Aidan Smith: Max factor looms as Scotland go into the valleys
I MUST admit I’m worried about this game against Wales. Scotland aren’t playing well. Neither are the Welsh but their need for three points on Friday is even greater.
And then there are the various grudges the boyos could carry into the fixture, dragging them onto the Cardiff pitch like so many of Max Boyce’s giant plastic leeks.
There’s the grudge about Scotland, and England, deciding to end the Home International Championship, an important source of income and prestige for the Welsh FA. The Home Internationals used to be my window on Wales. Before I became aware of these cross-border skirmishes, my reaction would have been the same as Tubbs, co-proprietor of the Local Shop in The League of Gentlemen: “Is there a... Swansea?” Indeed there was. And a Wrexham. And the grass was but baked mud. And the menfolk were small and pugnacious, except for John Toshack who was as tall as one of Boyce’s leeks and pugnacious with it.
To add insult to injury we and the English, who admittedly had been the more impatient to be playing “bigger teams”, continued to play each other. We dispensed with Wales, and Northern Ireland, as a nasty showbiz big-shot would his warm-up comedian. How they must have laughed when the main attraction – Scotland v England – was itself forced to shut down. But of course that grudge is nothing compared with the bad feeling some in the Principality will harbour over The Penalties That Weren’t.
Watching again on YouTube, you’re reminded of the incredible good fortune we enjoyed in those World Cup qualifiers in 1977 and 1985. At Anfield, the offending arm belonged to Joe Jordan but the Wales box was like a rowdy classroom and the ref was like the dozing teacher, mortar-board slipping off his head, who ends up punishing the wrong boy – David Jones. In a recent poll, Jordan came fourth in a list of the most notorious unpunished handballs, ahead of Thierry Henry but behind the Hand of God. Possibly because Joe was so revered in the dark blue – rightly, of course – and bearing in mind how scary he looked on the field, sans gnashers, he was never subjected to the same level of scrutiny as Henry.
In ’85 the arm was definitely Welsh (David Phillips) but the offence was far from clear-cut. Ian St John and Terry Yorath were helping with the commentary. St John: “He did handle the ball, Terry.” Yorath: “The ball hit his hand, Saint.” The footage shows an incredible surge from the Tartan Army behind the goal – relief! Until that point we weren’t going to the World Cup. Jock Stein tragically never made those finals.
The Welsh goalscorer that night was Mark Hughes. In the earlier qualifier at Hampden, Ian Rush got the winner. When players of that class miss out on World Cups, it makes you think that we should stop complaining about not being able to buy the official T-shirt since ’98. After all, we’ve qualified six times in the recent(-ish) past and founds places in squads for Alan McInally and Matt Elliott.
Rushie’s goal at Hampden, by the way, was from outside the box – a collector’s item. Eccentric moments in the fixture have been fairly common. Look at some of our scorers against Wales: Colin Jackson (1975, in a pulsating 2-2 draw at Ninian Park); Willie Pettigrew (1976); Willie Miller (1980); Asa Harford (1982); Alan Brazil (1983). Goals to be treasured because these guys didn’t score many for their country.
If Archie Gemmill scored Scotland’s greatest goal (with the foot), then maybe Kenny Dalglish’s against the Welsh at Anfield would be a popular choice for finest via the heid, another crowd-sway adding to the allure. Personally, I’d give the honour to Derek Johnstone, again against Wales, in the Home International just before the ’78 World Cup. Surely no headed goal ever travelled further, and at such velocity. But it wasn’t enough to get DJ a game in Argentina, and Gordon McQueen’s collision with a post in the same match wasn’t enough to persuade Ally MacLeod to leave the centre-half at home, although he was only going to be fit for the second phase. Truly, the most eccentric Scotland-Wales game ever concluded with Willie Donachie’s og, itself a furthest-travelled contender. You can see why I’m anxious about Friday.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: South west