Date: 5th June 2017
Ex-Coach thinks the upcoming game can turn the group “on its head”.
By Ben Ramage
Media Scotland journalist and SFSA writer Ben Ramage spoke to ex-Scotland coach Craig Brown – the last manager to oversee a competitive win over England – to see what he makes of the current side and their chances at Hampden.
What do you make of the campaign so far?
“The performances have been ok so far. Even against Slovakia, up until the first goal we were right in it. That first goal was a disgraceful decision from the referee not to give the foul on Fletcher just before.
“I’m always optimistic but I genuinely believe our players are on the verge of turning the corner. There’s a good nucleus and harmony in the squad which is so important and I feel this might go our way and a result against England could turn the group on its head.”
What do you make of Scotland’s chances of beating the Auld Enemy?
“I am a super optimist. I genuinely think England aren’t as good as they used to be and the less experienced manager they’ve got just now in Southgate gives us a better chance. Our manager just has that bit more nous at the moment which could be crucial.
“There’ll be a bounce in the squad after the win last time out against Slovenia as well which will help.”
Which current Scottish player could make the difference?
“Snoddy is more than capable to have a big influence on the game.”
What is the biggest challenge for the current Scotland team?
“The problem, as most people can see, is at centre-back. I had Colin Hendry and Colin Calderwood to call on and McLeish and Miller before them. We’re just not quite as solid there as we used to be, which is a worry because whoever faces England will need to be on top of their game.
“I was lucky to coach some of the best defenders Scotland have ever had. When we qualified for Euro 96, we conceded just three goals in qualifying. For World Cup 98, we conceded just three again. That was unbelievable defensive work.”
Which English players are most likely to break through our rearguard?
“Dele Alli is a big worry for me because he is very quick and can score different types of goals. Kane is coming off a great season too. He is a complete centre-forward.”
Does the timing of the game at the end of a long season affect the Scots or the English more?
“With no major fixtures after the Scottish Cup, we should have a fully fit squad which is a bonus because we can’t afford too many call offs. England’s pool of players is so much bigger so they can cope without a few players so much easier.
“Paul Lambert was injured in the Old Firm game before the first leg of the play-off’s against England in Glasgow. That was so unlucky because he was pivotal and would have been marking Scholes for those two goals.”
What is the most important thing for the squad heading into this match?
“The key is to in no way allow the Scottish team feel at all inferior to the English side. I always wanted our players to feel superior to them, not just at the same level.
“I remember when Colin Hendry was teammates with Alan Shearer at Blackburn, I asked him to ask Alan how many complementary tickets the English boys were getting, tea room passes and car park passes. I then made sure if they got six, we got eight. We had to have more. Things like that seem so small but it’s so important psychologically the players felt they were superior before they even took to the pitch.”
“I remember one instance when we were playing Brazil, I was joking with our players just before kick-off because the Brazil boys used to come out holding hands. I was saying ‘Look at them, they’re s****** themselves facing us’ and that helped relieve the pressure a lot. That’s really important and I’m sure knowing how Strachan is he’ll be good at that as well.”
How big a part can the Tartan Army play in getting a positive result?
“The TA are such a huge support and they’re a massive benefit to the team. They’re so vocal and encouraging and a lot of these English players might not have faced such a big atmosphere as they’ll get at Hampden. This could make the difference and I’m sure our boys will use that to push them over the line.”
Which Scots made the biggest impression when you were in charge?
“Tom Boyd was one of my favourites. He would play full back or centre back, wherever I asked and was so reliable. He would turn up with a big bruised ankle and say ‘I’ll play if you need me boss’.
“I was lucky to coach so many talents; Gary McAllister, John Collins, Paul Lambert, Christian Dailly.
“I’d make a special mention of Jim Leighton. Not enough is made of the fact in 91 games for Scotland he kept 45 clean sheets. That’s remarkable.”
What do you make of Gordon Strachan as a coach?
“I’m a Strachan fan. He’s very fair and his old club connections never come into his team selections. He’s very well-respected in the coaching community in Scotland. I was part of the coaching programme when he got his A Licence in 1990 and I thought he was exceptionally good even then. You could tell he’d make a great wee coach.”
What are your best memories as gaffer?
“Don Hutchison heading in against England and also scoring the winner against Germany. That was two brilliant away wins against big big teams. They stand out for me.
“Qualifying for the 1998 World Cup at Celtic Park by beating Latvia 2 – 0 was another one. After the first lap of honour, the Police came up and told us we had to do another because the fans were refusing to leave until we did. We ended up having to do two!”
How proud were you to coach your country?
“I’m very proud of my time managing Scotland, we managed some great achievements. Reaching the final of the U16 World Cup was one, and qualifying for two of four major tournaments and reaching the play-offs in another. I was very happy with my time at the SFA.
How badly do you want to see Scotland at a major tournament again?
“It hurts me we haven’t qualified in so long. I’m desperate to just be a TA fan and go to a major tournament again. I honestly can’t believe it’s been 19 years.
“When I resigned it was because I was a wee bit embarrassed when we didn’t qualify. People told me I was mad to leave then, and looking back I maybe wish I had stayed on a bit longer!”
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