On the 31st of March, 1928, Scotland beat England by five goals to one, at Wembley.
Scotland doesn't have much to celebrate in the way of sporting success, particularly of late, which means the early years of the 21st Century. Indeed, it hasn't had much to cheer about that amounts to a track record, ever. Oh yes, there have been many stirring individual successes, but on the national, representative team front, there's been very little to gloat about, in any sport. From Eric Liddell to Alan Wells; Ian Stewart to Liz McColgan; Ecurie Ecosse to Jim Clark; Aberdeen FC winning the Cup Winners' Cup, against the odds, in '83; from Graham Obree and the benighted man of Hoy to [add your own, here... ___ ], we have had our fair share of stellar moments.
Sadly, against that pantheon of achievement, there are
the inglorious national team failures upon which to reflect, but only for a masochistic moment. Since Rob Roy invented cricket, we've done nothing but wave a white flannel towel. Since 1998, we've been [in]conspicuous by our absence at successive football (soccer) World Cups. Since 1999, we've flattered to deceive at rugby – and even that was flatteringly deceptive, you might say. But it wasn't always that way.
One wet spring Saturday afternoon in London, on the 31st of March, 1928, to be reasonably precise, eleven Scots pulled out one of their country's greatest ever sporting results. Those eleven sporting heroes beat the Auld Enemy (that's England to you) by five goals to one in a game of Association Football played at the 'home of football', Wembley Stadium. Those eleven football players are known as the 'Wembley Wizards' of 1928. Maybe the soccer fans of today can’t rattle off their names as readily as their grandparents, but there they are, recorded in the annals, if not the annuals, of footballing history – permanently.
The match was part of the 1927-28 Home Championships, which according to the BBC at the time, “had seen Scotland get off to a poor start” by losing 1-0 to Northern Ireland, in Glasgow. And the Scots could only manage a 2-2 draw with Wales in Wrexham. So, with only a single point on the board, and an away trip to England, it looked like the Scots were going to finish with the wooden spoon. Ach well, your porridge is better made with a spurkle, anyway!
At the time, there was some controversy about the team selection, with many regulars having been left out of the line-up. One favourite, Jimmy McGrory, had been left out in favour of Hughie Gallacher, who hadn’t played for two months prior to the game. In addition, eight of the players were Anglo-Scots and one a debutant at that, which hadn’t impressed the Press. Look back at the Daily Record’s preview article, which suggested, “It's not a great side”. Hardly a ringing endorsement for the team!
The general opinion on both sides of the border was that England would run out comfortable winners. However, despite all the doom and gloom, the nation rallied behind the team, with eleven special trains leaving from Glasgow on the Friday night, to the strains of “Wem-bay-lee, belongs tae me!”
The night before the game, the team captain, Jimmy McMullan gave a team talk. It was short and to the point. “You all know what's expected of you tomorrow,” he said. “All I've got to say is, go to your bed, put your head on your pillow and pray for rain.” Not much changed there, then. Rain meant a heavy pitch and as a contemporary source suggested, “one where the little Scottish frontmen could twist and turn much quicker than the lumbering English defenders.” Sounds more like Bannockburn with every paragraph, doesn’t it? Sometimes it's good to be wee.
On the day, a small crowd of around 80,000 saw Scotland’s first attack produce a goal. Wonder of wonders! Alex James began a series of attacking passes across the pitch. The ball switched to Morton on the left and he raced to the bye line, stopping only to let the other Alex, Jackson that was, make a far post run. James landed the ball on Jackson's head and, within three minutes, Scotland had taken the lead. Amazing stuff!
That goal seemed to signal for the floodgates to be opened, and the Scots took control of the game. The lively and skilful play of the Scottish attack tormented the English players, who, as predicted, had no answer to the “tricky forwards.” Alex James doubled the Scottish advantage just before half-time, with a rasping, left foot strike that sent the away fans into raptures.
Twenty minutes after the restart, Jackson grabbed his second goal, this time from a Morton cross that was as precise as can be. Then Hughie Gallacher provided the set up for Alex James to score a well deserved second, to make the score 4-0. With James and Jackson each vying for hat tricks, the Morton-Jackson combination succeeded again as another cross was forced into the net by the Huddersfield winger. Jackson claim his hat-trick and a place in history.
Puir England grabbed a late consolation goal, from a Kelly free kick, but there was no disguising the fact that the Scots had annihilated them. The legend of the Wembley Wizards was born. Sadly, that team would never play together again. In fact, the game was debutant Bradshaw's only cap, despite his sterling performance in marking Dixie Dean out of the game.
Future generations of Scots should never forget what a wonderful performance those eleven men gave that day. Here are their names: Harkness, Nelson, Law, Gibson, Bradshaw, McMullan, Jackson, Dunn, Gallacher, James, and Morton