Alex GordonComment


Alex GordonComment

Only those who have to take off their shoes when they want to count to twenty will ever believe Scotland will one day win the World Cup. There is more chance of Ronald Reagan being voted Man of the Year by the Russians than Scotland achieving total global success.

This line of thinking, of course, will shock no one.

Just over five years ago Ally MacLeod brainwashed the Tartan Army into actually believing the world was about to be conquered in Argentina and Bruce Rioch was only a fortnight or so away from claiming a very expensive and coveted chunk of gold. Let's not dwell on that nightmarish episode. Scotland's balloon wasn't so much punctured as blown to smithereens. There was an eruption of eggs on the faces of the Scottish fans who genuinely believed Scotland would overcome all the obstacles that stood in the way of their heroes. Peru and Iran changed that state of mind.

Today the supporters are much more realistic. They are afraid to indulge in Walter Mitty thoughts. WHAT A SHAME.

The once-proud, once-feared Hampden Roar has now become the Hampden Snore. Scottish fans now appear to be frightened of showing their emotions and risk being left embarrassed when their team performs the inevitable nosedive. Scotland's performances in the European Championship were nothing short of abysmal. There was never the merest hint of victory in a section that also contained Belgium. After three hours of football in this tournament I was already saying in this column that Scotland could forget all notions of turning up for the Finals in France. Sadly, I was all too accurate and I take no great pleasure in that.

Scotland became the lion that lost its roar -- just as they did during the World Cup Finals in Spain in '82. For some obscure reason that escapes me, Scotland seemed fairly pleased with their displays on Spanish soil. I found it difficult at the time to smile after Brazil had waltzed their way to a landslide 4-1 annihilation over Jock Stein's side. Afterwards Zico dismissed the Scots. He wasn't going overboard on Scotland's tactics when he stated matter-of-factly: "They were frightened of us and it showed. They scored first then raced into defence. It was too easy."

Jock Stein then turned his sights on the European Championship, but any hopes of success were swiftly buried under the rubble of a shambling 2-0 defeat from a mediocre Swiss team. Belgium won the next confrontation 3-2 and that was that. English fans may have sprouted more than a few grey hairs -- a la Bobby Robson -- but they can't complain about drama and excitement in their section. They got their money's worth while the Scottish fans were short-changed.

Hampden now has a atmosphere that is normally reserved for funeral parlours. There appears to be a rather lacklustre approach from the paying customers who turn up more in dedication than in expectation these days. Yet I believe Scotland has some of the richest talent in Europe at their disposal. I haven't seen a better youngster than Paul McStay for ages. What a mature teenager the Celt is and he could well go on and win 100 caps for his country. He began his collection this season and only a disaster will prevent him from carrying on to become a Scottish legend in the mould of a Law or a Baxter or even a Dalglish.

There's no point in dwelling on the talents of Charlie Nicholas. The goals haven't quite flowed at Highbury as they did at Parkhead, but the 21-year-old has got what it takes as time will certainly prove. Aberdeen's Eric Black will also emerge as a consistent penalty-box operator and there are so many other youngsters forcing their way through the ranks of the Under-21 outfit, making a determined bid to impress Jock Stein.

Richard Gough, Alex McLeish, Willie Miller, Graeme Souness, Gordon Strachan, Kenny Dalglish and Steve Archibald are all players of genuine class and quality. Why can't their skills be moulded with that of the others to give birth to an international team that would put the fear of death into any opponent? 

Jock Stein was leading Celtic to European success in 1967 while Brian Clough was still painting the goalposts at Hartlepool, but Scotland still footered and fumbled against the devastatingly dull offside tactics of the boring Belgians. It was hardly a surprise move by Belgium, who indulge in the same yawn-inspiring tactic at home and away. Scotland have now played Guy Thys's team four times in recent years and the success rate isn't one to to send Scottish fans into ecstasy. The l-l draw at Hampden was the only occasion where Scotland haven't lost. Belgium went into that game knowing they had already qualified for the Finals. I wonder if they would or could have stepped up a gear if they required a victory at Hampden. They did just enough to preserve their unbeaten run and seemed quite happy to canter around. Scotland continually got caught up in the infuriating offside trap and weakly accepted the situation. The poise of McStay. the imagination of Dalglish and the thrust of Nicholas eventually became enveloped in a maze of mistakes and another international evening ended on a whimper.

