Oh, Flower of Scotland

We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation

Voltaire

Last week, Scotland and England met in EURO 2020. As the Scots would put it, a meeting with the Auld Enemy. My Reflection this week is of my only attendance at that meeting.

The match was at the ‘old’ Wembley stadium. Over the years, I’ve watched many games there and in its ‘new’ replacement. I’ve seen NUFC lose three FA Cup Finals. I’ve seen NUFC lose a League Cup Final. I’ve not seen NUFC lose a Charity Shield game. Only because they weren’t playing in the game, I saw! I watched my first England International in Wembley, against Cyprus, in April 1975. Before the match, I joked with my colleagues that if Malcolm MacDonald (then NUFC’s number 9) scored a hat trick for England, I would streak across Wembley. He scored all five of England’s goals, but no, I did not get my kit off.

I’ve seen Olympic Football at Wembley, including the final of Brazil against Mexico. Playing that day was the young Neymar of Brazil. This was before he commanded the sort of transfer fee that’s the equivalent of the GDP of a small country. He shone like a diamond on the pitch, but Brazil still succumbed to the energy and enthusiasm of Mexico. It’s not just English football I’ve watched at Wembley. Until Covid struck, I attended the annual American football games held there. There’s a quite different atmosphere to watching ‘soccer’. Much more razzmatazz and extravaganza, but I love it just the same.

But to get back to that England v Scotland match. It was on the 23 May 1981. A day that lives long in the memory for several reasons.

These were the days when pubs around football grounds closed on match days because of the risk of trouble. Of course, that didn’t stop my friends and me from seeking out a hostelry in which to enjoy a pre-match drink. If I recall correctly, we calculated we would need to leave the pub about 1:30 pm to walk to Wembley in time for the 3 pm kick-off. While we were drinking, we heard a chap say he was offering rides to Wembley for a fiver each. Thinking this gave us a precious extra 30 minutes of driving time, we went for it. one of us asked what sort of car he had. In response, he tossed his keys on the bar. The key fob had a Rolls Royce symbol. We laughed, thinking the car was no doubt a Ford Cortina or some such. It was, therefore, a surprise to leave the pub to see a’ Roller’ in front of us. Little did we imagine we were to travel to Wembley in such style.

Once there, it was to come upon an ocean of tartan. Wembley is the cradle of English football, but on that day, Scotland’s supporters vastly outnumbered their England equivalents. All around in the ground were waving Saltires and the Lions Rampant of Scotland. All I could hear; ‘Flower of Scotland’.

Many of the anthems from around the world are dirges of which most people know only the first verse. There are exceptions. For instance, the urging of La Marseillaise, the love of homeland of, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, the jaunty, Il Canto Degli Italiani, and even the defiance of, The Star-Spangled Banner.

For me, and writing as an Englishman, the unofficial anthem, ‘Flower of Scotland’ tops them all. Especially when some 90,000 voices combine in singing in. The song is less than 60 years old. Yet in writing it, ‘The Corries’ reached back in history to the Scots victory at Bannockburn. Starting life as a folksong, it’s become Anthem and Battle Cry to Scotland’s sporting teams. On that day in May some 40 years ago, it also signalled Scottish triumph.

The game over; it was to seek refreshment. My compatriots and I fetched up in what was then the Waggon and Horses on Watling St between Borehamwood and Radlett. While we propped up the bar, in walked Tony Currie and his wife. That name will mean little to anyone under the age of fifty, but in 1981, while his England career was over, he was still a footballing star. A wonderfully skilful attacking midfielder and a superb passer of the ball. On hearing where we had spent the afternoon, he offered his commiserations. On leaving, he offered to buy us a drink. We declined but did ask if he might sign something for an avid QPR fan we knew (Currie than playing for that team).

Overall, it was a memorable day. Not for the game or the score but the golden moments met along the way. There are few days in life when that happens.

There will be no surprise that this is my song this week. Listen out for the crowd adding the unofficial ‘call back’ lyrics, ‘gainst who? and whit fir?

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In the Renaissance period of my post-career life …

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