HE ADMITS the anniversary has rather crept up on him, but, once reminded of it, Campbell Forsyth is happy to recall how, 50-years ago today, on 11 April, 1964, at Hampden Park, he was one of what the newspapers of the time dubbed: “The Hat-trick Heroes”, the Scotland team who, on the back of a spectacular 72nd minute header from Dundee’s Alan Gilzean, beat England 1-0 to post their nation’s only three-in-a-row winning sequence over the Auld Enemy in the 20th century.
That hat-trick of Scottish wins, sealed by Gilzean’s first and arguably best goal for his country, came on a day of firsts – the first of John Greig’s 44 caps, Billy McNeill’s first match as Scotland captain and first Hampden appearances for England World Cup winning legends Gordon Banks, Bobby Moore and Roger Hunt.
Although nobody in the 133,245 crowd knew it, the match was also the final Hampden hurrah for the great John White, the Scottish midfielder, who would be tragically killed by lightning later that year.
It was also the third successive meeting of football’s oldest international rivals to be refereed by Dutchman, Leo Horn, then viewed as the world’s top official. So, Kilmarnock goalkeeper Forsyth’s international debut was rather overlooked in all the hullabaloo of the big day.
“To be honest, I was simply so honoured to be picked,” the now 74-year-old from Falkirk remembers. “There was intense competition for the Scotland goalkeeper’s jersey then. Spurs’ Bill Brown was the most-regularly picked, but the likes of Billy Ritchie, Lawrie Leslie, Tommy Lawrence and Adam Blacklaw were around, so I felt chuffed to get a game in that company.
“I still feel the honour was all the greater in that I played my career with unfashionable provincial clubs, St Mirren then Kilmarnock. OK, at the time Killie, under Willie Waddell was one of the top sides in Scotland, but, we were a team without stars, simply a bunch of mates who got on well together and were superbly trained by Walter McRae, which paid off on the park. We got £60 for playing for Scotland – I’d have paid that to get a game.”
Forsyth remembers the big-occasion feel of the build-up, the team staying together at Kilmacolm Hydro prior to the game, then the thrill of walking out at Hampden in front of over 130,000 fans. “The pitch was slippy from morning drizzle, and I told my defenders, I wanted an early touch; some hope, with “Slim” Jim Baxter running things we went straight on to the attack and I didn’t get that early touch.”
What Forsyth did get was the chance to make the game’s first significant contribution, as Liverpool’s Roger Hunt broke clear to go one-on-one with the debutant ’keeper, after just five minutes. He shot, but Forsyth dived to his left to turn the ball round the post. “After that, I didn’t have a great deal to do, as we more or less controlled the game, before Gillie scored that fantastic header to win it late in the second half. Hardly surprising really, when you look at the quality of the Scotland team”, Forsyth recalls.
And what a team: Forsyth; Dundee’s Alex Hamilton and Celtic’s Jim Kennedy at full-back; the all-Old Firm Greig, McNeill and Baxter half-back line, Rangers’ Willie Henderson and Davie Wilson on the wings, with “The Ghost” – John White, Gilzean and “The King”, Denis Law, inside them.
The game was, as he freely admits, the highlight of a career more-noted for injuries than triumphs. “I couldn’t play in the next international, against Germany in Hanover,” he recalls.
“My wife Cathy was expecting our first child and our daughter was born on 11 May. The match was on the 12th, so Jim Cruickshank came in for his first cap, but, I got my place back for the three games at the start of the new season, before I was injured. Bill Brown came back and I never got picked again.”
The first cap was a long time coming for the big man. He had won his only Under-23 cap in a 1-1 Ibrox draw with England in 1957, when he was still with St Mirren, then came the long, seven-year wait for promotion to the full side.
“For that Under-23 cap, I did a full day’s work as a Port Office engineer, and still in my working clothes and a dirty face, took a train from Falkirk to Glasgow, a bus along Paisley Road West, before I had to sprint down Edmiston Drive, then get ready to face an England team which included Johnny Haynes, Brian Clough and David Pegg, one of the Busby Babes who died at Munich, at numbers 9, 10 and 11.
“All the time I was with St Mirren I was a part-timer. I trained with Falkirk and Stenhousemuir at night, and only met the rest of the team on a Saturday.
“I got injured and missed the 1959 Scottish Cup final win, then, in 1962, Cathy gave me an ultimatum – either work full-time, or play football full-time. Fortunately Killie came in for me, then I got my Scotland caps, so, the move worked out.”
But Forsyth’s injury jinx struck again, and he missed-out on the final few games, including that Tynecastle classic in which the Rugby Park side clinched the 1965 Scottish League title. Bobby Ferguson took over and, when Southampton came-in for him, Forsyth went south. “I had a great time at The Dell, until I broke my leg and was out for a year. I came back, realised I couldn’t meet my former standards and, not wanting to drop down the leagues, I retired.”
His football interest today is confined to monitoring the progress of his grandson, Cameron Burgess, who, although Australian-born, plays for Fulham and is a member of the Scotland Under-19 squad which has qualified for the UefaUnder-19 Championship finals.
“It’s terrific that he has been recognised by Scotland – it’s made an old man very proud.”
Today, just as much as 50 years ago, there is much for Forsyth to enjoy – but, will anything his grandson achieves match his grandfather’s part in that great and significant, albeit narrow, Scotland win of 1964?