Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Scotland in 1982: Crash, bang, goal difference

In the latest New Statesman there's an interesting article by Gary Younge on his relationship with the England team.

In it he notes that, in the international arena, Scotland have "found a way to enter into the spirit of being lovable fuck ups."

It's easy to recognise what he's talking about, the sing and drink at all costs mentality that I'm not entirely comfortable with and which found its true voice in 1982.

It always concerns me when I hear Gordon Strachan's well worn anecdote about his reaction to Dave Narey's opening goal against Brazil: "Oh no, you've got them angry now."

Probably just a joke, an example of Gordon being Gordon. But it does worry me that a Scotland player would think like that. Especially one managed by Jock Stein. If Stein couldn't propagate a winning mentality then nobody ever will.

Tragically the 1982 World Cup would be Stein's only major tournament in charge of Scotland. Where Ally McLeod had left dischord, big Jock brought a well prepared stoicism. McLeod hadn't seen Peru until they were knocking three goals past Alan Rough. Desperate not to repeat those mistakes Stein even subjected himself to a trip to New Zealand in the company of Archie McPherson to ready himself for the challenge ahead.

With a depressing predictability it still wasn't enough.

You knew that a Stein squad would be disciplined and well briefed - last week I heard Pat Stanton describe Jock as "Al Capone's grandfather" because of his uncanny knack to know everything that was going on.

Scotland would need all his experience to negotiate a group involving Brazil, the Soviet Union and New Zealand.

Given the experience of 1978 beating New Zealand might be considered a result but it looked more likely that Scotland would battle with the exuberantly talented Brazilians and the Soviet Union to progress to the next round.

So it proved.

Scotland kicked off against New Zealand and, strangely for a nation drawn inexorably to potential banana skins, got the job done. Not quite with the minimum of fuss. 3 up inside 35 minutes, Scotland found themselves only 3-2 ahead with 20 minutes to go. John Robertson and Steve Archibald saved the blushes and secured a 5-2 win.

You don't need to be too keen a student of the Scottish national team to suspect that those two Kiwi goals might come back to haunt us.

Next up were Brazil. For people of my age THE Brazil. The Brazil of Zico and Socrates, of magic football and no World Cups.

Expect the unexpected. Dave Narey scores the goal of his life and Scotland are ahead. Jimmy Hill earns the unforgiving enmity of the Tartan Army. "We hate Jimmy Hill, he's a..." Well, I suppose "he's a thrice married, opinionated pundit with a larger than average chin" just wouldn't have scanned.

Brazil give us 15 minutes of glory before hunting us down. Zico equalises and Falcao's goal three minutes from time seals a 4-1 victory.

While Brazil taught us lesson, the Soviet Union were beating New Zealand 3-0. Going into the last game Scotland and the Soviet Union had both won one and lost one. They'd scored four and conceded two. We'd scored six and conceded six.

The stage was set for a third consecutive elimination on goal difference. And a 2-2 draw with the Soviet Union condemned us to exactly that.

Amazingly, however, Scotland did manage to find yet another way of manoeuvring ourselves into that position. Having exhausted the undefeated and hapless incompetence options, we settled on the comical defensive mishap route for 1982.

1-1 all with only minutes remaining and Scotland need a goal to progress. What we most certainly didn't need was an Alan Hansen and Willie Miller shaped collision. With the two defenders taking each other out, Shengelia raced through and beat Alan Rough.

Graeme Souness got a late equaliser but the chance had gone. A fifth World Cup, a fifth first round exit.

Crap as we are at this World Cup malarkey we are at least inventive in plotting the path to our elimination. Scotland fans are like a hapless bloke who keeps going back to the same girl because she's got a limitless supply of break up lines.

"Dear Jock, it's not you. It's Willie Miller and Alan Hansen..."

So even Jock Stein couldn't take us over the threshold. It would be difficult to find three more different characters than the quiet Willie Ormond, the exuberant, shy and contradictory McLeod and the magnetic, brooding Stein. Yet none of them could find an approach that worked.

The 1982 squad gave all they could, recovered from the unlikely Kiwi fightback and were ultimately undone by a freakish misunderstanding in defence.

But Northern Ireland, making a rare World Cup appearance, progressed from a group that included Spain and Yugoslavia. What is it they say about your friend's successes?

Another chance was gone.

We still had Stein though, bringing stability, offering a father figure to a football nation. Scotland and Jock Stein planned to be back to try again in four years time...

Scotland squad at the 1982 World Cup

A lot of experience, a bag load of domestic honours, no little European success. But still not enough.

World Cup number three for both Joe Jordan and Kenny Dalglish.

Two future Scotland managers in here as well. Two future Rangers managers as well. And 3(ish) Celtic managers.

Alan Rough (Partick Thistle)
Danny McGrain (Celtic)
Francis Gray (Leeds United)
Graeme Souness (Liverpool)
Alan Hansen (Liverpool)
Willie Miller (Aberdeen)
Gordon Strachan (Aberdeen)
Kenny Dalglish (Liverpool)
Alan Brazil (Ipswich Town)
John Wark (Ipswich Town)
John Robertson (Nottingham Forest)
George Wood (Arsenal)
Alex McLeish (Aberdeen)
David Narey (Dundee United)
Joe Jordan (AC Milan)
Asa Hartford (Manchester City)
Alan Evans (Aston Villa)
Steve Archibald (Tottenham Hotspur)
Paul Sturrock (Dundee United)
David Provan (Celtic)
George Burley (Ipswich Town)
Jim Leighton (Aberdeen)

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