Wednesday, 14 June 2017

The Rous Cup and the demise of the England-Scotland match

Watching the recent World Cup qualifying match between Scotland and England, I turned to my son and started boring him, as usual, with tales of my sporting childhood. Recalling the era where the England-Scotland fixture was an annual event, and a match that was eagerly anticipated, I felt grateful that I had grown up during this period. With so little live football on our televisions, the England-Scotland match was not far behind the FA Cup final in terms of excitement.

Sadly, nothing ever lasts forever. By the end of the 1980s, the contest that had played such a big part in the British football calendar would be no more. How had it come to this? As it turns out, a chain of events combined to kill off the oldest rivalry in international football, starting with the decision taken by England and Scotland in 1983 to leave a tournament that had been running for 100 years.

The death of the British Championship

In truth, the British Championship had been struggling for a few years before the English FA announced that the 1983/84 tournament would be their last. The Troubles in Northern Ireland had seen the 1981 championship declared null and void, with domestic fixture congestion, and declining attendances at all matches bar England-Scotland reducing the appeal for the Anglo-Scottish axis. When the Scottish FA followed the lead of their English counterparts, the death warrant of the British Championship had been signed.

Wales and Northern Ireland officials pleaded that the decision would have a huge impact on their income, but the English and Scottish FAs were not for changing. "We should not be ashamed to face up to the fact that our international income is an essential element in the FA’s basic function of promoting the game across the whole spectrum of society," said FA secretary Ted Croker, with the English FA continuing their stance that the national team needed to test themselves against sterner opponents.

"It was a slap in the face for us when England and Scotland decided to end the competition," Wales boss Mike England declared before his team beat England in the final British Championship in 1984. "Their decision was an insult. Being cast as England’s poor relations has annoyed us." The fact that Northern Ireland won the last ever tournament, with Wales finishing second, was a consolation of sorts. However, from now on, England and Scotland would go their own way.

1985: The Rous Cup begins

The fact that the England-Scotland match was to continue fuelled the argument coming from Wales and Northern Ireland that the decision to scrap the championship was mainly financial. Cancelling this fixture was plainly not an option; in 1983, 84,000 people attended the match at Wembley, which was more than the other five fixtures in the championship combined. But as the years ticked by, even the value of the England-Scotland match came under great scrutiny.

Violence surrounding the rivalry was always bubbling near the surface. The 1985 match was scheduled to take place at Wembley, but after government intervention, the fixture was moved to Hampden Park, the concern being that a May Bank Holiday weekend in London would provide the ideal environment for hooligans to run amok. The decision angered Scottish supporters, and the Scottish FA, with others complaining that the authorities were giving in to the minority. The Times reports of clashes on trains between supporters before the 1985 match highlighted that moving the game had hardly solved the issue.

The teams were now playing for the Rous Cup, in tribute to the 90-year-old Sir Stanley Rous, the former president of FIFA between 1961 and 1974, but the inaugural event would be disrupted due to fixture congestion. With Coventry playing Everton in a crucial match just two days later, and Liverpool playing the European Cup final in Brussels on the Wednesday, Bobby Robson and Jock Stein would have to cope without the presence of Trevor Steven, Andy Gray, Graeme Sharp, Kenny Dalglish, Steve Nicol, and Alan Hansen.

A Richard Gough header won the first Rous Cup for Scotland, yet the Times' Stuart Jones was far from impressed in his match report. "The weather was constantly foul, the chants were often obscene, the violence at times was sickening, and the match was for the most part a mess." The Daily Mirror called for England manager Bobby Robson to go, yet Jones pondered if the time was right to put an end to the famous old fixture. "It has now reached the stage where the authorities must seriously consider whether it is worth staging fixtures that arouse so much twisted passion."

1986: England gain revenge

The benefit of the match was again called into question as the 1986 contest neared. With both teams qualifying for the World Cup, the Wembley fixture on a Wednesday night in April (St George's Day) was not seen as the ideal preparation for the forthcoming trip to Mexico, and the timing was terrible, as the domestic campaigns north and south of the border hotted up. A crowd of just 68,357 - the lowest for this fixture at Wembley since 1924 - reflected the fact that the match was live on ITV and that the match had been scheduled for a midweek night.

It didn't stop fighting breaking out before the match, however. And again, the match was missing many key players, such as Bryan Robson, Gary Lineker, Gordon Strachan, and Dalglish. England won 2-1, through headed goals from Terry Butcher and Glenn Hoddle, with Graeme Souness replying from the spot. The night was littered with numerous hefty challenges that must have had many a club manager wincing with concern, including Scotland's Alex Ferguson, who had taken over as Scotland's acting manager after Jock Stein's sad death.

