Gallus 5

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…

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5 thoughts on “Gallus

  • macshealbhaich

    For a while, when reading this piece, I thought you were writing about the Rugby World Cup and Scotland's chances and was a bit disappointed to realise that you were dealing with that other game.

    But then it dawned on me that your remarks could almost equally apply to our current situation in Rugby Union.

    There were the glory days of the other Gordon Brown ("Broon frae Troon") and Andy Irvine, and then the Hastings brothers.

    Although Paterson and the Lamont brothers give hope for good things, I think that Scotland have some hard matches in their Pool – we had a good result against Portugal, but have still to play Romania, Italy, and the All Blacks. From Italy's previous record (though not their demoralising defeat by New Zealand) and Romania's showing last night neither side is going to be easy, but I think that Scotland could end up as the runners-up to the Kiwis in their Pool.

    It's a pity, in a way, that Rugby has not been as popular a game in Scotland in the way that it is in some other countries, as I believe that there is a lot of talent in the country.

  • NickW

    Craig, actually, the Scotland squad for the '74 World Cup is at the bottom of the entry for Willie Ormond, manager of that side. Scroll to the bottom of the page and on the bar marked 'Scotland Squad – 1974 Fifa World Cup', click button marked 'Show' and – voila – the squad revealed in all its majestical quality.

    You are right. A fine, fine side. But the best at the '74 tournament? you must have missed the games involving the magnificent Dutch, who humiliated the same Brazil side Scotland could only hold to a draw. And even then, you-know-who won the whole shebang ?

  • Suhayl Saadi

    Leeds United were one of the greatest British teams of the late 1960s and early 1970s and of course the energising core of the Scotland team of the time was basically drawn from the Leeds United squad. In particular, the duo of Billy Bremner and Peter Lorimer were bliss to watch and all opponents feared them! But when I tell people that I, an Asian guy, used to support Leeds United they think I'm insane because all they know of is of the alleged reputation of a few of the Leeds players of the 1990s and early 2000s. But the Scotland and Leeds Utd teams of those days of the late '60s and early '70s, at their best, were transcendent! For some heavy relief and a humourous spiritual paean to the greats of football, see my story, 'Sufisticated Football' in The Barcelona Review, Issue 49


  • Strategist

    Suhayl, I think the best riposte to your paean to Don Revie's Leeds team of the late 60s/early 70s comes from the late, great Brian Clough himself, as imagined by the author David Peace in his excellent novel "The Damned Utd" about Clough's 44 days at the helm of Leeds in 1974:

    "Gentlemen, I might as well tell you now. You lot may have won all the domestic honours there are and some of the European ones but, as far as I am concerned, the first thing you can do for me is to chuck all your medals and all your caps and all your pots and all your pans into the biggest fucking dustbin you can find, because you've never won any of them fairly. You've done it all by bloody cheating."

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