Sunday, 20 March 2011

A Change in Attitude

Three weeks ago, STV began a second series of their excellent recall of Scottish football, The Football Years. The first programme was about Scotland’s World Cup squad of 1974 who returned home from the finals in what was then West Germany as the only country undefeated (the West Germans won the competition but lost to East Germany in a group game) The Scots beat Zaire but draws against the reigning world champions Brazil and Yugoslavia were insufficient for progression and so the boys in blue went out in the first round group stage on goal difference (this wouldn’t be the first time this would happen) The STV programme interviewed players who took part as well as journalists who were there.

I remember 1974 very well, being just 12 years old at the time, but what struck me on watching the programme was the attitude and preparation - or lack of - of the Scots and the ‘wha’s like us’ mentality that would be frowned upon today. Scotland manager Willie Ormond had gone to watch opponents Zaire in an African Nations Cup match against Ghana - and according to journalist Rodger Baillie left the game after just 15 minutes stating Zaire were no good and would pose no threat to the Scots. He then invited Scots journalists present to accompany him for a wee dram or three back at his hotel. True, Zaire didn’t pose any threat to Scotland in their opening World Cup game but the image of captain Billy Bremner playing keepy-uppy with the ball in his own half as Ormond’s men settled for a 2-0 win rather than a more emphatic victory is an enduring one, particularly when one reflects on the Scots going out the tournament on goal difference. I have stated in these pages before how I believe Hearts Donald Ford would have been a better option up front instead of an ageing Denis Law but Fordie remained on the sidelines alongside, incredibly, the best Scots player I have ever seen - Celtic’s Jimmy Johnstone. ‘Jinky’ appeared to pay the price for some high jinks as the team prepared - although I use the term loosely - for the finals a few weeks earlier.

Willie Ormond would become Hearts manager three years later and it’s difficult to imagine his laissez-faire attitude to preparation being adopted by today’s Scotland manager, Craig Levein who, of course, also managed Hearts. Zaire were managed by a Yugoslav, Blagoje Vidinic, and when the Africans lost their next World Cup game to Yugoslavia 9-0 questions were asked although the answers weren’t given until several decades later when it was alleged some of the Zaire players were given ‘incentives’ not to give their all in the game. The fact Brazil only managed to put three goals past them indicates there was some substance to those allegations.

The day after the STV broadcast last month, Hearts played out a less than enthralling goalless draw with Aberdeen at Pittodrie. I didn’t find the idea of leaving Edinburgh at eight in the morning to head to the Granite City particularly enticing so I opted to watch the game on television in a pub. However, I was interested to hear Aberdeen manager Craig Brown’s post match assertion that it was a sign of how much his team had progressed that they had secured a nil-nil draw against the high-flying maroons (or turquoise and white stripes in this case) True, the goalless affair was, for The Dons, a big improvement on their last meeting with Jim Jefferies’ boys when they endured a 5-0 thrashing at Tynecastle a fortnight before Christmas. Nonetheless, it was another example of how football has changed over the years.

A decade after Scotland’s adventure in the 1974 World Cup, Aberdeen weren’t just the third force in Scottish football - they were the force and by some distance. I recall Hearts first season back in the Premier Division after securing promotion in 1983 and being at Pittodrie towards the end of season 1983/84 when Hearts secured a 1-1 draw against a side who were at the time the European Cup Winners Cup holders. Wee John Robertson scored a second half equaliser and I recall leaving Pittodrie’s Beach End as it was then thinking how much progress Hearts had made under manager Alex Macdonald. Twelve months earlier, Hearts had been playing the likes of Dumbarton and Alloa Athletic in the First Division; now they had drawn at the home of one of the finest teams in Europe.

Someone once made the wisecrack that nostalgia isn’t what it used to be and there’s no doubt football has changed a lot in the last thirty odd years. Craig Levein certainly would never dream of leaving a game featuring Scotland’s next opponents after just 15 minutes and heading for the pub while nowadays Aberdonians consider themselves satisfied with a goalless draw against Edinburgh’s finest. One thing remains a constant, however. The joy of seeing Hearts and Scotland triumph and the wellbeing that creates. Now that’s something that will never change!

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