Ally MacLeod ‘wanted Union Flag not Saltire at World Cup’

Commentator Archie McPherson (front left) promotes his new book 'Adventures in the Golden Age' on Scotland in the World Cup Finals. Picture: SNS
Commentator Archie McPherson (front left) promotes his new book 'Adventures in the Golden Age' on Scotland in the World Cup Finals. Picture: SNS
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Scotland boss Ally MacLeod wanted the team to be represented at the 1978 World Cup by the Union Flag, according to a new book by commentator Archie Macpherson.

Scotland took part in the World Cup in Argentina at a time when the nation was preparing for a referendum on devolution the following year.

The only one of the home nations to qualify, the late MacLeod famously predicted his star-studded team could even win the tournament, but they did not make it past the first round after defeat to Peru and a draw with Iran.

Macpherson, in Adventures in the Golden Age; Scotland in the World Cup Finals 1974-1998, claims MacLeod opted for a Union Flag but was over-ruled by then SFA secretary Ernie Walker, who insisted on a Saltire.

He said: “It looked like the results of Ally’s team would be seen by certain politicians as having currency at the ballot box.

“He himself was an out-and-out patriot at the time when people, whatever their views, were getting properly embarrassed by the barracking of the national anthem before games.

“So it was surprising to learn that at the official draw for the cup in Buenos Aires, Ally, who could whip up nationalist sentiment with ease, when asked which flag should represent Scotland at the official line up, chose the Union Jack.

“He thought that it would be fair on the large presence of Anglos in the side and that everybody in the British Isles would be supporting Scotland anyway.

“Ernie was incensed, failing to see the sophisticated nuances of that argument.”

The World Cup in Argentina is best remembered for Archie Gemmill’s famous goal in the win against eventual finalists Holland. Fans also recall MacLeod’s head-in-hands moment as Scotland went down to unfancied Peru, and striker Willie Johnston being sent home after failing a drugs test. Johnston was subsequently smuggled away from the team hotel in the boot of a car and flown back home.

Macpherson, who had travelled to Argentina, said it “transpired that Johnston had been taking a banned substance, Fencamfamin, for a hay fever complaint”.

But he also claims in his book that other members of the Scotland squad were in possession of the same substance.

Macpherson commentated at all 18 of Scotland’s World Cup matches from 1974 to 1998. The book is his story of the matches and the men that raised and dashed hopes in almost equal measure.