GARY JORDAN recalls Scotland’s 1974 campaign when they were cruelly denied a place in the tournament’s knockout round
Scotland’s World Cup finals failures have become a running joke for a while now. Not just for the English fans, as they’ve qualified for most of the tournaments latter stages with ease, but it’s something the Scots themselves look upon with a shrug. An almost knowing that should they get to the promised land, they will be back home after ten days, having suffered an embarrassing loss or battled bravely but invariably lose.
After a 16-year absence, Scotland managed to qualify for the 1974 finals in West Germany, but it wasn’t without the usual tense, nail-biting drama that only the Scottish serve up for their fans. They were placed in a three-team group with Denmark and Czechoslovakia. The Danes were swept aside both home and away, and by the time the Czechs came to Hampden Park in late September 1973 Scotland knew a win would see them through.
Joe Jordan, the scorer of the winning goal in a come-from-behind 2-1 win that had Scots reaching for their passports, started the game on the bench and was in complete awe of what he and his country had achieved. “A hundred thousand people at Hampden, and Willie Ormond [Scotland manager] says “’On you go’,” recalls Jordan, who replaced Kenny Dalglish and moments later headed his first international goal in only his fourth cap. “The pressure was building and building, and eventually it came, and I got on the end of it to put it away. It was a great feeling.”
Already household names north of the border, the Scottish players were now known in England too. Having suffered the glorious failure of not beating Poland the English were sat at home but could at least follow some players they were hearing and seeing more and more of. Dalglish, Billy Bremner, Jimmy Johnstone, Martin Buchan, Peter Lorimer, Denis Law and co. had been drawn in group two with Zaire, Brazil and Yugoslavia. The Africans were the whipping boys, although Scotland didn’t get that memo and could only manage a 2-0 win against them. It was a case of not knowing anything about their opponents and having to adjust to the naivety of the newcomers to the world stage. After a goalless draw against Brazil, the Yugoslavians, having had the chance to scout Zaire, hammered them 9-0.
When Scotland drew 0-0 against an out-of-sorts Brazil, ageing and far from their magnificent best of 1970, their fate was in their own hands. A win four days later in Frankfurt would see them though to the second round and knock out the Brazilians. Of course, the Scots could’ve already put the current champions out, but for a Bremner miss that was oh so typical of Scotland at the World Cup. Still, they had another chance to write themselves into the history books.
The late afternoon kick-off time meant that the temperature was cooling, but the sun was still bright, and the atmosphere boiling as the teams lined up. Scotland, dressed in an all-white strip, knew that a fast start could be the key and they almost got an early goal through Jordan, but the keeper made a smart stop low at the feet of the Leeds United striker. The game meandered and waned, both teams probing for the goal that would guarantee passage to the next stage. On 81 minutes, with news coming through that Brazil were only 2-0 up against Zaire, the breakthrough came, unfortunately it was substitute Stanislav Karasi, meeting a cross to nod the ball past David Harvey.
So late in the game, but all was not lost. A goal now would see Scotland progress having scored more goals than Brazil. They had to press forward. Like a prize fighter coming off the ropes, Scotland came out swinging. With a minute left on the clock Jordan latched on to a loose ball in the area after good work on the left by Tommy Hutchinson and drilled the ball home.
News was still coming through that Brazil were only two goals to the good, but with their tails up Scotland wanted the win to make sure. Over in Gelsenkirchen, Brazil had in fact scored a third before Jordan scored his goal. Scotland were now in no man’s land, not knowing if they were through. Time ran out on the pitch, and also on their World Cup dreams.
They had the distinction of being the first team to exit a World Cup finals having not lost a game. They returned home to a hero’s welcome, yet it was bittersweet after a brave performance. This was the start of Scotland’s five consecutive World Cup appearances and remains the closest they’ve come to going beyond the opening group stage.