I could hardly believe my ears when one TV commentator spoke proudly of a satisfying evening for Scottish football after the inept performance. Satisfying? It was about as satisfying as a thumb in the eye! It's a sad and pitiful day when the mediocre becomes the acceptable; it's rather pathetic when a low-level display is the normal yardstick.

What has brought about this remarkable transformation? What has happened to the famous multi-coloured, tartan-bedecked supporters who were convinced World Cup glory was within their grasp just over five years ago? Why has the surge for triumph been replaced by an indifferent, shrug-of-the-shoulders attitude?

Jock Stein, at 61, has an entirely different approach to football than his predecessor Ally MacLeod. Whereas Ally machined-gunned out promises at mind-numbing speed, Stein has adopted a saner outlook. He has been exceptionally wary of making outrageous pledges that would one day rebound on him. In playing it so cool, the wind of change has also cooled the fervour of the fans. Sad, but true. Gone are the days when no one would have blinked unduly had John Wayne, splendidly adorned in dark blue, emerged from the Hampden dressing room, to lead the cavalry charge on the misguided opponents who had to face a good, old-fashioned, rip-roaring, sleeves-rolled-up, flaring-nostrils approach as well as a wall of sound from vociferous, victory-hungry supporters. Okay, it doesn't do much for today's scientific outlook, but it certainly got the pulses racing and that's not something that is happening too often on the Hampden terracing these days.

I'm not advocating a return to the international side of Joe Jordan and the uninspired high-ball tactic, but, with the wealth of talent at his disposal, surely Jock Stein can breathe life into an ailing nation.

The good old days, of course, were littered with demented, logic-defying results, but they did provide entertainment and talking points. Scotland, as I've already pointed out, will only take on the likes of Brazil, Italy, West Germany and Argentina and triumph consistently when I'm tucked up safely and in the land of nod, but I wish they would give us something to cheer again. Give us back the Hampden Roar, Jock!  The softly-softly approach is boring us all to tears. Months of misery and years of yawning are driving the fans away in droves. 

Ironically, I believe Jock Stein is doing a better job for the Scottish club sides at the moment than he is the international outfit. When he took over five years ago he fielded a side against Norway in a European Championship tie at Hampden that was made up exclusively of Anglo-Scots. The side that drew with Belgian consisted of only five Anglos. Stein has shown his willingness to field a Home Scot rather than a bigger-named Anglo whenever he has to choose between two players of equal ability. I applaud him for that. When he named his full squad and Under-21 international pool for the recent games against East Germany there were 36 players represented and of that total 26 were Home Scots, one came from the Continent -- Jim Bett, of Lokeren -- and the remaining nine came from South of the Border.

The spin-off was also underlined in Europe when two club sides, Dundee United and Aberdeen, took on Belgian teams and, unlike the international line-up, made absolutely no error in knocking out Standard Liege and Beveren respectively with a goal margin of eight for and only one against. Club teams have benefited from Godfather Stein now, completing the circle, it's time the international side begum taking notice of what is going on at domestic level. Certainly a nation would rise as one to extend an ovation that would dent the sound barrier if Jock Stein could inject the sort of enthusiastic, entertaining, one-for-all spirit into Scotland that he did so successfully with Celtic m the sixties and early seventies.

Like I said before, Scotland's chances of ever actually winning the World Cup are only marginally more realistic than Cyril Smith lifting decathlon gold in the Olympics, but there is surely enough material to transform lamb back into the lion, that proud, wonderful beast with the equally impressive pair of lungs. It's time the Hampden Roar came back to life. Silence isn't always golden.

This article originally appeared in the January 1984 edition of World Soccer. Subscribe here for a limited time offer.