The Scottish love their football almost as much as they do their haggis. Although not as big in terms of money, star players and stadiums, the Scottish Football League has as much, if not more, atmosphere and passion as the English game. They aren’t perturbed by the biting wind and rain in mid-winter either. Scotland’s national football team are, along with England, the oldest national football team in the world. They have had notable success over the years and perhaps none more so than when Archie Gemmell scored the third goal against Holland in the World Cup of 1978. The lows have always been taken with a pinch of salt by the Scottish. They remain confident and determined. It feels as though it might only be a matter of time before the flower of Scotland is in full bloom once again.
A wee team
30th November 1872 is marked in history as the day Scotland played England in a football match for the first time. At that time, they were the only nations in the world to field a team of eleven men representing their country, in the increasingly popular game of football. The match was played at Hamilton Crescent in Partick and the Scottish players all came from the Queen’s Park club in Glasgow. There was little between the nations that day and the game ended 0-0. Scotland wouldn’t play an international match outside the United Kingdom though, until 1929. Instead, they would regularly compete in matches against the other nations of the UK and compete in the British Home Championships. They famously enjoyed a 5-1 win over England in 1928 in this competition. It would be annually played until 1984 and Scotland won the cup on 24 occasions in that time.
Hampden Park has been the home of Scottish football since 1878. The site in Glasgow currently seats around 52,000 people. When there weren’t such strict safety regulations for all-seater stadiums, it once brought in crowds of nearly 100,000. The game between England and Scotland at Hampden Park in 1937 saw a staggering 150,000 people cram into Hampden.
Scotland didn’t qualify for the World Cup until 1954, when it was held in Switzerland, but they often played friendly matches with European teams. Their first was a famous 7-3 win over Norway in Bergen in 1929. The World Cup in 1954 wasn’t the start in competitive football the Scots might have liked, and they found it tough to progress past the group stages. Scotland realised they needed a man to lead the ship and they found him in Andy Beattie, who became their first manager, and did the job alongside his day job managing Huddersfield Town. However, he resigned half way through the World Cup, only to see Scotland get whipped by Uruguay 7-0 when he left.
Ian McColl was the next man called in to whip up a storm in the Scottish manager’s seat and for a time he did just that. Under McColl, Scotland won the British Home Championships twice in 1962 and 1963. He left Scotland in 1965 to manage Sunderland but whilst with Scotland he won a staggering 17 out of 28 matches, which to this day still makes him the most successful Scottish manager of all time.
Following McColl wasn’t going to be easy and it took three managers in quick succession before Bobby Brown was given the job in 1967. His first match in charge meant he more or less made Scotland the best team in the world at the time. At Wembley, in the year after England had won the World Cup there, Scotland beat their biggest rivals 3-2 and crowned themselves the Unofficial World Champions. Brown would stay in the hot-seat for a further four years and leave in 1971. He was manager at a time when many of his players were concentrating on their club performances though, so he sadly struggled to repeat his predecessor McColl’s winning record.
The next major milestone for Scotland then came when Willie Ormond became the boss in 1973 and Scotland qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 16 years, to be held in West Germany. They didn’t have a lot of luck in the group stages though, and had the mighty Brazil to face, so sadly didn’t get to the knock-out stages that time. This would be the closest Scotland have ever got to reaching the next round of a World Cup as they were pipped to the post by Brazil on goal difference. In their eight World Cups they have never moved beyond the groups.
What’s got up their kilt?
A rather determined Scotland emerged in the late seventies and under their new manager, Ally MacLeod, they beat England at Wembley. The William Wallaces amongst the fans invaded the pitch after the game and tore up the grass and broke the crossbar. This determination lasted into the qualifying games for the next World Cup in Argentina in 1978 and they beat Czechoslovakia and Wales to make it to South America. The Scots were given a royal send off at Hampden Park and thousands of fans saw them off to Argentina from Prestwick Airport in Glasgow. Since the incident at Wembley, earning them the nickname, the hooligans of the The Tartan Army, Scotland tried and succeeded in promoting fair play amongst their team and supporters. In 1992 they were named as having the best supporters during the European championships.
Then came the most famous World Cup tournament in Scottish history and the moment when Scotland were the most talked about football nation in the world. It was 1978 and Scotland had begun their World Cup badly and thrown away the lead in both games in their group against Peru and Iran. In order to qualify now, they would have to beat one of the best teams in the world, the Netherlands, to stand a chance of progressing. No one could have predicted what followed. Kenny Dalglish and Archie Gemmell scored one each and towards the end of the game the match was tied at 2-2. Then came a moment of genius from Gemmell and the most famous moment in Scottish football. He took the ball round a couple of players in the edge of the box and then sailed the ball over the Dutch keeper to win Scotland the game. Unfortunately this wasn’t enough to keep their hopes alive and for the second World Cup in a row, Scotland were eliminated on goal difference. Here is that goal again though.
