One of my earliest introductions to football was the the England Scotland match on 13 November 1999. It was an event that drew on the passions of the two countries sporting fans in a way I'll never forget.
England and Scotland first played each other in 1872. It's one of the oldest sporting rivalries in the world. They played each other annually until 1989, with many historic results along the way. In 1967 the two teams met after England had won the 1966 World Cup, and were on a 19-game winning streak, but Scotland won 3-2 and claimed an 'unofficial world championship'.
As with many things the rivalry diminished over time, particularly from the English perspective, with England developing new rivalries with Germany and Argentina. The annual match was abandoned in 1989 and they have played 5 times since. However, for Scotland, a chance to beat their southern neighbor remains a tasty chance for a boost in national pride.
In the qualification for the 2000 European Championship, both England and Scotland finished second in their groups and were fatefully drawn against each other in a two-match play-off to determine which team would go to the European tournament. It was a meeting of two bitter soccer rivals with high stakes.
I was living in Moscow then. I went to see the match at a popular bar for expatriates that showed sporting events called Chesterfield. The bar was packed. England fans were on one side. Scottish fans were on the other. The atmosphere was electric. It was almost like attending a live match. Each pass of the ball, tackle or move was greeted with cheers or shouts on either side. The hall shook with the rhythm of the game.
The outcome was somewhat anti-climatic. England scored in the middle of the first half with a Paul Scholes goal, and the midfielder added a second late in the half and England held on to win. The result effectively secured England's qualification. The goals were obviously met with huge cheers from the English side and stunned faces on the other. Late in the match, the Scottish fans, more or less understanding England were in control, sang their national anthem in defiance. English fans retorted "two-nil". By the end everyone was pretty drunk and naturally there were minor crowd scuffles filing out of the overcrowded venue though nothing major.
Today's match is part of the qualification for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. After the contentious Brexit vote, the match has heavy political overtones. Hopefully, though, the match itself will provide greater drama than 1999 game.