Alan Hutton: It doesn't get any better than England at Wembley
In our interview, the former Scotland international discusses facing the Three Lions away and why playing for the national team meant so much to him.
“It doesn’t get any better,” says Alan Hutton.
“The Euros against England at Wembley. It’s the biggest game any of the players will ever play in and any of the fans will ever watch.”
The former Scotland international is speaking from his living room via a crackly Zoom call.
But despite the connection issues, his excitement at seeing his country face the Auld Enemy in a major tournament is palpable.
“It’s huge, absolutely huge,” he says beaming.
“Not just for the players, but the whole country. All eyes will be on it and everybody wants to be a part of it.”
Scotland are appearing at their first major tournament in 23 years and travel to Wembley for their second game in Group D on Friday.
For anyone unaware of the magnitude of their involvement in the Euros, the Scottish Government even intervened to allow schoolchildren to watch their opener against Czech Republic from the classroom on Monday afternoon.
Steve Clarke’s side were beaten 2-0 at Hampden Park in that match and, realistically, need a better result here to maintain their hopes of making it out of the group.
The meeting is a replay of the now-iconic fixture from Euro ’96 in which England ran out 2-0 winners – the only time the two sides have faced each other in a tournament and a game Hutton remembers vividly.
“That was my first experience of the international rivalry,” he says. “The ridiculous Gazza goal is my first memory of England v Scotland, it’s the main one that sticks in my head.
“People always say it’s an iconic game and it really is. It doesn’t happen often.”
Hutton earned 50 caps for Scotland between 2007 and 2016 and was part of the side that famously beat France 1-0 at the Parc des Princes in Euro 2008 qualification.
At club level, meanwhile, the 36-year-old won the Scottish Premiership with Rangers, EFL Cup with Tottenham and also played in the Champions League.
But despite his impressive CV, the fact that he never made it to a major finals remains a painful omission.
“It’s amazing to see Scotland in a major tournament, but it’s difficult for me at the same time,” he says.
“When I look back at my career, I think I have done some decent things, but not being able to play for Scotland at a Euros or World Cup is a bit of a blow.
“It would have ranked very high in my career, but it’s the one big thing that I’ll never be able to experience.
“I’m just going to have to live it through the boys.”
But Hutton does know better than most how the Scotland players will be feeling in the lead up to the game.
The defender faced England at Wembley in a friendly in 2013 in front of a sell-out crowd.
“Thinking back, that was probably one of the games that I did feel a little bit nervous about,” he says.
“When you play for Scotland, the fans are normally very forgiving. There wasn’t ever really any expectation other than giving your all for the shirt.
“But that changes against England, the mentality flips. This is a game they expect you to win.”
Despite taking the lead twice, Scotland were eventually beaten 3-2 by an England team that had been pushed all the way.
There was, as Hutton explains, no shortage of physicality throughout the 90 minutes.
“There’s always something there,” he says. “No game is ever a friendly in my opinion, and I’d have run through brick walls to win that one.
“I wouldn’t say it was too different from playing in a semi-final or cup final.
“You’re playing against top quality opposition and you need to let them know that they’re in a game, you’re not happy until that happens.
“If there’s an opportunity to lay a marker down, that’s what you do.”
As important as the big-ticket games were for Hutton and the rest of Scotland, playing for his country was something that took on new significance for him in the middle of his international career.
During the 2012/13 and 2013/14 seasons, Hutton was exiled from the Aston Villa first team and didn’t make a single appearance.
He did, however, earn 20 caps for the national team over the same timeframe.
Involvement with the Scotland team at that period was, as he explains, a lifeline for both his career and his mental wellbeing.
“It definitely saved my head, that’s for sure,” he says.
“I was having a difficult time at Aston Villa, but it was during a period where there were so many international games.
“It took a lot of determination while at Villa to prepare for international duty, whether that be training with the kids or in the gym.
“But it gave me something to focus on and kept me on the right path.”
And the former Spurs man is clear in his mind about who is responsible for keeping his career alive.
“I owe such a lot to Gordon Strachan. Every single time I joined up with the squad, I’d played no minutes for Aston Villa but would start every game,” he says.
“I’ve had some good managers, but I needed something to focus on during a difficult time and Scotland was it, it really kept my mental health in check.
“I think that a lot of my top performances came around then because I could give everything in every single game and not have to worry about Villa or what my form would be like for them.
“I’ve told him on numerous occasions what he’s done for me, but he probably doesn’t realise it was such a big part of my life at the time.
“I’m very thankful for him.”
Looking towards Friday’s game, Scotland sit bottom of Group D with zero points, but Hutton’s message to the players is clear.
“Just enjoy it,” he says. “These players are already in the history books for qualifying and these moments don’t come around very often.”
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