Wednesday, 2 March 2016

347 World Cup 1978

First  viewed : 1  June  1978

This  World  Cup  still  holds  a  special  place  in  my  heart  as  the  first  in  which  I  was  fully  engaged. I  had  been  following  the  build-up  through  the  pages  of  Shoot !  since  the  beginning  of  the  year. In  fact  I  picked  Tunisia  for  my  geography  project  at  school  after  reading  about  their  qualification  in  an  article  and  ended  up  writing  mostly  about  the  football  as  I could  find  hardly  anything  else  about  the  country  in  those  pre-wikipedia  days. It  was  the  last  World  Cup  to  feature  only  16  teams  and  the  only  one  where I  can  name  them  all  and  what  Groups  they  were  in  ( I'm  a  couple  short  for  1982 ). All  this  was  despite  the  fact  that  I  could  only  watch  a  relatively  small   number  of  the  games  as many  took  place  in  the  middle  of  the  night  as  far  as  the  UK  was  concerned.

The  first  group  was  the  "group  of  death"  with  hosts  Argentina, Italy , France  and  fancied  outsiders   Hungary  slugging  it  out. Hungary  sunk  their  chances  in  the  first  game  when  both  their  best  players  Torocsik  and  Nyilasi   got  themselves  sent  off  and  they  were  beaten  in  all  three  games.  France  were  the  unlucky  ones , losing  narrowly  to  Argentina  and  Italy  and  impressing  all  with  a  very  attacking  brand  of  football.

Holders  West  Germany  had  a  relatively  easy  draw  with  a  group  consisting  of  Poland, slightly  past  their  peak  after  their  heroic  1974  campaign, perennial  under-achievers  Mexico  and  the  rank  outsiders  Tunisia.  The  Africans  had  a  lot  to  live  down  after  Zaire's  embarrassing  performance  in  1974  but  after  West  Germany  and  Poland  played  out  a  0-0  snore-fest   in  the  opening  game  they  set  the  group  alight  by  crushing  Mexico  3-1. They  then  lost  narrowly  to  Poland . With  both  the  European  teams  beating  the  useless  Mexicans  it  fell  down  to  their  match  against  the  champions. Tunisia  came  very  close  to  winning  the  game  but  the  Germans  squeezed  through  with  a  0-0  draw. Tunisia  were  the  first  African  side  to  give  a  good  account  of  themselves  at  the  World  Cup  and  the  African  game  has  never  looked  back.

The  third  group - Brazil, Sweden, Spain, Austria - was  the  dullest , enlivened  only  by  the  endlessly  controversial  decision  by  Welsh  referee  Clive  Thomas  to  disallow  a  last  minute  Brazilian  winner  against  Sweden  as  he'd  started  to  blow  the  final  whistle. It  always  astounds  me  that  the  bloke  is  still  regarded  as  a  top  class  referee  when  he  was  a  showboating  prat  who  wanted  to  make  the  headlines  himself. Long after  he'd  retired   he  made  ITV  broadcast  a  corrective  apology  after  someone  on  There's  Only  One  Brian  Moore    commented  that  he'd  admitted  he  got  one  of  his  controversial  decisions  ( I  think  it  involved  QPR ) wrong. He  was  advised  to  stay  on  his  plane  home  when  it  stopped  in  Rio  for  re-fuelling. It  didn't  stop  Brazil  qualifying  alongside  the  unfancied  Austrians.

Now  then,  the  fourth  group. For  the  second  World  Cup  in  a  row  the  only  home  nation  to  qualify  were  the  Scots ( after  a  very  dodgy  win  against  Wales  where  they  got  a  penalty  after  a  handball  by  one  of  their  own  players )   and  hopes  were  quite  high  after  they  got  a  kind  draw  with  Holland  lacking  Johan  Cruyff  who  decided  to  stay  home  in  a  sulk, second  rate  South  Americans  Peru  and  Asia's  whipping  boys  Iran. A  Scottish  club  singer  Andy  Cameron  had  a  big  hit  in  the  spring  with  "Ally's  Tartan  Army" one of  the  better  football  songs.

Cameron  though  had  unwittingly  put  his  finger  on  the  team's  Achilles  heel, their  manager  Ally  MacLeod.  The  gnu-faced   former  Blackburn  Rovers  winger  had  an  impressive  club  record  taking  Ayr  Uinited  to  the  Scottish  Premier  League   and  winning  the  Scottish  League  Cup  with  Aberdeen   before  taking  over  from  Willie  Ormond  who,  like  his  English  counterpart  Don  Revie,  had  resigned  part  way  through  the  World  Cup  campaign.  MacLeod's  idol  though  appeared  to  be  Brian  Clough   in  his  pronouncements  on  Scotland's  imminent  triumph  and  enthusiasm  mounted.

