A Scottish Kiss From Lady Luck
This blog was first written for Live Forever Football, a website dedicated to 90s football.
1967. Undoubtedly the high point for Scottish Football. Celtic were European Champions, Rangers were runners-up to Bayern Munich in the Cup Winners Cup, Kilmarnock were semi-finalists in the Fair Cities Cup where they lost out to runners-up Leeds United, and while Dundee United lost out to Juventus in that same tournament they had beaten Barcelona home and away to set up that tie against the Old Lady of Italian Football.
Then, of course, there was the small matter of Scotland beating the reigning World Champions England 3-2 at Wembley. But was that the greatest moment for the national team?
Scotland didn’t qualify for the World Cup in the England in 1966 as we lost out to Italy, and wouldn’t qualify for Mexico in 1970 either as we lost out to West Germany. It would be 1974, a full seven years after becoming unofficial World Champions, that we would finally be off to the official finals for the first time since 1958.
To further put the 3-2 win in context, the home nations were actually competing against each other in a group of four as part of the qualifying stage for the European Championship in 1968. The Euros, as they would come to be known, had only started in 1960 but Scotland hadn’t taken any part in the first two tournaments.
Despite beating them in 1967 at Wembley and drawn with them in 1968 at Hampden, England still managed to top the group as Scotland drew with Wales in 1967 and lost to Northern Ireland in 1968. England didn’t drop anything against them, and so they went on to the quarter finals. Indeed, England qualified for the last four but lost to Yugoslavia in the end.
Scotland’s luck in qualifying for the Euros didn’t get any better even after we started to qualify for every World Cup that was going. 1972 and 1976 may only have had four teams in the finals, but even after the final tournament was expanded from four to eight teams in 1980 Scotland still couldn’t get there.
But in 1990, lady luck finally smiled upon us. When the Euro 92 qualifying draw was made in February, Scotland found themselves in a group along with top seeds Romania and third seeds Bulgaria – both the bottom pick from those pots. Pot four gave us the second team from there of Switzerland, while pot five served up San Marino who until this point had never taken part in qualifying.
I’m sure as Scotland flew back from Italia 90 there were many eyes on the Republic of Ireland’s second round match against Romania. As they played out a 0-0 draw and Packie Bonner and David O’Leary became national heroes in the penalty shootout, in the Scotland camp it would have been the defeated Romanians that were of note. After all, we were due to play them three months later.
Despite going a goal down at Hampden, Scotland fought back and won their first qualifying game 2-1 against the top seeds in the group. When that was followed up a month later with another 2-1 home win, this time over Switzerland, it was clear Scotland had got off to just the start we needed to finally break our duck.
The 1-1 draw in Bulgaria didn’t do too much harm, and although a 2-0 win away to San Marino is hardly the most memorable of results it was enough to keep momentum going into the 1991/92 season. Another draw away from home, this time in Switzerland, was the followed up by a narrow defeat in Romania thanks to a Gheorghe Hagi penalty. Well we weren’t going to keep one of the household names from Italia 90 completely quiet, were we?
The final game was at home to San Marino, and a 4-0 win was recorded in November 1991. But… had Scotland done enough to qualify for the finals in Sweden? We’d have to wait a week to find out.
In the days of two points for a win, Scotland had amassed 11 points from their four wins, three draws a one defeat. The damning statistic though was the +7 goal difference. Romania were on nine points with a goal difference of +12, but they still had a game to play in Bulgaria. Any win at all would see the Romanians top the group and consign Scotland to yet another summer watching on from home.
But there was hope. While Scotland had picked up the maximum four points from their opening fixtures, Romania had picked up none. The defeat to Scotland had been followed up by a defeat at home to Bulgaria. If Romania were to qualify, they’d have to get revenge for that loss.
Popescu did indeed give Romania the lead in Sofia, but an equaliser from Sirakov came later on to deny Romania the win they needed and send Scotland on our way to Sweden the following summer. Finally, Scotland would take its place among Europe’s elite. It was a terrific time for Scotland.
