Tuesday, 31 May 2011

A History of World Football in 100 Games - Part 10

England 1-5 Scotland (31 March 1928) Wembley, London

Going into the Home Championship of 1928 England supporters had strong hopes of victory. Their performances during the early 1920s had been dire, but the 1927 tournament had seen them share the trophy with Scotland following an historic victory at Hampden Park. These expectations were soon made to look foolish. England lost their opening fixture against Ireland in Belfast and followed it with a narrow defeat to Wales.

Scotland were similarly in disarray. Normally the great force in the Home Championship, having won or shared 6 of the 8 tournaments of the inter-war era, they had only managed a single point from their opening two fixtures. Furthermore, in preparation for the match a Scottish league XI had been thrashed 6-2 by their English equivalents. For that reason perhaps, the Scottish selectors turned to the English based Scots to form the basis of the team. Only Harkness of Queen’s Park, Jimmy Dunn of Hibs and Alan Morton of Rangers plied their trade North of the border.

England (below) v. Scotland

At the start of the game it was clear the conditions suited Scotland. The Wembley pitch was in pristine condition, with the overnight rain leaving the turf slick and ideal for passing football. The Scottish inter-play, which remained the essential characteristic of the game North of the border, was far more at home on such a surface than the slower style of England. In addition the moist turf made turning at speed hazardous with it virtually impossible to maintain balance for England’s labouring half-backs.

From the kick-off England came close to going ahead. Joe Bradford found Billy Smith on the left-wing with a ranking crossfield pass, the Huddersfield winger profited from Nelson’s slip and blasted a powerful shot which hit the inside of the post and rolled along the goal-line before the Scots could clear. The English appealed for a goal but their protests were ignored by the referee who waved play on.

Three minutes later the Scots were in front with a move of poetic brilliance. McMullen, James, Gibson and Gallacher played neat inter-passing which eluded the English defenders before they set Morton away down the left-wing. The Rangers winger lofted a deep cross towards the back post where Alex Jackson was waiting to head in. Before half-time the Scots added a second. Alex James beat Wilson, Healless and Jones before rifling a thunderous left-footed shot into the roof of the net from the inside-right position.

England were shell-shocked by the Scots, and with the exception of their early effort on goal had largely been passengers, rarely did they get close to their opponents. The second-half saw more of the same. Jackson added a third for the Scots when Morton fired another deep cross from the left which allowed him to head in almost unopposed. The fourth of the game came from James and was a shot hit with such power that Jones, in the English goal, was almost carried into the net by it.

The Scots’ fifth goal was arguably the best of the lot. Jimmy McMullen hit a sweeping diagonal 40 yard pass which Morton raced on to, another deep cross found Jackson who volleyed the ball into the roof of the net from 5 yards out. The Scottish wingers had torn the English defence to shreds, with the same cross from Morton to Jackson resulting in three goals. England pulled one back at the death with a free-kick from Bob Kelly, but that could not dampen the mood of the travelling Scottish supporters.

The “Wembley Wizards” had consigned England to the wooden spoon in the Home Championship, but the game had been more than that. Scotland had given the English a master-class in the passing game and had evidenced the importance of brains over brawn. England were unable to cope with either the brilliance of their individuality, Morton and Jackson’s dribbling, or the combination play which saw neat passing carve open the defence. Despite the brilliance of the Scottish forward line it was in the midfield where the game was won. Gibson, Bradshaw and McMullen out-thought and out-fought Healless and Wilson, with only Edwards proving a match for them. While Scotland could only finish third in the Home Championship that year, many considered the performance of the “wee blue devils” to be the finest that Wembley ever saw.  

No comments: