It may have rained relentlessly for eight hours leading up to kick off, but the torrential downpour wasn’t enough to dampen the spirits of the thousands of Scottish fans — a conservative estimate — that had traveled to London for the national team’s Euro 2020 match against England.
Despite just 3,000 tickets being allocated to away supporters at Wembley, some outlets estimated as many as 20,000 Scots had made the short journey across the border to revel in the festivities.
With Trafalgar Square, the usual gathering point for the Tartan Army — as Scotland fans are known — closed off to the public due to the pandemic, those without tickets descended on Soho, particularly Leicester Square, to frolic in the fountains and consume their fair share of alcohol, those two things often happening at the same time.
Friday’s clash was the 115th meeting between the British neighbors and came 149 years after their first, a 0-0 draw in front of around 4,000 fans at Glasgow’s West of Scotland Cricket Club, which is recognized by FIFA as football’s first ever international fixture.
Although a century-and-a-half has passed since that match, for fans of both sides this local derby has lost none of its luster.
“Every single person in the whole of Scotland wants to beat England, because England are the big brother to the little brother of Scotland,” Robert Finleyson, a 52-year-old Scotland fan from Glasgow, told CNN outside Wembley Stadium.
“Everybody in Scotland is desperate to win every single sporting contest we can against the English.
“It would mean everything [to beat England]. We don’t really care if we qualify from the group. If we were to win today it would be biggest thing ever. We don’t really care [if we qualify], it’s very unlikely that we will, but we don’t care. I don’t care if we qualify, I don’t care if we get to the final, I don’t care if we win the European Championship, we want to be England — and that’s it.”
England fan Brady Bowles, 24 from Horsham, has Scottish grandparents, but didn’t struggle with any divided loyalties ahead of Friday’s game.
“I don’t care, honestly,” he laughed. “I’d still rather beat them. I’ve lived in England all my life, I’m English and don’t care about Scotland massively. Right now, winning would mean everything, because if we win we’re through.”
Despite the obvious rivalry and deep-rooted desire to get one up on their closest neighbor, the interactions between both sets of fans were amicable on Wembley Way — the famous road that leads up to England’s national stadium — with many sharing cans of beer on the walk.
England may hold a narrow historic advantage over Scotland — 48 wins to 41 — but for many years now, the Three Lions have dominated this rivalry.
However, no team in history has beaten England on more occasions than Scotland. “We’re hoping to repeat that tonight,” Finleyson added. “And I’m quite sure if everybody is on form, we’ll do it.”
Scotland has managed just one win over England since 1986, a 1-0 victory at Wembley in 1999 that ultimately counted for nothing as England progressed to Euro 2000 2-1 on aggregate thanks to Paul Scholes’ double in the first leg at Hampden Park.
‘We won’t beat them’
Both sets of fans are famously self-deprecating, born from decades of underwhelming performances and bitter disappointments.
“We as Scotland fans, we’re used to failure,” Michael Hanley, who travelled to Wembley from Falkirk, told CNN. “So we just go to the game, whatever the result is we just accept it and we go home and party.”
England’s route through to the later stages of the competition looks particularly perilous; should Gareth Southgate’s side top the group then three of the tournament’s best sides await in the round of 16.
It’s fair to say not all England fans feel particularly good about their team’s chances.
“When we qualify, I know we’ll face Germany, Portugal or France and we won’t beat them,” Bowles adds with resignation. “But to beat Scotland, to be able to get there after what happened at the World Cup [losing in the semifinals], we just want to get as far as we can.”
Others, however, were feeling decidedly more optimistic.
“To be honest, I don’t see it as a challenge,” Tom Willoughby, 19 from Newcastle, said with a wry smile. “Nah, nah, nah, it’s a big rivalry and form goes out the window, anything can happen — but I think we’ll win 4-0.”
Scotland has enjoyed plenty of famous wins at the home of English football over the years — perhaps the greatest of all coming in 1967, the year after England won its first and only World Cup — and some fans were feeling surprisingly optimistic about adding another to the list ahead of kick off.
England entered the game as the overwhelming favorite and fresh from a comfortable, if not particularly thrilling, 1-0 win against Croatia in its opening match, while Scotland had fallen to a miserable 2-0 defeat at home to the Czech Republic in what was its first match at a major tournament for 23 years.
“It’s the same with football and it’s the same with any sport: We want Scotland to win all the time, regardless of what it is, and we hope England get beat,” Hanley added.
“Beating England would be off the chart. I know we’re the underdogs and we had a bad start, but we’ve got to be optimistic, you know what I mean, never write off the underdog.”
“Today is the day,” added John Watson, who traveled from Lesmahagow in Scotland’s Central Belt. “It would be dynamite; I’d be so happy. Pure joy.”
No goals, plenty of passion
That optimism certainly didn’t look misplaced in the opening exchanges of the match as Scotland started much the sharper of the two sides, relentlessly harassing England’s players when they had possession.
It was the visiting side that created the first chance of the game, with Stephen O’Donnell’s cross finding Che Adams completely unmarked inside the box, but the Southampton forward had his shot well blocked by John Stones.
Despite being officially outnumbered by more than six to one, the Scottish fans were matching their team’s intensity and were by far the louder of the two sets of supporters.
It took a Stones header — from Mason Mount’s whipped corner — that crashed off the post to wake up both the England team and their fans, but it proved to be the catalyst for what turned into an electric first half of football.
The rain showed no signs of subsiding and was certainly helping England’s slick passing, though the players were being met by a solid blue wall of shirts that showed little sign of being broken down.
Mount and Harry Kane squandered reasonable chances, but it was once again Scotland that almost found a breakthrough. It took an outstanding save from England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford to stop the Scots going ahead, getting a strong arm down to his right to deny O’Donnell.
It was a damning indictment of England’s first-half performance that the home side hadn’t even managed a shot on target when Spanish referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz blew his whistle to signal half time.
When Scotland started the second period still the better side, the 20,000 or so England fans inside Wembley began to get restless.
The introduction of Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish from the bench, replacing Phil Foden just after the hour mark, drew by far the loudest cheer of the night from the home supporters.
It would be remiss to describe this match as the plucky Scottish underdog holding firm against superior English opposition, as many expected the theme to be ahead of kick off; instead, both teams were seemingly evenly matched and, in truth, the game could have gone either way.
All in all, it was a turgid affair at times — punctuated by the odd exciting moment — and a draw was unquestionably a fair result.
The point gets Scotland’s Euro 2020 campaign up and running at the second attempt, while England remain well placed to qualify top of the group after the 1-1 draw between Croatia and Czech Repubic earlier in the afternoon.
The Scotland fans that traveled down may not have got the win they were hoping for but, given victories against England have been hard to come by in recent years, certainly won’t be turning their noses up at a draw.
As one fan had put it earlier, they’ll certainly still “go home and party.”