When Scotland defeated England in two sports – on the same day

Scotland’s rugby team will enter the 2016 Six Nations Championship this weekend in their habitual role as underdogs. And, despite some positive displays at the World Cup, it’s difficult to be overly optimistic when one remembers the sense of anti-climax which surrounded last year’s wooden spoon.

Yet, as Vern Cotter’s personnel prepare to tackle England in Edinburgh, there is a definite sense of optimism, allied to the hope that a new generation of heroes will emerge. That’s the lure of sport: the pain of defeat rarely lasts.

True enough, the Scots were inconsolable after their World Cup exit to Australia and especially in circumstances where the referee Craig Joubert sprinted off the pitch to avoid having to explain his last-minute penalty award to the Wallabies. But still, it wasn’t a matter of life and death.

Yet, it would certainly be heartening to think the current squad might derive inspiration from the momentous events which unfolded 70 years ago, on an unprecedented afternoon in Scotland.

On April 13, 1946, as a nation celebrated the end of war, en masse, Scotland, for the first and only time in their history, locked horns with England in football and rugby on the same afternoon at Hampden Park and Murrayfield – and won both contests.

Scotland V England 1946

Scotland V England 1946

Over 200,000 spectators packed into the grounds for these Victory Internationals and ,whether in saluting the likes of Wallace Deas, Doug Elliot and Russell Bruce, who orchestrated a record-breaking 27-0 success in Edinburgh – and this when a try was only worth three points – or in unleashing their pent-up tension with a Hampden Roar of truly gargantuan proportions, following Jimmy Delaney’s 89th-minute winner, there was an outbreak of national exultation, reflecting the fact that with Hitler finally defeated, the Auld Enemy could be re-established as the opponents it was most important to beat.

Even at this juncture, with the majority of the protagonists and spectators long dead, the nature of much of the reportage conveys the makeshift nature of the supporter’ pleasures.

The Sunday Post splashed the story on their front page with the headline: “A Great Day for Scotland” and related how young children pushed prams, packed with pies, outside the ground, and vendors advertised “three corned beef sandwiches for a shilling”, whilst 139,000 fans, many of them carrying bottles of alcohol, stood, squeezed together in a Hampden huddle, with aficionados from both countries in the same company. (This was before segregation was introduced).

The late Scottish broadcaster Bob Crampsey, who was at the match, once told me: “It was a terrific atmosphere, and there was nary a hint of trouble, because you have to remember that most of these men had been fighting side by side against the Germans just a few months earlier.

“We had been thrashed 6-1 by the English in Glasgow the previous year – many of our best players were out in the Far East or Africa, whereas a lot of theirs seemed to be stationed at places like Aldershot – so there were no huge expectations, but the longer the match progressed, the more dominant the hosts became.

“Then suddenly, Jackie Husband flighted a free kick out on the left across the Mount Florida goal end, Willie Waddell touched it into the box, and Delaney, whom I recollect was in a suspiciously offside position, crashed it into the net behind Frank Swift.

“Well, the whole auditorium erupted. In the minutes afterwards, you couldn’t hear yourself think, and I recall one jubilant wee punter rushing onto the field to congratulate the home players.

“Two policemen nabbed him and led him back to his seat, but not before he had thrown his hat in the air half a dozen times, and danced a jig with the constabulary hanging on to him.

“It was a situation which basically summed up the occasion – intrinsically innocent, laced with humour and this from a crowd who enjoyed their drams of whisky at the interval. One Englishmen lent a bottle opener to a Scot, who responded with the offer of a biscuit.

“And there wasn’t a single arrest by the 400 policemen, although there was plenty of joshing of the coppers with one Glaswegian asking a chap on a white horse whether he couldn’t have found a tartan cuddy for a few hours.”

Similar delight was evident at Murrayfield, where the Scots, led by Deas, produced the sort of stirring forward display which will be required by their professional successors at Murrayfield on February 6.

I had the privilege, a decade ago, of visiting one of the heroes, Russell Bruce, who was 87, but still possessed a verbal dexterity which wouldn’t have disgraced a fellow 10 or 20 years younger, and he ran me through the narrative of an encounter where the home pack were in almost complete control from the outset, eventually racking up half-a-dozen tries, three conversions and a penalty (had the match been fought out under the current scoring system, they would have prevailed 39-0, which underlines their superiority).

“It was a pretty convincing demolition and amply compensated for the fact we had lost 12-8 at Twickenham just a month earlier, when we should really have won – both Doug Elliot and I went for the man rather than the ball in the final moment, and we squandered a glorious opportunity to wrap up victory,” said Bruce, a Glasgow Academical, who was part of the Anti-Aircraft Command, who campaigned across Europe in 1944 and 1945.

“But, to be honest, that was a pretty strong Scottish side, and we were supremely fit, and the big lads in the mould of Wallace, Doug, Frank Coutts and John Orr snaffled ball from their opponents so regularly that chances were served up on a regular basis.

“It was another time, another place. While I was in the army, we had a mix of boys from union and league and we all got on well together and why not? Anyway, in 1944, there was a suggestion that we should organise a game – RU v RL – in Bradford, and I was keen to be involved. But the SRU refused and made it clear that if I did participate, I could forget about being picked for the international team in the future.”

I loved this anecdote and the notion that, in the midst of a global conflagration, with the future of the free world at stake, rugby’s blazerati, harrumphing into their G & Ts. remained hell-bent on implementing the regulations to the nth degree.

It had Captain Mainwaring from Dad’s Army’s imprimatur all over it, yet the more Bruce reminisced, it was clear there was nothing laughable about the Scottish tactics which drove the English to near-despair.

As he said: “We were in their faces from the outset, and an audience of more than 60,000 offered us incredible support, so it was an uplifting afternoon.

“We tackled as if our lives depended on it, we varied our angles of attack, and we never allowed them to develop any pattern, and we kept putting points on the board when we were in their territory.

“We were only in front 9-0 at half-time – I had managed to score a try after one of their lads booted the ball into my hands – but we were a confident bunch and we never relented for a second, to the stage where they were out on their feet.

“It was all Scotland in the second period and there were tries for Ian Lumsden, Gordon Watt, Billy MacLennan and Billy Munro and the last of these was an absolute beauty.

“He was released by Lumsden and shimmied and feinted his way past the English defence, selling this lovely dummy, and touching down.”

“At the climax, the supporters stood to acclaim us and then we heard the news from Hampden and it capped a remarkable day for Scottish sport.

“We went on to win the unofficial championship, including a victory over the New Zealand Army side, known as the Kiwis, who were effectively the All Blacks in everything but name.

“They had already demolished Ireland and Wales, and they performed their haka before the kick-off, but we weren’t intimidated and beat them 11-6, so it was a decent effort from us.”

Back at Hampden, on that special evening, his contemporaries were understandably triumphant. Their line-up featured the Shaw brothers, Jock and Davie, and Frank Brennan, all of whom were born and brought up in miners’ cottages in Annathill, within about 100 yards of one another, and they also boasted Scot Symon, a dual internationalist in football and cricket and subsequent Rangers manager (the England cricket maestro, Denis Compton, was in the opposition ranks).

“In their next match a month further on, Scotland beat Switzerland 3-1, so it wasn’t as if the England result was any fluke,” says Jim Guy of the Scottish Football Museum. “On the contrary, these were men who had been a band of brothers on the battlefield and they brought the same amount of camaraderie and commitment to their exertions on the football pitch. We should be proud of them.”

Hopefully, there will be fresh reasons for pride during the Six Nations.

Leave a Comment