IT was Scottish football’s most infamous rallying call, a promise that the men in dark blue would return home from South America with the most coveted trophy in sport – only for them to self-destruct in spectacular fashion.
But a new biography of Ally MacLeod has dismissed as “myth” the idea that the former national team manager vowed to win the World Cup for Scotland, revealing how his original quote was embellished by the press.
The book also details the torrid build-up MacLeod endured, nearly resigning on the eve of the 1978 event in Argentina in protest at having to act as a middleman between players and officials over bonuses.
The book by Ronnie McDevitt, which also features contributions from MacLeod’s son, Andy, reveals that the Scottish Football Association refused to pay for scouting trips, forcing MacLeod to rely on watching VHS videos of his opponents.
In a foreword, Sir Alex Ferguson states there was considerably more to MacLeod than his public persona suggested, describing him as a “father figure”.
MacLeod, who died in 2004 aged 72, is fondly remembered by the Tartan Army for his bullishness. With superstars such as Kenny Dalglish, Joe Jordan and Graeme Souness under his charge, expectations were high going to Argentina.
The consequent failure, which saw Scotland eliminated at the group stage after a 3-1 defeat to Peru and a 1-1 draw with Iran, and despite a 3-2 victory over the Netherlands in the final match, saw MacLeod much-maligned.
Criticism centred on the enthusiastic build-up. While MacLeod did little to dampen this – when one journalist asked what he would do in the event the team won the trophy, he replied: “Retain it” – McDevitt says it was a “myth” that MacLeod said the nation would emerge victorious.
McDevitt reveals MacLeod’s actual remarks came in an “often referred to but never repeated quote” where he expressed the view Scotland would be “among the medals”, meaning he expected them to finish in at least third place.
The biography also provides ample criticism of the SFA. MacLeod became embroiled in a row over whether the squad had to pay tax on bonuses earned overseas.
Andy MacLeod said his father was so “incensed”, “he seriously considered resigning”. He explained: “He was left to carry the can between the players and the SFA because there was a question over tax. He had to be talked out of resigning. That’s the only time we’ve been able to change his mind about anything.”
MacLeod also lambasts the SFA for refusing to finance his father’s scouting trips.
He added: “On many occasions he said to the SFA he wanted to go watch opposition but they wouldn’t fund trips so he had to rely on video.”
The biography exonerates MacLeod from having any part in the ill-judged farewell parade at Hampden ahead of the World Cup, which saw nearly 23,000 gather in the stadium on live television as the players passed through a guard of honour of bagpipers and drummers en route to an open-top bus that would take them to Glasgow Airport.
The event had indeed been arranged by the SFA following concerns raised by Strathclyde Police regarding possible overcrowding at the airport.
Joe Harper, a former Aberdeen and Scotland player, said MacLeod opposed the send-off. “He hated it. He was the most embarrassed person under the sun … that had nothing to do with him. That was the SFA.”
• More Than Argentina – The Biography of Ally MacLeod, Pitch Publishing, price £17.99