Enjoy chance to embarrass larger neighbours
14 August ~ The world's oldest international fixture is played for the 111th time at Wembley tomorrow. Part of the FA's 150th anniversary celebrations, this is the first England v Scotland game since Don Hutchison gave Scotland a 1-0 win in London 14 years ago. Perhaps the redesigned Wembley is the only substantial difference to the English game since then. Not so north of the border. A lack of on-field familiarity hasn't assuaged a damaging fixation with England which, with an independence referendum on the horizon, politicians are keen to exploit.
Of the previous 110 meetings, England have won just four more than a country with one tenth their population. Scotland's traditional ability to compete with stronger nations while embarrassing ourselves against lesser teams – we recently won in Croatia after losing home and away to Wales – can be attributed to the historic obsession with England. It's no coincidence that the Scottish National Party (SNP) wanted the referendum held in 2014, 700 years after Robert the Bruce's victory over English forces at Bannockburn.
Smaller nations such as Uruguay and New Zealand are multiple world champions in their national sports. But living a maudlin Celtic stereotype limits Scotland's ambition to embarrassing a big bad oppressor we're also strangely determined to imitate. Scotland could only achieve their most famous result a year after England's. Beating Alf Ramsey's world champions 3-2 in 1967, at Wembley, arrived in the middle of 16-year spell without finals football.
That last Wembley meeting, with Scotland two down from the first leg of the Euro 2000 play-off, typified Caledonian psychology. We'd reached the World Cup finals in France in 1998 and if we weren't at the next tournament, going out at the penultimate stage while beating England at Wembley was as well as any Scotland team could do it. We'd reached Euro 92 and 96, all but one of the World Cups since Mexico 1970 and the Scottish Premier League (SPL) – our version of the FA's exclusive, breakaway, domestic top flight – was into its second season. We were doing fine.
Yet France 98 remains the SFA's last major tournament and the SPL was wound-up this summer. England have maintained their average of reaching every second tournament quarter-final and, whatever the sources of their wealth, English clubs excel in UEFA competition. Roy Hodgson's team aren't coasting to Brazil 2014 but Scotland were out of next year's World Cup with half their qualifying fixtures remaining.
Despite the home group games which preceded it being woefully under-attended, England's play-off visit to Hampden in 1999 sold out instantly. I immediately joined the official supporters club, resolving never to miss another game simply because I don't hate England more than I love Scotland.
Many Rangers and Celtic fans, spoiled by annual silverware, now affect a pseudo-ethnic club loyalty when rejecting the national team. I didn't want Scots playing for Team GB last summer but I was also thankful they didn't play at Hampden because of the unionist v nationalist nonsense it would incite. I won't be wearing a kilt tonight – formerly worn with sneakers by the odd joker, it's now a mawkish uniform – and, while I love winning derbies, the team I most want to beat is the one Scotland meet in a World Cup final.
However it votes next September, Scotland won't detach at Gretna and float off into the Atlantic. I have more in common with people from Salford, Walsall and Portsmouth than I do with half the Braveheart-memorising estate agents reprising ideals of tartan laddishness tonight. One difference I would like, though, is to support a football country whose success matches its passion. Alex Anderson