1987: Brazil join the party

In September 1986, it was announced that the Rous Cup would be the subject of a revamp, with Brazil invited to make the tournament a tri-nation event. "We can think of no more suitable opposition to join England and Scotland than Brazil," Croker explained. He had a point; Brazil were an attractive addition to the tournament. But in subsequent years, the Rous Cup would not be blessed with such illustrious visitors.

England took on Brazil in the first match at Wembley, with Stuart Pearce making his debut, and Lineker giving England the lead. But future Newcastle signing Mirandinha capitalised on a Peter Shilton mistake to equalise in front of a crowd of 92,000, and England travelled to Hampden Park without Lineker; he was needed for Barcelona's La Liga match against Real Madrid. After a drab 0-0, described by the Daily Express' Steve Curry as "the worst Hampden meeting in living recollection", many felt the fixture needed to be moved in order to ensure that players were available and fresh for the clash.

Terry Butcher was amongst those calling for a change. "This is is one of the oldest internationals and one which both sides want to do so well in, and I think it would be much better if we reverted to playing it in the middle of the season." Fitting in the match at any point of the season was becoming a challenge, though.

The 0-0 draw saw the Scotland-Brazil match become a winner takes all clash, and after goals from Rai and Valdo gave the South Americans a 2-0 win, the Rous Cup belonged to Brazil. But they would not be back to defend their crown.

Colombia and Chile

If Brazil had been viewed as a box office attraction, unfortunately the same could not be said about the next two participants in the tournament. In both 1988 and 1989, the English FA had seeked out world champions Argentina as a possible option, a move that the Government were opposed to due to the relatively recent Falklands War. But the alternatives were nowhere near as appealing.

In 1988 Colombia were invited, but with crowds of 20,487 for the 0-0 against Scotland, and 25,756 for the 1-1 at Wembley, fans clearly were not excited at the prospect (although Rene Higuita did provide some entertainment). Even the England-Scotland match saw a relative dip in interest, as 70,480 witnessed Peter Beardsley's goal give England a 1-0 win (and ultimately the Rous Cup); to put this into context, 80,841 watched the Sherpa Van Trophy between Wolves and Burnley.

The behaviour of those present at Wembley (and in London) would tap another nail in the coffin of the match. Over 200 arrests were made, and 90 people were injured, after fighting inside and out of the ground, the logic of playing the game on the Saturday appearing unwise. FA Chairman Bert Millichip raised doubts about the future of the fixture: "It makes one wonder whether the match is worthwhile."

1989 would prove to be the straw that broke the camel's back. More running battles between rival fans led to 260 arrests, with England's 2-0 win at Hampden - goals from Chris Waddle and Steve Bull - proving to be the last fixture between the countries for seven years. Again, England would win the Rous Cup, but the open-top bus parade never happened.

The 1989 Rous Cup was an unmitigated failure. After Argentina, Spain, France, Sweden and Mexico had rejected the FAs advances, Chile were the first country to accept the invite. England's 0-0 draw with Chile at Wembley was played in front of a sparse crowd of 15,628 (a London Tube strike did little to help), and a whopping 9,006 came through the turnstiles for Scotland's 2-0 win against the same opponents.

That's all folks

Attempts were made to organise another Rous Cup tournament in 1990, with Paraguay the latest South American country rumoured to be on the radar. But by December 1989, the England-Scotland match was deleted from the sporting diary of 1990, the Scottish FA declaring that "the interests of both countries would be served best by putting the Rous Cup aside for a season." England did try to get Argentina and Uruguay to play in another edition of the tournament, but the former turned down an invite once more, and the Rous Cup would not be held in 1990.

In September 1990, it was the turn of the English FA to announce that they did not want to take part in the traditional fixture, the organisation concentrating on getting English clubs back into European competitions, feeling that another episode of violence would not help their cause. Talks did take place in February 1991 about reviving the match from 1993 onwards, but nothing ever came of this, and with the Premier League starting in 1992, the chances of an annual England-Scotland encounter diminished greatly.

There were not many tears shed when the news broke in the autumn of 1990 that the game was gone for the foreseeable future. Stuart Jones did not look back with much nostalgia. "The streets of London and Glasgow were filled with drunken, aggressive louts and the whole depressing occasion was to be dreaded rather than welcomed." With comments like this, it isn't hard to see why the famous old rivalry was put on ice until Euro 1996.

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