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on 14 May 2014
When in our cups, those of us old enough to remember the times when Scottish qualification for World Cup Finals was, if not a formality, then certainly an expectation, tend to bang on about the vainglorious expedition that was Argentina 78. However, the competition previous to that, in West Germany in 1974, which in a sense initiated our international adventures, is a story which is far more nuanced. Those two imposters, Triumph and Disaster, were already assured of a place on the Scotland team coach - but the outcome was nowhere near as predictable as it was to later become.

So broadcaster and sports journalists Richard Gordon makes a good choice when he chooses to revisit those times forty years on. If Argentina can be viewed as slightly sickly technicolour, his account of "Scotland 74" demonstrates the fine detail often to be found in technically superior monochrome.

Wisely -for readers too young to know, and those of us still trying to forget, he sets the event in context - indeed we only reach the actual Finals half way through the account. This means we have a roller coaster ride through previous World Cup experiences - or rather the SFA's bizarre and wonderful reactions to them, and a parade of very different management styles from committee through Ian McColl, Bobby Brown, Tommy Docherty and the man who led Scotland in Germany, Willie Ormond. For a flavour of how different things were in those days, try and conjure up a contemporary scenario where the national team travel without a trainer because he needs to attend to his club's injury list at home. And how romantic is the selection of Hibs' Erich Schaedler, son of a German PoW, as a member of this World Cup Squad?

Rightfully, the qualifying tournament and the Finals themselves receive most attention. We tend to remember our football in tabloid headlines, but, while some of them are recalled here, those who appreciate the author's fluent communication and passion for the game on radio won't be surprised to discover that his style is easy to read and strong on detail and character. As you would expect, contemporary match reports feature, and it is lovely to see that doyen of sports journalists, Ian Archer, receiving some long overdue prominence.

Gordon has assiduously interviewed many of those who were there, gleaning authoritative recollections from the likes of Martin Buchan, Denis Law, John Blackley, Danny McGrain, Peter Lorimer and Joe Jordan. Their words, added to contemporaneous reports, and the reflection made possible by time, makes for a thoughtful and, in places, quite moving account, of crucial days in our footballing history.

What's the theory on why Buchan and Morgan got the nod ahead of Blackley and Johnstone? Why do squad members still ponder on the nationality of Zaire's coach? How human is the tale of Billy Bremner, still hurting from that near miss v Brazil, and uplifted by a tumultuous welcome from the fans in Glasgow, being dropped off at his parents' house in the Raploch by John Blackley from Redding? Come to that, what was the real story behind Jinky's boating excursion at Largs?

The author captures the intensity of the times and the impact of a Scotland squad operating at a vertiginous level of world rankings compared to today. On the page, the players and management are recognisable individuals who come to life in a way largely unfamiliar to us these days, and when we realise half a dozen of those who travelled are no longer with us, our reflections become that wee bit more poignant.

The past was a foreign country, they did things differently then, and reading this book goes a long way to help our understanding of how and why. Like all accounts of Scottish international football, its subtitle could well have been "What if?"

Thanks for the memories!
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on 18 June 2014
Expected much of this book and was disappointed.
So many characters in this team, so many players,
But the failure to capture any of that colour or character forced me to lose interest and give up after four chapters.
A great admirer of Richard Gordon as a broadcaster, but he has no flare as a writer.
This was very much a chronological 'this happened then that happened then this.'
Leaden, dull and laboured,
Could have been a hell of a story in the hands of a skilled story teller. Sorry.
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on 24 June 2014
Dull approach to the material relying on a plodding, chronological, stick-to-the-obvious approach. It pales in comparison to the depth of insight provided by "78: How a Nation Lost the World Cup". However, nostalgia makes it an enjoyable enough read, even if though many of the players' opinions are the banal observations of ageing men with nothing revelatory to say. There is also over-reliance on quoting, the albeit excellent, Ian Archer.
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on 7 October 2014
I've always had a rose tinted view of 70s footy: shirts with no sponsors, 3pm Saturday kick-offs, honest times, simpler times when the game lay unsullied by media magnates and untainted by big money. This book blew away that image and underlines that the issues that plague football today have always been there: bonus rows, league reconstruction debates, players calling off from national duty due to dubious 'injuries' and rows over non-native Scot selection were all the rage back in those supposed halcyon days. And if you thought 'Boozegate' and the subsequent fallout in 2009 was a first, then prepare to grin wryly as I did at the account of Jimmy Johnstone, running around the Hampden pitch after a WC74 warm up game, brazenly flicking the Vs at the press box. The more things change, the more they stay the same...

Quote of the book for me was Danny McGrain, on being asked how he felt on the day when he lined up for his country in the World Cup vs reigning champions Brazil:
Danny gazed into the middle-distance as if combing through his memories, then said in a wistful tone: "I was s***ing myself"
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on 12 August 2014
Speaking of the Scotland team of 1974, Richard says "It is a squad fondly remembered by Scottish football fans of a certain age." I am of that 'certain age' and it is indeed with great fondness I remember the team, their exploits and their misdemeanours en route and during that memorable summer. Richard Gordon has produced an excellent record of the team and has evoked great memories of the players who did the nation proud. There is a warmth and honesty within the book and the author does a great job in capturing the mood of the nation at that time. The hopes and aspirations, the anguish of Bremner's miss against Brazil and the heartbreak of the 1-1 draw in the final match with Yugoslavia which saw the Scots go out of the tournament undefeated. It is an excellent well written book and as I found myself thinking of Bremner, Jordan, Buchan, Dalglish, Hay and all the rest, I could not help but think, "when will we see their likes again?" I want to thank Richard for reviving the memory of what could have been and of what so nearly was.
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on 16 June 2014
Well written and easy to read book which brought back so many wonderful memories of that vintage Scotland era. This combined with player interviews provide a fascinating insight into issues going on behind the scenes. Highly recommended book
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on 4 July 2014
I read a few negative reviews of this book, and a lot of positive. It;s informative and easy to read. What more can anyone want? It;s for fans of Scottish football not fans of Latin Freud!
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on 7 June 2014
With Euro '96 and France '98 my only memories of Scotland playing tournament football, Richard Gordon's re-telling of the '74 World Cup and the elation turning to disappointment for Wille Ormond's side, puts you right in the heart of the action.

The build up, the fallouts, the late nights and the action is conveyed brilliantly with vox pops from last and present, as well as reports direct from the papers in the aftermath of events. The match reports had me YouTube-ing the drama of the WC games, and has truly whet my appetite for the impending competition.

If only we were there.
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on 28 June 2014
Richard Gordon has put together interviews with players and newspaper reports, along with his grasp of the facts, to rekindle the great memories I have of possibly Scotland's best team to have played in a World Cup Finals. Great to hear it from the player's point of view, well known heroes like Danny McGrain, Joe Jordan, Dennis Law. Also great insights form exceptional players like Peter Lorimer and talented, but not so famous, player's like John Blackley and Martin Buchan. The reader is reminded of what a great team we really had.
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on 6 October 2014
A very good read, Richard Gordon writes well and keeps you interested, it is not a "padded out" book. Obviously well researched offers opinions from those who took part in the 1974 World Cup, detailed accounts of the actions as well as as giving insight to behind the scenes situations. Richard captures the passions of the players for the tournament. Players who did not get a game are given as much prominence as those who played in the games. Well worth a read for all football fans.
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