It wasn’t a classic. Just Kenny Dalglish, scrambling the ball past Ray Clemence at Wembley in 1977, in a way that warranted no mention in either of the striker’s subsequent autobiographies.
But it is a measure of the deeper, existential significance of the fixture for those north of the border that the goal —and Scotland’s 2-1 win that day — still resonates so deeply for the man who has interpreted, assessed, and commentated on England v Scotland more than anyone else.
Dalglish was leaving for England that summer, to replace Kevin Keegan at Liverpool, and, like many Scots, Archie Macpherson felt the sting. ‘A native born, who had oodles of talent, was going away from us,’ he reflects.
‘And there was also the sad inevitability of it. The sad inevitability that somehow the whole commercial, professional trend meant a talent like that would always now go south.’
A haunting image in Macpherson’s biography of Jock Stein — one of the broadcaster and writer’s 10 books, chronicling his life in sport — captures the great manager at the top of the steps of East End Park, Dunfermline, watching Dalglish head down them to play his last game for Celtic on August 10, 1977. ‘It’s like a father watching his son disappear,’ Macpherson says. ‘That expression of Stein’s might have expressed that of Celtic and the wider Scottish support.’
Archie Macpherson, the legendary commentator who’s seen countless England-Scotland games in his broadcasting career
Scotland fans take to the Wembley pitch and break the crossbar after 2-1 win over England
Archie Macpherson was covering the game in 1977 and recalls the scenes in London that day
So, Dalglish’s Wembley goal in Scotland’s victory brought a particular sweetness that year. ‘It was as if he was pickpocketing the culture he was about to make his living in,’ Macpherson relates, with a broad smile.
And then, of course, came that day’s riotous aftermath. Dalglish, who had also popped a ball between Clemence’s legs to score the previous year at Hampden, describes how the Scots ‘took England and their pitch’ but there was a lot more to it than that. Scottish fans fanning out across the turf, clambering onto the Wembley crossbars and breaking them, in one the most iconic scenes the 150-year-old fixture has ever known. Macpherson, commentating on events, was with those fans in spirit when his English BBC superiors issued instructions on how the moment should be captured for the TV audience.
‘I’m surrounded by my English BBC colleagues, who were like elders of a church, watching this awful display,’ he relates. ‘It was a class thing. Middle class English, tut-tutting about this. There was one voice in particular who said “put the boot in.” By which he meant, “get the cameras close in and show them at their worst.”
‘I was very uncomfortable with what was going on. I witnessed hooliganism amid the Scottish support from the mid-1970s; wanton hooliganism. But I found myself not wanting to pillage my people.
‘I think it was almost a tribal thing. My tribe was out there and they weren’t behaving as I wanted them to but I held back from what the producers wanted me to say. I let the scenes speak for themselves and let people judge for themselves.’
They were his tribe because of an upbringing, among the east Glasgow tenements of the Shettleston district, ‘two closes away from Tommy Docherty’, which steeped Macpherson in Scotland v England — a fixture around which the entire Scottish football culture seemed to be constructed.
‘That culture was purely to bring England down — every time we played against them,’ he says, in a secluded corner of the Glasgow Station Hotel, where many of a Tartan disposition will gather tomorrow before kick-off at Hampden.
‘We had Wembley “clubs”, where working class men docked their wages over two-year periods to be able to afford a bus down to Wembley. We would go out and see them going away to Wembley — waving them off as if they were troops going to the front. The whole of the area came out to see off the two “Wembley buses”.
‘In a sense, football was presenting this duality to us, of giving us expectation and hope and triumph by blinding us also to the other ways we could get out of the humdrum existence we had.’
Macpherson, who was still a teacher, working part-time for the BBC, when he covered Stein’s Celtic lifting the European Cup in 1967, also grew up with a sense of football oppression, as he listened to Raymond Glendenning, the BBC commentator, describing the feats of Stanley Matthews, Tommy Lawton, Tom Finney, Raich Carter and Wilf Mannion in cities south of the border, far away.
‘It was fearful to hear,’ says Macpherson, who is now in his mid-80s. ‘Fearful. Lawton was known as “the hammer of the Scots.” When we beat them in 1967, we could say we had beaten the world champions.
‘But I think that more than feeling we were better than England at any one time, the satisfaction we always got was of achieving deflation: of puncturing what we thought were feelings of supremacy over us.
‘We were part of the levelling down process and of course an English triumphalism was associated with that. We just assessed England in a different way, and of course we loved it.’
Scotland fans are jubilant as the celebrate their famous win over the old enemy in 1977
Kenny Dalglish scored in Scotland’s win and Macpherson would have many runs in with him over the years
The mood had changed materially by the era of Dalglish, the Wembley crossbar and all that. Ally MacLeod had become Scotland manager and, buoyed by qualification for the 1978 World Cup in Argentina that England would miss, he played up to a nascent Scottish nationalism that was fomenting at that time. The SNP was flourishing. The Scots who arrived in the capital on the ‘Wembley buses’ no longer left wreaths at the War Memorial on The Mall, as they once had.
At his pre-match press conference before the 1977 game, MacLeod declared: ‘I don’t dislike the English, I hate their guts.’ That came back to bite him, just like so much of his hubris.
