IF you wanted to compile a combined XI from the England and Scotland teams, you would almost certainly come up with the England team.
Not even the Scot who is joint-highest scorer in the entire Euros qualifying campaign — Manchester United outcast Scott McTominay — would make Gareth Southgate’s starting XI.
Scott McTominay will provide Scotland’s biggest threat against EnglandCredit: Kenny Ramsay
Steve Clarke will be desperate to defeat the Three Lions at HampdenCredit: Kenny Ramsay
And yet here are Steve Clarke’s Scots, top of their qualifying group with a 100 per cent record, and in a higher Nations League tier than the England side they face at Hampden tonight.
After a 2-0 victory over Spain in March — in which McTominay scored both goals — Manchester City’s Rodri accused the Scots of playing anti-football in a glorious display of rotten grapery.
But here we are in Glasgow for the renewal of hostilities in a fixture which is celebrating its 150th anniversary and, for those of us in Southgate’s generation, represents the great rivalry of our youth.
And, worryingly, Scotland are actually good — Clarke’s side are greater than the sum of their parts and McTominay, playing in an advanced midfield role, is somehow a fearsome goalscorer.
The English and the Scots don’t like each other much. They think we possess an innate superiority complex — a jingoistic nation of self-important tub-thumpers.
And we think they are a bunch of savages who eat sheep’s innards for breakfast, deep-fried chocolate for tea and believe the noise which comes out of bagpipes equates to actual music.
We also know they will always bottle it in major tournament group stages, as well as independence referendums.
And we can say these things because we’re all British and, therefore, bound by a common love of taking the pish.
On Sunday’s flight home from Poland, a bunch of journalists and England fans were in full agreement the atmosphere on the Three Lions’ last visit to Hampden in 2017 was one of the most frenzied we’d ever experienced.
England fell 2-1 behind to two Leigh Griffiths free-kicks, before Harry Kane poked an injury-time equaliser in his first game as captain to keep Southgate’s side on course for the Russia World Cup.
Fuelled by old Proclaimers tunes and an extraordinary mass rendition of an offensive Jimmy Savile song, the locals had been in a euphoric mood before Kane’s late intervention, which was a turning point in Southgate’s reign.
Tonight is billed as a ‘friendly’ yet, unlike most international friendlies, it is anything but meaningless. We all have our memories of these, once-annual, clashes.
A teenage Clarke was one of around 8,000 Scots who beat a ban on his countrymen from the 1981 fixture at Wembley, because a relative who was a Met Police officer got him a ticket.
“John Robertson scored a penalty,” the Scotland boss recalled. “We won 1-0. I was behind the goal, going mental. And we were world champions when we beat them in 1967, weren’t we?”
I’ve just walked past a framed image in a Hampden corridor glorifying the Tartan Army wrecking the Wembley goalposts after a 2-1 Home Championship win in 1977.
Strangely, there is no such photo here of my favourite memory — Paul Gascoigne kippering Colin Hendry, volleying past Andy Goram and re-enacting his dentist-chair heroics at Euro 96.
The Scots qualified for the last Euros and ballsed it up by losing home matches against the Czech Republic and Croatia, either side of a goalless Wembley draw with England.
After that match, Scotland’s Stephen O’Donnell revealed he had kept Jack Grealish subdued by telling him, ‘I love your calves’ and asking, ‘How do you get your hair looking like that?’
Paul Gascoigne scored one of England’s greatest-ever goals against Scotland at Euro 96Credit: Getty
It was entirely in keeping with the grand traditions of this rivalry. The idea of an English fancy Dan being brought down a peg or two.
Scotland will qualify for next summer’s Euros finals if Norway and Georgia draw tonight. But after Friday’s 3-0 win in Cyprus virtually secured their place, Aston Villa’s John McGinn declared, ‘Only our wee country could mess it up from here’.
And they love the ‘wee nation’ routine, the Scots. Even though they have a larger population than two-time world champions Uruguay.
They will be playing that card tonight against the big brother from south of the border. But as Clarke, who lives in England, rightly says: “Don’t believe the English don’t want to beat us as much as we want to beat them.”
HARRY KANE may have been ‘one of our own’ at Spurs but he hadn’t truly belonged at his boyhood club for several years — because he was simply too good.
Kane’s media duties with England over the past week suggest he is more comfortable in his own skin than ever before, following his move to Bayern Munich.
There were even a few casual, honest put-downs of Tottenham’s lack of expectations, compared to the mighty Bavarians.
Kane moving abroad used to feel like an unlikely scenario but now it seems absolutely perfect.
IT’S extraordinary that no manager of Germany had ever been sacked before Hansi Flick was axed after Saturday’s 4-1 home drubbing by Japan.
The Germans have won four World Cups and three European Championships.
It is almost as if patience with a manager can be a virtue.
Germany sacked Hansi Flick on Sunday after they were thrashed by JapanCredit: Getty
FRED A BIG HIT
NOT knowing his own strength and fuelled by lager, Andrew Flintoff once knocked me off of a barstool in a Calcutta hotel with what was supposed to have been a playful slap on the back.
Earlier that evening, 21 years ago, Freddie had clean bowled Sachin Tendulkar in front of 100,000 people at Eden Gardens.
He was one of the most authentic and charismatic sports people I had ever come across.
After the horrific accident that ended his time presenting Top Gear, it is wonderful to see the great all-rounder back around the England camp.
English cricket will benefit from Flintoff just as Flintoff will surely benefit from being back in cricket.
ENGLAND’S 14 rugby men pulled off a brilliant result beating Argentina on Saturday.
Expectations were low and they were underdogs before Tom Curry’s early red card.
Outsider status suited them — so did Ellis Genge really have to then utter the words ‘we believe we can win the cup’?