MARGARET Thatcher’s government feared a football clash between one of the UK teams and Argentina in the 1982 World Cup at the height of the Falklands War – but were assured by a Scottish Office minister there was little chance of Scotland making it into the crucial second round.
Details of behind-the-scenes concerns of a diplomatic nightmare are revealed in official documents from 30 years ago which are made public for the first time today.
The Government considered pulling out of the 1982 World Cup altogether after war broke out with Argentina over the Falkland Islands.
But it was to be England’s first cup in 12 years and ministers feared the decision would be used as Argentinian propaganda.
The Brazilian president of international football governing body Fifa made it clear that Argentina would not be pressured to withdraw from the competition in Spain.
Although neither England, Scotland or Northern Ireland were due to play in the same qualifying group as cup holders Argentina, there were worries that Scotland could meet them in the second round and England could come up against them in the final.
Scottish Office Minister Alex Fletcher, an Edinburgh MP, urged Mrs Thatcher to leave any decision until the draw took place. He told her: “We might have to reconsider our position if one of the home countries had to play Argentina in the second round – but Scotland have never yet qualified for the second round.”
He was correct – Scotland did not qualify and England lost to the hosts in the second round, averting any potential meeting with Argentina.
The papers made public today revelations that US president Ronald Reagan issued a last-ditch appeal to Mrs Thatcher to abandon her campaign to retake the Falklands and to hand over the islands to international peacekeepers.
As British troops closed in on final victory, he made a late-night phone call to Mrs Thatcher urging her not to completely humiliate the Argentines. But his request fell on deaf ears as a defiant Prime Minister insisted that she had not sent a British task force across the globe just “to hand over the Queen’s islands to a contact group”.