Graeme Souness and Ally McCoist relive Scotland days and rivalry with England in fun-packed interview… as the two nations prepare to face off once again
- Graeme Souness and Ally McCoist regale Mail Sport with tales of their past
- There’s plenty of banter and memories shared in their chat with Craig Hope
- The two will broadcast for Channel 4 when England play Scotland next Tuesday
Graeme Souness and Ally McCoist have spent the morning laughing. Punches recalled, punchlines landed. Only, Scotland’s record against England isn’t that funny. Souness won once and McCoist’s best was a goalless draw.
‘F***ing pudding,’ says Souness, of the striker he managed at Rangers. ‘No wonder I subbed you all the time!’
That draw was at Hampden Park in 1987 and during the annual Rous Cup showdown between Scotland and England. A match report records McCoist having had an opportunity to win it.
‘I have to admit, it was nae a half-chance, there’s no getting away from that!’ he says. ‘It was the miss of the season, over the bar.’
Souness and McCoist will be working together for Channel 4 when the Auld Enemies meet again in the fixture’s 150th Anniversary Match at Hampden on Tuesday. Between them, they played for Scotland from 1974 to 1998, yet never in the same team. The end of Souness’s international career marked the start of McCoist’s.
Graeme Souness and Ally McCoist recalled their days playing for Scotland in an interview with Mail Sport – though they never featured together
Souness was captain of the national team but bowed out before McCoistplayed for them
McCoist, seen here challenging Peter Shilton, was controversially left out of a couple of tournaments
Did the latter’s emergence, just before the 1986 World Cup, hasten the former’s decision to retire after the tournament? ‘Too right it did!’ says Souness, although his affection for the younger man is clear, if you stick around.
They would have been Scotland team-mates had McCoist gone to the finals in Mexico.
‘Fergie (Sir Alex Ferguson, then-Scotland manager) did me like a kipper,’ says McCoist. ‘I was in the plans for the World Cup. One day, I hear Big Jock Wallace (Rangers manager) giving Fergie a mouthful down the phone. He summoned me to the office, which you did once or twice yourself, Graeme.
‘Big Jock threw the phone at me and said, “Fergie wants a word, he’s not taking you”. Fergie says, “You’re doing great, but I’ve decided you’ll not be in my squad. But if anyone drops out, you’ll be first in”. The very next morning, Kenny Dalglish pulls out, and he brings in Steve Archibald!’
Would you have taken him, Graeme? ‘Would I f***! You had some stern competition. Archibald. Kenny. Charlie Nicholas. Frank McAvennie. Graeme Sharp. You were still too young.’
McCoist went to Italia 90 but was controversially left out at France 98. Same question, Graeme, would you have included him?
‘Definitely… but not to play! Just for camaraderie, have him around the place.’
McCoist, it should be noted, has been laughing throughout.
Alex Ferguson decided not to take McCoist to the 1986 World Cup – and even reneged on a promise to include him if someone dropped out!
‘Let me tell you,’ says Souness. ‘In all the dressing rooms I was in, if you want someone to solidify that dressing room and get a winning mentality, Alistair is your man. If you want Alistair to turn up at a supporters’ club at 8pm on a Tuesday, forget it! But in the dressing room, he’s an 11 out of 10.’
McCoist had been around Scotland squads with Souness before making his debut in 1986. He remembers one in particular.
‘Big Jock Stein was manager and we were at Gleneagles. Kenny invited me down for a coffee after training. You were there, Graeme, and Big Jock was joining us. Kenny said, “Right, what do you want?”. I said the same as you guys, “Just a cup of tea”. We’re all sat and Kenny comes back with the teas and coffees, and puts a pint of lager down in front of me! Big Jock was in on it, but I was mortified!’
When Souness retired from the national team after Mexico 86, he was appointed player-manager at Rangers, where McCoist was his top marksman. Their team included England stars such as Terry Butcher, Trevor Steven, Trevor Francis and Ray Wilkins — at the time of the Rous Cup — and that cross-border rivalry would serve as inspiration for domestic success. Never was that more evident than on a Friday morning.
‘We had Scotland-England training games…’ begins Souness. ‘I had to play for England, because I couldn’t get in the Scotland side!
‘Walter (Smith) was ref. We’d be losing 3-1 and had played for half an hour. It was meant to be a short, sharp session. Walter says, “Last minute”. I’d say, “No it’s f***ing not!”. We’d play close to an hour so we could get back in the game!’ Which was more competitive, that five-a-side or the Rous Cup?
‘F*** me, the five-a-side!’ says McCoist. ‘You were lucky to get off the pitch with a pulse! It used to drive us insane him playing for England. I’ll never forget, he put one on wee Ian Durrant’s chin, and deservedly so. Durranty was giving it the old, “Ole, ole, ole”. Graeme came in and left a beauty of a tackle on him. Durranty was like one of those Weebles, he went down and bounced back up. He put his foot on the ball and says, “Is that your best?”. Graeme says, “As a matter of fact, Ian, no, it’s not. This is!”. Bang! I would pay fortunes to watch it again. Magic.’
‘Yep, but as you get older you must lose your strength, because he still got up! There was a mass brawl after that.’
McCoist takes over. ‘So we’re all sitting in the dressing room wondering what Graeme is going to do. He walks in and says, “Lads, that’s exactly the spirit I’m looking for!”. We loved that.
The two did cross paths when Jock Stein was in charge and took part in Scotland-England training games together
Souness went on to player-manage Rangers, where McCoist was the top marksman
‘Hand on heart, Graeme was one of the best I played with. He’ll say we didn’t see him at his best, but I’ve never played with anyone who could dictate a game like him.’
