Monday, 15 August 2011

Britain, Britain, Britain.....

Tonight sees last season's Champions League surprise package Tottenham Hotspur start out on their Europa League campaign and of all the names pulled out of the hat for Spurs' two-legged qualifying tie it was Heart of Midlothian (to give them their full title) from The Premier League North of the Border that the North Londoners will face.

Arguably tie of the round for the simple reason - it pits England against Scotland, albeit in club form. The footballing rivalry between both countries goes back nearly as far as the day the builder's put their estimate in on Hadrian's Wall and after the usually "eventful" Home Internationals are now a thing of the past it gives both fans and players alike the chance to claim bragging rights across the North/South divide.
With Scotland's Premier League much maligned it's a chance for Hearts to get all William Wallace and show those weak lager drinking southern softies a thing or two about football in a country where men are so tough they wear skirts in broad daylight and no one dares laugh at them or call them a sissy.
While Spurs in the English corner (who aren't too shy about boasting that they invented the game) have the opportunity to remind their 'noisy neighbours' that although the divide isn't that great success wise their country are still higher in the FIFA rankings and the league they play in is often billed as the best in the world.
But although this hasn't been billed by many as a true 'Battle of Britain' it still offers a tantalising prospect and has some living up to do to compete with North V South meetings of the past.

Nowadays Anglo/Scottish clashes are limited (competitively) to European football, but back in 1870 with the FA as the only footballing governing body Queens Park from Glasgow entered the FA Cup, losing in the final twice to English opposition. Queen's Park also hold the honour of fielding the entire team for Scotland's first official international meeting with England, the country even went on to adopt the same colour strip that was worn that day by the clubs players.

With the advent of European competition, the rivalry to be the best of Britain increased as did the chances of clubs from both countries meeting.
On the way to becoming the first British team to lift a European Trophy in '62 Tottenham met Rangers, Jimmy Greaves was the star over both legs, scoring direct from a corner at White Hart Lane and contributing a dazzling individual goal beating three defenders before slotting past the 'keeper in front of 80,000 at Ibrox in the return.
Celtic would be the first British team to win the big prize and became European Cup winners in 1967, in this era of dominance they made it to the semi-final stage three years in a row, albeit in the Cup Winner's Cup in '66. Liverpool were the opponents and with both teams winning their home legs, Liverpool went through 2-1 on aggregate. The year after their triumph in Lisbon, Celtic met English opposition again in the Semi, this time the Champions of England Leeds Utd. A crowd of 130,000 saw the second leg at Hampden which the Hoops won after an early scare from Billy Bremner.

Probably the best remembered Anglo-Scottish clash of recent times was the 'Battle of Britain' of 1992/93.
Leeds Utd were champions in England a year before the start of the Premier League, while Rangers had won their respective Scottish League. This was also the first season of the newly revamped and renamed Champions League so there was much hype surrounding it.
Great Scott Gary McAllister put Leeds ahead, but in goal John Lukic dropped an almighty clanger by punching the ball into his own net (or fisting as Brian Moore puts it) from a corner to make it even at Ibrox before future Rangers Boss Ally McCoist made it two one to the Glasgow team.
Back at Elland Road it was McCoist again who wrapped things up after ex-England International Mark Hateley had scored a cracker from the edge of the area to put Rangers ahead on the night, Eric Cantona scored a consolation but it was too little too late in the end.

Recent history will favour Spurs tonight, although over the years if we were to judge these type of games as a series it's been a close run thing. Victories in the Eighties for Liverpool & Man Utd over Scottish opposition were followed by two meetings of Celtic & Liverpool that were closer run things, The Reds needed away goals in '97 - although to be fair one of those was a stunner from McManaman who scored after a mazy 70 yard run through defenders. The re-run in 2003 went in Celtic's favour after another draw at Parkhead John Hartson silenced The Kop to seal a two-nil win.

Since then it's been pretty much one way traffic for England, but with a hot Tynecastle reception on the cards for Tottenham can they carry on the recent traditions? Or will Hearts under new management yet again put all their upheavels to one side and put one over the Fancy Dan's of North London.

I predict Spurs taking it back down South with scores level and then seeing Hearts off with a home win.

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