Saturday, June 12, 2010

2010 World Cup: Learning from Sir Alf?

"The wait is almost over for England fans young and old."

Kate Silverton's just told me that so it must be true.

How many of those fans, readying themselves for England v USA, know much about the man that Fabio Capello seeks to emulate at this World Cup?

Most will know about Geoff Hurst and Bobby Charlton. There's a chance that even Tim Lovejoy knows something about Bobby Moore.

But what of the complex, private manager who brought those players together and delivered the title that, even now forty-four years later, defines England's approach to international competition.

As football in England has exploded into a grotesque orgy of debts and wages, as the game's assumed importance to the English national life has become so exaggerated that David Cameron's choice of flag can be the subject of intense debate, the one man who has actually delivered the title that they crave stands a marginalised, almost forgotten figure.

As Leo McKinstry's exhaustive, and probably long overdue biography shows Sir Alf Ramsey's complex personality and distrust of the media contributed to his disappearance into football's shadows.

Yet for a football nation so hung up on heritage - especially when that heritage can be marketed - it seems strange that his subsequent treatment never seemed to do justice to his achievements. Unsurprisingly the Football Association were the chief offenders.

What McKinstry shows is that Ramsey was never comfortable in his own skin, a personality trait that made him difficult to warm to even as you admired his achievements.

Determined from an early age to make something of his life, he pursued his football career with a single minded zeal that made getting to know him difficult. The much maligned elocution lessons were taken to make him more attractive to the public school directors who then controlled many clubs rather than a calculated effort to distance himself from his background.

Sad that it's taken McKinstry, years after Ramsey's death, to provide a more sympathetic
understanding of a personality that has been all too often swamped by memories of 1966 and Ramsey's typically stern countenance.

Not that this is not a completely revisionist account. Ramsey could be cold and cruel, as his treatment of Bobby Robson, a successor at both Ipswich and England proved, while his lack of confidence and shyness manifested itself quite often as a thin-skinned hostility. Grudges were quickly formed, less hastily forgotten.

And what of that day in 1966? Nothing was going to stop Ramsey from his goal. In the end nothing did. You might hear something about that in the hours and days ahead.

There is a tendency to sentimentalise these things, to see Ramsey as a father figure to the eleven players who won the World Cup. That's untrue. Each of them ran the risk of being dropped as suddenly and as finally as Jimmy Greaves. England, not the players, mattered.

There was no father and son like bond between Ramsey and those eleven players. Perhaps he felt closest to Bobby Charlton but neither man was likely to express that bond with any emotion, just an unspoken respect.

With his captain there was certainly respect but also a distrust, at least at a personal level. Bobby Moore moved in circles that Ramsey neither understood nor wanted anything to do with. The relationship could, at times, unleash an arrogant and cruel side to Moore, a side to the sainted centre half that the English media was unlikely to expose even as they sneered at Ramsey.

None of that matters of course. Ramsey - the refreshing antithesis to the modern cult of the manager - no more cared if his players liked him than he did if the Argentinian players liked him. He was their boss and they were all there to do a job. If they all accepted that everything else would follow on.

Strangely that does put you mind of Capello. Unlike, say Eriksson and his celebrity fetish, Capello only developed any trust in David Beckham when he had fought his way back into the Real Madrid side.

Leave your reputation at the door, the team and winning is everything.

The Ramsey way, the Capello way. Well, it's only taken them thirty odd years to realise that the prickly little man from Dagenham might have been on to something in his approach to international football.

Undoubtedly Ramsey had some fortune in 1966. It's fashionable in Scotland to belittle his achievements. But he won the World Cup. Home games and Russian officials or not that is a massive achievement.

One that Capello is unlikely to repeat. Sir Alf Ramsey is likely to stand apart from all those who have followed him for at least 48 years. If he's done nothing else Leo McKinstry has at least given him some of the recognition that he deserves.

Want to read it? Get Sir Alf at the Scottish Football Blog Bookshop.

The Anybody But England thing has been getting a lot of coverage. I've stated my neutrality on the issue already. I've got enough to get annoyed about. But it's fashionable to say the English are more sympathetic to Scotland than we are to them. Definitely not the case with Sir Alf. He hated us.

2010 World Cup: England v USA

Hate these Saturday nights. There you are sat watching Doctor Who wondering why you'll never get the chance to go time travelling with Amy Pond when suddenly you realise the neighbours are having a party.

What do you do? Ignore it, gatecrash it, call the police? Or just sit silently fuming, hoping they have a really bad night?

Or reflect on your inability to have had a party of your own for about 12 years while acquainting yourself with a bottle of Scotch?

I suppose you could always just raise your glass and wish them all the best before getting on with your life.

Just one of those decisions that we all sometimes have to make. A ramble which, strangely enough, brings me all the way around to this evening's game in the World Cup.

England v USA. USA v England. Do you think folk in Canada wear ABUS t-shirts?

I've got a little preview of the game below written by Annette Lyndon. This is a World Cup fixture with a sixty year history. There's already US politicians involved. There might even be a certain frisson of excitement added by the stushie over BP.

As Annette explains the game might also provide a boost for the campaign to get the World Cup back to the States in 2018 or 2022. Given their rabid media the stakes are probably even higher for England.

I asked on Twitter for a preview from England but none were forthcoming so Annette's got a free run.

Me? I just want to see a good game. I'll still be thinking about Amy Pond anyway.
Tonight the United States of America face off against England in the Group C FIFA World Cup opening round. The game against England will initiate a 3 game round robin qualifier with in a group with Algeria and Slovenia. Each team will be competing for a spot in the Round of 16. While the USA has never played Slovenia or Algeria, they do have a history with England – having beaten them 60 years ago in a 1-0 upset victory in 1950 Brazil. You can bet England will be looking to settle the score this year in South Africa.

However, the United States is led by Coach Bob Bradley, who is determined to focus all of his energy and attention on the team in order to give them the best possible chance at winning. A former athlete himself, he focuses and trains just as hard, if not harder, than a lot of active athletes. He leads by example. He believes he has the USA team prepared for battle against England and whatever else the games might bring their way. If they win, it will be because of the hard work he’s put into coaching his team. If they lose, he’ll blame nobody but himself.

2002 proved to be the best U.S. finish in a World Cup since the tournament's inception in 1930. In 2006 they were eliminated in the first round. This year they are confident in their ability to perform against the competition in their group. They have high expectations to reach the Round of 16. While England is ranked 8th in the world, the U.S. is ranked 14th while Slovenia ranks 25th and Algeria ranks 30th.

The World Cup win against England in 1950 may arguably have been the greatest American soccer victory ever. With no other win capturing such a place in history in 60 years, the argument reinforces the notion that soccer has never really been America's sport and popularity amongst Americans never really picked up speed. However, in recent years soccer has earned a much larger following in the States with the growing popularity of U.S. Major League Soccer.

Additionally, U.S. fans have a lot to look forward to this year in light of recent revelations.

Americans recently found out that the United States is being considered as the host country for the 2018 World Cup. The last time the World Cup was hosted on American soil (1994), the event was attended by a total of 3.6 million people – a record despite the game's expansion since then. It was the highest attended single-sporting event in U.S. history.

Further excitement comes to USA fans as President Clinton and his top counselor, Doug Band, have accepted invitations to join the Board of Directors of the USA Bid Committee in an attempt to bring the World Cup to the US in 2018 or 2022. Adding them to the committee should increase the chance that the U.S. has at winning the bid since Bill Clinton and Doug Band are known worldwide for their international philanthropic initiatives, through the Clinton Global Initiative, thus improving the relationship the U.S. has with over 170 foreign countries.

With this news, a new fire has been lit amongst soccer enthusiasts throughout the American nation. The sense of pride that Americans are showing towards their team has experienced a boost that will surely be exemplified on Saturday when millions of Americans raise their red, white and blue flags, put on their war paint, and tune in to watch the USA battle England hoping to repeat history, 60 years later.
Thanks once again to Annette. If pushed I've got to say I fancy England but, given slow starts are now an English tradition to rival warm beer, cricket on the green and fawning over the Top Gear trio, the USA will fancy their chances of shutting up shop at the back and nicking something up front. I'll be ensconced in the pub but will try to Tweet during the game @ScotFootBlog

Friday, June 11, 2010


Regular readers will know that this blog is pretty much a stranger to planning.

So it's really nothing more than a fortuitous coincidence that the Blogger dashboard is informing that I've reached my 500th post on the same day as the 2010 World Cup kicks off.

And, if I had really planned it, I'd have had something to say.

Maybe I'd have said something profound about how, even though FIFA is corrupt and inexcusable, even though football is now a bloated, commercialised, egomaniacal disgrace, there is still going to be something emotional, something incredible, about the World Cup kicking off in Africa for the first time.

Maybe I'd have delivered a rant about how, despite 499 posts and almost four years of blogging, Scottish football is no further forward than when I started. Not, you understand, that I expected this blog to make a difference. Just that the game might have made some progress. In fact, when I consider that George Peat is currently both president and chief executive of the SFA, we appear to be hurtling backwards.

Maybe I'd have written something witty and self deprecating about Hibs now failing to win the Scottish Cup in 500 blog posts as well as what feels like 500 years.

Maybe I'd have worried about the financial plight of Scottish football and the resounding wall of silence in the game when people go looking for answers.

Maybe I'd have noted with weary resignation that nothing ever changes. That in this blog's first season the Old Firm finished first and second in the SPL and Kris Boyd finished top goalscorer.

Maybe I'd have done some blatant self promotion for my Twitter account or the Scottish Football Blog Bookshop.

Maybe I'd have done one of these things. Or all of them. Or none of them.

But I hadn't planned anything.

So I'll just say thanks for reading some of the 500 posts and even occasionally letting me know what you think about my ramblings.

No doubt in the next 500 posts I'll return to some of the subjects I've written about before. Sometimes I'll write something worthwhile, though provoking or entertaining. Once in a while I might even pull off all three.

And sometimes I'll write a lot of rubbish. You're more than welcome to point this out. You can say what you like. After all, I moderate the comments myself.

It won't be long before our five brave clubs begin the annual assault on Europe, the league's get back to business and we see if Craig Levein's revolution is going anywhere.

The McLeish Report needs to be implemented. Football's debts need to be addressed. Somebody, somewhere needs to work out how to make Scottish football sustainable.

Along the way I'll be amused, annoyed, depressed, optimistic and convinced that we're all doomed.

Nothing much does change after all.

In the meantime enjoy the World Cup. And stick a fiver on Holland.

Don't Come Home Too Soon

Wishing every team at the World Cup well. Let's be honest, at this stage you're hoping to avoid the cock up that will consign you to first round elimination.

It's certainly what Del Amitri were hoping for Scotland in 1998.

Scotland in 1998: Open with a bang, close with a whimper

Just hours away now from the greatest show on earth.

Really beginning to sting that we're not there. Again.

We're now equalling our worst run since we bypassed the event for 16 years from 1958. An inglorious run that somehow coincided with that period in the 1960's when it seemed as if Scottish footballers ruled the world.

For those of us born in the middle of that incredible sequence from 1974 to 1990 Scotland's place at the World Cup seemed assured. We might not do much when we got there but there was few better at actually making it onto the plane.

Missing the 1994 World Cup in the United States was a blemish on an enviable record. That was then. Now not going is the depressing norm.

12 years ago we were on the brink of the biggest game in our history. On the 10th of June 1998 Craig Brown's Scotland team walked, kilted, on to the pitch at the Stade de France. The waiting was about to be over. Scotland were ready. Ready to play Brazil in the opening game of the 1998 World Cup.

I can't begin to comprehend how they felt. It remains one of the most memorable days of my life as a football supporter. And I was in a pub in Edinburgh. When Flower of Scotland blasted from the TV and was echoed around the pub I'll admit that these eyes were glistening.

48 years on from our aborted qualification for the 1950 World Cup we were ready to face the tournament's most iconic nation. The world would be watching. Given the stage, given our history you might have feared the 90 minutes that were to follow.

Might have but probably didn't. This game caught the imagination like few others. Before kick off the streets really were dead. It seemed everyone was watching this game. Such was the interest it was always going to be safer to get to the pub early. As I hazily recall Scotland v Brazil kicked off a fortnight of magnificent drunkeness.

The game itself showed the best of us. We started it with the classic Scottish routine of our hopes appearing to die at the earliest possible moment. It took only four minutes for Cesar Sampai to put Brazil ahead.

But we didn't collapse, didn't fall meekly to the tanking that many thought we'd struggle to avoid.

In the 37th minute Kevin Gallacher - who was tireless up front - was pulled down. John Collins, at that moment surely the most composed Scot on the planet, stroked home the penalty. Pandemonium.

1-1 with Brazil, reigning champions, favourites, the mighty Brazil. And Scotland, perennial World Cup losers, had hunted them down and got back on level terms. It was magical.

Too magical to last perhaps. Brazil got another goal, as surely we knew they would. But such a cruel goal. A save from Leighton, a ricochet off Boyd, a lunging Colin Hendry on the line. Goal. 2-1 down. Brazil, the world's most storied attacking side, were beating us courtesy of a Tom Boyd own goal.

It proved the difference. Another glorious defeat, a valiant failure. Perhaps. But this was Brazil. And we'd held our own. Yes we'd lost another opening game but given the occasion, given all the hype, given the opposition, we'd done well.

It was a result to give the country hope, to give us some optimism as we looked ahead to the next two games.

In which light the coming events were to prove even more disappointing.

Next up Norway. Scotland played in yellow. It looked like a hot day. A different pub this time and there was a great deal on jugs of lager. We had a few.

Do Scotland always perform better when they can hide behind the role of gritty underdogs? Maybe we do. It certainly seemed to hold true against Norway where at times in the first half we looked like the only side who would even consider the possibility of attacking.

But we went in at the break still stuck at 0-0. Profligacy. Another Scottish disease. That afternoon it looked set to be as damaging to public health as childhood obesity.

It didn't stay 0-0 for long.

Haavard Flo got on the end of a cross. 1-0 Norway. Get another couple of jugs in. We're going to need them.

20 minutes later and Scotland were level. Was it a long ball or a searching pass from David Weir? It didn't matter a jot as Craig Burley latched on to it and got the equaliser.

How we needed that. Finally something to show for our chances. Get another couple of jugs in.

And 1-1 it stayed. Maybe we needed more. Maybe we should have got more. But we were hanging on. And twice we'd come from behind. Was there finally a hint of resilience about a Scottish World Cup team.

Into the final game. As it stood Brazil had qualified on six points, Norway had two points from two draws and Scotland and Morocco a point each.

Beat Morocco and hope Norway get no better than a draw against Brazil. Not easy but not impossible. The reward would be the second round at just the eighth time of asking.

Twelve years and the memories become clouded. Has the experience worsened with the distance of time? Has it become so bitter because there have been no fresh World Cup memories to soften the blow?

No. This was a sore one on the night and it's a sore one now.

Tuesday 23rd June 1998. Our last World Cup game for a generation. Maybe we would have laughed if you'd told us that at the time. But maybe not because it had the feeling of a crushing blow, of a era being bludgeoned to death.

Salaheddine Bassir scored after 22 minutes, Abdeljalil Hadda added another on 46 minutes and Bassir rounded things off with minutes to go. Somewhere along the way Craig Burley got sent off. Jim Leighton forgot where his near post was. It was that kind of night.

And the humiliation wasn't even necessary. The ditchwater dull Norwegians beat Brazil. Our game was academic.

There wasn't a jug of beer large enough now. The party hadn't so much ended as been broken by baton wielding police.

Eight World Cups, 23 games played. Four games won. 12 matches lost. 25 goals scored. 41 goals conceded.

If someone had said to me, as my friend said to me that night, that you'd just witnessed to curtain falling on a golden age for Scottish football you might have managed a bittersweet chuckle. But qualifying was our thing. Now that we can't even do that, what are we left with?

Scotland squad at the 1998 World Cup

Friends, whatever else happens, remember this: No country will ever again go to a World Cup with a squad that includes Tosh McKinlay and Matt Elliott. There is a glory in that.

Jim Leighton (Aberdeen)
Jackie McNamara (Celtic)
Tom Boyd (Celtic)
Colin Calderwood (Tottenham Hotspur)
Colin Hendry (Blackburn Rovers)
Tosh McKinlay (Celtic)
Kevin Gallacher (Blackburn Rovers)
Craig Burley (Celtic)
Gordon Durie (Rangers)
Darren Jackson (Celtic)
John Collins (AS Monaco)
Neil Sullivan (Wimbledon)
Simon Donnelly (Celtic)
Paul Lambert (Celtic)
Scott Gemmill (Nottingham Forest)
David Weir (Hearts)
Billy McKinlay (Blackburn Rovers)
Matthew Elliott (Leicester City)
Derek Whyte (Aberdeen)
Scott Booth (FC Utrecht)
Jonathan Gould (Celtic)
Christian Dailly (Derby County)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Eating the World Cup

If you're going to theme your diet around the World Cup you might as well do it in the most contrived way possible.

Making a late bid for the Crap World Cup Tie-In Of 2010 Award Morrison's have put these recipes on their website:
Gael Quiche with blue cheese: This powerful player is guaranteed to put in a strong performance with the whole family.

Robin van Pizza with green pesto: Start him up front or bring him on as an impact sub, he's sure to be popular with the fans.

Julio Ceasar Salad: A legend the world over, this reliable favourite is sure to save the day.

Carlos Tapas spicy prawn and chorizo: A pacy forward with plenty of zing up front - a certain match winner!
They even advise to check back later for more. Which sounds more of threat than they probably intended.

This will be life for the next month. And I say that as a big fan of the World Cup. It'll be life for a lot longer if you know who end up doing you know what.

Anyway examples of crap World Cup tie-in nonsense gratefully received.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

T-Shirt wars

If you dish it out, you've got to be able to take it.

England fight back against the ABE (Anyone But England) campaign with the SNP (Scotland's Not Playing) Campaign.

I see this has been picked up in various places today including the Daily Record but I picked it up from Torcuil Crichton's Whitehall 1212 blog:

After the furore over the "ABE: Anyone but England" t-shirts being marketed in Scotland ahead of the World Cup the English have struck back with their own "SNP" tops - that is "Scotland’s Not Playing".

