Monday, June 07, 2010

Scotland in 1974: Undefeated, Proud, Hame

1974.

The year we came so close.

But for a bounce here, a bounce there.

West Germany 1974. Scotland are undefeated but eliminated. Goal difference enough to send us home.

An agonising story for sure. But one that now seems to have provided the framework for how we view the national side. Luckless but plucky. Failing but fighting the good fight in the process.

The side Willie Ormond took to Germany was stuffed full of legendary names. Bremner, Jonstone and Law. Dalglish, Jardine, Jordan. Carslberg don't make Scottish international squads, but if they did...

Yet it still wasn't enough.

Zaire, Yugoslavia and Brazil stood in our way. Zaire were hopeless, Yugoslavia decent and Brazil, although not of 1970 vintage, remained Brazil.

A tough group but not one to overly concern such a talented Scotland side.

A 2-0 win against Zaire was a solid enough start but masked a poor performance. The group looked like being a three way fight. Given the chance to burst out of the starting blocks Scotland responded with a performance that was, at best, tepid. It was a start they would later regret.

Then came Brazil. And a performance that has come to define this Scotland side's greatness. Matching the South American's across the pitch Scotland held out at the back and were creative further forward.

Billy Bremner came within inches of breaking the deadlock but the game ended goalless.

A draw against the defending champions. A fine result, a fine performance.

But not enough. A result to echo down the ages. But within the context of the group we had come up short. Yugoslavia also managed a scoreless draw with Brazil. Crucially they'd also pumped nine past Zaire.

It came down to the Yugoslavia game. We needed a win or, at the least, we needed Zaire to pull of some miracle against Brazil.

Predictably neither happened.

Joe Jordan's 88th minute equaliser gave some hope but Brazil's 3-0 win did for us on goal difference.

Yugoslavia, Brazil and Scotland were equal on four points but our lack of goals against Zaire killed us.

Heartbreaking.

But were we the architects of our downfall? We'd taken a team full of world class players to our first finals in 16 years. But, again, we failed on the big stage. Yes, Brazil and Yugoslavia were good sides but the cold facts remained the same. In three World Cups we had only managed one win, against Zaire.

It was a shambolic record that was to an extent masked by the knowledge that this was a good side who went agonisingly close to progressing. The template for the glorious failure was laid down as the nation sought comfort in a hard luck tale.

But 1974 was, and remains, another failure. As footballing pinnacles go I'd rather be sustained by memories of a dodgy Russian linesman than of being the first team to be eliminated undefeated from a World Cup.

Where could Scotland go from here? Many were convinced that only bad luck had hampered us. We still had the players to compete. What we needed now was a manager who could convince those players that they could take on the world and win.

We were about to go on a march...

> Stories remain that the playing field was not, perhaps, level. The suggestion is that Zaire were nobbled, that they allowed Brazil to score the crucial final goal. Distasteful, outrageous. But not excuse enough. We should have scored more against Zaire. And we only won one game. It was in our hands. We dropped the ball.

Scotland 1974

If you come up short with this squad then you're never going to amount to very much.

David Harvey (Leeds United)
Sandy Jardine (Rangers)
Danny McGrain (Celtic)
Billy Bremner (Leeds United)
James Holton (Manchester United)
John Blackley (Hibernian)
Jimmy Johnstone (Celtic)
Kenny Dalglish (Celtic)
Joe Jordan (Leeds United)
David Hay (Celtic)
Peter Lorimer (Leeds United)
Thompson Allan (Dundee)
Jim Stewart (Kilmarnock)
Martin Buchan (Manchester United)
Peter Cormack (Liverpool)
William Donachie (Manchester City)
Don Fort (Heart of Midlothian)
Thomas Hutchinson (Coventry City)
Denis Law (Manchester City)
William Morgan (Manchester United)
Gordon McQueen (Leeds United)
Eric Schaedler (Hibernian)