Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Scotland in 1950: The World Cup that wisnae

We begin our look at Scotland in the World Cup in 1950. Obviously the fact that we didn't actually play in the 1950 World Cup might make this a strange place to start.

But 1950 does provide some valuable insights into some of the self imposed handicaps that have so hampered Scottish football down the years. Well one, anyway. Our unerring ability to give pompous incompetents positions of power within the game.

Prior to World War II the Home Nations had shunned FIFA, withdrawing in 1920 over a row about amateur status in the game that I suspect is too dull for me to even research let alone write about. And also, one must imagine, because they had little doubt that Johnny Foreigner couldn't tell them much about the game they had invented.

So Scotland pretty much ignored the first three World Cups.

But after 1945 FIFA were desperate to remedy the situation. They wanted the Home Nations back in the fold and they were prepared to prostrate themselves at their feet to achieve it.

So Scotland got a FIFA vice-presidency, England, Wales and Northern Ireland got representation on the FIFA executive. And as a final deal sweetener FIFA essentially ignored their own qualification processes to give the Home Nations Championship two qualifying places.

Finishing in second place in a four team competition was enough to reach Brazil. And it wasn't even a home and away format. Three games to qualify for the World Cup. Easy.

Unfortunately the SFA supremo of the day, George Graham, believed in the purity of sport. Scotland could only go to the World Cup if they went as champions. Second place was not good enough.

Even the least fatalistic of Scots - a rare breed indeed - could guess at what would happen next.

A loss to England at Hampden condemned us to second place. We weren't going anywhere.

The players begged, the public clamoured, England captain Billy Wright pleaded. But George Graham had made his mind up and he was not the sort of man to change his mind in the face of overwhelming public opinion. Better to be called stupid and wrong than do the right thing and be deemed a decent enough old cove.

The expense of mounting an assault on Brazil might have clouded his considerations. But 134,000 fans watched that final game against England at Hampden. What on earth were the SFA doing with the cash?

And so the Brazil World Cup of 1950 went on without us. It would be 1954 before we made our debut, reaching Switzerland by finishing in second place in the Home Nations Championship. You couldn't make it up.

Things change of course. But sixty years on we're sitting out another World Cup. Whose fault is that? Let's not get into the blame game. But do a couple of SFA employees called George not spring to mind?