality individual – accessible, intelligent, interesting. Marcus Rashford is an extraordinary young man. Raheem Stirling – his strength of character is so impressive. Tyrone Mings spoke the other day. He couldn’t have been more likeable. Kalvin Phillips after the Croatia game? Utterly charming. We could go on.
Even the media – the ultimate go-to place for grist to the mill – has been respectful to the Scots, save for the occasional talk sport shock jock who’s always looking for ways to set fire to their own trousers.
The game still means a huge amount to the Scots. To the English, particularly young England, not so much.
For too long, England versus Scotland has been a bit like Arthur and the Black Knight in Monty Python. John McGinn and others gave it the modern-day equivalent of the ‘none shall pass’ speech in his press conference the other day. Words are cheap though.
It was Jim Telfer, a Scottish sporting hero from a different code, who said that there is only one way to win respect and that’s to put one over on your rival. Talking ain’t gonna do it.
Hughie Gallacher, Jim Baxter, Jimmy Johnstone – they could talk, but they could play. The gallus ones. If there is successor in the Scottish ranks, now would be a good time to reveal himself. The old rivalry needs a revival. It’s in desperate need of a new storyline.