Durrant, meanwhile, was also on the receiving end when Terry Hurlock, newly signed by Souness from Millwall, was encouraged by the manager to get involved after a quiet start during an England-Scotland kickabout.
Hurlock told me the story a few years ago. ‘Souness stops the session, “What the f*** have I signed here? You’re allowed to touch the ball!”. ‘The ball goes to little Durrant. I fly in, “Whack!”. Souey stops it again, “F****** easy!”. I said, “Don’t wind me up then, you told me to get involved!”.’
The pair remember Hurlock and the others from England with great warmth, but their blood runs cold as we explore the rivalry.
‘We hated them, but the feeling was mutual,’ says Souness. ‘There is a theory in Britain that the Scots want to win it more than the English. That’s a myth. I know. I was in a dressing room with English players like Emlyn Hughes.
‘These games were intense, ferocious. My Liverpool team-mate Terry McDermott knew if I had half a chance, I would leave a bit on him. It fires up the imagination of both nations. Winning the Rous Cup meant nothing, but beating England meant everything.’
McCoist says: ‘Graeme is spot on, it would be naive to think the Scots boys wanted it more than the English. Looking across the tunnel and seeing Terry Butcher, I can guarantee you he wanted to beat us as much as we did them.
‘You say you’d leave “a bit” on Terry Mac? I knew for a fact, if Butcher had the chance, he would be leaving “plenty” on me!’
McCoist said that England players like Terry Butcher ‘wanted to beat us as much as we did them’
The best of enemies is one way of describing the relationship back then. There was mutual respect and, when I ask them for their best England opponent, it says much when they don’t stop at one.
‘Paul Gascoigne was just ridiculous,’ starts McCoist. ‘And Butcher, for showing what representing your country means to someone.’
Souness says: ‘I’ll give you two as well. Kevin Keegan and Bryan Robson. Kevin was perpetual motion, a constant threat, and hated the Scots for 90 minutes.
‘As did Robbo. He was always driving into your box. For me, as a sitting midfielder, I don’t want to be tracking players back all the time. The ultimate warrior.’
Gazza. No conversation around England and Scotland is complete without mention of his goal at Euro 96. Even though McCoist was on the pitch at Wembley, he told me over lunch before Euro 2020 of his appreciation for the volley, his Rangers team-mate having flicked the ball over Colin Hendry before smashing past Andy Goram.
Souness has a different take. ‘I could not appreciate it at all! Not at the time. Could the big blonde centre back have done better?’
Souness: ‘Winning the Rous Cup meant nothing, but beating England meant everything’
‘Ah, if you’ve got to feel sympathy for anyone, it’s big Colin,’ says McCoist. ‘Because that video gets pulled out and shown every time.’
Souness is softening. ‘Watching it back, it’s fantastic. Only someone who had supreme ability and believed he could be that cheeky, and get away with it, would ever try that. A goal we all remember.’
An England goal for which there is little sentiment is the last they scored at Hampden. Leigh Griffiths had just netted twice to give the hosts a 2-1 lead in a World Cup qualifier in 2017, when Harry Kane vollyed in a last-ditch equaliser.
‘I’ve spent most of my life in England,’ says Souness. ‘I’m thankful for being part of the English game but, when it comes to these matches, I’m only supporting Scotland. I get emotional about it.
‘That Kane goal… I was so emotional afterwards. We had them. If we’d won that, I might have been embarrassing on television.’
McCoist was with Souness that afternoon. ‘When Kane’s goal went in, I was on my knees. Absolutely gutted,’ he says. ‘I also did the co-comms for the game against England at Wembley during Euro 2020. It came to you, Graeme, before kick-off, and you gave a speech about what it meant to Scotland. The commentator said, “What did you think of that, Ally?”. I said, “What did I think of it?! I’m ready to march on Carlisle!”.’
That strength of patriotism does not extend throughout the Souness family. ‘My son has an England shirt with “Souness” on the back, which I’ve told him he can never wear to a game! He’s been to England matches and supports them. I’d like to think for this one, he’s sitting well and truly on the fence!’
Souness, too, sits on the fence as I ask him how he felt when England were beaten by Italy during the Euro 2020 final. McCoist has no such reservations.
‘I’m happy to say, “Thank f***, that was close!”,’ he says. ‘We’re eternally grateful for working down here and the football is brilliant. But you’ve no idea how difficult it is for a Scotsman watching England do well. What makes it even worse is that the players and manager are now likeable!’
But there is also fondness for this Scotland team and boss Steve Clarke, who has the nation on the brink of Euro 2024 qualification.
‘The best we’ve had for a long time,’ says Souness. ‘That game at Wembley (0-0 draw), they out-footballed England. I can’t think of anyone else who has done that like they did. The manager knows what he’s doing. We have some very good players. We should go into this game with no inferiority complex, like we did at Wembley.’
Predictions? ‘England have better players, if you were picking a composite team,’ adds Souness. ‘But on the night, that means nothing. I think it will be close, the odd goal in it.’
McCoist remains the tartan side of the fence. ‘John McGinn will score and Scotland will win 2-1!’ If so, perhaps Souness will finally ‘embarrass’ himself on television amid the emotion of a first Scotland victory in 24 years.
‘Alistair, before you go, is it casual dress for the game?’ asks Souness of their date on Channel 4. ‘Yeah, smart-casual,’ says McCoist. ‘But your smart-casual will be a hundred times better than my smart-casual, that’s for sure!’
One last thing, will you two have time for a game of golf while in Scotland? ‘He used to fine me for playing golf,’ says McCoist. ‘Now, he can’t wait to get me out on the course to take money off me!’
‘We all change,’ says Souness. What remains the same is the rivalry between England and Scotland.
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