By Ken Pendleton – EUGENE, OR (Sept.1, 2005) USSoccerPlayers – Put yourself in the position of Bobby Brown, making his debut as Scotland manager. It’s April 15th, 1967 and you’re about to walk out on the fabled Wembley pitch to play England, the auld enemy, who haven’t lost a match since 1965 and won the World Cup nine months ago.
Quite Understandably, you’re working your way through a long list of instructions. After all, England have an air-tight defense, led by Gordon Banks, the best keeper in the world, and Bobby Moore, a centererback who reads the game superbly and has an impeccable sense of timing.
The midfield consists of three artisans, Nobby Stiles, who specializes in neutralizing opponents by any necessary means, the tireless Alan Ball, and the exceptionally versatile Martin Peters. Most importantly, you have to find a way to come to terms with Bobby Charlton, who loves to link the midfield with the attack by making powerful runs from deep positions before unleashing cannon shots with his right foot. Then there are the two out-and-out attackers, Geoff Hurst, the opportunist, who banged in a hat trick in the World Cup final, and Jimmy Greaves, generally considered the best English striker since the War.
You’re just about to explain how to adjust to the fact that they don’t employ any wingers, which is unheard of at the time, when you look up and notice that your field general, Jim Baxter, the man who organizes so many of your attacks, is reading the bloody Daily Telegraph. Being new to the job, you’re a bit shocked and quizzically ask, “Anything to add Jim?”
“Aye,” Baxter says, pointing at the other locker room, “see this English lot, they can play nane.”
At this point, Brown should have realized how futile his instructions were. He had players who embodied the traditional English virtues, team spirit and hard work, but Baxter’s words and style of play represented what the Scots believed, or at least what they desperately wanted to believe, about themselves– what writer Alan Sharp characterized as “the completely held conviction of their own superiority.”
Baxter, or Slim Jim, as he was known, was equal parts elegance and arrogance. He rarely deigned to mark anyone– that should be left to his teammates, most of whom “weren’t fit to lick me boots”– and he never rushed to do anything, including position himself for a return pass, but he “could dance or egg shells and make the ball laugh,” and when he finally decided which pass to make, it stayed passed.
On this day, there wasn’t a damn thing the English could do about him. Their normally tenacious players were too afraid to even attempt to take the ball off him, lest they be skinned, and thus he had all the time he desired. He would set up shop deep on the left side and survey the situation before making the pass that prompted the Scottish attack into action. If the attack lasted long enough, he might even saunter up the field and join it to eventually make another, more telling pass.
The reason the Scots won 3-2 was, of course, a good deal more complicated. Their two centerbacks, McKinnon and Greig, largely played Hurst and especially Greaves out of the match. Since their two fullbacks, Gemmell and McCreadie, didn’t have to worry about wingers, they were free to join the attack early and often. Billy Bremner, a hard man if ever there was one, sorted out the middle of the pitch, and his partner, Jim McCalliog linked the midfield with the attack. And most importantly, Denis Law, probably the greatest Scottish player ever, was effectively a box-to-box attacker. He had the energy to help out with defense and make himself available in midfield before quickly joining the attack.
Law and Baxter were both integral to the first goal, which was scored in the 27th minute. After Baxter collected a simple free kick just inside the English half, he was allowed to walk with the ball, completely undisturbed, for about 30 yards, before rolling the ball out to Wallace in the inside right channel. Wallace eventually shot the ball straight into a defender, but the rebound fell for Law, who was justly rewarded for all his hard work.
The English were only occasionally interesting. Their best moment in the first half came from Charlton, who made one of his characteristic runs before blasting the ball over the bar from just outside the area. Part of their problem was that his brother, Jackie Charlton, had fractured his leg. Since substitutes were not permitted, he had no choice but to soldier on. He switched from centerback to center forward, doing rather well under the circumstances. He was a constant menace in the air and even scored their first goal, with his right foot, after a series of passes between Greaves and Ball. Unfortunately for them, the goal came after they were already down 2-0.
Scotland’s second came after a hard shot from Gemmell rebounded off of Moore back to Gemmell. He headed the ball first time back into the area, where Law, whether through accident or design, dummied the ball through to Lennox, who quickly shot past the helpless Banks from 15 yards.
Their third goal in the 87th minute, which clinched the match, better exemplified their approach and superiority. Bremner won the ball in his own half and carried it almost all the way to the left corner flag and then laid it back to Lennox, who picked out McCalliog, who was making a run from deep. He dribbled into the box, played a neat one-two with Wallace, and slotted the ball home from the inside left channel.
I use the phrase better exemplified because the moment that best exemplified their superiority– Baxter’s self belief and arrogance– occurred when the score was 2-0. Law picked up the ball on the left side and backheeled to Baxter, who was all set to make a pass to McCreadie, when he realized that the latter was, for whatever reason, daydreaming. Baxter bought the time to pick out another option, Law in the box, by lazily juggling the ball for the better part of five seconds. Law, far more practical and thus less beloved, was a bit peeved, but Baxter had just fulfilled every Scots’ dream: He had just administered the mickey to England.
Alan Sharp captured what Baxter accomplished that day.
“I could feel myself gasp at him, at his sense of theatre, about his exact awareness of how we Scots felt about winning and the English and ourselves and life. Sure five goals is nice, but standing in Wembley beating them bastards 3-2 and tanner ba”ing it, that’s perfection.”
To be quite honest, I don’t exactly understand what tanner ba”ing means, but I’m confident it’s exemplified by the Master Card slogan: Scoring goals against the English has quantitative value, but showing that they play football nane, well, that’s priceless. As Sharp concedes, “it is deeply and destructively neurotic and indulging it is neither a coherent way of playing football nor of living your life,” but it’s the few moments that embody your fantasies last forever.