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Ally McCoist & Jermaine Jenas open up on their experiences of England v Scotland

Published on: 18 June 2021

Given its standing as the oldest fixture in international football, England and Scotland have had some time to let the passion of their rivalry thrive down the years.

Being drawn in the same group at Euro 2020 has allowed the fires to be stoked once more, and the pair meet on Friday evening in a match that is key to both sides' chances of progression in the tournament.

Ally McCoist is a man who knows all too well the excitement and nerves that come with the fixture having experienced it first hand at Euro '96.

Jermaine Jenas has had his fair share of exposure to the emotions it can stir, too, facing Scotland at junior level and sharing dressing rooms with plenty players from north of the border.

Both sat down with Sportsmail's HARRY SLAVIN to discuss their views on the rivalry and their hopes for each side ahead of the massive Wembley clash...

What does the England v Scotland rivalry mean to you?

Ally McCoist: I can remember my dad taking me to Hampden back in the very early seventies, where we managed to win 2-0. I think I'd have maybe been about 10 or 11, and I can just remember the atmosphere at the game.

I remember going to Wembley with my friend when we were 17 in 1979, we got beat 3-1. We travelled down, just the two of us on the train. So I go that far back.

It seems like yesterday I remember standing in the tunnel at Hampden and looking across to big Butch [Terry Butcher] and the two of us marching out, playing in the game.

The rivalry is fantastic. It's always been very, very special to me because, strangely, I've always played in a Scottish team that has Englishmen that played with Rangers at the time.

It's quite bizarre: Gascoigne, Terry Butcher, Garry Stevens, guys like that. So the rivalry meant an awful lot, and still means an awful lot. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to it.

Jermaine Jenas: Look, the rivalry from our point of view is we know that they absolutely hate us with a passion! It feels like, and it sounds kind of obvious, but we can't lose this game.

You're supposed to be the superior team, you've got the better players and the only thing that will let you down in this moment is that they want it more.

I think the teams that Ally played in were much better teams than this particular group of Scotland players. But Scotland have always found a way.

Especially when they come down to Wembley to upset the apple cart, to make the game as tense as possible. The Tartan Army always turn up in their thousands as well and you feel it. You feel it as a player.

It's weird because in my generation I was playing against Scotland as a kid and I had that feeling. But there was a period where England and Scotland didn't play against each other for years. We played against Northern Ireland, Wales all the time, but for some reason we didn't play against Scotland. It was crazy.

Obviously this is their first major tournament… well in a while sorry, not ever. But there's no doubt you feel it.

Every club I've been at, you've got Scottish players in the team. I'm best mates with Alan Hutton, he's one of my very, very best mates. I actually sent him the video of when I got pranked by Ally and Heineken and all he sent back was: 'Ah, the bagpipes nearly brought me to tears'.

That rivalry in the dressing room – there's always a coach, or a player. There's always somebody who's like: "You lot are going to get it". So the players will be feeling it. I can't wait. It's going to be absolutely electric.

What extra layer does Euro 2020 add to the rivalry?

AM: I actually don't think there is any more significance to be honest with you. And that will tell you how important the fixture is more than anything else.

I think Jermaine is spot on in his analysis. I think the English lads are in a completely different situation from ourselves. They know when they play the Welsh, it's the Welsh game of the season, when they play the Scots it's the Scots game of the season, that's the way it is.

When we played England – particularly in '96 – we realised the importance of the game, but we probably appreciated the importance of the game for the English lads more than ever.

They didn't have a great start – they had a 1-1 draw with Switzerland in the opening game, they were getting a little bit of stick in the media, and we just felt there was an enormous amount of pressure on the English lads.

Having said that, they didn't half handle it well, you've got to say. We played really well first half to be honest with you. We had a lot of the ball and if anything I thought we were the better team.

I can remember the first goal, it was just a typical Big Al [Alan Shearer] goal. He hangs about the back post, Gary [Neville] throws it across, he comes in and scores. Then we got the penalty, missed the penalty and two minutes later Gascoigne, absolute genius.

JJ: If you look back in Ally's era, Ally's team was a hugely competitive team. Not only in Scotland but in Europe as well. They were all playing at a top level with top internationals playing for Rangers as well. So the level of everything to do with Rangers, or Celtic or Scottish football was far higher than where it is now.

I think when you look at what England are up against now, you look at a couple of individuals in that Scottish team and you think right, Robertson has had a decent season and McTominay in midfield. They've brought in Che Adams which I thought was a very good acquisition because he can cause some problems as we see in the Premier League.

It's about the occasion for this England side. The Scottish team are coming into this game with no fear really, no expectation. You know exactly what Steve Clarke is going to do. He's going to rally them up. He's astute Steve. He knows the game really well and he will be able to pick holes.