However  MacLeod  undermined  himself  by  pandering  to  those  who  kidded  themselves   that  the  SPL  was  on  a  par  with  the  English  First  Division. Egged  on  by  the  self-confessed  Anglophobe , injured  left  back  Danny  McGrain  ( ironically  the  one  world  class  player who  plied  his  trade  in  the  SPL )   MacLeod  picked  seven  SPL  players  ahead  of   "Anglo's"  playing  south  of  the  border, most  egregiously  omitting  Aston  Villa's  outstanding  young  striker  Andy  Gray. Calamitously   one  of  those  seven  was  goalkeeper  Alan  Rough  from  part-timers  Partick  Thistle. A  likable  phlegmatic  guy , Rough  was  capable  of  some  great  reflex  saves  but  seemed  to  have  no  positional  sense  at  all  which  made  the  team  deeply  vulnerable  to  free  kick  experts.

MacLeod  also  seemed  to  have  no  idea  who  was  in  form  south  of  the  border. He  stuck  with  the  midfield  that  had  got  through  the  qualifiers,  Bruce  Rioch, Don  Masson,  and  Asa  Hartford. Hartford  had  had  a  good  season  with  fourth-placed   Manchester  City  but  the  other  two  had  been  wretchedly  poor  in  a  rapidly-decaying  Derby  County  side . Nevertheless  they  started  against  Peru  while  Liverpool's  big  money  signing  Graeme  Souness  and  Archie  Gemmill  from  title-winning  Nottingham  Forest   watched  from  the  bench. Keeping  the  latter   company   was  his  club  mate  the   outstanding  winger  John  Robertson.

Things  unravelled  quickly  after  Joe  Jordan  grabbed  an  early  goal  for  Scotland . The  South  Americans  grabbed  an  equaliser  just  before  half  time  when  Peruvian  striker  Teofilo  Cubillas  burst  through  the  heart  of  the  defence  and  Rough  failed  to  gather  the  ball  cleanly.  When  the  game  resumed  Peru  conceded  a  penalty  but  Masson  placed  it  too  near  the  keeper. The  Peruvians  gained  in  confidence  and  scored  twice  more  with  a  long  range  shot  and  a  free  kick  that  found  a  gap  by  the  near  post. Rioch  and  Masson  were  substituted  on  72  minutes- Masson  would  never  play  for  Scotland  again - but  it  was  too  late. Rod  Stewart's  prematurely  celebratory  single  "Ole  Ola"  ( Cameron  had  had  the  good  sense  to  release  his  single  a  couple  of  months  earlier ) crashed  out  of  the  charts  and  I  doubt  he's  ever  performed  it  since.

Robertson  got  his  opportunity  unexpectedly  early  when   West  Brom  winger  Willie Johnstone  failed  a  drug  test   because  his  cold  medicine  contained  a  banned  stimulant. His  performance  certainly  didn't  suggest  any  artificial  enhancement. The  team's  next  performance  was  even  worse  despite  the  dropping  of  Rioch  and  Masson. In  front  of  a  meagre  crowd  they  stumbled  to  a  1-1  draw  with  the  mediocre  Iranians  with  the  aid  of  an  inept  own  goal  before  Rough's  own  poor  positioning  let  the  opposition  pull  it  back. That   left  them  needing  to  beat  Holland  by  three  clear  goals  to  progress  at  the  expense  of  their  opponents  and  accompany  Peru  into  the  next  round.  MacLeod  finally  gave  Souness  a  game  and  he  took  the  opportunity  with  both  hands  taking  the  game  by  the  scruff  of  the  neck. At  one  point  it  seemed  like  they  might  do  it  after  THAT  goal  by  Archie  Gemmill  put  them  3-1 ahead   but  less  than  five  minutes  later  the  defence  gave  Holland's  Johnny  Rep  the  space  to  crack  one  in  from  30  yards  and  send  them  home  on  goal  difference  once  again.

After  the  tragedies  and  triumphs  of  the  Scottish  campaign  the  next  stage  of  the  Finals  was  rather  anti-climactic  until  the  end.  Both  the  surprise  packages  Peru  and  Austria  lost  every  game. After  the  Scottish  defeat  the  Dutch  perked  up  and  took  control  of  their  all- European  group  drawing with   champions  West  Germany   and   seeing  off   Italy  - with  an  even  more  impressive  thunderbolt  from  Arie  Haan - as  well  as  the  Austrians. In  the  other  group , the  South  Americans  plus  Poland  - it  was  between  Brazil  and  Argentina. In  the  final  group  game   Argentina  had  to  beat  the  hapless  Peruvians  4-0  to  nudge  past  their  neighbours. In  fact  they  put  six  past  the  keeper  Quiroga   who  was  born  in  Argentina. He  at  least  took  some  of  the  heat  off  Thomas  as a  furious  Brazil  were  consigned  to  the  third  place  play-off   against  Italy. Both  teams  had  suffered  from  a  star  player  refusing  to  shine  ( Zico  and  Rossi  respectively )  and  paid  the  price. Brazil  won  the  match.