The website has produced the cheeky response to Scottish soor grapes over not being in the World Cup tournament.

The "ABE: Anyone But England" tops were probed over racism claims but the England-supporting website is taking the whole thing in good humour.

Scotland in 1990: A bad start, a painful finish

With the 1986 World Cup out of the way the SFA turned their attention to finding a long term successor for Jock Stein.

Thankfully SFA supremo Ernie Walker had met an insurance salesman at a Rotary dinner who fitted the bill perfectly.

With the Ally's Army nightmare still causing the great and the good of the Scottish game sleepless nights it was time to seek solace in the anonymity of Andy Roxburgh.

It was an appointment unlikely to have the Tartan Army dancing in the streets. But maybe there had been enough of that when we sent the team off to Argentina.

Greatly respected within the game and an experienced coach he may have been but Roxburgh wasn't an ebullient media performer and wasn't one of the Scottish football's highest profile figures. On the other hand he knew the players, had experience of the international game and, crucial this, was an SFA man.

Having missed out on the 1988 European Championships, Roxburgh negotiated qualifying for the 1990 World Cup by leading his team to second place behind Yugoslavia. In doing so we condemned France to third place, a blow so grievous that the French could only recover by winning the whole thing in 1998.

We were on our way to Italy. One or two fans would be making the trip as well. (I must digress here: Maude MacFarlane, legendary Hibs fan and then in her seventies, made the trip with a number of the Easter Road faithful. Maude packed her suitcase with home comforts including mince and stewing steak. Those Hibs fans must have been the only ones in Italy to attack the bars each night with a plate of homemade mince and tatties inside them.)

Costa Rica, Sweden and Brazil awaited the Scots in Group C. It was to be a typically Scottish campaign, bookended by humiliation and heartbreak.

The largely unknown Costa Ricans were up first. Against a side making their World Cup debut Scotland were expected to get off to a decent start. I do wonder what on earth in our World Cup history ever persuaded us to make any such assumptions.

It was teatime kick off and I found myself home alone. As I watched the game I raided the biscuit barrel for chocolate Hob Nobs. I had more than one nibble but I can't honestly say if it was overdosing on rolled oats and cheap milk chocolate or events on the pitch that left me nobbled.

It's important to remember that Costa Rica weren't bad and they scored a very tidy goal. But we should have beaten them. If the game was still being played now we might still be waiting on a Scottish goal. One of those days. Shame those days for us always seem to come along at the worst possible time.

Did Roxburgh get his team wrong? We played five at the back which might have been too cagey in a game that was definitely winnable. Alan McInally started up front for the only time in the tournament. Maybe risking Ally McCoist at the expense of McInally's more imposing presence might have made a difference. But then again, maybe not. We should still have got something. Instead we once again gave ourselves a mountain to climb.

(After Roxburgh had announced the team McInally said to McCoist "Ally, you're lower than Captain Nemo, pal." Who says Scotland strikers who once played for Bayern Munich can't do literary jokes?)

The Swedes offered a chance at redemption. Amazingly we took it.

Stuart McCall was drafted in to a 4-4-2 line up (Robert Fleck replacing Rambo up front) and delivered the opening goal inside ten minutes. If we didn't exactly push on from there Maurice Johnston's 80th minute strike at least allowed us the luxury of conceding a goal to Stromberg's penalty with five minutes to go.

A defeat and a win. With four of the six third place teams set to advance to the second round we had given ourselves a chance. We only had to stop Brazil to get there. And this was not vintage Brazil. They'd won both their games but a 2-1 victory over Sweden and a 1-0 win over Costa Rica was hardly the stuff of legends.

A draw and we'd done it. That was all we needed.

Roxburgh again shuffled his pack, captain Roy Aitken dropped back to play sweeper in a five man defence. This time the move was justified. If getting a draw meant a rearguard action so be it.

The game itself was far from a classic. Murdo MacLeod getting that free kick full on the napper was the most memorable moment. Murdo bravely tried to play on but was replaced by Gary Gillespie when it became clear that he didn't even know who we were playing. (Was it Tommy Docherty who, when told a player with a head knock didn't know who he was, replied: "Tell him he's Pele and get him back on?")

If you've been following this series on Scotland's World Cup adventures closely you will know that if there's time there is not only hope but also the increasing likelihood of a right old kick in the teeth.

So it proved. When Leighton couldn't hold a low shot it was the Brazilians who reached the loose ball. Muller knocked it home and Scotland, just eight minutes from the draw they needed, were done.

Having added to that overflowing corner of our collective memories marked "National Embarrassment" the 1990 squad had now also contributed to growing litany of "National Heartbreak and Hard Luck Stories."

Let's not overplay the victim card though. This was no repeat of 1986's group of death. We could and should have done better.

This was our fifth qualification on the bounce. We'd never had it so good. And the chances are we never will again.

Scotland squad at the 1990 World Cup

Now that we were so used to qualifying we were fielding teams with experience of previous World Cups. It still wasn't enough.

Looking at the names here you can certainly see that the Roxburgh and Brown years were marked by a consistency of selection.

Jim Leighton (Manchester United)
Alex McLeish (Aberdeen)
Roy Aitken (Newcastle United)
Richard Gough (Rangers)
Paul McStay (Celtic)
Maurice Malpas (Dundee United)
Maurice Johnston (Rangers)
Jim Bett (Aberdeen)
Ally McCoist (Rangers)
Murdo McLeod (Borussia Dortmund)
Gary Gillespie (Liverpool)
Andy Goram (Hibernian)
Gordon Durie (Chelsea)
Alan McInally (Bayern Munich)
Craig Levein (Hearts)
Stuart McCall (Everton)
Stewart McKimmie (Aberdeen)
John Collins (Hibernian)
David McPherson (Hearts)
Gary McAllister (Leicester City)
Robert Fleck (Norwich City)
Bryan Gunn (Norwich City)

Scotland In 1986: Another hard luck tale

Scotland's trip to Mexico in 1986 would be their fourth World Cup in a row. We might have been hopeless when we got to the finals but we were proving astonishingly consistent at qualifying.

