AS FIRST courses go, a choice ‘Auld Enemy’ affair this evening represents a classic addition to the menu ahead of the main banquet for Eddie Gray.
Like millions of others, the Leeds United legend will be tuning in to watch the 113th instalment of one of international football’s most enduring rivalries when his beloved Scotland visit Wembley for a World Cup qualifier with England.
It will be an occasion not to miss for any football fan worth their salt, with Gray’s attention also drawn to another huge, albeit more provincial occasion on Sunday week when Leeds host Newcastle United in the biggest league fixture at Elland Road for several seasons.
But while Gray will be pinning his hopes on a home win on that occasion, the reverse applies tonight when he believes that the fitness of Scotland winger and ex-Leeds favourite Robert Snodgrass will be pivotal to Tartan hopes and those of another revered former United player in Gordon Strachan.
Gray said: “After Scotland versus England, I am looking forward to Leeds beating Newcastle, which should be a great game and occasion.
“In terms of the Scotland and England game, I am a bit apprehensive! On paper, England look the stronger side. But you can never tell in a Scotland versus England game.
“It will be interesting to see what Gordon does with Robert Snodgrass and whether he starts with him as a fit-Snodgrass is a big asset for Scotland.
“It will be a tough game for Scotland, but for England as well and Gareth (Southgate) and Gordon. Gordon seems to be under pressure. But with the type of character Gordon is, I am sure he can handle that and I do not think it will make any difference to him.
“He will be looking forward to the game as the players will.
“If England lose, they will be under pressure as if you look at the table, there is not much between the teams.
“It would not surprise me if Scotland won. But they are the team under most pressure, if you look at both squads.”
Despite being capped just 12 times for Scotland, Glasgow-born Gray has sampled the highs and lows in the navy blue jersey of Scotland against England, losing 4-1 at Wembley on his Scotland debut in 1969 and being part of the side who beat England 2-1 at Hampden in 1976.
On his own memories, Gray, recalled: “I remember that (1976) game when Kenny (Dalglish) scored through Ray Clemence’s legs to win the game.
“But the funny thing is your memories are sometimes of those games where you are not playing.
“I will never forget going to Hampden when Bobby Charlton scored a wonderful goal for England when he was young. It was about 1958 and he knocked it into the top corner of the net. I also remember the 1967 win when we became ‘world champions’!
“When you look in the past to people like Bremner, Law, Charlton, Souness, Dalglish and Mackay, the fixture does not look as strong. They were names which rolled off the tongue and they are just not there now.
“But it is does not take anything away from the fact that it is a World Cup qualifier and both countries will be desperate to win.
“The fixture puts hairs on the back of your neck. It is the ‘Auld Enemy’.”