World Cup 1974: Scotland’s undefeated campaign in West Germany

The 1974 World Cup – what do you think of? West Germany, total football, Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer? No? Perhaps just one team remaining unbeaten during the tournament, only to be knocked out in the first round having conceded just a single goal?

Scotland were the only team from the British Isles to make it. What’s more, it was the first time they had qualified since 1958. The official World Cup song was called Easy, Easy – but it wasn’t conceit or hubris that was their downfall, it was goal difference.

Joe Jordan and Davie Hay played in all three matches in West Germany. They talk us through the campaign…

Rowing boats & sinking the Auld Enemy

Preparations were eye opening, to say the least. After mixed results in the Home Internationals, Scotland had warm-up matches in Belgium and Norway. Then there was the incident in Largs…

Manager Willie Ormond allowed the players go for a night out in the coastal town and, in the early hours, winger Jimmy Johnstone decided to commandeer a rowing boat. Only problem was, he had no oars and began to drift out to sea. Hay and Eric Schaedler tried to rescue him, but the boat they purloined had a hole in it so they frantically rowed back to the shore. Johnstone had to be rescued by the coastguard, becoming front page news in the process.

“We gave the perfect response the following Saturday by beating England 2-0,” says Hay. “You couldn’t say Jimmy beat England singlehandedly but he helped destroy them. I always say the perfect preparation should be going out for the evening, having a few drinks, and then a boating trip…”

Off to a winning start

Davie Hay
Davie Hay crosses the ball in the opening victory for Scotland

14 June, Dortmund. Scotland 2-0 Zaire

With world champions Brazil drawing 0-0 with Yugoslavia the previous day, Scotland’s win over the inexperienced Africans – with goals from Jordan and Peter Lorimer – took them top of group two.

“There was serious pressure on us because we were the favourites,” Hay recalls. “I remember it was exceptionally warm and, being 2-0 up at half-time, I think we took the foot of the gas.”

“In hindsight we should have tried to score more goals,” Jordan adds. “Looking at the big picture it was a mistake. There was a bit of naivety in it. If that game had been our second or third the scoreline might have been a little different.”

The most famous 0-0 in Scottish football

18 June, Frankfurt. Scotland 0 Brazil 0

Scotland had the best chance of the game against the world champions. A Jordan header was saved by Leao but the rebound struck captain Billy Bremner’s shin and squirmed inches past. “It wasn’t like he could side foot it in – it bounced off him,” Jordan says.

“It wasn’t the result we wanted but we didn’t feel it was an opportunity missed. We were in a position where we were going into the Yugoslavia game knowing a win would take us through.”

Billy Bremner
Billy Bremner goes agonisingly close against Brazil

It was a sterling showing and remains the last time Brazil were denied victory by Scotland.

“I watched the highlights recently and what impressed me was how balanced the team was,” said Hay. “They didn’t have Pele, but you are still playing against that magic yellow jersey. In the first 10 minutes we were under the cosh a wee bit, but from then on we were slightly the better team.”

Meanwhile in Gelsenkirchen, Yugoslavia thrashed Zaire 9-0 amid claims the Africans had threatened to strike before the game over missing payments.

Zaire head coach Miljan Miljanic had been a Yugoslavia international as a player. And, with his team 3-0 down after 21 minutes, he replaced his goalkeeper with a 5ft 4in stand-in. Sixty seconds later it was four. “You often find that smaller nations are always up for the first game then fall away,” Hay says. “But when you bring on a goalie who is Tom Thumb and they lose nine goals…”

‘We should have done more damage’

22 June, Frankfurt. Scotland 1-1 Yugoslavia

Victory would take Scotland into the last eight. Even a draw would have been good enough if Brazil failed to beat Zaire by three clear goals. But they did, winning 3-0.

The Scots fall a goal behind with fewer than 10 minutes left, with Jordan’s late equaliser not enough. Yugoslavia, Brazil and Scotland finish level on points, with the team who scored fewest against Zaire eliminated.

“Over the three games, we only conceded one goal,” Jordan says. “You go back to the Zaire game, there’s a lot of disappointment – we should done a lot more damage.”

league table

“The only thing Ormond could have done differently was maybe bring Johnstone on against Brazil and Yugoslavia. He didn’t play in a single game. I don’t know if that was for disciplinary reasons. On reflection, he probably would have made a difference.”

Brazil and Yugoslavia progressed to the last eight only to both go out in the second group stage. West Germany beat Netherlands 2-1 in the final, but lost to East Germany earlier in the tournament, leaving Scotland as the only unbeaten team in the finals.

That’s got to count for something, right?

Goalkeepers: Allan (Dundee), Harvey (Leeds United), Stewart (Kilmarnock); Defenders: Blackley (Hibernian), Buchan (Manchester United), Donachie (Manchester City), Holton (Manchester United), Jardine (Rangers), McGrain (Celtic), McQueen (Leeds United), Schaedler (Hibernian); Midfielders: Bremner (Leeds United), Cormack (Liverpool), Hay (Celtic), Hutchison (Coventry City), Johnstone (Celtic); Strikers: Dalglish (Celtic), Jordan (Leeds United), Law (Manchester City), Lorimer (Leeds United), Morgan (Manchester United)

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