The Scottish Football Association (SFA) could have been left bankrupt by the Thatcher government’s plans to pull out of the World Cup in 1982 – amid fears that they might have played adversary Argentina, new documents have revealed.
In a report released by the National Archives, Michael Heseltine, the cabinet minister with responsibility for sport at the time, revealed that costs incurred from pulling out of the championship could have financially crippled the SFA and its Northern Irish counterpart.
The papers show that while Conservative ministers believed the prospect of such a sporting clash would be “unacceptable” to their own party, they did not want to pick up the bill if the football authorities were left out of pocket. England, Scotland and Northern Ireland all qualified for the 1982 World Cup in Spain.
In the report, Mr Heseltine warned: “In Britain, some footballers/administrators have expressed concern at playing in a competition with Argentina. There is some feeling in our own party that this would be unacceptable.”
But he warned that if the teams pulled out, they could be hit with sanctions such as a ban on competing in the 1986 World Cup and a Fifa fine.
The cost of already booked travel and accommodation for the teams, plus players’ wages for unplayed games, would also cost the teams, while he warned that the UK government could end up paying compensation.
“I believe that ministers can continue to argue strongly that Argentina is the aggressor nation and that the onus of withdrawal lies in that direction and not with us,” he wrote.
The government should, he concluded, stay their hand while they waited to see how events turned out on the battlefield. In the event, the conflict ended and the Argentines surrendered just as the tournament was starting. The three UK sides and Argentina were all eliminated without having to play each other.