Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Down Memory Lane: Ally suffered on Scotland's safari in 1978 World Cup

Scotland manager Ally MacLeod, normally euphoric and loquacious, looked a broken man as he sat on a platform waiting for the media conference to begin at their Alta Garcia Mountain headquarters near Corboda.

His squad had been ignominiously eliminated from World Cup, Argentina, 78 with pitiful performances and a plethora of administrative problems.

Ally had befriended a dog which had become the team’s mascot during their stay at the complex.

“You are my only friend” he said stroking its head.

Now he awaited execution by the pen after undergoing a mauling from the media with whom he previously had excellent relationship as the happy go lucky man who would change Scotland’s repeatedly under-performing fortunes.

Beaten 3-1 by Peru, they drew 1-1 with Iran and then defeated Holland 3-2, Archie Gemmill scoring a dramatic goal.

Alas, it was all too late. Scotland were en route home.

To compound their misery West Bromwich Albion’s Willie Johnston was sent home after a drug test proved positive generating lurid worldwide headlines which damaged the Scottish FA’s image and that of FIFA.

Crisis followed crisis and it just couldn’t get any worse.

Covering World Cups or the Olympics is a hectic business invariably meaning 12 or 14-hour days.

I had just finished the weekend file for this newspaper; lay on top of the bed to read the press releases from all the other venues, when the telephone rang.

It was Harry Cavan, FIFA senior vice-president, asking me to go urgently to his hotel.

There he showed me a message from FIFA headquarters in Buenos Aires which revealed that Willie Johnston had taken a banned drug.

Rumours abounded that other Scottish players had also used the same substance as Johnston but nothing further developed. Johnston was ordered home immediately and banned.

What an ending for a Scottish safari which kicked off with so much hype, hope and confidence.

I liked Ally. He was honest, exaggerated a little in his stories, somewhat eccentric, generous and with a first-class background in football including an FA Cup Final appearance with Blackburn Rovers.

The Argentinian tournament was a colourful one although some political resentment surfaced at a junta running the country and a mounting list of people reported missing.

Every World Cup has its superstar and on this occasion the accolade went to Argentinian striker Mario Kempes nicknamed El Matador (The Killer), scorer of two goals in the 3-1 extra-time win over Holland whose superstar Johann Cruyff declined to travel to South America.

Kempes, an idol with the Spanish club Valencia, made 43 national appearances and participated in three World Cups — 1974, 78 and 82.

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