The scene of Scotland’s most glorious failure is a world away from the low-key obligation to cut the ribbon at the Cardiff City Stadium today.
The wonders of YouTube mean a new audience can relive the drama of the last Auld Enemy confrontation; a reminder that the gap was once not so great. The Christian Dailly pass inside a lumbering Sol Campbell; David Beckham, hair billowing in the wind, unable to catch a nimble Neil McCann; the emphatic back-post header that bulleted past David Seaman and left Tony Adams on his haunches.
This tells only part of the story. Scotland lost the tie 2-1, their quest to reach three consecutive major tournaments unravelled by a Paul Scholes double at Hampden. That in itself remains a source of irritation to Craig Brown, but more of that later. November 17, 1999 is regarded as one of the most raucous nights for the Tartan Army since the unofficial coronation in 1967.
Hutchison’s opener set-up a grandstand finale that ultimately left a familiar feeling of disappointment. “If we scored again, we would have won in extra time,” Brown told The Herald. “The momentum was with us.”
Scotland were not given a chance of reversing the two-goal deficit. Yet it was the supreme confidence of Kevin Keegan that enabled Brown to plot England’s downfall in London. Cock-sure after Hampden, Keegan named his team for the second leg well in advance, replacing Martin Keown with Gareth Southgate. It represented Scotland’s re-entry ticket.
“I changed to a more attacking line-up, partly because I had nothing to lose and partly because I think Keegan thought England were through,” Brown recalls. “He announced that Gareth Southgate would start alongside Tony Adams, in place of Martin Keown, and that played into our hands. Adams and Keown were real hard b*****ds. There was no way of out-muscling them, but Southgate was not as aggressive. I put Hutchison further forward and told [goalkeeper] Neil Sullivan to place his kicks right on top of Southgate and allow us to feed off the scraps. We did.”
Hutchison terrorised Southgate. Brown added: “Don was fearless. He was great in possession, strong and had everything. It was Tommy Burns who first recognised how good he was. Tommy was in charge of the B team and, after he played against Wales in Wrexham, Tommy said ‘You have to put him straight into the A team; he reminds me of myself’. That was accolade enough.”
Hutchison’s goal remains the career highlight for the nomadic attacker, the moment of acceptance for the Gateshead-born Scot. “I knew I was playing up front 48 hours before kick-off and we knew them inside out,” Hutchison recalls. “I remember Christian playing a good pass to Neil McCann and him delivering a great cross. I finished it off and nothing was going to stop me celebrating a goal in front of the Tartan Army at Wembley.”
Scotland could not fully recover from Scholes’ spearings but Brown, to this day, is hacked off at the organisational bureaucracy that deprived him of a Champions League winner. Brown lobbied hard for a postponement of the Old Firm derby the week before. His fears were confirmed when Paul Lambert sustained a fractured cheekbone.
“The first leg was disappointing for many reasons,” admitted Brown. “The SPL went ahead with an Old Firm game a week before. I was furious because they did not legislate for a play-off, especially not for one against England. Predictably, we get a major injury and my holding midfielder, who performed with such distinction in the Champions League final for Borussia Dortmund, cannot play. Barry Ferguson played brilliantly but he was not a holding midfielder. Scholes scored two goals and that was the guy Paul Lambert was going to pick up …”
The defeat was even harder to bear for Brown given other tactical triumphs. “I played Paul Ritchie at left-back to mark David Beckham and Beckham never got a kick,” he said. “Colin Hendry was struggling with injury for months in the lead-up but he had played with Alan Shearer at Blackburn and Colin said ‘leave him to me’. He was not being big-headed but he knew Shearer respected him and his style. Sure enough, Colin whacked him in the middle of the first half, took a yellow card for it and Shearer never made an impact.”
While Brown remains heavily involved in Scottish football, Hutchison has forged a new career with Al Jazeera and TalkSport. He retired last year, aged 37, with Luton Town and is remembered fondly for an act of benevolence as the club plunged towards administration. “When I stopped playing I still had two months left of my contract,” he said. “I felt uncomfortable sitting on a beach taking wages from a club with difficulties so I spoke to the chairman and agreed to sponsor two young boys, effectively paying their wages for a year.”
A career that spanned 10 clubs nevertheless ended without the realisation of a boyhood dream. “I would love to have played for Rangers,” he says. “In fact, I still text Ally McCoist saying ‘come on, if David Weir is getting a game at 39 there is hope for me yet’.”