All teams go to World Cup’s with hope in their hearts, many return disappointed but some campaigns start with such belief and unravel so shockingly they become truly painful- we’ve already seen England stinking out South Africa, Spain & France hanging on too long to their world beaters and Argentina talking their way out of South Korea. But they all pale into insignificance compared to this: Ally’s Tartan Army boldly going to Argentina to win the World Cup in 1978
- Scotland 1978
Hubris: Noun mean excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance. see also Scotland 1978 World Cup.
OK I made the last bit up, but whenever I hear the word hubris I immediately think of former Scotland manager Ally McLeod. No sooner had Scotland secured qualification for the 1978 World Cup, McLeod started telling anyone who’d listen he believed his Scotland team would win the whole thing, not do well, not be hard to beat they were going to win the World Cup!
McLeod’s optimism wasn’t completely without reason, Scotland had done well in the 1974 tournament- were it not for an appalling Rivelino foul on Billy Bremner they would have beaten holders Brazil. But by 1978 the old guard- Bremner, Dennis Law, Peter Lorimar & Jimmy Johnstone were gone. However Scotland now had a genuine superstar: Kenny Dalglish. The brilliant striker had just fired Liverpool to the European Cup and bagged the European Player of the Season award. The supporting cast had quality too- midfield enforcer Graeme Souness, talented Nottingham Forest wing duo John Robertson & Archie Gemmill and sharp goal poacher Joe Jordan up front. Still winning the tournament seemed beyond feasibility.
But Scottish optimism found another willing voice in Comedian Andy Cameron who recorded Scotland’s official tournament song “Ally’s Army.” Cameron warbled tunelessly that Scotland would “really shake them up, when we win the World Cup!” Perhaps the song being to the melody of the laughing policeman should have warned Scots but it was the other line in the song that garnered the most attention: “England couldnae do it, ’cause they didnae qualify.” Yes For the second successive World Cup England were missing and the Scots couldn’t resist rubbing the auld enemy’s nose in it. Scottish confidence knew no bounds- they had a World Cup winning stamp designed and held a victory parade for the squad at Hampden Park before they embarked for Argentina. The Tartan Army flooded into Buenos Aires and some were even rumoured to have hired a submarine for the 6000 mile trip, Scotland didn’t lack for pride but then…the fall.
Part of Scotland’s immense confidence came from a favourable draw- Peru, Iran and Holland. The Dutch would be tough but that would be the last game and Scotland would already be qualified for the next round by then, surely?
Scotland started against mighty Peru and got a great start when Jordan struck after just 14 minutes. But Peru were knocking the ball around with increased confidence and started cutting through the Scottish defence and just before halftime a beautiful passing move ended with Cesar Cueto stroking the ball home 1-1. Scotland started the second half well and Jordan should have bagged a second. But Peru danger man Teofilo Cubillas scored with a stunning shot from the edge of the box 2-1 and as Scotland pushed for an equalizer a Peru counter saw them win a free kick and Cubillas beat Scottish ‘keeper Allan Rough at the near post 3-1 and Scotland were off to the worst possible start.
Or so McLeod thought only hours later winger Willie Johnston a man who saw red 21 times in his career found a new way to make an early exit by failing a drugs test (presumably it was antidepressants!) he gave the laughable excuse he didn’t realise the tablets he was taking were illegal in Argentina and Scotland’s squad was down to 21 players. But surely a date against hapless Iran- a side coming off a 3-0 hiding from Holland would get Scotland’s campaign up and running?
With their confidence knocked by Peru the Scots started slowly but got a lucky break when Iran defender Andranik Eskandarian inexplicably put the ball into his own net and Scotland were 1 up at the break. But Iran fought back and a jinking run from Iraj Danayfar saw him shoot from the left of the box, Alan Rough again turned into smoke and Iran were level. The game petered out, reality crashed in on McLeod and the game finished 1-1.
The Tartan Army had seen enough and they headed for Buenos Aires airport in the droves (presumably that submarine had been scuttled?). But there was still a glimmer of hope: if Scotland beat Holland by 3 clear goals they would go through, but how could a side that managed only 1 point against the footballing minnows of Iran & Peru do that against the mighty Dutch?
The game started as expected with Holland dominating possession and some comical Scottish defending saw Holland win a penalty which Rob Rensenbrink converted. Scotland countered and on the stroke of halftime Dalglish came alive to put the Scots level. So now Scotland just needed to win the second half by 3 goals. And straight after the break Souness won a penalty which Gemmill converted suddenly Scotland were ahead and just 2 goals from qualification.
Scotland just needed that one moment of inspiration and Gemmill provided it: he made a mazy run from the right, beat 3 defenders before side footing home for the goal of the tournament! Now all Scotland needed to do was score one goal and hold out for 22 minutes and a place in the next round was theirs, what could possibly go wrong?
Well for a whole 3 minutes it was going according to plan until Johnny Rep made a powerful run down the middle and hit a vicious shot, Rough was beaten all ends up and it was back to 3-2 and Scotland were out. McLeod was gone a few months after his humbled side touched down in Glasgow and would later write “Had I raised optimism too high?” yeah just a bit!
Scotland despite producing more world-class players in the ’80s never quite got over that World Cup, they qualified for 4 of the next 5 World Cups and a couple of European Championships but the second round remained a bridge too far. Perhaps Scottish pessimism after ’78 was best summed up by their later choices of tournament song: in 1982 it was ‘I Have a Dream’ and for the 20th anniversary of “Ally’s Army” they went with Del Amitri’s “Don’t Come Home Too Soon” a song amusingly described as like a wife shouting at her husband because he keeps letting her down. But post 1998 Scotland haven’t had to worry about an anthem because for every tournament since they ‘Didnae qualify!’