• Scotland head coach Steve Clarke who spent 10 days at Pinatar Arena with his squad talks about Euro 2020 and Auld Enemy England.

“MY two boys are English. My grandchildren are English. I understand the rivalry, I enjoy the rivalry, don’t get me wrong,” said Clarke.

“It’s nice to be part of a historic fixture,” said Clarke, pitched against England in the Euro 2020 qualifying Group D, along with Croatia and the Czech Republic.

“We just concentrate on being as professional as we can be. Sir Alex Ferguson says a lot of sensible things and he mentioned it would be a mistake to concentrate too much on that middle game (England).

“We have to focus equally on all three games. It doesn’t matter where the points come from,” he reasoned.

On qualifying former Chelsea defender Clarke, 57, said: “It’s nice that we have made so many people happy – hopefully we can make them happier still.”

Scotland hosted the Czech Republic Hampden Park on June 14, finally putting a line under the wait to appear in a major championship for 23 years.

In 1974 Scotland went to the World Cup in West Germany: “Nineteen seventy-four? Willie Ormond’s team. Joe Jordan scored the goal to qualify us against Czechoslovakia.

Scotland players in training at Pinatar.
Scotland players in training at Pinatar.

“I was a kid at Hampden and went with my dad and my brother. I don’t remember much as I couldn’t see the game.

“I was just a little fella, squeezed in. But I know I was there – I remember the goal,” he recalled.

Growing up, Clarke said: “We were a football family. I would have gone to that game because my dad told me I was going. And that’s what everybody did back then – you went to watch Scotland.”

Scotland head for Wembley on June 18 in the second of three Group D matches – to face England: “We have come together, grown together and are improving together.

“I don’t know about the underdog mentality, we have to think we can achieve something in this section.

“An achievement would be getting out of the group. Do I think we can do that? Yes, given a fair crack of the whip and the breaks you need,” he said.

On meeting England, Clarke said: “I don’t think it’s any more intense than the pressure that’s put on the Scottish team. “Expectation might be different but the pressure is the same. England’s realistic expectation is to be in the last four of major competitions. When you get that far, you think you can win it.”

Clarke arrived at the helm in May 2019, leading Scotland’s qualification for Euro 2020: “I wanted to bring positivity within the group, encouraging the players to speak that way via the media, which is your conduit to the fans.

“But that was difficult during the first few games because we were thumped by Russia and Belgium,” he said.

Scotland played Serbia for the play-off final last November, and Clarke said: “Most of the country was on side – but I don’t think too many people gave us a great chance of qualifying.

“As time goes on, you realise what you have achieved – the players should be proud.

“We have to be conscious that it can’t be another 20-odd years before we qualify again.”

Pinatar Arena
Pinatar Arena

Scotland played two friendlies during a 10 days training camp at Pinatar Arena in Murcia and Clarke said: “You don’t need five, six, seven new guys coming in every time you have a camp, because you don’t get professional relationships on the pitch or personal relationships off the pitch.

“I have tried to be consistent. We celebrated well when we qualified and I think taking more or less the same group into the championships means they have that bond to do well together. I think that’s really important.”

Caption: Scotland chief Steve Clarke: Conscious it can’t be another 23 years before qualifying again. Image courtesy of FIFA.com

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