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"Wembley Wizards" is the name given to the Scottish national team which defeated Englandmarker at Wembley Stadiummarker in 1928 by 5 goals to 1 in a comprehensive display of teamwork that has become mythologised.

Background

The result was made particularly memorable partly because of the fact that Scotland had failed to win either of their matches in that season's British Home Championship against Ireland; to whom they lost 1–0 in Belfastmarker, or Wales; with whom they had drawn 2–2 in Wrexhammarker. Three weeks earlier the Scottish Football League had lost 6–2 to the Football League at Hampden Parkmarker.

What should not be forgotten, however, is that England too had had a poor season losing 2–0 to Ireland in Belfastmarker and to the eventual champions Wales 2–1 in Burnleymarker. Moreover their record against Scotland in the 1920s was not good: one victory in 8 attempts.

Build Up

On 21 March 1928, a large crowd of several thousand supporters packed into Carleton Place, Glasgow which was the address of the Scottish Football Association. They were there to hear the official announcement of the team to face England. The traffic was halted and the police marshalled the crowd as if they were actually at a match. The first reaction was one of astonishment as the crowd learned that regulars Davie Meiklejohn, Bob McPhail and Jimmy McGrory had been omitted from the line up. The second reaction was one of annoyance when they discovered that only three players actually playing in Scotland had been named. There was disbelief that Bury’s Tom Bradshaw had been picked to make his international debut – especially since he would have the unenviable task of marking Everton’s prolific goal scorer, the great Dixie Dean. There was also some disquiet when the name of Hughie Gallacher was mentioned since he hadn't played for two months. Then there was another sharp intake of breath when it was realised that the untried forward line of Alex Jackson, James Dunn, Gallacher, Alex James and Alan Morton was the smallest attack ever fielded by Scotland - all were no taller than 5 foot seven and, of which, only one of whom had featured in the international trial game between the Anglos and Home Scots. The two sides for that trial game on Tue 13 March 1928, a 1–1 draw were as follows:

Home Scots: Jack Harkness (Queen's Park); Douglas Herbert Gray (Rangers), Willie McStay (captain) (Celtic); Kennedy, Lambie, Thomas Craig (Rangers); Gavigan, Stewart Chalmers (Queen's Park), David McCrae (St. Mirren), Bob McPhail (Airdrieonians), Adam McLean (Celtic).

Anglo Scots: Jock Crawford (Blackburn Roversmarker); James Nelson (Cardiff City), Smith; Duncan, Tom Bradshaw (Bury), Jimmy McMullan (Manchester City); David Robbie (Bury), Arthur Lochhead (Leicester City), Tommy Jennings (Leeds United), Alex James (Arsenal), George McLachlan (Cardiff City).

Trial Match Report

4 of the England side were playing for Huddersfield Town - one of the strongest League sides at the time; Dixie Dean was nearing the end of his record 60-goal League season.

Despite this there is some debate as to just how the Scottish side rated their chances; the night before the game Scotland skipper Jimmy McMullan is attributed as having said: "The President (of the SFA Robert Campbell) wants us to discuss football but you all know what's expected of you tomorrow. All I've got to say is, go to your bed, put your head on your pillow and pray for rain."

When they climbed out of their beds the next morning, it was indeed raining. Over breakfast Jimmy looked at his small forward line – and said; “You’ve got nice weather for it lads!” By the time they set off for Wembley, the rain had developed into a downpour and the advantage to the lighter Scots was growing. They would be able to twist and turn much more effectively than would England’s heavyweights in those slippery conditions.

The Game

In the Scottish dressing room, Jimmy McMullan was talking to 19-year-old defender Tommy Law to calm his nerves, while Alex James was in a blind panic. He was not at all concerned about the game – but about his shorts. He had a reputation for wearing baggy shorts. And he was not happy with the much briefer ones that he had been given. An official had to go out and buy another pair, returning just in time for Alex to maintain his ‘baggy’ image.

The game itself had a dramatic opening, Billy Smith hitting the post beyond the Scottish 'keeper Jack Harkness after the first attack of the game. Immediately Scotland attacked and Alan Morton receiving a pass from Alex James crossed for Alex Jackson to head home. A persevering rearguard kept Scotland, who clearly favoured their chances in the wet conditions, from extending their lead but with a minute to go before the break Alex James beat Ted Hufton in the England goal with a left foot shot.

What followed in the second half was one of the most memorable 45 minutes in Scottish football history. Conditions did not improve and, yet, somehow, the Scots raised their game further and played the sort of football that you would normally expect to see played on a perfect pitch by a team such as the Brazilians. That diminutive forward line teased and tormented the England defence – often leaving them on their backsides – as they danced around with the ball. The Scottish midfield took complete control of the centre of the park and England were reduced to rare attacking forays. Meanwhile, the Scottish forward line played virtually at will and it was only a matter of time before they found the net again. With short, rapid passing the Scots were easily able to advance on the English goal.

