Tom English recalls the night Scotland beat the Spain barrier
'The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there." The opening line from a romantic novel by the English writer LP Hartley and yet the perfect summation for the story of Scottish football.
• Glory days: Mo Johnston scores against Spain Photograph: SNS
The past is 1984 and a November night in Glasgow. Miguel Munoz, manager of Spain, is talking about his team to play Scotland in the second round of matches in the qualification series for the World Cup, to be held in Mexico two years down the line. "We know all we need to know about the Scots," he says. "A draw would not be a bad result for us here."
Jock Stein is talking also. "I've no doubt Spain will come looking for a point," says the Scotland manager. The tone of the preamble seems like it was plucked from another lifetime, a little piece of heaven in the days before 4-0 losses in Wales and 4-6-0 in Prague. The home team in 1984, packed with imagination and goals having just beaten Iceland 3-0 and Yugoslavia 6-1, will go out and try to win the game with guile, it was written, while the Spanish, negative and cynical though brilliant when they wish, will approach with the utmost caution.
Spain had just finished runners-up in the European championships five months before, overcoming Romania and Portugal, West Germany and Denmark before succumbing to Michel Platini's France in the final, yet they are wary of the Scots. The second best team in Europe and yet Munoz was in no mood for adventure. He had the flair of Santillana and Victor and Senor and the young Emilio Butragueno and had just hammered the Welsh 3-0 on the opening night of qualification but Munoz's ambition was clear. In a word, it was represented by Goikoetxea. In another word, Urtubi.
"Oh aye, I remember," said Alex McLeish the other day. "The Butcher, wasn't it?"
Andoni Goikoetxea had been christened the Butcher of Bilbao the previous year following a cruel challenge that broke Diego Maradona's ankle and a crude boast that he'd put the boot with which he did the damage on display in a glass cabinet at home. If Goikoetxea was Spain's enforcer then he had a junior partner in Ismael Urtubi, a clubmate at Bilbao making his debut for his country. As it turned out, Urtubi won two caps at Hampden that night - his first and his last.
"Spanish football," said Santillana the day before the game, "is the hardest and most dangerous in Europe." A view that Graeme Souness might have agreed with. He did an interview the week of the game and recalled a previous meeting with Spain in his national colours. "It was my second cap," he said. "The first had been a friendly. I remember that not two minute had gone by when a Spanish player kicked me in the neck. It was a rude awakening and I knew then what the game was all about. To put it politely, I think you'd have to call them the most professional team in Europe."
If the selection of two bruisers and some fighting talk was designed to intimidate the Scots, you could well understand the tactic. The home team was dripping with the medals the Spaniards coveted. While no Spanish club had made it beyond the quarter-finals of any of the three European club competitions in '84, Scotland had three reigning European Cup winners in their line-up - Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Stevie Nicol - and Steve Archibald, a substitute, had just won the UEFA Cup with Spurs. The previous season, Jim Leighton, Willie Miller and Alex McLeish had won the Cup-Winners' Cup for Aberdeen against Santillana's Real Madrid.
When they run out in Glasgow on Tuesday, the Spanish will have all of football's baubles to their name. In '84 there were more guys with European winners' medals sitting on Scotland's bench than in Spain's entire team.
"We were laced with these fantastic Anglos and some not so bad home-based players," says McLeish, below. "Those of us playing up the road probably didn't give ourselves enough credit at the time, probably felt overshadowed by the Anglos in that era. There was a little bit of that Liverpool, Manchester Utd thing. Kenny and Graeme had won European Cups and you kind of felt in awe of them a wee bit.
"I'd always room with Willie Miller, but when Willie was missing I roomed with Graeme one night. I felt ‘Oh God, wait a minute, I'm in with a legend here. I better make his tea' or something like that, you know. So I said, ‘Graeme, you want some tea? A bit of toast, maybe?' But Graeme had his little classy touches. He got room service.
"It was kind of surreal for me. I was always a humble sort of guy, not one to forget my roots and that and here I was working with great people. Then you start to think, ‘Hang on, maybe I'm not so bad myself'. These people inspired me. Willie inspired me. We'd beaten Real Madrid the previous year and there was nothing unknown about the Spanish. These were players we had triumphed over in the past. And, of course, the Liverpool lads had been beating them regularly for years. They feared absolutely nobody."
