MORE than three decades on it remains the only occasion Scotland have won a major international football tournament.
A comprehensive 3-1 final victory over Czechoslovakia saw Andy Roxburgh’s side crowned champions of Europe in 1982. The result may have been earned at under-18 rather than senior level, but it was achieved by a young Scots side packed with an impressive amount of talent.
Future stars Pat Nevin, Paul McStay and Gary Mackay were all an integral part of a team coached by not one but two future senior international managers in Roxburgh and Walter Smith.
Yet it remains little talked about today. There has never been an official reunion for those involved. The 30th anniversary of the tournament in Finland passed unnoticed.
The early 1980s were a heady time for youth football north of the border. Following the disastrous appearance at the 1978 World Cup finals in Argentina, there was genuine reason to look to the future with confidence as the next generation of Scottish players announced their arrival with a bang.
In June 1980, a Scottish schools side beat their English counterparts 5-4 at Wembley in a thrilling match broadcast live on ITV.
Having Andy Roxburgh and Walter Smith in charge was a huge factorSammy McGivern
Captaining the team was a 15-year-old McStay, who was already being tipped for the top by his Celtic coaches.
The nucleus of that schools side would achieve an even greater result two years later.
The UEFA under-18 European Championships was staged for only the second time in 1982, replacing the former International Youth Tournament.
The latter event was regularly won by England, where as Scotland had lost all six of their semi-final appearances.
But it was the Scots who qualified for the Euros at the expense of their rivals from south of the border. A crowd of 8,500 at Ibrox saw Celtic’s Jim Dobbin score the only goal in a decisive qualification match in March 1982.
The Scots squad who subsequently departed from Glasgow Airport on their way to Helsinki in May had reason to feel quietly confident, despite missing several players who would otherwise have expected to travel.
Eric Black, Neale Cooper and Bryan Gunn were all named in the Aberdeen squad who would contest the Scottish Cup final the same week as the Euros began.
“It was a strong group of players,” said Sammy McGivern, then a young forward playing with Kilmarnock, and one of those selected by Roxburgh for the tournament.
“People tend to forget just how good Paul McStay was. They don’t realise how hard it is to retain possession, which Paul did all the time.
“Having Andy Roxburgh and Walter Smith in charge was another huge factor. Their message when we got to Finland was all about togetherness and team ethic, making sure we worked hard for each other. We were a right good side.”
McGivern was in the team as the Scots strolled past Albania 3-0 and then dispatched Turkey 2-0 in their opening group games.
Holland, one of the pre-tournament favourites, provided sterner opposition. Many of the Dutch team would go on to win Euro 88 six years later.
With only the group winners progressing, a 1-1 draw was enough to send the Scots through and their opponents packing.
Roxburgh’s side were only 90 minutes away from the final. First they had to see off Poland, beaten finalists at this level the year before, but a 2-0 win saw them off.
“There was a real confidence about the team by that stage,” McGivern added. “I don’t think any of us thought we had any chance of losing.”
Given Scotland’s sporting reputation for regularly snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, the final against Czechoslovakia was a remarkably straightforward affair. Goals from Gary Mackay, Pat Nevin and John Phillibe ensured a 3-1 win and the trophy returned to the SFA offices at Park Gardens in Glasgow.
The team that faces the Czechs was: Robin Rae (Hibernian), Dave Beaumont (Dundee United), John Philliben (Stirling Albion), David Rennie (Leicester City), Brian Rice (Hibernian), Paul McStay (Celtic), Dave Bowman (Hearts), Gary McGinnis (Dundee United), Pat Nevin (Clyde), Gary Mackay (Hearts) and Ally Dick (Tottenham). Substitutes were Ian Westwater (Hearts), Billy Livingstone (Wolves) and McGivern. The injured Dobbin missed the final, while his Celtic teammate Jim McInally was suspended.
The hard work, McGivern felt, had already been done by shutting out the Dutch in the final group match.
Celebrations lasted several hours. “I think it was light by the time we got back to the hotel,” McGiven said. “And we flew home that day.”
Speaking at the time, Roxburgh said: “We must remember that football at this level is not an end in itself. Our job is to give them an introduction to the international environment.”
Nevin, McStay, McInally, Bowman and Mackay would all go on to win senior caps.
McGivern, who would go on to become a fans’ favourite at Falkirk, believes the achievement in Finland has been undeservedly forgotten.
“Because it was under-18s, it sounds almost like a boys’ thing,” he said. “But it was a full-time, professional outfit. We were all pros. Most of the boys were playing in the Premier Division and had at least a year of senior football under their belts.”