Scotland: Gordon Strachan says games against England are diminished

Scotland head coach Gordon Strachan
Scotland's Gordon Strachan describes the game against England as one the team must not lose
World Cup qualifier: Scotland v England
Venue: Hampden Park, Glasgow Date: Saturday, 10 June Kick-off: 17:00 BST
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland, live text commentary on BBC Sport website

A game between Scotland and England has many different meanings for Gordon Strachan.

He might recall the time at Wembley in 1977, when he watched as a fan on his honeymoon, with his new wife and his best man.

They ended up as reluctant pitch invaders following the visitors' 2-1 win, because a policeman in the stand said: "What are you standing there for? You're the only three Scots not on the pitch."

Or he might remember desperately hoping that Richard Gough would convert a header in the 1-0 win at Hampden in 1985 because Strachan was "having a stinker" and the ball was going to land at his feet if Gough didn't connect inside the penalty area.

Strachan doesn't really do nostalgia, but his memories of games between the Auld Enemies are of their significance in the football calendar and of the personal rivalries that illuminated them - and provided an edge.

These are all concepts that, in Strachan's eyes, are diminished in today's game - which, depending on the result and the performance, could also be about his future as the national team boss, with England visiting Hampden on Saturday evening.

'When I played against Bryan Robson, I knew what was coming'

"[It was] the best international game, but that real energy that you put into one game over a season, as a supporter or a player, has dissipated over the years because they were the only games you saw on TV," Strachan said.

"Scotland v England, the cup final, and highlights of two games on a Saturday night, that was your lot. We are saturating football just now. There are so many games. It's not the same anymore.

"There were individual clashes that you got because we all used to play at the same clubs. That's not there anymore. We don't really know each other that well.

"When I played against Bryan Robson, I knew exactly what was coming, I was going to get kicked up in the air and I would try to beat him, give him a mouthful of abuse.

Gordon Strachan and Bryan Robson
Strachan and Robson in 1984

"[Scotland v England] was THE fixture. If you said to me now, do you want to go to Scotland v England, or do you want to go to an orangutan safari in Borneo, I'd go for the orangutan safari. I've been to loads of Scotland v England games, I've played in them."

Strachan will be as competitive and engrossed in the game as ever at Hampden. He took his side to Wembley in November and, despite losing 3-0, came away convinced that his players can still consider the World Cup qualifying campaign as relevant.

A very late Chris Martin goal secured a victory over Slovenia at the national stadium in March, with the result keeping Scotland's hopes in Group F alive, albeit still diminished by previous results.

"The last game, we had to win, this game, we don't get beaten," Strachan said. "But that's not the philosophy - we want to win.

Scotland striker Chris Martin
Martin's goal secured a vital three points in Scotland's last outing

"The lads, the last time they played [against England], the way they conducted themselves, they were brave and playing up against people. There aren't many times in football when you feel sorry for your players, but I did that night because they didn't deserve that.

"[England] had three attempts on goal on target and nothing else really bothered us, but the three headers went in. If [goalkeeper] Craig Gordon does as little as he did at Wembley then we'll be all right."

Strachan evades questions about his future with the sharpness and wit that once flowed through his trickiness as a winger.

He has been in football long enough - 43 years now - to know how the game and the media narrative around it works. Strachan has always been most comfortable standing his ground rather than going with the flow.

'I've got no interest where my future's going to be'

"I watch Sky Sports every morning for about 20 minutes then I get bored and fed up because I hear the same cliches," he said.

"I hear about projects. Then, after four games, the guy wraps up his project because he got the sack. It's all about the immediate, football, not the future.

"It doesn't matter about me. I pick teams and get people prepared. That's what I like doing. What am I thinking about today's game: players, fans, backroom staff, family. I've got no interest in where my future's going to be.

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Scotland v England: No Churchill-style speech for Gordon Strachan

"I've got no plans for after the game. I get in the car and go home. 'How did it go'? 'Great, we won, let's go for a cup of tea'. If it doesn't go well, I might not be happy for a couple of days, but we'll still have a cup of tea."

Strachan talks warmly of his appreciation of supporters who stop to encourage him when he is out. He accepts the level of expectation that comes with the job, and the scrutiny, but he has little enthusiasm for enduring it.

He has worked with an array of different types of managers, from Davie White, who "was good for me as a kid", to another Dundee manager in Tommy Gemmell, who once arrived with his assistant, Willie Wallace, at Strachan's hospital bed after an operation, their arms laden with a dozen cans of lager and two bottles of wine.

"I'd had my toenails taken out by the roots, so you can imagine how painful that was," Strachan said. "And we relived the Lisbon game [Celtic's 1967 European Cup final win in which Gemmell scored] for four hours."

Group F

His relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson broke down after they worked together at Aberdeen and Manchester United, but they talk again now and meet each other at Doncaster games, where their sons work.

"My 40th [wedding] anniversary's coming up soon and anybody who's in the football world and gets to their 40th anniversary, I've had an argument with them - every one of them," Strachan said. "Life's like that. It's not a problem."

Football is a world of judgement, but Strachan knows that as well as anybody. He has his way of dealing with it and few reputations are sacrosanct.

"I played golf with Kenny [Dalglish] last week and my two boys," Strachan said. "One of my grandsons is six and he's football bonkers. His father, Craig, went home and said, 'do you know what I did today, Owen? I played with the best Scotland player ever'.

"Owen looked at him and went, 'Leigh Griffiths'?"

To hear an extended interview with Gordon Strachan, tune in to Sportsound on BBC Radio Scotland on Saturday from 15:00 BST.

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