What ever happened in the eighties and nineties?
Under another new boss, Jock Stein, Scotland made it through one of the toughest qualifying groups they had ever encountered and came out victorious. They were going to another World Cup and this one was in Spain in 1982. Quite unbelievably though, the curse of the goal difference reared its ugly head one more time, and they went home early from Spain on the maths of the group.
The following World Cup was probably the most dramatic for Scotland and also one of the most tragic. To get to Mexico they were progressing well in their qualifying group and they scored in the last few minutes of a group game with fellow Brits, Wales, to take them towards the finals. However, during the final minutes of that game, their manager Jock Stein suffered a massive heart attack and died soon afterwards. The fans didn’t celebrate; the players didn’t either. Scotland had lost their leader and his replacement, a young inexperienced manager called Alex Ferguson couldn’t pick up the pieces and they hardly took any points from the remaining games.
Aside from the World Cup, Scotland attended their first ever European Championship in 1992 under their new manager Andy Roxburgh. They looked good in Sweden but came up against the giants, Germany, and old enemies, the Netherlands, and couldn’t beat them. The Euros would be a preferred tournament for Scotland for the nineties, as they failed to qualify for the World Cups in that decade. 1996 would be a rather big year for Scotland and British football. The Euros were to be held in England and the new manager, Craig Brown, saw Scotland qualify and sit with England in the same group. It would be a massive game between the two. It turned into a classic.
Prior to the match, Scotland had drawn against Gemmell’s favourite opponents, Holland, so they looked more threatening than anyone might have thought. Wembley was packed to the rafters and the Three Lions song was deafening the Scots. A first goal from Alan Shearer, who would become the top goal scorer of the competition, started the affair. Then came a dramatically saved penalty from Gary McAllister, followed by a moment of pure genius from England’s Gazza, as he chipped the ball over Colin Hendry and volleyed it home to win 2-0. Quite unbelievably, it would be that old curse, goal difference, that would spell Scotland’s exit in that tournament.
The next tournament would be the World Cup in France in 1998 but a loss to Morocco in their final group game meant a trip back from Calais for the Scots. Then came the ‘Battle of Britain’ in 2000 when Scotland had to qualify for the Euros by beating England in a two-legged tie. They lost on aggregate, even though they beat England in the second match, and didn’t attend that one.
Like their English neighbours (and sometime enemies), Scotland decided to place a foreign manager into their dug-out for the first time and they brought in the German, Berti Vogts. However, he was not popular at Hampden Park and this was made worse by a run of poor performances, poor results and a massive drop in the Fifa world rankings. He was sacked in 2004 and a Scot came back in the form of former Glasgow Rangers boss, Walter Smith. He brought Scotland back up 70 places in the rankings and, although they didn’t qualify for the 2006 World Cup, they vastly improved as a side, in terms of confidence and performance. Never was this better illustrated either than when they famously beat France 1-0 in a Euro 2008 qualifying game.
Then game a strange and somewhat inbred job-swap. In Jan 2007 the then manager of Rangers, Alex McLeish, became the new manager of Scotland and Walter Smith went back to managing Rangers. They even look slightly similar. McLeish would repeat Walter Smith’s success against the French too and beat them 1-0 in Paris, with a goal from new wonder kid James McFadden.
Throughout their long history, Scotland have had the pleasure of a number of world class players. Kenny Dalglish stands out as being one of the most talented and famous and he rightly owns the most caps for his nation at 102, which makes him the only Scot to win 100 caps for his country. After him comes Jim Leighton and then Alex McLeish, who later became the manager. Dalglish and Denis Law both hold the record for the most goals, having both netted 30 in total for their nation.
With an increasingly expanding league of their own and teams such as Rangers and Celtic, that have always prided themselves on home-grown talent, proving their worth in the Champions League, Scotland don’t seem as though they are going to slow down in their quest to become a major footballing nation. Although some of their best players often become tempted to the English Premiership to play their club football, they have always had, and will continue to have, a strong sense of national pride and desire to wear the tartan. They have history on their side and that won’t go away. Scotland’s near success in major world tournaments proves they can compete on the world stage under pressure and it looks as though there will be a few more Archie Gemmell moments to come from the Scots soon. They may take our lives, but they will not take our football…