Our route to the 1986 World Cup was, as we all know, steeped in tragedy. Jock Stein's death on a tense night in Wales as Scotland clinched a play off place cast a long shadow over the whole 1986 campaign.

It fell to Alex Ferguson, still at Aberdeen and Stein's part time assistant, to take the reins and negotiate the double header against Australia. A 2-0 win at Hampden put Scotland firmly in control of the fixture as they prepared to travel to Melbourne. A 0-0 draw got the job done but, as if to prove that Scotland players could still mix it with the best of them went it came to extra-curricular antics, a couple of incidents involving booze, birds, Maurice Johnston and - inevitably - Frank McAvennie left Ferguson mulling over the possibility of leaving Johnston out of his final squad.

As part of his preparation Ferguson travelled to Ipswich and sought Alf Ramsey's advice. Sir Alf was only too happy to oblige, although Ferguson was incredulous that no England manager had ever approached Ramsey as part of their big tournament build up.

Ferguson's most controversial decision was to leave Alan Hansen out of his squad. A number of late withdrawals had left both Stein and Ferguson concerned about the centre half's commitment. He also lost Kenny Dalglish, a massive blow, blamed at the time on Hansen's omission although Dalglish has always insisted that his knee was just not up to another summer of football.

Squad selected, preparations made. Scotland were off to Mexico. Lying in wait were Denmark, West Germany and Uruguay. Displaying our usual knack of finding ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time we had somehow pitched up in the tournament's group of death. Lucky us.

We would emerge without a win to our name, cursing our luck and somewhat battered. Yet again we were going home on the first plane.

Before the tournament we might well have considered Denmark to be rivals for second place behind West Germany. The Danes didn't exactly follow that script.

In an even first match Denmark beat us 1-0, although a Roy Aitken goal that looked legitimate was disallowed.

In the next match Gordon Strachan put us ahead against West Germany in the first half. Unable to hold out, Scotland went in all square at half time before a Rudi Voller goal early in the second half put the Germans ahead. There was much huff and no little puff as Scotland chased the game. As so often in the past those efforts came to nothing.

At times it seems that Scotland team was created to tantalise the support with the the promise that greatness is always just one step away. Amazingly we went into the Uruguay game with qualification still a realistic possibility.

We had to win to progress, Uruguay needed only a draw. It might have been realistic to assume that an astonishing 6-1 defeat to Denmark might have knocked their confidence. Needing only a draw, however, they were always going to be happy suck Scotland into a war of attrition. Even accepting that as a legitmate tactic does not mean there is any need to condone the brutality with which they set about the task.

In the first minute of the game Jose Batista was ordered off for an X-rated version of one of Ron Atkinson's early doors reducers, a cynical and blatant attempt to nobble Gordon Strachan. The tone was set.

Against a team displaying football's uglier side, Scotland were without answers. Yes, Uruguay were brutal and hard but Scotland were ineffectual in the face of it. They had come to defend deep but Scotland were unable to exert the pressure that would have made them doubt the wisdom of their tactics.

In the face of a cynical Uruguayan roar, Scotland meekly surrendered with a whimper. A win would have sent Scotland through in third place behind West Germany and surprise group winners Denmark. Instead we finished bottom with two defeats and a draw.

Again there were plenty of excuses. Stein's death left Ferguson with a job he didn't want and, by his own admission, wasn't ready for. We missed the aura of Dalglish. Graeme Souness, perhaps not fully fit, struggled in the altitude and heat. Roy Aitken's goal against Denmark should have counted. Uruguay were little more than cheats.

But. In six trips to the World Cup we'd won only three games. In Mexico we could only score one goal. Again players who should have done better failed to perform. Maybe by raging against the unfairness of it all we missed the point: our players lacked something - skill, nerve, fight? - on the biggest stage.

For Scotland just qualifying had become more than half the battle. At least, for now, we looked not too shabby at that.

More on Alex Ferguson's experience as Scotland manager in Managing My Life: The Autobiography.

Scotland squad at the 1986 World Cup

A curiosity to make Hibs fans weep: look at the three goalkeepers who made the trip. Makalamitys they were not.

Souness, listed as a Sampdoria player, had already agreed to take over as Rangers manager. The Ibrox revolution was drawing near and was much needed. Only Davie Cooper made the squad from Rangers.

When will another Scotland manager be able to call on players from Barcelona or Sampdoria?

Note that Mo Jo didn't make the trip. As far as Fergie was concerned that bridge was well and truly burnt.

Jim Leighton (Aberdeen)
Richard Gough (Dundee United)
Maurice Malpas (Dundee United)
Graeme Souness (Sampdoria)
Alex McLeish (Aberdeen)
Willie Miller (Aberdeen)
Gordon Strachan (Manchester United)
Roy Aitken (Celtic)
Eamon Bannon (Dundee United)
Jim Bett (Aberdeen)
Paul McStay (Celtic)
Andy Goram (Oldham Athletic)
Steve Nicol (Liverpool)
David Narey (Dundee United)
Arthur Albiston (Manchester United)
Frank McAvennie (West Ham United)
Steve Archibald (Barcelona)
Graeme Sharp (Everton)
Charlie Nicholas (Arsenal)
Paul Sturrock (Dundee United)
David Cooper (Rangers)
Alan Rough (Hibernian)

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Who is Stuart Baxter?


The Herald now reports that:
Central to the delay in naming the Irishman had been the make-up of Lennon’s backroom team. He is set to be assisted by Alan Thompson, Johan Mjallby and Garry Parker, team-mates from his spells at Celtic and Leicester City respectively.

Despite suggestions that the Finland manager Stuart Baxter would be installed in a director of football position, Herald Sport understands his role will be as more of an advisor not only to Lennon but the club overall.

Baxter has still to negotiate his part-time release from the Finnish Football Association, though, and as things stand he is not part of the management team which will be unveiled today. The Finns will have to soften their opposition to him working for Celtic before any deal can go ahead.

He will remain as manager of the Finish national side, and Lennon is comfortable with the working environment he will find himself in after being named the permanent successor to Tony Mowbray.
The same source reports that as many as ten new players will be shipped in. Garry Parker meanwhile was working as a painter and decorator having previously coached Lennon at Leicester.

Neil and Stuart?

