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We’re on the march with Ally’s Army



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Has there every been a World Cup for drama and intrigue than Argentina in 1978?  I was 8 years old and with England failing to qualify, I was beginning to believe that we were above such tournaments, especially as the Scots were there again. By the age of 8 I was into my football big time. So much so that I spent every waking hour playing the game.

My bedroom had been converted into a stadium where all of the games each weekend would be replayed with a slaz ball (a yellow foam ball made by Slazenger which over time you would simply pick chunks out of) and the goal being my upturned bed.  The whole pain of England not qualifying thanks, according to my Dad, to “that Yorkshire traitor” passed me by, but as soon as Panini World Cup 1978 hit the stores I was hooked.

My knowledge of International football was quite limited. But I knew one thing – Scotland were going to win the cup. How did I know that? Because Rod Stewart told me (well, not me personally) on Top of the Pops when introducing Andy Cameron and the Scottish World Cup Squad singing “Ally’s Army”. They were going to Argentina and they were going to win the World Cup. I didn’t see Germany, France or Holland on TOTP so I assumed they would not be even challenging. After all the concept of “hype” does not exist to an 8 year old.

What could possibly go wrong? Well when Joe Jordan put them ahead 20 minutes into the opening game versus Peru in Cordoba I thought that the Argentines should just give them the trophy there and then. Seventy minutes later the Red Stripe inspired South Americans had “whooped some ass” as our US cousins may like to say with Teofilo Cubillas scoring twice.

Humiliation for the Scots turned to shame two days later when it emerged that winger Willie Johnston had failed a doping test after the Peru game and was sent home in shame. Still never mind it would all be ok against Iran – that is Iran, the lowest ranked team in the tournament and one who had never scored a World Cup goal before… until the hour mark when they equalised, thus meaning Scotland had 1 point from their opening two games against the “easier” teams.

Knowing that a win, and a big win would be the only way they could go through the Scots faced Holland in the last group game. Two one up in the 67th minute and Archie Gemmill picked the ball up just outside the box, dinked past one orange shirt, nutmegged another and chipped the ball over the keeper for arguably Scotland’s greatest ever goal. Just one more goal would take the Scots through… as long as they scored it and not the Dutch. And that is what happened as Jonny Rep fired home meaning the Scots were coming home early….

As for the rest of the tournament, here are my top 10 memories (obviously the advent of the internet has helped “jog” a few of the decaying grey cells).

  1. Clive Thomas – The Welsh referee was never far from controversy and in the game between Brazil and Sweden blew his whistle for full time as a Brazilian header was arrowing into the top corner of the net, which would have given Brazil a 2-1 victory.
  2. Goal of the tournament was surely scored by Frenchman Bernard Lacombe in the first minute of their game versus Italy – 6 passes from penalty box to penalty box in just 12 seconds including a scorching run by Didier Six.
  3. France wearing another kit. Not all of the games were shown on local TV but when they were the vast majority of the population on had black and white sets. So when France were due to play Hungary someone pointed out that they would look the same in black and white. Solution – France borrowed the kit of local team Club Atletico Kimberley. And they say nowadays that TV runs football!
  4. Ticker Tape.  I had never heard of ticker tape before. To me throwing strips of paper in the air at home got me a slap, yet here in mysterious South America the emergence of the host nation was met with an avalanche of white streamers. A great spectacle but pity the poor groundsmen who had to pick the whole mess up afterwards.
  5. Argentinian Shirt Numbers – Ossie Ardiles the tiny midfield maestro wore Number 2, keeper Filo number 5 and the brilliantly named Daniel Killer wore 11 yet played at right back. Why? Because someone decided it would be “fun” to do alphabetical numbering.
  6. Tango – This was the first World Cup where the Tango ball had been used, the most iconic change in football design since laces were removed. I can just see the ball nestling in the back of the net now, spinning on its axis in a blur of black and white. I remember having an orange and black plastic version on the beach at St Ives that was punctured by a crab – bastard!
  7. Argentina 6 Peru 0 – With the same group based system that was in place for 1974 there would be no semi-finals.  Instead the two group winners would go straight into the final. For some unknown reason (and bear in mind the FIFA President at the time was João Havelange, a Brazilian) Argentina were allowed to kick off their final group game against Peru three hours after the Brazilians had played, and thus knowing what score they required to reach the final.Brazil’s 3-1 versus Poland meant the hosts had to win by 4 goals.  Peru had been one of the surprises of the tournament and were no pushovers. In goal for Peru was Quirogo, also known as “El Loco” who had been booked earlier in the tournament for fouling Poland’s Lato on the half way line on one of his frequent sprints up field (the Peruvian not the Pole!). He was also born in Argentina, and was close friends with a number of the Argentinian team. Did that have anything to do with the eventual 6-0 scoreline – you decide.
  8. Wristgate – So the World Cup final.  The eyes of millions around the world are on the Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires.  Both teams line up ready for the start of the biggest game in the world. But what is this? One of the Dutch players has a plaster cast on his arm? Well we cannot possibly play, said the Argentinians. Surely that is not allowed!Despite the bandage having been passed by FIFA and worn in previous matches, the referee, Italian Sergio Gonella sided with the Argentinians, while the Dutch players threatened to walk off the field. Finally an extra layer of padding was applied to the bandage as a solution, and the match started but obviously in a very hostile arena as the home fans saw it all as the fault of the Dutch.
  9. The Dutch throwing their toys out of the pram. The actual game was hardly without controversy and the Dutch certainly seemed to be cast as bit part players in the Argentina Story. Fouls went unpunished, dubious offside calls were made and the world seemed against them. However they forced extra time, and actually could have won the game if a square post instead of a round one was used with Rensenbrink’s injury time shot hitting the post and rebounding into play. In the end Argentina’s 3-1 victory was overshadowed by the petulance of the Dutch who simply walked off the field at the final whistle, refusing to stay to collect their medals. Not like the Dutch to show dissent at a World Cup is it?
  10. Players with their socks around their ankles – Marvellous sight. Sod the need for shin pads, just roll those socks down. Argentinian Mario Kempes, top scorer in the tournament looked like he wore specially fat socks to bulk up his ankles.  Despite the lack of shin pads the number of simulated fouls was at an all time low AND there were no serious injuries.

Next stop – Spain 1982… sing with me… “We’re on our way, we are Ron’s 22“…

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I am a football writer and blogger who looks at the commercial aspects of the game today both at grass roots and full blown professional aspects. I report on one game per week, taking time to research the club, talk to supporters and key personnel before writing my reports and publishing them on my blog. I recently wrote the book Passport To Football which was published in October 2009 which covers 30 "adventures" around the world watching the game. I am currently working on a new book (my 7th) which will be published in September 2010 about what it is like to follow a non-league team in England.