England 1 Scotland 2, June 4 1977 sparked riotous scenes at Wembley
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Looking back on June 4 1977, Lou Macari reckons he had no chance of escaping what was about to ensue.
“I used to be reasonably fast at my peak,” he says. “But I wasn’t that fast.”
As the game between England and Scotland at Wembley arrived at its conclusion, Macari had seen out of the corner of his eye the crowds gathering at the side of the pitch. When the final whistle sounded, he saw a wave of humanity surging in his direction. He had no time to get out of the way. Not that he wanted to.
“When you win you’ve no rush to get off to the dressing room,” he recalls. “It was a Scottish day never to be forgotten. So you wanted to savour every moment, be out there on the pitch for as long as you could be. And the longer we were out there, the less of the pitch there was left to be out there on.”
Scotland had just won on the auld enemy’s turf for the first time in a decade. A 2-1 victory brought swift redemption from the previous match between the two countries in London, which had ended in a 5-1 win for England. And it is safe to say the Scottish fans were happy. At least 75,000 Scots were inside the stadium that day, a number that has subsequently been reckoned the largest away support for an international match in history. Within a few seconds of the game concluding, almost every one of them was on the pitch. The press of humanity was extraordinary, even those reluctant to be involved were swept forward by the numbers. Macari, along with his teammates, was carried shoulder high by the ecstatic mob. He remembers being handed a tartan tam-o-shanter, plus dozens of tartan scarves.
“I’d won the FA Cup a month earlier and now this, I really thought life couldn’t get better,” he says.
He wasn’t the only one being raised aloft. The crowd quickly noticed in their number a delighted Rod Stewart, a renowned Scotland fan, who was also lifted to shoulder level and serenaded with a communal rendition of Sailing. Meanwhile, dozens of young fans climbed on to the goal posts, which snapped beneath their combined weight.
Delirium for the Scotland fans after the final whistle
Among those taking to the greensward was a young Gordon Strachan. He was on the books at Dundee and was there as a fan.
“My wife and my best man George Mackie were with me on the terrace and we were the only ones in the section still standing there,” he recalls. “A policeman said to us: ‘do me a favour and get on the pitch as you look silly standing there on your own’. So we just joined in. I was only a boy then, 20 years old. I was glad to be on the pitch. But I didn’t wreck anything. Did I swing on the crossbar? I couldn’t reach it.”
Though he did join in with the many who dug up a little bit of the playing surface to take home as a souvenir. He planted it in his garden in Broughty Ferry.
“I sold that house to my brother-in-law and he’s sold it since,” he says. “I’ve no idea who owns it now.”
Or indeed if the current owners know that they have a piece of history integrated into their lawn. Though Strachan was by no means the only one to do a bit of gardening.
“Everyone was digging up the pitch, so I did and took a bit of turf home with me,” says Brian Stott, who was then a 21-year-old bank clerk from Aberdeen and had come to London on a night train. “I’m not sure why I did. I was living with my parents at the time and they didn’t even have a garden to plant it in.”
But the urge to find a keepsake, Macari reckons, was entirely understandable. For the Scots this was an extraordinary day, a day for the ages.
“I didn’t get any of the turf, nor any bit of the crossbar,” he says. “But what I do have are memories. In your career you don’t get many moments like that. I can remember every part of it every time I go through my mental scrapbook.”
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In those days Scotland were able to field a team almost entirely picked from the English first division. As well as Macari, there was Gordon McQueen, Bruce Rioch, Asa Hartford and Joe Jordan. And Kenny Dalglish, who was about to head south to Liverpool from Celtic. It was a team of growing talent, corralled by the new manager Ally McLeod. Even so, Macari did not believe that his team had the upper hand.
Gordon McQueen in action on the day
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“This was England at Wembley, they were always dominant. I remember playing them for the first time at Hampden a couple of years before and there were still World Cup winners in the team. We barely got a kick. Yes, we were powerful but these were no pushovers. We were still very much the underdogs.”
Unlike Scotland, however, England’s chances of qualification for the following summer’s World Cup in Argentina were looking ever more distant. But still the beleaguered manager Don Revie was able to call on players of the calibre of Trevor Francis, Ray Clemence and Mick Channon. And all three of them, as the England bus made its way through the crowds to Wembley, were given constant visual evidence of what a Scotsman wears under his kilt.
“The atmosphere was like nothing I’d ever experienced before,” says Stott. “You could almost see it made the Scottish players grow in size.”
McQueen opened the scoring in the first half, generating delight on the terraces. The defender, now like too many of his generation stricken with dementia, told the BBC in 2013 that his goal, scored from a free-kick delivered by Hartford, was the result of a tactical masterstroke from McLeod.
“We’d worked on it all week,” he suggested. “It was simple enough for Asa: aim for the biggest thing on the park, which was my head. I went up for it and it went in off my head. Clem dived for it, I don’t know why he bothered he was nowhere near it even when it bounced back out. That was us one nil up. It was great. It was without doubt the one moment in my career that most people ask me about.” Dalglish got the second after a scramble in the England box.
“I was right there trying to get my toe on it,” recalls Macari. “But Kenny got there before me. That’s what Kenny used to do: get there before you.”
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Channon’s late penalty was no more than consolation for England.
“Though being a nation of pessimists, the moment he scored we thought that was it and they’d get back in it,” recalls Stott.
But for once the tartan pessimists were proven wrong: Scotland held out.
After the game, when they had finally extricated themselves from the fans, the winners made their way back to the team hotel, then drove to their homes (largely in England) in the cars they had left there. There were no extensive celebrations, no drinking the bars of London dry. The supporters did that on their behalf.
“When it happened no one got carried away,” says Macari. “Except the manager. But that was part of Ally. Trouble was, he got so carried away that a year later at the World Cup it all went wrong. But that was Scotland all over. We enjoyed being the underdog, it worked for us. But when the expectation was on us, we couldn’t do it.”
Though even as they cried in Argentina a year later, the Scottish fans and players alike knew they would always have Wembley.