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Rooney aiming to revel in Celtic Park experience

Wayne Rooney described yesterday how he had twice slipped into the away end of British grounds to watch matches as a spectator. The first was at Anfield in 2003, when he sat, or rather stood, among the Arsenal supporters to watch a Premier League game for which his friend Francis Jeffers was on the away team's bench. The second was at Ibrox, to watch Celtic play.

Asked at Celtic Park yesterday whether it had been a tricky operation to get in and out of the ground without being mobbed, Rooney was blunt. "Not really. I didn't go in disguise."

He makes no secret of his fondness for Celtic and, when asked, he certainly did not rule out playing for them one day - an option that he has mentioned before, even if he regards it as some way off for now. It all added up to a very different kind of reception to the one England captains of the past might have expected in Scotland: for one part of Glasgow's football supporter­s tonight Rooney is less the enemy, more an object of curiosity.

It was in keeping with a build-up to this game from Roy Hodgson that did not pit the two nations against one another with the old fervour that consumed so many of his predecessors in the job, including Alf Ramsey. When Hodgson was asked whether this game could ever be described as a friendly, he replied, "Why not?" Later, when pressed to recall his most memorable Auld Enemy encounter, Hodgson cited the 1967 victory for Scotland at Wembley. As for asking his players, he said there was "no point - they weren't even born then".

Unbroken

He is right on that score. England last played a friendly game away against Scotland in May 1989 before 13 of ­Hodgson's 22-man squad were born. That was the last of a sequence of annual games that stretched unbroken for the entire post-war period.

The footage of that sunny afternoon at Hampden in 1989 feels like ancient history. John Fashanu started the game and was later replaced by Wolves' Steve Bull, then playing in the original Football League Third Division. It was Bull's debut and he scored the second of England's two goals in a comfortable 2-0 win. By the final whistle, the ragged concrete terraces had largely emptied of Scottish fans.

That game was less than a month after the Hillsborough disaster, yet there were no black armbands worn by either side, an oversight that would be unthinkable now. Since the abandoning of the traditional Scotland friendly, England have played five against Italy and six against Holland. Changing the opposition has not necessarily improved the tournament performance of the national team but it does mean that the tradition of the Scotland rivalry has been lost to a generation.

For his Auld Enemy memory, Rooney brought up the goal scored by Paul Gascoigne at Wembley against the Scots in 1996, but it was hard for him to muster anything like contempt for the opposition. Of course, that may change if the likes of Scott Brown decide that the best way to deal with the England captain is to try to provoke his temper, but the menace and sense of history are more likely to come from the stands than the young men on the pitch.

Rather, there seems to be more a sense of anticipation at the kind of atmosphere that Celtic Park is likely to create than any old grudges or animosity between the players. Rooney said that his experience taking on Celtic in the Champions League meant that he had told the younger players to prepare themselves for the reception when they stepped into the stadium.

Hodgson is convinced that Gordon Strachan's team will prove a more open and attacking opponent that will provide some respite from the park-the-bus tactics of the teams encountered so far in Group E of Euro 2016 qualifying, with the possible exception of Switzerland. It is telling that Hodgson even considered Slovenia to be relatively attack-minded but only when contrasted with San Marino and Estonia

It will be interesting to see whether Strachan approaches the game that way. The emotional imperative might be to attack England, but the more logical instinct for Scotland would be to keep it tight and try to pick them off. There is no question which side has the better players, the question will be how robust England can be with the changes that Hodgson is expected to make both to the starting line-up and during the game.

Hodgson was still a teenager and trying to make his way in non-league football when Scotland beat the world champions England at Wembley. "The memory that sticks out is the painful one just after the World Cup, when Jim Baxter ran us ragged at Wembley.

"I watched it on the television. Scotland came down in 1967 and gave that wonderful display, which was personified by Jimmy Baxter. That would be my residing memory. But does it require a strong Scotland side for the fixture to be reintroduced? Not for me.

It was suggested to Hodgson that he was offered the Scot­land job in 2002 and turned it down, something that he did not deny completely. There is yet to be an English manager of Scotland, or vice versa, but otherwise it is a very ­different kind of rivalry that will unfold tonight. (© Independent News Service)

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