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Back in the day: Scotland 74.
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!