England v Scotland is more of an arm wrestle than a football match and Gareth Southgate's men must be ready for a fight on Friday

Trevor Steven
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Steve Bull and Paul Gascoigne celebrate as England beat Scotland 2-0 in May 1989
England renew hostilities with Scotland on Friday in a World Cup qualifier (Source: Getty)

I remember the scene before one of the matches I played against Scotland. It was at Hampden Park in May 1989, just after I had committed to moving north of the border and signing for Rangers.

There were already three or four players in the England squad at Rangers, and they knew the significance of the fixture. They knew that their lives wouldn’t be worth living if they lost this game.

I can still vividly recall one of them, Terry Butcher, pacing around the dressing room like a caged lion, ready for a physical battle – and that’s the mentality England will need when the sides clash again on Friday.

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I lived in Scotland for 20 years and saw the way that their media seized on any slip-up by England. Whenever we played, the Scottish press – more than the people – wanted the opposition to win.

While these games between the teams will come and go for England players, for Scotland, taking two points from the two fixtures against the Auld Enemy would be almost as good as World Cup qualification itself.

As far as they’re concerned, it’s Bannockburn revisited every time.

Open warfare

Gordon Strachan’s men will approach this differently from other internationals, and if they go home from Wembley with a point they’ll think they have done their jobs.

I expect them to try to nullify England, to cause them frustration. They don’t have much pace to play on the counter-attack, so most of the game will be played in their half.

They’ll make it open warfare and players will put their bodies on the line. That’s the only strategy I can see Strachan adopting; otherwise they’ll be soundly beaten.

Arm wrestle

England are expected to win and the pressure on them is intensified because they are at home.

They’ll know that if they turn up and play well they should have the ammunition to take three points, but this isn’t about who has the most Premier League appearances, it’s about physical battles.

It’s not so much a football match as an arm wrestle.

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First of all you have to win your head-to-head contests, then the experience and quality can take over. That has to be Gareth Southgate’s message.

A lot is riding on this result for Southgate, but managers aren’t as important on these occasions, when the motivation really ought to come from the players themselves.

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