Munoz was 62-years-old and not a lot surprised him about the game any more. When the European Cup was introduced in 1956, Real Madrid won it and Munoz was captain. They retained it in 1957 and he captained them again. In 1960 they came to Glasgow and won it for a fifth consecutive time in one of the most storied games ever played - and Munoz was the manager. He made the final three more times, winning it again in 1966.
So when such a celebrated figure looked at the Scotland team-sheet and expressed surprise at Gordon Strachan's omission, it was a story. Munoz reckoned that Strachan had been Scotland's best player at the 1982 World Cup. "Is Strachan injured?" he asked through an interpreter. "No," came the reply. "Why is he not playing then?" he wondered. "Jock Stein thinks he'll get by without him," he was told.
Munoz had huge respect for his counterpart, that was obvious. Maybe he wondered what the hell Big Jock was playing at, but he never said another word about it. Just nodded and moved on. Much like Mo Johnston would do at Hampden.
Now that Craig Levein is bringing drudgery to Europe, it's as well to go on a nostalgia trip to when things were graceful, to a time when Scotland won matches by outplaying the best there was. Johnston scored twice that night. Souness lorded it over the midfield. Davie Cooper and Jim Bett were immense. And then there was Dalglish's goal, his 30th for his country, a thing of wonder cutting in from the right and curling a delicious shot into the top corner of Luis Arconada's goal.
"One of the greatest goals I've ever seen," says McLeish. "And a huge relief as well. Goikoetxea had made it 2-1 from a header and I was thinking, ‘God, should I have been closer to him there? Was that my fault?' But we closed the door at the back after that. It was comfortable. I had Stevie [Nicol] on one side of me and Arthur Albiston on the other and my bosom pal, Willie, alongside. A full-back from Liverpool, another from Manchester United and one of the great leaders as my centre-back partner. And Jim Leighton in goal, a boy I'd grown up with. It was such a reassurance to walk on to a pitch with these guys. It was a good place to be.
"I can still see Kenny's goal now, him turning the player and rolling him and curling it in with his left foot, top corner. Magnificent. Those old Hampden goalposts, right up in the stanchion. It was wonderful to experience something like that. I actually felt I'd arrived in the game that night because Kenny and his wife Marina asked Gill, my wife, and I to join them for a drink after the game. To be in Kenny's private circle was a dream come true. We went back to the hotel, had a couple of drinks, then went back to Kenny's father-in-law's pub in the east end of Glasgow. It was one of the rare times when Jock didn't require us back first thing in the morning. We had a great night. I felt like I'd made it. Kenny's accepted me! When Kenny invites you for a drink after the game, you know you've had a good game. He doesn't suffer fools gladly. It meant a lot. Kenny and Marina were the royal family of Scottish football."
The victory over Spain is remembered as one of the most cultured of Scottish wins. Stein said later that he was half-expecting a dogfight, but it wasn't. The visitors had picked a side that was ready for a scrap, but the hosts were too good to get dragged into the bearpit. "Oh aye," says McLeish. "It was a world class display, no doubt about it. One of the best ever at Hampden."
Sing a lament for those days on Tuesday night when Scotland shut up shop and try to frustrate the life out of the world champions in a grim pursuit of a point. Memories. In this stultifying era, they are all we have left.
Wins over Spain
1957: SCOTLAND 4, SPAIN 2
Spain's first visit to Hampden came in a World Cup qualifier. The game was seen as Blackpool's Jackie Mudie's last chance in a Scotland shirt and how well he responded, scoring a hat trick in a morale-boosting 4-2 win. South African John Hewie got the other goal from the penalty spot and Scotland had the ideal launch pad for an ultimately successful bid to reach the 1958 finals in Sweden.
1963: SPAIN 2, SCOTLAND 6
A near-miraculous win in the Bernabeu as John McColl's side ran amok in this friendly international. The goals, shared by six Scots, came from Denis Law, Dave Gibson, Frank McLintock, Davie Wilson, Willie Henderson and Ian St John.
1984: SCOTLAND 3, SPAIN 1
A match fondly remembered for Kenny Dalglish's wonder goal. He cut in from the right at the King's Park End to hammer home an unforgettable strike, his 30th and last goal for Scotland. Mo Johnston headed in the other two. Spain went on to win the group, but that Hampden victory helped the Scots clinch second place, a play-off place and ultimately a slot in the finals in Mexico in 1986.
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