Socrates MacSporran

Socrates MacSporran
No I am not Chick Young, but I can remember when Scottish football was good

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Little Wins Mean A Lot - If You're Scottish

AS every student of Scottish football history knows, 31 March, 1928 was a special day for the wee nation which gave the Beautiful Game shape and substance. Today, on the 90th anniversary, as we have done every year since the event, we recall the original Wembley Wizards: Harkness; Nelson and Law, Gibson, Bradshaw and McMullan; Jackson, Dunne, Gallacher, James and Morton – the men who thrashed England 5-1.

 The 1928 Wembley Wizards

The thing with Scottish fitba history is, we have never had Rudyard Kipling's attitude to those twin imposters, Triumph and Disaster. Mind you, in a way, we Scots do tend to treat them both the same. No Triumphs are as great as Scottish ones – and no Disasters as tragic.

Let's get the Disasters out of the way first, and, if we stick to those within living memory, we have Wembley 1955 – lost 7-2; Wembley 1961 – lost 9-3; Wembley 1975 – lost 5-1; Hampden 1958 – lost – 4-0; Hampden 1973, the Centenary Match – lost 5-0; World Cup Finals 1954 – Uruguay 7 Scotland 0. I think I will stop there.

John Greig and Bobby Morre lead the teams on in 1967

The triumphs, aside from 1928; Wembley 1949, Jimmy Cowan's game – won 3-1; Wembley 1963, Baxter's game – won 2-1; Wembley 1967, the second Wembley Wizards – won 3-2 and various lesser wins. You see, the thing with great Scottish victories, they are seldom in games which matter.

Take that 1928 game for instance. We have become so used to treating British football and the old Home International Championship as being all about Scotland and England. Not in 1928, Wales won the crown, Ireland beat us at Celtic Park and the legendary Wembley game was, in fact – a “wooden spoon” decider. That game was the solitary occasion on which the 11 immortals played together.

Take 1967, the second Wembley Wizards. Sure, we became unofficial World Champions by being the first team to beat England, who were the real World Champions, in 19 games. Of course, in reality it was 3-2 going on 6-2, but, and what a shame there has to be a but.

The 1967 and 1968 Home Internationals doubled-up as a qualifying group for the 1968 European Championships; sure, we wanted to win, but, the main thing was to qualify for the knock-out stages in Europe. Yes, we beat England and how we celebrated, but, George Best virtually beat us on his own in Belfast, then, needing to beat England at Hampden in the final qualifying game, to go through – we could only draw.

Add the fact, in our next game after winning at Wembley, we lost to the USSR, and you can see, the Wembley win turned out to be meaningless, other than to make us feel good about ourselves, because we beat England.

The same attitude is alive in rugby. Scotland finished third in this season's 6Nations Championship, but, the big cause for joy was – we beat England. In so-many fields, we define ourselves by how we do to that much-larger neighbour the Almighty landed us with, as the counterweight to all the riches He/She bestowed on Scotland. Maybe, as the independent Scotland rises, and Tory-led England falls, we will, in time, outgrow this England fixation, but, Ah hae ma doots, and, in any case, to quote the greatest living Scot: Groundskeeper Willie of the Simpsons: “Damned Scots, they ruined Scotland.”

The Greatest Living Scot - Groundskeeper Willie

One of the things about the original Wembley Wizards was, how many of the victorious team were Anglo-Scots, guys who played their club football in England. Only goalkeeper Jack Harkness, inside-right Tim Dunne and outside-left Alan Morton played their club football in Scotland, and Dunne would join the talent drain south at the end of that season.

Of the 1967 team, stars of that unbelievable season when Celtic won the European Cup, Rangers only lost in extra time in the Cup-Winners Cup final and we won at Wembley, four players – Eddie McCreadie, Jim Baxter, Billy Bremner and Denis Law were Anglos, we have always needed that wee bit of “polish” which playing in England gives our top talent.

 The match ball from 1928

In 1928, Alex Jackson scored a hat-trick, Alex James scored the other two goals. At full-time goalkeeper Jack Harkness pilfered the match ball, which rests today in the Hampden Museum. On the night before the game, skipper Jimmy McMullan is supposed to have told his team: “Go to bed and pray for rain.” If they did, their prayers were answered and on the sodden turf, Scotland simply passed England off the park.

These are the legends of 90 years ago today. But, the one thing that is overlooked, not mentioned, to be ignored is – in the grand scheme of things, gratifying though that result was, it meant nothing. It was a wooden spoon game, which salvaged something from a dire season for the winners.

A platoon of the Tartan Army congratulate skipper McMullan at time up

But, maybe that's Scotland's lot – even when we win, we lose. Ninety years on from 31 March, 1928, it is perhaps time we consigned that habit to the dustbin of history.

Let's rise now – and be a nation again, and not just in football.

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