And then they made the draw.
Everyone knows about Marco Van Basten’s outrageous goal in the final of Euro 88. No one even debates the best European Championship goal ever, they just accept it’s Van Basten’s and go on to decide what’s second. That goal helped the Netherlands beat the Soviet Union in the final, and as fate would have it those two were paired to meet again in the group stages at Euro 92.
In Scotland’s group.
Is that enough for you? No? Well, let’s see if we can’t make it worse then. West Germany had won the World Cup at Italia 90, before unifying with the East and then going on to qualify for Euro 92. How about we have them join the party as well then? The World Champions, The European Champions, the European Runners-Up… and Scotland.
I’m guessing lady luck figured we’d had enough of her help in qualifying.
When you consider the other group had the host nation Sweden that we ourselves had beaten at Italia 90, our old rivals England whom we’d hadn’t played since 1989 – the longest we’d ever gone without doing so – France who hadn’t even qualified for Italia 90, and Yugoslavia who had made the quarterfinals in Italy, you would have happily swapped places with any of them.
Which is exactly what Denmark did.
With communism collapsing, Euro 92 was affected on a number of occasions. East Germany had originally been part of the draw, but by the time the tournament kicked off they had dropped out and joined the West in their group instead.
By the time the tournament kicked off in June 1992, the Soviet Union had dissolved and so the team that played in the tournament played under the name of the “Commonwealth of Independent States”. Basically the same thing, but technically didn’t include the three Baltic states or Georgia – except for Kakhaber Tskhadadze who was somehow part of the squad anyway.
They were the lucky ones. The former Soviet states broke up amicably for the most part so they were still allowed to take part in the tournament. Yugoslavia weren’t so lucky. Slovenia were gone by the time the Euro 92 draw was made, but it was the war for Croatian independence that ultimately cost Yugoslavia their place in the championships.
On the 30th of May, United Nations Security Council Resolution 757 placed sanctions on Yugoslavia that had many consequences, but in this context it meant FIFA suspended the Yugoslav national team from competitive football. With England due to face them on the 11th of June in Sweden, a replacement was quickly drafted in.
To put that in the context of time, the Scottish Cup final in 1992 had taken place on the 9th of May. This decision was made three weeks later. Do you know where the Danish players, who rightly thought they had nothing better to do that summer, were at the time?
On the beach.
Denmark literally had to cancel holidays to come and play in Sweden. Or at least most of them did. Some players, most notably Michael Laudrup, opted to stay on holiday thinking it was a waste of time.
I’ll bet his brother Brian, who did join the Danish squad for the tournament, never lets him forget that decision.
So even when it comes to teams falling apart, Scotland had no luck. Not only did we get the newly unified Germans, but the Soviets couldn’t even fall out with each other properly. Meanwhile in the other group the highest rated team was gone and replaced by a team swapping their flip flops and li-los for football boots and treatment tables.
So it’s no surprise that the Tartan Army invaded Sweden with one goal in mind – to enjoy the experience. I don’t think there’s been another tournament before or since where the Scotland fans have accepted from the very beginning that we had absolutely no chance of qualifying from the group stage. It was almost liberating.
Do you know the names David McGow and Marianne Lindkvist? Probably not, but you might know their faces. Marianne was a Swedish police officer on duty at one of the Scotland matches and David was pictured kissing her in one of the most iconic photos in Scottish Football. That photo alone probably won the Tartan Army the Fair Play award we returned home with from Sweden.
But let’s not go home prematurely just yet! On the park, up first in Gothenburg were the reigning champions – the Netherlands.
To be perfectly honest, the game didn’t exactly live up to expectations. You would have expected the Dutch total football philosophy to overwhelm Scotland but while Hans van Breukelen had virtually nothing to do in the Dutch goal, Andy Goram was hardly rushed off his feet at the other end either.