At last Celtic are ready to unveil Neil Lennon as their new manager. An extended audition in the role has turned into a protracted end of season waiting game. I'll admit I jumped the gun announcing his appointment a couple of weeks ago. Although, for once, I was right.

Lennon will be assisted by Johann Mjallby, Alan Thompson and Garry Parker. A young coaching staff but one that Lennon obviously feels he can trust and rely on.

The extended "will they, won't they" saga that has turned Celtic and Lennon into the SPL's very own Ross and Rachel might be because of the complexities of Tony Mowbray's contract.

But I'm also convinced that there were voices inside Celtic Park who wondered, despite his excellent league run towards the end of the season, if Lennon lacked the experience they needed. Undoubtedly Celtic spent last season in crisis. Is this, as the man said, any time for a rookie?

Which leads us to the most intriguing member of the new set-up. At a press conference tomorrow Celtic will unveil not only Lennon but also Stuart Baxter in an as yet unspecified role that appears to be somewhere between senior advisor and favourite uncle.

Baxter has been linked to a number of Scottish jobs over the years including, at various times, the role that Lennon can now call his own.

But, a season without a game at Dundee United in the mid seventies aside, he has never actually had any professional involvement in the Scottish game.

His father was Scottish and Baxter considers himself a Scot although he was born in England and his playing and managerial career has been peripatetic.

Most closely associated with Scandinavia (he has managed in Sweden and Norway) he has also plied his trade in Portuguese and Japanese club football, with the South African national team, the English under 19s and, in his current and continuing role, as Finland boss.

It's a career that could define the global nature of the game, no job too far away, no club too obscure, for the Brummy born coach. But it is also a career devoid of longevity or stability. And, though his successes include championships and promotions, it is not a career studded with glory.

It might be that Celtic consider Lennon well enough steeped in the SPL to cope with the Scottish game allowing Baxter to advise on the more subtle intricacies of Europe and the general art of management.

I am unaware if Lennon and Baxter know each other although I can't find any likely crossovers in their careers. Given the strength of Lennon's footballing persona I find it strange that he would accept somebody he doesn't know as a mentor. Unless he was given no choice.

I also wonder how satisfied Baxter will be in a role that doesn't appear to have any real forerunner in the British game - Bob Paisley's role with Kenny Dalglish is different as they were both Liverpool men while the role Dalglish was supposed to play at Celtic with John Barnes was a lot more formal.

In the past he has said: "I think it would be important for me to come back to something that's an interesting project." I suppose this could turn out to be exactly that.

On the other hand how interesting is the role of Neil Lennon's big brother likely to be?

Baxter himself speaks glowingly about Roy Hodgson and Arsene Wenger and would seem more at home with their more continental methods than certain Scottish managers might be. You can see why that would appeal to Celtic but how much benefit will they see if Baxter is isolated in a marginal and part time role?

Given his experience and his knowledge of UEFA endorsed coaching methods it might be that Baxter will be on hand to offer advice to Lennon if the manager finds his tactical knowledge or his training ground methods fall short.

That would seem sensible although it does raise questions about why Celtic went down this apparently convoluted route when an experienced manager could have done the job of both men.

I await the press conference with interest and I'll be watching how things develop closely. I can't help feeling, however, that after a rudderless season the powers that be at Celtic Park are about to present the fans with a fudge that might quickly become a muddle.

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)

The Good, the bad and the Dave McPherson

I mentioned the other day that I'd been thinking about my favourite World Cup goal after being sent a few "World Cup Memories" questions by Craig Anderson of Last Ditch Tackle and Scotzine fame.

Following the example set by Inside Left (lifting his self imposed World Cup wall of silence - Seb's the Victor Meldrew of fitba' blogging!) and Allan at Fan With A Laptop I thought I'd post all my answers.

First World Cup I can remember:
1986 Mexico. Developed a dislike for Gary Lineker. Thought Scotland always played at these things. Had the complete Scotland strip.

Favourite goal:
Denis Bergkamp, 1998 Quarter Final v Argentina (I was in Holland at the time, sublime). See my previous post here.

Best individual performer at a World Cup:
Baggio, 1994. The penalty miss at the end gave his tournament a tragic, operatic drama. That the tournament began with Diana Ross missing a penalty and ended with Baggio missing a penalty proved that the drama of football will always prevail over the misguided notions of the host nation.

Scotland memory:
John Collins v Brazil, 1998. The opening game, level with the champions. It couldn't last but it was brilliant at the time. I left a first year university exam (the course should have been called European History: All The Boring Bits but wasn't) to ensure I had time to don the kilt and get the face painted. Much drink was consumed. The Junction Bar in West Preston Street.

Best game:
Brazil v France, Quarter final 1986. One of the first games I remember in detail. A different kind of football than I saw on Hibs Kids days at Easter Road, that's for sure.

Worst game:
Scotland v Uruguay, 1986. Dreams shouldn't be broken by a horrendous challenge inside the first minute. I think the Uruguayans killed my footballing innocence. I was six. Costa Rica and Morocco would provide variations on the general theme. The theme being we were coming hame.

Nostalgic memories (ie merchandise, cheesy songs, ad's etc):
Coca-Cola's mini-footballs that they gave away in 1990. They were so small that anyone could pretend to be Scotland ever present Dave "Hen Broon" McPherson. Particularly if you were incapable of controlling the damned thing.

And wall charts from every World Cup, but especially a massive one we had on the classroom wall in 1986. (Hat tip to The Observer for their suitably sizeable effort on Sunday. My pen is poised.)

Scotland in 1978: What just happened?

What the hell happened?

I've read a lot, watched a lot and listened to a lot about the 1978 World Cup.

And I still don't fully understand what happened?

How a squad cheered to the rafters on their departure could return shamed. How a football manager could be blamed for a nation turning down the opportunity of self government. How a Scottish World Cup campaign could include a cameo from Sir Trevor McDonald. How Andy Roxburgh could end up hugging Rod Stewart on an Argentinian runway.

The whole experience seems so incredibly un-Scottish. Perhaps, subconsciously, the nation was already bracing itself for the Thatcher years so decided to have a massive party. We did that spectacularly. We couldn't have embarrassed ourselves more if we'd photocopied our backsides and snogged Tracey from Accounts in the stationery office.

