I had to do some serious journalism tonight, but took a break to watch the France-Scotland game. Now I am going to have to wait until tomorrow when I sober up. Tomorrow may not be long enough.
21 points from 9 games, including beating France home and away, is an astonishing result for a Scotland team widely regarded as largely talent-free, and drawn in an apparently impossible group including France, Italy and Ukraine. Only seven teams have ever won the World Cup, and to face two of them in a European Championship qualifying group is ridiculous.
I grew up in an era of Scotland teams gloriously endowed with talent. In 1974 Scotland went to the World Cup with the best team in the world. I googled to try and find a squad list, but I couldn’t discover one. Amazingly the Wikipedia entry for Scotland’s football team doesn’t give 1974 a mention.
So I have to try and remember the squad, the backbone of which – David Harvey, Billy Bremner, Peter Lorimer, Joe Jordan – came from Don Revie’s Leeds United team. Scotland were so outrageously talented that Jimmy Johnstone didn’t get off the bench, and another truly great winger, Eddie Grey, wasn’t even taken. Any team that can put Kenny Dalglish and Denis Law up front was something to marvel at. For me the team was best exemplified by the full-backs, Sandy Jardine and Danny MacGrain, the two most talented players in that position I have ever seen paired for any team anywhere, who helped invent the modern wing-back concept. And what a majestic player Davie Hay was.
That Scotland became the first team in the history of the World Cup to be undefeated yet not win it. They outplayed Brazil in a 0-0 draw. I have looked down the barrels of guns more than once (and I mean that literally, not as sportng hyperbole), but the longest half second of my life was when the ball bobbled agonisingly just past the post, after Billy Bremner stabbed at it with his left foot when a corner, from Willie Morgan I think, whipped through the crowded six yard box (Jordan and Holton were a crowd in themselves) and suddenly flashed in upon him. I remember his forearms around his ears in agony when he realised what he had done. And I recall the hopeless long shot, bobbling gently, that the Zaire goalkeeper let through his legs to knock Scotland out on goal difference.
Tactical naivety was part of the problem. Why on earth didn’t we unleash Willie Morgan and Jimmy Johnstone to run at Zaire? Over-confidence, perhaps. Lorimer was a wonderful player, but we developed an over-reliance on his pile-driving free kicks.
Scotland now have probably not a single player, other than Craig Gordon, who would have even been considered for the 1974 squad. The outrageous talent has peculiarly dried up, despite McFadden’s glorious strike. But we have a very tough-minded management, a team spirit untroubled by preening superstars, and that gallus quality which works better in an underdog than when we were fancied.
Excuse me, I have to pour another whisky…