It is the intensity of the build-up, the anticipation of facing the Auld Enemy in Glasgow that I have always found so compelling as an obsessive follower of football reared in a football obsessed city.
We were indoctrinated from an early age. When it came to brainwashing the Scottish media were in a league of their own particularly in the austere post war years of my youth. What they wrote, volumes of it, was designed to make us believe that somehow Scotland were all but certainties to win anywhere, anytime and particularly against England.
The approach these days is far more sophisticated based on reality (our natural optimism was knocked into shape by defeats –remember 9-3 and 7-2 – that were national humiliations) though the desire to put one over the Auld Enemy remains. I hanker for the old approach where the only talk in town was the big match, where pubs were packed and much strong drink was consumed without guilt. The City, the Dear Green Place, would then be geared up and ready for action.
There was no chance of a ticket for a boy at Hampden. The alternative was to soak up the pre-match atmosphere; that would do until I was older. My father would even drive me into the city centre on the Friday night before the match to experience the chaos on the streets. It would be spot the Englishman as they toured the bars and restaurants – the Horseshoe Bar and the Rogano Bar and Restaurant (both still serving) being two favourite haunts within walking distance of the Central Railway Station. There would be a few thousand who would travel from England, nowhere near the 30,000 Scots who’d save two bob a week to clog up London every two years. Those who did travel north all looked so big to me, big men in their trench coats with a white rose in their lapel.
It was passionate for sure and patriotic without being nationalistic, not back then. The ‘chippy’ Scot, as the English saw him, was ever present but my recollection of these matches in the late fifties and early sixties was of benign antagonism not the vile hatred from a minority we would reel from decades later.
The welcome, because that’s what it was, came disguised behind anti-England chants and risqué songs aimed at England’s finest – Bobby Moore was a prime target but so was Bobby Charlton and Jimmy Greaves and before them Tom Finney and Stanley Matthews and others. Only the very best warranted a song.
For me having spent the past fifty years travelling to report matches in the most passionate football cities in the world, whatever the outcome nothing internationally, but nothing, compares to this the most unique of occasions.
Alex Montgomery is a former Chief Football Writer for The Sun and a leading football writer at many publications over the years including Today and The News of World.