Saturday, June 22, 2013

Scotland – neither favourite, nor outsider. There was pretty much consensus on that, but there was also consensus that the Scots were likely to reach the second stage of the World Cup finals – at second place, behind Holland. Scottish situation was – and is – unique, indeed: common wisdom does not apply to Scotland. Common sense tells simple story: strong club football makes strong national team, which was clearly not the Scottish case. Observers spoke of crisis, a deepening one, for few years – domestic championship was getting weaker, top clubs were mediocre in the European tournaments, and money were short. The league had to be reorganized and reduced drastically in numbers in and effort to stabilize the situation. Yet, the national team was quite strong. There was no secret why – the best Scottish players traditionally played for English clubs and there were always 20-25 classy players at hand. Yet.

How really strong were the Scots was another matter – always difficult to play against, they were typical representatives of the British football. Physically strong, never giving up, fast, attacking minded bunch. Dangerous. And also weak: English football, by-passing midfield and depending on long balls to the wingers, who in turn immediately passed high crosses in front of the net, was no longer efficient game – it was easy to read, predictable. Modern game depended largely on the midfield . Defensively, the British stubborn habit to play in line was another weakness – it was easily penetrated by sophisticated teams. However, unlike England, Scotland increasingly employed the off-side trap - a bit of 'Continental' modernity, compensating for the absence of either libero, or sweeper. Pros and cons pretty much equal, hence, Scotland was not in the camp of the mighty and not among the outsiders. Capable of anything... after all, Scotland eliminated the current European champions Czechoslovakia. After all, Scotland was going to the finals, and England was sulking at home. Can't dismiss the Scots.

Then, it all depends on standpoint – the view from outside is not shared by those inside. The coach of Scotland answered the question 'What do you plan to do after the World Cup?' with confident optimism – or arrogance – 'Retain it.' The same man, when asked back in early 1977 to name the favourites at the finals listed teams which failed to qualify later in the year. 25 000 people came to Hampden Park to watch the squad circle in an open-top bus prior to departure for the finals – as if they already won and were going to Argentina just to collect the trophy. At least the team discovered the right destination, for when Scotland secured their spot at the finals, newspaper headlines announced that Scotland was going to the World Cup in Brazil! Never mind geography, the silly song 'Ally's Tartan Army' reached number 6 on the UK charts.
Alistair – Ally – McLeod was appointed Scotland's coach in 1977 , replacing Willie Ormond, who qualified Scotland to the 1974 World Cup. McLeod was among the younger generation of coaches characteristic for the 1978 tournament – 47 years of age. He was chosen on strength of his success with Ayr and Aberdeen, whatever that meant. Ally started his appointment with blunt statement to the squad: ' My name is Ally MacLeod and I am a winner.' Sounded interesting – as if the new man in charge was tough disciplinarian and a revolutionary. His disciplinary methods are suspect at best; revolutionary he was not at all. He managed to qualify the team, but changed nothing – he simply continued the line of Ormond. His philosophy was simple: he announced that he was not interested in players not having regular place in their clubs. Fair enough, but this meant no changes in the already familiar squad. To a point, McLeod had limited pool to choose from.
1    GK  Alan Rough                                 25 November 1951 (aged 26)          Partick Thistle
2    DF   Sandy Jardine                             31 December 1948 (aged 29)           Rangers
3    DF   Willie Donachie                           5 October 1951 (aged 26)                Manchester City
4    DF   Martin Buchan                             6 March 1949 (aged 29)                  Manchester United
5    DF   Gordon McQueen                       26 June 1952 (aged 25)                   Manchester United
6    MF  Bruce Rioch                                 6 September 1947 (aged 30)           Derby County
7    MF  Don Masson                                26 August 1949 (aged 28)               Derby County
8    FW  Kenny Dalglish                             4 March 1951 (aged 27)                 Liverpool
9    FW  Joe Jordan                                   15 December 1951 (aged 26)          Manchester United
10  MF  Asa Hartford                                24 October 1950 (aged 27)             Manchester City
11  MF  Willie Johnston                             19 December 1946 (aged 31)          West Bromwich
12  GK  Jim Blyth                                       2 February 1955 (aged 23)              Coventry City
13  DF   Stuart Kennedy                             31 May 1953 (aged 25)                   Aberdeen
14  DF   Tom Forsyth                                 23 January 1949 (aged 29)               Rangers
15  MF   Archie Gemmill                             24 March 1947 (aged 31)                Nottingham Forest
16  FW  Lou Macari                                   7 June 1949 (aged 28)                      Manchester United
17  FW  Derek Johnstone                            4 November 1953 (aged 24)            Rangers
18  MF  Graeme Souness                            6 May 1953 (aged 25)                      Liverpool
19  FW  John Robertson                              20 January 1953 (aged 25)               Nottingham Forest
20  GK  Bobby Clark                                  26 September 1945 (aged 32)          Aberdeen
21  FW  Joe Harper                                     11 January 1948 (aged 30)               Aberdeen
22  DF   Kenny Burns                                   23 September 1953 (aged 24)         Nottingham Forest

At a glance – experienced squad, more or less consisting of players at their prime – only 3 players under 25. Six survivors from 1974, but some well known names left out by Ormond four years back were now included – Lou Macari (28 years old), Archie Gemmill (31), Tom Forsyth (29), Willie Johnston (31), Bruce Rioch (30), Asa Hartford (27). The squad appeared a bit weaker, compared to the 1974 one: by 1978 Dennis Law was retired; Billy Bremner, already at 36, was not called since 1976 and nearing retirement in Hull City; Peter Lorimer, 32, was no not called since 1976, as well as his teammate at Leeds United David Harvey (30). Willie Morgan (34), by now playing for Bolton Wanderers, was not called since 1974. Compared to the veterans, their replacements were of lower quality – after all, they were not in the team in 1974, 'second stringers' so to say. Archie Gemmill seemingly took the role of Bremner – not the position, but the spiritual leadership. Another bright side was the main core of the team – excellent Gordon McQueen in defense, and Kenny Dalglish plus Joe Jordan in attack. The missing front teeth of Jordan spoke for his fearless character and Dalglish established himself as one of the top players in the English championship. The real weakness of Scotland was far back: the full back Danny McGrain was absent due to injury and Alan Rough was suspect goalkeeper, but there was hardly anybody else available. The strength of the team was its spirit and attack-oriented football – the combination compensating for the problems in defense. The high speed preferred by the Scots eventually compensated for the predictable simplistic midfield. As the finals were coming to start, some observers saw Scotland as hidden favourite, capable of going all the way to winning the World Cup.

But some trivia also emerged – may be more than amusing trivia. Given the Scottish predicament, they were the team with most foreign based players among the finalists – 15 played in England, heavily clustered in Manchester United (4), Liverpool (2), Nottingham Forest (3), Derby County (2), and Manchester City (2). It was quickly discovered that the Scots arrived in Argentina with enormous supply of whiskey, which they used liberally, as if on they were on holiday. After the opening match complains and excuses popped up: a dispute over bonuses; the lack of water in the hotel's swimming pool, and general boredom of the players. Doping scandal loomed – Willie Johnston was found using banned substance, fencamfamin. The player argued he only too a cold pill, but had to be send home. McLead stood firmly behind his player, but evidence was undeniable. Under pressure during press-conference, McLeod saw a mongrel dog approach and said 'I think he is the only friend I have got left'. The road from praise to disgrace was very short one.