They're going to camp in, make life difficult for England, frustrate them for as long as they possibly can. You see FA Cup ties, we saw this year Cheltenham take Man City all the way. It can happen if you set your teams up well. And that's exactly how Scotland will play it.

It's just up to Gareth and those players just to lay down their authority early in the game and let Scotland know they're in for a tough 90 minutes.

What are Scotland's main strengths?

AM: It's just so Scottish isn't it. We haven't had any international class players for a long period then all of a sudden two left backs come along who are out of this world! It's so us.

But there's no getting away from it. Clarkey [Scotland boss Steve Clarke] has set the boys up really well. I don't think it's rocket science, I just think we have better players that are playing at a better level and that means if we can get them in the team and we're organised, then we'll do well.

As Jermaine said, we've now got guys that are playing week in, week out with Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, Aston Villa, Southampton. We've got guys that are playing in the best league in the world.

You can see that they're coming on for it. We're definitely organised, there's no doubt about it, and we'll have to be, because in areas middle to front we don't have anything like the quality. That's not a criticism of our team, it's praise to the opposition. We don't have anything like the quality that England have middle to front. It's remarkable.

JJ: The only thing I will say on that Ally, when I look at that midfield battle for example, and I see John McGinn, McTominay against Rice and Phillips or Rice and [Jordan] Henderson, there's nothing to fear there for the Scottish lads – I think they'll be right up for that fight. If you're John McGinn and McTominay, I think you'll fancy that personally.

AM: I couldn't agree more with you Jermaine. I was actually meaning slightly further forward. Mount, Foden, Kane, Grealish.

Where are the strengths in Gareth Southgate's squad?

JJ: I think he's quite under pressure to get to a final.

They've got that big problem of that Group F that they run into [France, Portugal, Germany and Hungary]. I think they're good enough to beat all of those teams, don't get me wrong.

But I think with this particular group of players that he's got right now, all over Europe they've been competing in finals. We've got a lot of top players in that City team now. There is no doubt in my mind that only a final is classed as success.

We got to the semi-final of the World Cup and this team is better than that team. I was laughing the other day watching that Champions League final and saying could you imagine being the England manager? Seeing Reece James do what he did, seeing what [Ben] Chilwell's done and thinking, "Do I go to a three at the back now?"

He's got so many options, he's just got to get it right. We might not score a bag of goals, we might not keep everyone happy, but let's be honest, Portugal won the European Championship having won one game the whole tournament.

If we are lifting that trophy at the end of the tournament, no one is going to care that we didn't score 400 goals in the tournament.

AM: I need to tell you, they are some team to watch. I love them. The hypocrisy would be unforgivable for me to say anything other than that. I watch English football all the time and I can't tell you how much I love watching Grealish, Foden, Mount, Harry Kane, they're just brilliant operators.

Again, it's a pressure that they're going to be under that a lot of them maybe haven't experienced before. But that's not to say that they won't handle it.

I think there's a fearlessness about some of these England players now and I include Foden, Mount, Grealish and boys like that. They're just not scared of anything at all, pressure won't get to them.

I think England had a better team for 1990, and 1996, for what they had at the World Cup in Russia and they got to the semi-final in Russia.

JJ: Agree.

AM: But I thought they could have, and should have won the tournament in 1990 and indeed 1996, because I thought they were the best team on both occasions.

So it's very difficult to gauge how England will do because I'm still of the opinion they are in the top two or three, maybe four teams that can win the tournament, absolutely.

But also, you get to the last-16, all of a sudden you're playing Germany. In a one off game Germany can beat you.

JJ: Or France.

AM: Absolutely. So it's really, really tough to predict where the likes of England would go and finish.

But I do agree with Jermaine, I think the crowd, if they can get a swell of enthusiasm like they did in Euro 96 where the crowd and the support was absolutely fantastic.

I ended up going to the Spain game myself after the b*****s knocked us out man. I did! And I really enjoyed it. It was amazing.

I think England, particularly in the forward areas, are as good as anything. Could they win it? You better believe they can win it. But there's also an opportunity they could be beaten by a Belgium or a France.

JJ: That's one of the things I'm looking forward to. Ally's here talking about a friendly rivalry.

The bit I'm looking forward to, when England play Scotland and Ally's in that studio doing the game and he's got to mumble through his words about England giving them a right hiding and I'm just going to send him a little message, a little picture, saying "Alright, how you doing mate?" I might even wear the jacket for him.

What would success for Scotland be?

AM: Let's be honest, and you've got to be truthful about it, there's now an excellent chance of getting out of the group no matter who you are because of circumstances and four third-place teams qualify.

From where I'm sitting - even after the disappointment of the Czech Republic match - if we can win a game, we've got a chance of going through. I really believe that.

I think we can get out the group and that absolutely would be success for us.