Argentina 1978 was to be Scotland's first World Cup outside Europe. Football was creating a global village. Scotland would provide the idiot.

Actually that's unfair. Ally MacLeod was a decent man and a sound club manager. The wisecracks and outlandish motivational speeches worked at clubs where his success depended on building an atmosphere that players and fans could rally round.

Transferred to the national stage it turned him into a sort of bizarre Pied Piper leading the entire population into collective madness.

As Andy Cameron so memorably reminded us England "didnae qualify" so McLeod also suffered from the glare of the London media, adding yet more layers to the hype that he, often unwittingly, built up.

It's also difficult to see how we went from sneaking qualification via a Joe Jordan handball to considering ourselves contenders.

Yet strangely that's exactly what happened. The send off at Hampden, the fans lining the road to Prestwick. It all seemed to overlook our woeful World Cup heritage and gave rise to a rare bout of Scottish football's most dangerous phenomenon: optimism.

From the moment the team arrived in Argentina it was clear that things were not going to go to plan. The military junta made the country a forbidding place - full marks to FIFA for endorsing a tyrant - and the hotel was as welcoming to the team as a Wee Free run guest house would be to Elton John and David Furnish.

Scotland were drawn against a Cruyff-less Netherlands, Peru and Iran.

In a campaign beset by miscalculations the most obvious one was to underestimate the opposition. Peru would be pushovers, Iran were inconsequential. That was the prevailing wisdom and it was a view McLeod seemed to subscribe to.

In which light it seems reasonable to assume that he was as bemused as anyone when Scotland emerged from those two games with one point.

Everything was going to plan when Joe Jordan put us ahead against Peru in the 19th minute. 71 minutes later a stunned Scotland would be coming to terms with a 3-1 defeat. Even in a country so well versed in sporting disappointment this was a monumental disaster.

How much more could go wrong? Plenty it seemed. Next up on the litany of humiliation was Willie Johnston's failed drugs test - and McLeod's encounter with the inquisitive Trevor McDonald. Any thoughts of regrouping after the shame of Peru had been firmly nipped in the Bud.

Iran offered the perfect opportunity to bounce back. An opportunity that we turned down, taking a point thanks to an own goal. Such was the magnitude of this trial by football that we couldn't even score a goal for ourselves against the group minnows.

Just days earlier the nation had been dancing to McLeod's tune. Now they mainly wanted to dance on his grave.

One last shot at redemption lay in the final game against Holland. Scotland needed a win and they needed goals. Nothing in the tournament suggested they were capable of either. Just to be contrary we got both.

And, for that brief moment when Archie Gemmill seemed to have stardust in his boots, it almost seemed like a nation could dream again. A dream that would last the three minutes it took for Johnny Rep to blast the ball past Alan Rough.

A 3-2 win was not enough. Scotland were again sent home thanks to goal difference - the joke Peruvians having won the group. How different the 1978 campaign was to the 1974 campaign. Yet how awfully similar were the results.

And the World Cup failings remained. We didn't win games on the big stage. The Netherlands now joined Zaire as the only teams to have lost to Scotland in the finals. I trust that particular nugget of trivia was little discussed in the bars of Amsterdam.

What went wrong? Everything. McLeod, the innocent abroad, the trusting, decent guy, was blamed and had to endure what must have been a living hell for a patriot who made mistakes but only wanted to give his best.

But eleven Scots - including some of the biggest names ever to grace our game - couldn't beat Iran. Yes, Ally McLeod made mistakes but he was not the only one who deserved to be holding his head in his hands. Maybe all Ally really wanted was to be loved. Perhaps that's why pictures of him during the event have such an air of sadness: he looked like the loneliest man in the world.

Was he completely mad to suggest we could win the damn thing? Well, he was certainly misguided. But he knew he had the nucleus of a side and he probably hoped it would give his players the boost they needed. And, you know, we beat the eventual finalists.

Did 1978 change us? We lost our bravado and maybe our relationship with the national team changed. We no longer reached for greatness, now we were happy just to be at the party. Maybe, when we were demobbed from Ally's Army, we retreated to far into the solace of hard luck tales and stories of glorious failure. Being elated at just turning up is admirable but maybe our insistence on partying even when we lose makes us too slow to learn from our defeats.

We're a complex bunch, right enough.

Having failed with the quiet man, Ormond, and failed with the loud man, McLeod, Scotland needed something new for a new decade. Time to call up the greatest.

I was thinking that I'd rubbish the idea that 1978 helped kill the devolution referendum in 1979. Except rereading my less than seminal 2001 essay Who Or What Killed The Scotland Act? I note that I argued with some conviction that it actually was a contributing factor. And Andrew Marr agrees: "the 'we were rubbish' hangover certainly contributed to the outcome." So there. Football and politics, always a bad mix.

The sheer lunacy, the mammoth mistakes, the comedic failures. There's too much about 1978 to cram into one blog post. So I'll point you in the direction of Graham McColl's '78: How a Nation Lost the World Cup. An excellent read. At least it is with the comforting distance of 22 years to soften the blows. And you can read all about Andy and Rod. It's available here.

Scotland squad at the 1978 World Cup

Not a bad a bunch of lads. Shocking bunch of results though.

Alan Rough (Partick Thistle)
Sandy Jardine (Rangers)
William Donachie (Manchester City)
Martin Buchan (Manchester United)
Gordon McQueen (Manchester United)
Bruce Rioch (Derby County)
Don Masson (Notts County)
Kenny Dalglish (Liverpool)
Joe Jordan (Manchester United)
Asa Hartford (Manchester City)
Willie Johnston (West Bromwich Albion)
Jim Blyth (Coventry City)
Stuart Kennedy (Aberdeen)
Thomas Forsyth (Rangers)
Archie Gemmill (Nottingham Forest)
Lou Macari (Manchester United)
Derek Johnstone (Rangers)
Graeme Souness (Liverpool)
John Robertson (Nottingham Forest)
Bobby Clark (Aberdeen)
Joe Harper (Aberdeen)
Kenny Burns (Nottingham Forest)

Monday, June 07, 2010

Lennon signs on

Finally an SPL club get their Lennon.

