Interview: Jim McCalliog remembers dream Scotland debut

Scotland's Jim McCalliog scores past England goalkeeper Gordon Banks for his side's third and winning goal in the international match at Wembley. Picture: PA
Scotland's Jim McCalliog scores past England goalkeeper Gordon Banks for his side's third and winning goal in the international match at Wembley. Picture: PA
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Jim McCalliog is far too polite to argue with Gordon Strachan over who is Scotland’s greatest ever debutant.

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The current national team boss reckons he has never seen a better introduction to international action than Stuart Armstrong’s recent display against Slovenia.

But there are plenty who rate McCalliog’s first cap top of the pile.

He was just 20 years old when he was called up to face world champions England at Wembley in 1967.

The rookie from Sheffield Wednesday had impressed against the Auld Enemy in an Under-23 clash six weeks before the London showdown.

That earned him a midfield slot in between Jim Baxter and Billy Bremner. This was a Scotland line-up packed with big names and even bigger talent. A team containing four future Lisbon Lions was led out by Rangers skipper John Greig, with Denis Law spearheading the attack.

Yet it was McAlliog who was hailed the “star player” by boss Bobby Brown after netting what turned out to be the winner in the Scot’s historic 3-2 win.

But the now 70-year-old is not the type to blow his own trumpet if it means downplaying the contribution of the country’s latest internationalist.

“I was a very happy Scotsman,” he said after Celtic playmaker Armstrong helped breath fresh life into Scotland’s faltering World Cup qualifying campaign at Hampden last match. “But whose debut was better? That’s up to you guys in the press to decide that. I’m just happy people are still thinking about me.”

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But 50 years on, McCalliog still bristles whenever the thought creeps into mind that his perfect start did not mark the beginning of a long career in dark blue.

He would earn just four more caps following his Wembley win - and blames the Hillsbrough chiefs he served while on the books at Wednesday.

“A few different things happened back then,” he explained. “There was a debate about Anglo-Scots - guys playing south of the border - being in the national team and there always had to be so many Celtic and Rangers players in the team.

“There was a lot of competition about while I had a lot of niggly injuries too.

“But the thing that annoys me is that I was told the SFA (Scottish Football Association) thought I didn’t want to play for Scotland. There was nothing further from the truth.

“I found out later that whenever Sheffield Wednesday were asked to release me for international duty, they said they’d only let me go if I was definitely going to play.

“That wasn’t fair as it came back on me. The SFA must’ve thought there was no smoke without fire and that I’d agreed to that.

“But no way, all I wanted to do was to play for Scotland. Five caps is not a very big return and I should have got a lot more.”

It is no wonder then that McCalliog cherishes those rare occasions he was able to pull on a Scotland shirt - with his debut the most prized of all.

In Glaswegian vernacular, the term ‘gallus’ is regularly ascribed to young men who brim with self-confidence and flashiness. McCalliog needed that quality in spadefuls as he squared up to the likes of Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton and Geoff Hurst just months on from watching them hoist the Jules Rimet Trophy aloft.

But while he refused to blink as he stared down these famed Three Lions, he admits his swagger had vanished when he came face to face with his own team-mates for the first time.

He said: “Being called up to that side was an amazing experience. Guys like Denis, Jim and the Celtic lads were the creme de la creme.

“These were guys who I looked up to. I have to admit, just the thought of meeting Law and Baxter made me nervous.

“I was a confident young lad so I wasn’t concerned about the football side. But I did worry about whether these big players would like me.

“But the first meeting could not have gone any better. Baxter put his arm around me and said, ‘Don’t worry about it son, we’ll take care of you’. Denis was much the same, which was great.

“I wasn’t nervous about the game at all. I knew I’d be in good hands with all these big players around me and the fact the manager had decided I was good enough to play for my country.

“We certainly weren’t going to be overawed because we had a good team with a lot of class players.

“Obviously England had won the World Cup and were on a run of 19 games without defeat so we knew it would be tough.

“But we were just thinking, ‘Bring it on’.

“I tried to look at the match as being a fantastic experience and great opportunity - but it was even better than I could have hoped for.

“I’ve only watched the match back once but I remember all the details.

“We had some party afterwards. I didn’t drink until I was 24 so I was sitting there with my wee coca-cola as everyone else had a great time. It was some night but looking back now the thing that always strikes me is when we met up the next morning, that was the last time we were together as a team.

“Those 11 guys only played one game together - but what a match it was.”

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