After drawing 1-1 against hosts Argentina in a pre-tournament friendly, McLeod foolishly declared of the impending 1978 World Cup: ‘We are potential finalists.’ But Macpherson still loathed the pleasure his English colleagues took in Scotland’s group stage exit.
‘Having to concentrate on Scotland, as the only UK team there, as an act of sufferance for too many of them,’ he writes in his excellent latest book, the part-memoir, Touching the Heights.
‘It was a calculated mockery of us Scots who had trooped along willingly behind this man.’
One of the Scottish managers he was coming to know well at that time would have empathised with Macpherson’s abhorrence of the English mockery and they would probably have discussed it at length. That manager was Alex Ferguson, who came to trust Macpherson in a way that made him a sounding board and confidante, invited into the boot room to chew the fat at Pittodrie, as Aberdeen took Scottish football by storm. The friendship extended to Alex and Cathy Ferguson being occasional social companions of Archie and Jess Macpherson.
And then, in October 1986, Macpherson observed on commentary that Jim Leighton had been at fault for at least one of the goals conceded in a 3-2 defeat for Scotland to Belgium. He had thought no more of it until arriving at Easter Road a few days later to cover Aberdeen’s game at Hibernian and wandering into what he calls ‘the dingy foyer’ there.
‘Out of the dark dinginess came this fiery figure I’d never seen like this before,’ Macpherson recalls. ‘Spitting “what the f*** do you know about football?” at me and blasting me for the comments I’d made about Jim Leighton.
‘It went on and on and I have to say I called him names back. I come from Shettleston, you see. I’d had many a fight around the backcourts of Shettleston Road. I was hitting back at him. I gave it him back.
‘It was very nose to nose, though I don’t think fists would have flown.’ The assistant chief constable of the Lothians Police Force happened to be in the foyer. ‘He stepped in and told us he would have to take action if we didn’t desist,’ Macpherson relates.
So they did. But it was terminal between them. ‘We’ve never spoken since,’ Macpherson relates, with a sense of profound regret. ‘Maybe he (Ferguson) felt I’d strung him along in some kind of way and he’d found me out. Something like that. To this day, it’s a mystery to me. But having said all that, I wouldn’t have missed it — or any of those days with him — for all the world.’
Some years later, Ferguson, who abruptly dropped Leighton from Manchester United’s team for the 1990 FA Cup Final replay and subsequently sold him, walked into an Italian restaurant near the Macphersons’ home. He embraced Macpherson’s wife but looked through his one-time friend as if he wasn’t there.
Macpherson brings less explosive relationships to the England/Scotland story. He came to know Dalglish well before he left for England. Neither party forgot the day that Dalglish, on holiday at the same Menorca resort as him, playfully pushed Macpherson’s wife into the pool. ‘She couldn’t swim! Though perhaps what bothered her most was it ruined her hair!’
Macpherson tells stories of clashing with Sir Alex Ferguson when he was manager of Aberdeen
England and Scotland renew their rivalry with a clash on Tuesday at Hampden Park
Dalglish could be brutally direct, too. ‘We were in Chile for a game that was politically controversial because Augusto Pinochet had taken over and the Labour Party was opposed to us going out,’ Macpherson says. ‘We were by the swimming pool one day and up came this strange guy, perfect English, to talk to us about Chile and how wonderful Chile was. Kenny told him to f*** off! He could be abrupt!’
He knew Graeme Souness less well, as a young player who left for the bright lights of London as a teenager. ‘He was that horrible expression, ‘Anglo-Scot’, which is like someone in no man’s land.
Though when he came back to us, he brought a revolution to Rangers, bringing Mo Johnston in as a Catholic player at that club and helping to hammer down the walls of the sectarian divide. He couldn’t give a damn what was said about him. He just went there and did it and maybe he was the only man who could have done it.’
Stein, the ‘Big Man’, was the one he was closest to. Some forget that Stein went south, too, to manage Leeds for what would be only 44 days, in 1978. During that brief period, Macpherson received a call from an associate of Stein, requesting that he call the manager at 3pm that day. Stein picked up and obliquely asked Macpherson to let it be known that he would love to go home to manage Scotland. Two weeks later, Stein packed a case and returned north of the border.
There is a fundamental reason why Stein lacked the appetite for England that Ferguson, his protegee possessed, Macpherson reflects. ‘He had decanted much of his spiritual endeavours winning the European Cup in 1967,’ he says. ‘It was as if he had gone on a pilgrimage himself, touched Mecca and everything by comparison would be humdrum. How could he go to Leeds and win the European Cup? He’d already done it.’
The aspirations of Scottish sides to achieve European glory, as Celtic and Aberdeen did, have all but gone because the financial gulf is so vast. ‘Chelsea are spending £140m on a player we’ve never heard of and clubs like Hibs, Hearts and Aberdeen are struggling to exist financially. We won three European Cups and thought it would happen again sometime. The chance of that now looks negligible,’ Macpherson says.
But the chance of the national team putting one over on the English is still very much alive this week, he insists. ‘Football is still happening at the local level, down in the parishes,’ Macpherson says. ‘You have to say with optimism that “yes, there will be talent from Scotland.” There’s nowhere here that you go and don’t see a football pitch. The love of the game is there. Yes, I’m very confident.’