My first reaction to Danny Lennon's appointment at St Mirren was positive. Obviously it's not a bank busting move but these are straitened times.

Just reward for Lennon's excellent season at Cowdenbeath and the Buddies' board to be applauded for a brave move. No doubt they looked to Craig Levein's run at Hearts after stepping up from Cowden.

Does history repeat itself? Who knows? But full marks for shunning the orthodox SPL managerial roster.

There's two side to every story though.

Here's a St Mirren fan's reaction from Twitter (@_Jock):

"It was confirmed this afternoon that Danny Lennon has been appointed as the team manager at St Mirren Football Club" Whoop de fuckin' do.

@ScotFootBlog Daft to have got rid of Gus before sale went through. New owner should pick manager. Appointment shows low ambitions.

@ScotFootBlog The redundancies make it look like a "fire sale" is on the cards. So am surprised they have taken on more staff.

@ScotFootBlog New board will have their own ambitions, just hope they're footballing ones.

Maybe my optimism is misplaced. Will Lennon have been given assurances about his position after any sale? Is that sale likely to go through in the short term?

All that remains unclear. I still think this is an admirable move by St Mirren. Unfortunately it also seems to raise some questions that nobody is providing answers to.

Searching for football

The World Cup will take over the world. Including Google apparently.

Help please!

Now then, a request for some information.

I received an email asking if I had any information about Matt Brown who played for Stirling Albion and Inverness Caledonian back in the 1950s.

The email was from Matt's sister Irene who still lives in his hometown of Brigton.

Matt eventually emigrated to America where he stayed in the game as a university coach in Nevada.

Unfortunately Matt died a few weeks ago and Irene would love to get some more information on his playing days to send to his family in the States.

Irene thought that Matt might have played for Scotland. I can find no record of this but there were a lot of representative sides back in the fifties so it might have been that he was capped for a Scottish Football League XI or an amateur side.

Anyways, if you can shed any light please get in touch and I'll make sure the info gets to Irene.


Scotland in 1974: Undefeated, proud, hame


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.


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 squad at the 1974 Word Cup

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)

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Scotland in 1958: Familiar feelings, familiar failings

By the time qualifying came around for the 1958 World Cup, FIFA had decided that they could no longer justify offering two places to the Home Nations Championship.

England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales would now need to get through normal qualifying groups to takes their place in Sweden. Which all four of them promptly did: an historical curiosity that will surely never be repeated.

Scotland, hinting at the nailbiting qualifiers that would follow in the decades ahead, sneaked through with a 3-2 win against Switzerland. Unlucky Scots? Perhaps, but many who saw it would still argue that Alex Scott's winning goal was offside. No matter - we were on our way.

After the 1954 debacle and Andy Beattie's resignation during the tournament, the SFA had turned to Matt Busby to lead the squad in 1958. With the Munich Air Disaster leaving Busby seriously injured, trainer Dawson Walker took on the manager's job.

France, Yugoslavia and Paraguay lay in wait for a Scottish team who had yet to record a victory in the World Cup.

Tommy Docherty, the presumptive captain, found himself dropped for the first game with Hibs' veteran Eddie Turnbull taking the armband.

The Doc was no stranger to run in with authority and his deselection seems to have stemmed from a disagreement with our old SFA chum George Graham after he pulled out of an international game. It also points to the inconsistency in selection that many players of the time continue to argue seriously hampered their progress.

That aside Scotland took their first World Cup point, Hearts' Jimmy Murray netting the equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Yugoslavia.

France had beaten Paraguay 7-3 in the groups other game meaning Scotland's point, while not the perfect start, was a source of some optimism going into the second match against Paraguay.

Optimism that would, somewhat typically, prove unfounded. Jackie Mudie and Bobby Collins both scored for Scotland but Paraguay held on for a 3-2 win.

The chance of a quarter final place looked all but gone and a 2-1 defeat to France in the final condemned us to bottom of the group.

Raymond Kopa and Just Fontaine - on his way to 13 tournament goals - had France two up by half time before Sammy Baird pulled one back in the second half.

After two tournaments our record stood at five games played, four lost, one drawn and none won.

We were starting slowly on the world stage, a theme that continued into the games, with both Yugoslavia and Paraguay going ahead inside the first ten minutes. To do that once is careless, twice is just bloody stupid.

For all that we can - and I frequently do - complain about the lack of professionalism at the SFA, we must also look to the players. Drawn from strong teams in Scotland and England the players in 1954 and 1958 should have done better.

Don't believe me? Northern Ireland got through their group before losing to France and Wales missed narrowly missed a semi final spot after a 1-0 defeat to Brazil.

Good news for the Anyone But England campaign though - three draws meant they also fell at the first hurdle. So that's alright then.

And how depressed could Scotland get? We were getting used to this World Cup malarkey now. And there would be another one round in four years for us to look forward to. Or so they might have thought...

Despite captaining the side Eddie Turnbull was one of the unlucky Scotland players not to receive a cap for playing for his country. Only Home Internationals matched were marked with the presentation of cap, a situation that was finally remedied some 50 years later when the SFA awarded caps to Eddie and other players thank to a campaign launched on the back of Gary Imlach's excellent book My Father and Other Working Class Football Heroesabout his father Stewart.

Scotland 1958 World Cup squad

Another inexperienced squad with 12 of the 22 having 10 caps or less. The second most capped, Tommy Docherty, didn't play a game.

Note this was a tournament in which we named a Haddock. Now we just try and qualify with huddies.

Tommy Younger - Liverpool
Bill Brown - Dundee
Alex Parker - Everton
Eric Caldow - Rangers
John Hewie - Charlton Athletic
Harry Haddock - Clyde
Ian McColl - Rangers
Eddie Turnbull - Hibernian
Bobby Evans - Celtic
Tommy Docherty - Preston North End
Dave Mackay - Heart of Midlothian
Doug Cowie - Dundee
Sammy Baird - Rangers
Graham Leggat - Aberdeen
Alex Scott - Rangers
Jimmy Murray - Heart of Midlothian
Jackie Mudie - Blackpool
John Coyle - Clyde
Bobby Collins - Celtic
Archie Robertson - Clyde
Stewart Imlach - Nottingham Forest
Willie Fernie - Celtic