In a copy of the first goal Morton took the ball almost to the corner flag before sending over another precision cross which Jackson met with his head. Moments after this third goal, James made the score 0–4 following his boyhood friend Hughie Gallacher slicing through the England defence.

Moves were made which strung together seven or eight passes – 11 passes on one occasion. The midfield and forwards were playing so well that the Scotland defenders had time to applaud. England were demoralized at 4–0 down in front of their own supporters but, to their credit, they did not give up trying.

Jackson converted another cross from Morton with 5 minutes left on the clock: 0–5. With a minute to go, Bob Kelly struck a magnificent free-kick past Jack Harkness to make the score England 1, Scotland 5.

At the end of the game the rain-sodden crowd applauded the performance. The England supporters were swift and warm in their praise of the Scots and the Scots fans were justifiably delighted. There were no pitch invasions – no aftermath of violence. The crowd went to see a football match and had been treated to a legendary performance which has since become a part of soccer folklore.

Post Match

When asked for his comment after the game, Alex James simply beamed a smile and said, “We could have had ten!”

Back in Scotland the pubs did rather well and the newspapers were not slow in piling praise on the heads of those little no-hopers. The Glasgow Herald was a typical example when they said: ‘ Want of height was looked upon as a handicap to the Scots’ attack, but the Scottish forwards had the ability and skill of such high degree as to make their physical shortcomings of little consequence.’ Scotland skipper, Jimmy McMullan took time out from the after match celebrations to comment on the way he saw the game.

“I want to emphasise that all our forwards are inherently clever,” he said. “But I wish to say that the English tactics were wrong. The Saxon wing-halves paid more attention to the wingers than the inside forwards – therefore the latter were given a lot of space. It is a common thing in England to let wing halves, and not fullbacks, mark the wingers. It doesn’t pay and I don’t know why they pursue it.”

It was a gentlemanly comment. He did not belittle the English effort, or try to elevate his own side to the abnormal, but merely made an observation which was probably just about right. By adopting those tactics, England placed themselves at the mercy of a much-underrated Scotland attack. The rain made matters worse for England too.

It was also a historic day in the story of Wembley Stadium. In a booklet published by the stadium owners in 1945, the story is told like this:

"English football fans shudder when the year 1928 is mentioned. The traditional enemy, Scotland came to Wembley and gave the Sassenachs a first class lesson in the art of playing football. So much so that, to this day, that Scottish team is still spoken of as “The Wembley Wizards.’"All Scotland seemed to come to town for that match, and the fans actually brought their own scaling ladders to make sure of getting into the stadium. As a result of this, Wembley afterwards became a barbed wire fortress.’

"The King and Queen of Afghanistan were among the mammoth crowd who saw the Scots make rings around England. It was Scotland’s day without a doubt. Alan Morton, Glasgow Rangers’ Wee Blue Devil, and Alex Jackson, then with Huddersfield and later with Chelsea, were on the Scottish wings and the English defenders just couldn’t do anything about them. Also of course there was the great Alex James – he of long pants who rarely scored a goal but made openings for hundreds.

Ivan Sharpe, the ex-player and writer, commented on the victory for the Athletic News: ‘England were not merely beaten. They were bewildered – run to a standstill, made to appear utterly inferior by a team whose play was as cultured and beautiful as I ever expect to see.’

More than 30 years later he was still writing the same thing, adding that he had never seen a performance to match it in all the time that he had been watching football.

England v Scotland 1928

England:Ted Hufton (West Ham United) - Roy Goodall (c) (Huddersfield Town), Herbert Jones (Blackburn Roversmarker) - Willis Edwards (Leeds United), Thomas Wilson (Huddersfield Town), Henry Healless (Blackburn Roversmarker) - Joe Hulme (Arsenal) , Bob Kelly (Huddersfield Town), Dixie Dean (Everton), Joe Bradford (Birmingham City), Billy Smith (Huddersfield Town)

Scotland:Jack Harkness (Queen's Park), James Nelson (Cardiff City), Tommy Law (Chelsea), Jimmy Gibson (Aston Villa), Tom Bradshaw (Bury), Jimmy McMullan (c) (Manchester City), Alex Jackson (Huddersfield Town), James Dunn (Hibernian), Hughie Gallacher (Newcastle United), Alex James (Preston North End), Alan Morton (Rangers)

Trivia

  • The practice of an 'away' side providing the referee was well-established in the 1920s. Tom Doughray had refereed the previous 4 England v Scotland matches in 1920, 1922, 1924 and 1926;
  • Jack Harkness was an amateur player for Queens' Park at the time. He joined Heart of Midlothian on 3 May 1928. After retiring from football he was a sports journalist with the Sunday Post.
  • The Wizards were never selected again en masse for an international; Bradshaw never played another game for Scotland;
  • Hughie Gallacher and Alex James had grown up together as boyhood friends in Bellshill. The six games that they were both selected to play in resulted in six wins for Scotland


References






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