Richard Gough was able to keep Marco Van Basten reasonably quiet, and a Frank Rijkaard effort was kept out by Goram… but that was about it until the final fifteen minutes. A Rijkaard header down into the path of Dennis Bergkamp from a Ruud Gullit cross saw the lesser known of the three names poke the ball home. One decent move made all the difference in the scoreline and gave the holders the winning start they had wanted.
Later that evening, the CIS managed a 1-1 draw with Germany. Scotland were bottom of the group and no one really expected we’d move from that spot with the Germans up next in Norrkoping.
And yet, just like the opening match against the Netherlands, Scotland matched up well against one of the favourites for the tournament. Indeed, Scotland were arguably on top and having the better chances… only for Jurgen Klinsmann to hold off Gough and roll the ball to Karlheinz Riedle who then fired past Goram.
If that seemed unlucky given how well we had been playing, just after half time lady luck was late back from having her half time pie. Or whatever the Swedish equivalent is. In her absence, a Stefan Effenberg Cross deflected off Maurice Malpas and left Goram helpless to prevent the ball dropping into the net and doubling Germany’s lead.
As busy as Bodo Illgner had been, Scotland couldn’t find a way past the Germany goalkeeper and Scotland were out of the competition with a game to spare thanks to another CIS draw in their game against the Netherlands. With world champions Germany and european champions the Netherlands both on three points, the inevitability of the group had come to fruition.
We all knew it would be this way, and yet Scotland had performed so well against arguably the two best teams in the tournament. If anything, we’d already done better than we had ever expected, even though we’d lost twice. And so we’d face the CIS in Norrkoping knowing it was our last game but that they still had a chance of qualifying. They might need to beat Scotland by a couple of goals if the other game finished a draw, but it was in their own hands to progress regardless of what happened in Gothenburg.
But they didn’t count on Scotland finally catching Lady Luck’s eye again.
The opening goal from Paul McStay came in the first ten minutes of the game. Actually, it’s technically an own goal by goalkeeper Dmitri Kharine’s since McStay’s shot hit the post and rebounded off Kharine’s outstretched arm and into the net, but I’m sure Dmitri won’t mind if Paul claims it.
Scotland were 2-0 up within 20 minutes thanks to another deflection, this time coming off the Georgian Tskhadadze as he directed Brian McClair’s effort into the opposite corner and away from Kharine. The former Soviets, shell shocked after the opening spell, missed some terrific chances as the game progressed but it was all over when substitute Pat Nevin was brought down in the area and Gary McAllister sent Kharine the wrong way with the penalty to complete the 3-0 win.
Remember when Rocky Balboa defeated communism? Well Scotland turned up and poked it with a stick to make sure it was dead.
This was the final act for the CIS. After Euro 92, the Baltic states entered qualifying for the World Cup in 1994 on their own merits while Russia went it alone in place of the Soviet Union. The rest of the former Soviet states wouldn’t enter qualification until Euro 96.
But forget the negative, Scotland’s comprehensive win ensured that we finished third in the group ahead of the CIS. When you consider that the other group saw both France and England finish level on two points with a negative goal difference, Scotland’s goal difference of zero technically means we were the best of the rest.
As far as I’m concerned, at Euro 92, Scotland finished fifth.
Of course, Scotland’s “achievement” went largely unnoticed. The fans rightly took the plaudits while the team went home satisfied with two decent but ultimately defeated games and one thumping win against a team that still had something to play for – so that was no dead rubber.
But then the tournament kept going. Remember those Danes who had been on the beach? Well they came second in their group behind the hosts. Sweden would lose out in the semifinals to the Germans, but the Danes went on to shock the holders in a 2-2 draw and a 5-4 win on penalties – Peter Schmeichel crucially saving the second Dutch penalty from, all of all people, Marco Van Basten.
But they weren’t done yet.
If defeating the Dutch was a shock, then what came next rocked the continent. A 2-0 win over Germany in the final is recognised as one of the truly shocking moments in football. For a team that hadn’t even qualified to cut their holidays short and go on to win the tournament outright is precisely why we all love football. It shouldn’t have happened and yet it did, and we all celebrated with the Danes.
And they didn’t even need Lady Luck to help.