Thursday, June 03, 2010

Scotland in 1954: A dismal debut

Blazered buffoonery at the SFA had denied Scotland of their place at the 1950 World Cup but, just four years later, we were ready to unleash our best on the world's best.

In fact we only qualified courtesy of finishing second in the Home Nations Championship. Regular readers will realise that this was also the case in 1950 when the SFA refused to let us travel. All that seemed to have been forgotten when Switzerland 1954 rolled round. Maybe the blazers liked cuckoo clocks.

1954 was slap bang in the middle of something of a purple patch for competitiveness in Scottish football. Rangers were the dominant side but Hibs, Celtic, Aberdeen and Hearts would all weigh in with league titles before the decade was out.

Motherwell and Clyde had joined Celtic and Rangers in winning the Scottish Cup in the early fifties and Hibs were a season or so away from the semi-finals of the European Cup.

So you would expect competition for places to be fierce. And, with Rangers on tour in America and refusing to release their players and Celtic only allowing Bobby Evans, Neil Mochan and Willie Fernie to travel, this was one of the least Old Firm-centric squads Scotland have ever named.

Predictably, however, the SFA bigwigs still had a couple of cards up their sleeves in their apparently tireless quest to make Scotland look like idiots.

In a nod to modernity they appointed Andy Beattie as Scotland's first manager. They then informed him that only 13 of the original 22 man squad could travel to Switzerland. A cash motivated restriction that the players noted did not extend to SFA committee men.

Having had the carpet pulled from under him, Beattie felt he had no option to resign after the first game leaving a selection committee in charge of team affairs.

All things considered Scotland's opener against Austria, essentially our competitive debut outside the British Isles, could have been a lot worse than the eventual 1-0 defeat.

We know it could have been worse because we then promptly lost 7-0 to Uruguay in our second and final group match. We might well have struggled against the South Americans even if we hadn't been wearing kit that left the players better equipped for a North Pole expedition than a sunny Swiss day.

Partick Thistle's John Mackenzie who played that day recalled:

"Did I play in that game? I certainly didn't touch the ball very often. It was so hot and our kit was unbearable. I lost about half a stone in weight."

And so that was that. Debut over. Two games played, eight goals conceded, no goals scored.

In an interview after Scotland's exit Tommy Docherty was asked if, having played in an FA Cup Final, captained his country and played in a World Cup, he felt as if his ship had come in.

"Aye," replied The Doc, "just my luck I was at the airport."

A decent group of players handicapped by bad organisation and incompetents in charge. A familiar refrain.

Still, we'd made our debut. Things could only get better...

Scotland's 1954 Squad

(Amazingly, given the resources at our disposal in the early fifties, only Evans and Brown had more than 10 caps going into the World Cup. Our 13 players combined had only one more cap than England's Billy Wright had amassed on his own.)

Fred Martin (Aberdeen)
Willie Cunninghan (Preston North End)
Jock Aird (Burnley)
Bobby Evans (Celtic)
Tommy Docherty (Preston North End)
Jimmy Davidson (Partick Thistle)
Doug Cowie (Dundee)
John Mackenzie (Partick Thistle)
George Hamilton (Aberdeen)
Allan Brown (Blackpool)
Neil Mochan (Celtic)
Willie Fernie (Celtic)
Willie Ormond (Hibs)

How much did the players receive for their role in the World Cup? Either £15 or their shirts to keep as souvenirs. Many just kept the shirts.

No doubt they were worried the SFA cheques would bounce.

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