So  the  Dutch  were  in  their  second  successive  World  Cup  Final, an  outcome  few  had  predicted, against  the  hosts  Argentina. Despite  ridiculous  spoiling  tactics  by  the  Argentinians  the  Dutch  came  within  the  width  of  a  post  of  winning  it  in  stoppage  time  at  1-1. The  Argentinians  went  ahead  in  extra  time  and  the  play  acting  particularly  by  striker  Leopoldo  Luque   became  ridiculous. When  the  Dutch  succumbed  to  another  goal  by  the  tournament's  top  scorer  Mario  Kempes  it  was  all  over. Argentina  were  champions  for  the  first  time  and  have  been  top  contenders  ever  since . By  contrast  it  was  a  nearly  a  decade  before  the  Dutch  became  a  force  again, failing  to  qualify  for  the  next  to  tournaments.

I  always  felt  a  bit  sorry  for  Kempes. The  long-haired  striker  had  a  long  successful  career  in  Europe  but  as  far  as  Argentina  was  concerned  he  was  instantly  eclipsed  by  new  wunderkind  Diego  Maradona. Argentina's  coach,  Menotti  had  ultimately  decided  to  leave  the  18  year  old  out  of  his  squad  believing  it  would  be  too  much  too  soon  but  he  was  drafted  in  immediately  afterwards  and  Kempes  would  always  be  their  second  best  player  after  that.

MacLeod  somehow  survived  to  be  in  charge  of  Scotland's  first   European  Championship   qualifier  ( which  they  lost  )  then  quit  bathetically  to  return  to  First  Division  Ayr  United. Despite  this  decision  having  reverberations  that  lasted  decades  and  changing  the  fortunes  of  Aberdeen , Leeds  United  and  Manchester  United,   MacLeod  was  only  there  for   10  weeks  before  returning  to  the  SPL   with  Motherwell. They  were  relegated  though  it  was  on  the  cards  before  he  went  there. Nevertheless  it  was  the  end  of  his   career  in top  flight  management.  He  died  in  2004  after  a  long  battle  with  Alzheimers.

There  was  one  other  outstanding  legacy  of  this  World  Cup. Just  weeks  later  Tottenham  manager  Keith  Burkinshaw  swooped  for  two  of  the  Argentinian  squad  Osvaldo  Ardiles  and  Ricardo  Villa   and  the  English  game  would  never  be  the  same  again.



  1. Alan Rough was shorthand for "useless goalie" even when I was a kid! But you could question whether there was anybody better about - and he was still Scottish #1 when Jock Stein took them to Spain in 1982. And even Fergie had him in the squad in Mexico four years after that! So I guess some folk rated him...

    My dad told me once it never failed to amuse how a Scottish World Cup squad always looked great, with a decent share of real quality players, yet would always someone self-implode at the crucial moment. Don Masson's pen miss may be the moment here.

  2. Among the alternatives were George Wood ( Everton ), Jim Blyth ( Coventry ) David Harvey and David Stewart ( both Leeds ). All those sides finished in the Top 10 of the English First Division in 1977-78.

  3. Blyth was in the squad... nearly signed for United, too, but failed the medical. Lucky miss, bearing in mind his subsequent career.

    Actually mentioned George Wood to my old man just a moment ago, and he reckons the guy was practically half-blind and needed defenders to warn him of oncoming strikers! Possibly an urban myth.

    Harvey, perhaps, but I guess Stewart's lack of constant first team action (and age, 31, at the time) counted against him. I can only guess Rough did something to impress the coaches... Perhaps Harvey suffered from the erasing of the Leeds influence in the Scottish team... Bremner had left, Lorimer had gotten too old, McQueen and Jordan had come to United.

  4. Even half -fit Blyth would have been better than Paddy Roche !
    Wood did wear contact lenses- that story came from his team-mate Duncan McKenzie's after-dinner routine.
    Maybe re Leeds - Frank Gray was left out too although Willie Donachie was capable enough.

  5. Ha, Blyth was being brought in to replace Roche (who had replaced the ancient Stepney)... instead, Gary Bailey got the nod and kept the number one shirt for seven years. Blyth, on the other hand, saw his career pretty much over, replaced by one Les Sealey, of whom I also know a fair bit.

    If nothing else, the whole 1978 fiasco kept Jimmy Greaves supplied with "Scottish goalkeeper" jokes for the next decade or so.

  6. Ah you have to wait till the next World Cup for Greavsie . He was in an alcoholic fug around this time and would hardly have been aware who was playing.