After decades of missing the boat, Hibs look to have a player capable of making waves on one of the biggest stages for Scotland

On the same day that Scotland will walk out at a major finals for the first time in 23 years, there is another anniversary worth noting.

Sunday, 13th June 2021, 12:31 pm

Nearly five decades ago, on June 14, 1974 the national side were ending another lengthy hiatus.

After 16 years on the outside looking in, a Scotland squad, managed by Willie Ormond, opened their World Cup campaign with a match against Zaire. The match ended in a Scottish victory but proved to be just the opening chapter in one of the national team’s most notable hard-luck stories.

The attention-grabbing preface had been written elsewhere as they prepared for their big return with a Home Internationals campaign that included a defeat to Northern Ireland, before victory over Wales, as well as Jimmy Johnstone’s infamous late night rowboat trip, sans oars, while on a team night out in Largs. They wrapped up that competition with an equally-as-newsworthy 2-0 victory over England.

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Scotland players (back L/R) Des Bremner, John Brownlie, Willie Miller, Kenny Dalglish, John Blackley and (front L/R) Danny McGrain, Alan Rough, manager Willie Ormond and coach Hugh Allan, pictured a gathering long after the 1974 World Cup disappointment. Photo by SNS Group

There were less newsworthy friendlies against Belgium and Norway – lost one, won one – in the weeks before they ran out at the Westfalonstadion, in Dortmund. But the mood remained far more buoyant than the leaking boat David Hay and Eric Schaedler had purloined for their failed rescue attempt of wee Jinky.

Ultimately, though, there was no metaphorical coastguard to step in and salvage their World Cup dreams, which were effectively sunk in that opening fixture against Zaire. They just didn’t know it until a couple of games later.

Despite the fact that their presence at a major finals had been missing for so long, there were high hopes, and according to Hay, rising expectation that the Scots, who were the sole UK representatives, could progress beyond the opening group stage.

The previous day the mighty Brazil had been forced to settle for a goalless draw against Yugoslavia so when Scotland defeated Zaire 2-0 they were left top of the group. But while the win was appreciated, the fact it wasn’t a skelping of the little-known African side, proved problematic and left a nation chewing over the unpalatable ponderings of what might have been had they not settled for that half-time scoreline.

"I think we took the foot of the gas,” Hay has said of that match. Joe Jordan, who scored one of the goals, agreed.

"In hindsight we should have tried to score more goals. 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."

It wasn’t and although they remained unbeaten in the group, registering a 0-0 draw stalemate against Brazil – a result the Scots would later refer to as a missed opportunity – and then a 1-1 draw against Yugoslavia, when the dust settled, Scotland’s advance to the knockout stage was stymied by goal difference.

With honours even among the three, it all boiled down to the respective results against Zaire and Scotland’s 2-0 scoreline fell short, as Yugoslavia slammed nine past them without response and Brazil triumphed 3-0.

Out, having conceded just one goal, they were the only unbeaten side in that tournament (winners West Germany, who defeated Netherlands in the final, had lost to East Germany in the group stages).

"You go back to the Zaire game, there's a lot of disappointment,” Jordan has said since. “We should have done a lot more damage."

There was disappointment after that game, too. John Blackley, the Hibs sweeper and one of Turnbull’s Tornadoes, was one of two Easter Road players in the Scotland squad – Schaedler was the other – but he was the only one to get game time. That came in the game against Zaire.

But he was dropped for the next two, rendering June 14, 1974 notable for another reason – it remains the last time a Hibs player pulled on the dark blue at a major finals.

A long wait

Since then there have been European Championships and World Cups, there have been one-time Easter Road legends who have become Tartan Army heroes, but on no occasion has a Hibs career aligned with them representing Scotland, on the pitch, in one of the two most significant competitions.

Since 1974, when Blackley was replaced by Martin Buchan for those draws against Brazil and Yugoslavia, Hibs players have had to wait and wait, contenting themselves with a watching brief.

Three Hibs keepers have made it into squads and all three have enjoyed illustrious Scotland careers, but at the time they were signed by Hibs none of them were the nation’s chosen No 1 for the coinciding major finals.

Alan Rough and Andy Goram were the back up at the World Cups in Mexico ‘86 and Italia ‘90, respectively, while Jim Leighton had dropped down the Scotland pecking order at the time he and a fellow Hibee, midfielder Darren Jackson, were named in the squad for Euro ‘96. Both have an impressive collection of caps (Leighton is Scotland’s second most capped player with 91, Jackson amassed 28) but they did not collect any of them during the last Euros to be hosted in Britain.

A question of timing. Consider the list of Scotland players in the 47 years since Blackley played Zaire, the large number who have also pulled on the green and white of Hibs. Players such as Kenny Miller and John Collins. But while Collins was part of Andy Roxburgh’s Italia ‘90 squad he only made his competitive debut at a major finals after he had traded Leith for Celtic Park.

Meanwhile Miller’s generation were starved of a place at the Euros or World Cup thanks to Scotland’s 23 absence from such stages.

It is expected that Kevin Nisbet will end the drought before Scotland’s involvement in Euro 2020 expires. It may even happen exactly 47 years on from Blackley’s appearance. But, if Hibs fans have to wait until Scotland face England or Croatia, few will mind. After almost five decades, what’s a few more days?

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