John Bleasdale Discusses New Book About Scotland’s Euro 96 Journey

With Scotland set to kick off Euro 2024 with a match against tournament hosts Germany, Callum McFadden spoke to author John Bleasdale about his new book focusing on Scotland’s Euro 96 journey.

You are the co-author of ‘We’re Going to Wembley: Scotland’s Euro 96 Journey.’ What was your inspiration behind writing this book?


The inspiration for Neil, my co-author, and I was to complete the missing piece of a golden era for the National Team. I wrote about Scotland’s qualification to Euro ‘92 and Neil wrote a brilliant book on France ‘98, so it made logical sense for us to come together and write about a tournament that fans still speak highly of to this day.


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Did you have the opportunity to interview any of the players, coaches, or staff involved with the Scotland team during Euro 96?

We got to interview five of the squad players – Billy McKinlay, Stuart McCall, Darren Jackson, Nicky Walker and Colin Calderwood. All brought different insights which gave us good variety. We were also very fortunate to speak to Craig Brown, who gave us his time both on zoom and in person at The Park Hotel, Kilmarnock. It’s a true testament to the man that, although he had cancer, he was still willing to help us and also gave us useful material to use in the book.


Were there any surprising or unexpected discoveries you made during your research?


I didn’t realise at the time how difficult the Greece trip was for some fans. One of them said he wouldn’t set foot in the country again after witnessing sections of the home crowd throwing concrete blocks into the visitors section. Stuart McCall adds the malaise towards international football in general at that time with only 8000 in Athens for that game and Hampden not being full for the home qualifiers.


What role did manager, Craig Brown, play in shaping the team’s strategy and mentality for the tournament?


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Craig Brown’s role took us to Wembley. He quickly realised that in order to succeed we had to be hard to beat, then rely on players such as McAllister and Collins to provide at the other end. He also created a terrific team spirit and anyone who tried to disrupt that was never picked again. That togetherness was central to our relative success.


Can you share any memorable anecdotes or stories about the fans’ experiences at Euro 96?


To be honest, I found the fans tales of the qualifying campaign more interesting because there are some forgotten journeys in there. The stories of Helsinki, Athens, Moscow, San Marino and Torshavn, plus one who made the trip to Japan for the Kirin Cup, were all fascinating especially at a time before EasyJet and Ryanair made travel to these countries much easier. That said, I loved hearing how much fans were looking forward to Wembley seven years after the regular fixture came to an end.


How did the media coverage of the tournament shape public perception of the team?


The contrasts between Scottish and English media towards their respective teams could not have been more stark. For example, the English press had the knives out following the dentist’s chair and Cathay Pacific Airline incidents, whereas the Scots in comparison were very well behaved.


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What was the most rewarding part of writing this book for you personally?


The finished product was the most rewarding part. To see your work in the flesh is always an amazing experience and the quality of the book and cover emphasises the great work Pitch Publishing do. Also, to write this in memory of Craig Brown, a man were fond of, was special.


Finally, John, how do you hope your book will be received by readers, particularly those who are passionate about Scottish football?


I hope they appreciate the Euro 96 story was more about what went on in the three finals games, and that it took a colossal effort for the team to bounce back from the humiliation of that 5-0 defeat in Portugal that signalled the end of Andy Roxburgh to build a team that qualified for the next available tournament. The accounts from the players, journalists, fans and manager Craig Brown all comes together to tell an amazing story that most Scottish fans will love.


By: Callum McFadden / @Callum7McFadden

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / John Bleasdale