JJ: You saw that with Northern Ireland in the last championships, and obviously with Wales. Wales were unbelievable. This format, like Ally said it's difficult to not get through.

Put together your England and Scotland XI...

JJ: I've gone three at the back. I was trying to be kind here and not make it too… horrible. And in doing so I've had to leave Mount on the bench by the way so I hope you're grateful.

The kinder you can get the Scots, the nicer, they kind of flow into Wembley and they'll be like "Oh look, we're happy to be here".

AM: Don't let that b*****d con you with trying to be nice to us! I know he's trying to pull the wool over our eyes!

AM: I've got to say, I'm not arguing with a lot of that.

Obviously as a Scotsman I'm trying to get as many as I can in my team. For that reason and that reason only, the only change I've got is that I'd play the one holder, and that would be McTominay.

By the way I can't believe I'm leaving Declan Rice out because I love Declan Rice, but I'm leaving him out and I'm playing McGinn further forward.

How important is John McGinn to Scotland?

AM: He's key, absolutely pivotal to us. In front of goal he's been outstanding more than anything.

We see his general play and we know how committed and talented and strong and powerful he is.

I know Ryan Christie certainly scored some important goals for us in the qualifiers but John's level of goalscoring for Scotland has been exceptional and I think that's an area that will be very difficult for us.

I think Che Adams is a magic acquisition to the squad. I think Lyndon Dykes has done very, very well and gives us a focal point up front. But in terms of goal return, that's where it's going to be difficult for us and I think John, if he can continue in that goalscoring form could be our key player.

JJ: I'm a big fan. In midfield we always have this thing that you don't hide in midfield, you always want the ball, and he epitomises what a lot of good midfielders have.

How can I describe it? He goes into every game the same, he has no fear when I watch him. There's not a game where I've watched him and thought: "Go get on the ball, stop hiding".

I watch him whether he's at City, Old Trafford or wherever he is, he's going off the centre half to get the ball, he's trying to score goals, he's putting in big tackles, he doesn't care who you are and I love that about John McGinn.

I know he's a player that a lot of clubs are looking at and have been watching him for some period of time because of the talent that he is.

Villa is a good place for him right now but the goal return for Scotland as Ally says is going to be so important because that's where they're starved a little bit.

Who is England's main man?

JJ: Kane's the man. It's a simple as that. Ally will tell you, strikers win you games. It's why they get paid all the money. It's why they're the stars of the show. You put the ball in the back of that net and it gives you a better chance of lifting that trophy.

You look at a lot of Kane's tournaments that he's had in an England shirt and you wouldn't say that he's been electric. At the World Cup he walks away with golden boot, but in my opinion he played pretty average.

But he knows where the back of the net is. I think off the back of this season, arguably his best season in a Tottenham shirt, it's going to be an all you can eat buffet for him.

Even if he didn't quite get off the mark against Croatia, just keep feeding him and he'll stick them in the back of the net.

We have a lot of areas that I know Gareth Southgate is worried about but in my opinion, we get that front line firing and whether it's Grealish, Foden, Mount, Kane, you name it, you can't stop them.

Up until now we've kind of half-hearted it a little bit and Kane has been left isolated and Mount has been left isolated.

We need to be brave. If we get all of that right, it'll go well. If Kane turns it on he's one of the best in the world and best in the tournament.

AM: He's unbelievable, he really is. The top players just now in terms of goalscorers, I think they talk about [Erling] Haaland and Kane in roughly the same kind of breath.

You talk about out-and-out goalscorers, you know the Aguero-types, those guys that just want to score goals. Harry Kane's the best in the business.

People say he's changed his game, he's dropping back deeper, and he did to a certain degree but his goal return never dropped. He's just a very clever, intelligent player.

Jermaine is absolutely spot on. If England can win the Euros this year, I think if Harry Kane is top scorer at the tournament that would help enormously. And there's a chance of that.

Will speculation on his future be affecting Kane?

AM: You look at Harry Kane and what you see is what you get. He's a very level-headed human being that knows the importance of his own situation.

But the importance of the England team and the squad, focusing on games is far more important than anything individual. And he would never, ever jeopardise his own team by doing anything personal.

JJ: Ally's got it spot on. I know Harry reasonably well – known him as a kid during his time at Tottenham, spent time with him later on his career. There's only one thing that affects Harry Kane and it's when he's not scoring goals. The rest of the stuff is just noise.

It is the most I've heard him speak about anything else in terms of moving on. Is he going to throw his toys out the pram if he doesn't get that? No. He'll go back to business. That's what it's all about for him – trying to achieve things and he's trying to win something for England.

Everyone has had a go at Tottenham for so long for not winning things. Let's not forget he has got the best tools around him right now to go and win a major tournament and he knows that.

He's not going to do anything to jeopardise that by creating any problems in the camp. It's just not part of his make up.


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