Gareth Southgate sorely hopes to experience an England v Scotland game at next summer’s European Championship with fans inside Wembley and it will therefore please him that the Football Association is exploring creative solutions aimed at achieving just that.
There are no certainties in the Covid era, not least about when supporters will be able to return to sporting events, with the oft-mentioned timeframe of around March extremely fluid. The FA is scheduled to host seven Euro 2020 games at Wembley, comprising England’s three group fixtures – one of which will be against Scotland – plus a last-16 tie, both semi-finals and the final.
Scotland secured their qualification on Thursday with a nerve-shredding penalty shootout win against Serbia in the play-offs. The FA, who want clarity over which venues will be used by early January – they are confident that Wembley will be confirmed – accept the stadium may not be able to operate at full capacity. But they are open to considering a range of ideas to ensure that as many fans as possible can safely attend. They include liaising with the government’s Sports, Technology & Innovation Group (Stig) in their work on testing supporters for coronavirus on a perimeter outside stadiums so that the results are known before they get to the turnstiles. This is still in its early stages.
Southgate played in England’s 2-0 Euro 96 victory over Scotland at Wembley, while he was also in the squad for the Euro 2000 play-off games against them. He was an unused substitute in the first leg at Hampden Park, which England won 2-0, and a starter for the second leg at Wembley, which they lost 1-0. Southgate has also managed against Scotland in qualification for the 2018 World Cup, winning 3-0 at Wembley and drawing 2-2 at Hampden – a game in which Scotland’s Leigh Griffiths scored two late free-kicks before Harry Kane found a last-gasp equaliser.
“It’s a very special game against Scotland,” Southgate said. “I’ve never known an atmosphere like Hampden. Not only the game that I still have nightmares about – watching the back of Lee Griffiths’ head [as he took his free-kicks] – but also when I was on the bench for the play-off game. You couldn’t wish for a better atmosphere in a game. We just have to keep our fingers crossed that crowds are allowed back into the stadium. It would be just a completely different occasion if that’s the case.”
It has been a bruising week for the FA following Greg Clarke’s offensive comments that forced his resignation as chairman. The organisation will use headhunters beyond their normal ones to generate as diverse a shortlist as possible to find a replacement who would be capable of leading a European Championship or even a World Cup bid.
Meanwhile, Southgate has kept Jude Bellingham in his squad for the Nations League ties against Belgium on Sunday and Iceland next Wednesday, having decided not to return him to the under-21s. The 17-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder became England’s third youngest international when he came on in the 3-0 friendly win over the Republic of Ireland on Thursday.
Reece James, who is suspended for Belgium and Iceland, has gone back to Chelsea.