In all the tales of Scotland’s near misses, perhaps it is the one decided by the thinnest of margins.
Euro 96 has been enjoying a renaissance of late, in part due to ITV reshowing the tournament in its entirety.
Scotland’s final group game, the 1-0 win over Switzerland which did not prove enough to qualify, will be shown on the channel’s on-demand service, ITV Hub, at 7pm tonight.
Ally McCoist’s goal looked to have sent Scotland through, only for Patrick Kluivert’s consolation in the 4-1 defeat to England putting the Netherlands through on goals scored.
The two nations were tied on points and goal difference and for a good 40 minutes that evening, McCoist’s goal at Villa Park was putting Scotland into the next round.
For Craig Brown, the national team boss at the tournament, it was so near yet so far.
He said: “We had a guy David Findlay, who worked at the SFA as an assistant secretary, and his job was to keep us au fait with what was happening in the England game.
“I genuinely didn’t imagine – all we thought we had to do was win this game. All of a sudden it became apparent we needed another goal.
“We tried everything – we put Colin Hendry up front for the last wee while. Maybe I was mistaken in thinking winning the game would be enough for us.
“We did well in the first game against Holland and I thought we did OK against England. We did brilliantly to beat Switzerland with a terrific goal from McCoist. We had a reasonably successful tournament – England were fortunate to qualify before us.”
The Scots’ first game was a goal-less draw with the Dutch, a creditable result.
The 2-0 loss to England – Gary McAllister’s missed penalty, Paul Gascoigne’s wonder goal et al – was shown on Sunday on ITV4 and prompted an evening of reminiscing between Brown and his skipper.
He added: “I was talking to Gary on the phone on Sunday night and he said ‘If I’d have scored that penalty, we’d have definitely won the game’. I agreed with him.
“He phoned to talk about the game and I’m sure if he’d scored, it wouldn’t have been a draw. It would have been a victory.
“I think that’s the first time I’ve watched the game.
“I’ve seen highlights – I’ve repeatedly seen McAllister’s penalty and Gazza’s goal.”
The tournament brought a swathe of nostalgia south of the border – it was 30 years since the 1966 World Cup triumph and Baddiel and Skinner’s Three Lions became England’s unofficial anthem.
But Brown recalls with fondness the backing Scotland received during their three games, with their only goals conceded coming in that sunny afternoon at Wembley.
He said: “The occasion was good. The atmosphere and Scottish support were incredible.
“We were told when I got the job that if we didn’t qualify for Euro 96, you were sacked because it’s right next door.
“You couldn’t get a European Championship as handy for the Tartan Army. The same happened for the World Cup in France. The pressure on you to qualify for those events was considerable.
“We had to get there and the two qualifying campaigns were exceptional.
“We played 10 games to qualify for Euro 96 and lost only three goals. When we qualified for the World Cup, again we played 10 games and again we lost only three goals.
“If you don’t lose goals, you don’t lose games.
“Even though we didn’t qualify from the group, I think we played well in England.
“I don’t think anyone would complain about the performances of the Scotland team. But it was so near yet so far.”
Brown says Scotland had perfect mix
Craig Brown thought he had the perfect mix in his squad for Euro 96.
A successful qualifying campaign, in which the Scots were beaten just once, had seen Brown hit upon a winning formula.
Playing 3-5-2 fit the players they had, with Tommy Boyd, Colin Hendry and Colin Calderwood mainstays at the back.
Arguably his biggest dilemma came in goal, where he opted for Andy Goram over Jim Leighton, due to the Rangers stopper being in better form at the time.
Brown said: “The response from the players was excellent, in training, travel and the games.
“I’ve always found in football, the bigger the star, the more co-operative he is.
“It’s the ones with two or three caps. Calderwood, Hendry, Boyd, McAllister, Collins – they would do anything for you. They are the most responsive. But you may get a young guy, who thinks he’s a player before he is.
“You pick your team on ability but if there’s any doubt about a player’s attitude, you don’t need to include him. He’s not on a contract.
“It happened with me a couple of times but you don’t need to justify it.
“You just don’t need to pick them.”
While England were generating headlines for their trip to Hong Kong and the alcohol-fuelled tales that made the papers back home, Scotland were on the other side of the globe in New Jersey.
Brown said: “I thought ‘crikey, we have to fly back to London from Newark’. I told every one of the players that they had to go back wearing the blazer.
“There would be no alcohol at all.
“Ally (McCoist) came up to me and said ‘I can see the headline now – Scots in sober sensation’.”