England end the year with two mouthwatering fixtures. First, they face rivals Scotland in a World Cup qualifier – the two nations’ first competitive match against each other since 1999. Then, four days later, Spain visit Wembley in what will be a true test of the Three Lions’ progress.
Both teams are a dream for us, as content creators. With both fixtures boasting rich histories, and with so many stories to tell, and so many protagonists, it’s a veritable feast of quips and quotes.
However, our greatest challenge when it comes to creating a compelling matchday programme is attempting to do something different. No doubt you’ll be reading of classic encounters and players’ memories in the build up to the Scotland game whether online, on social media, or in newspapers. So, how can we stand out from the crowd?
Well, sometimes, it’s a case of just finding a different story. For example, much will be made of Scotland’s Wembley win in 1967, when they beat the world champions in their own back yard. Jim Baxter will be rightly remembered as one of the key players, but less will be said about Jim McCalliog, the winning goalscorer.
A £37,500 signing by Sheffield Wednesday in 1965, McCalliog was hardly unknown. In fact, he was the most expensive teenager at the time – yet he’d never made an international appearance. Not only was he selected to start against England, he ultimately proved the difference.
“For the manager to pick me in such a prestigious game, alongside great players like Baxter and Denis Law, just filled me with confidence,” he told us. “’I went out there thinking: ‘I’m not going to feel inferior to any of these England players’. There were certainly no nerves.
“I got the ball,” McCalliog reminisces of his goal. “I could see Bobby Moore and then Gordon Banks approaching, so I thought: ‘I better get this smacked quick before he comes near me.’ I smashed the ball past Gordon’s left-hand-side. I don’t think there are many photos of Bobby on his backside…”
You will probably also read quotes from Gordon Strachan about how important the England game is, and how his players are aware of what’s at stake. But did you know he spent his honeymoon at Wembley, watching Scotland beat England, in 1977?
“We brought the wedding forward a week so we could go to Wembley,” he told us. “I went there with my best man and his wife too, although we only had three tickets so she had to stand outside! Scotland won that game, obviously, and I think we were the only three people left in the stands at the end of the game.”
The opposing side
Of course, Scotland haven’t had it all their own way, and our access inside the England camp – past and present – enables us to find similar stories.
“I’ll never forget, as Gary McAllister ran up to take the kick, I saw the ball move slightly off the penalty spot,” recalls interim manager Gareth Southgate of England’s win in Euro 96. “I thought he’d stop as it must have distracted him. He didn’t, and David Seaman got his elbow to the ball to save.”
Of course, England went straight up the other end and scored thanks to Paul Gascoigne’s wonder goal.
“I remember Gazza saying to Andy Goram when he was running back to the half-way line: 'Where’s Colin Hendry? Has he gone to get me a pie?',” revealed Teddy Sheringham.
Delivering exclusive insight
Of course, we have privileged access to the current squad, which is how we managed to get Joe Hart to talk about his move away from Manchester City, and THAT save against Slovenia.
“I have to play football – that’s who I am and what I do,” Hart told us in an exclusive interview. “My options at my previous club were limited, to say the least, so I knew I had to get out and that I needed to play.
“I’m a footballer at the end of the day, and our careers are short and over in the blink of an eye. I’m 29 now, and with a couple more blinks I’ll be coming to the end, so I’m certainly not going to miss a moment of playing while I’ve got opportunities and people want me elsewhere.”
Of that save, he said: “It was definitely a good one. It was all instinct, so I didn’t realise until afterwards that I’d touched it again with my right hand. I think that’s part of being a goalkeeper – you can plan all you like, but it’s a millisecond’s reaction you need. Sometimes you make them, sometimes you don’t.”
Hopefully, when you read our matchday programme, you’ll find content and stories you’ve not seen or heard before. That’s our quest!