Colin Stein will not be present at Hampden when Scotland take on Cyprus tomorrow evening, although it would have been a nice touch if the SFA had invited him to commemorate the fact that he had scored four times when Bobby Brown’s team routed the Cypriots 8-0 a little more than five decades ago.
Back then, in May 1969, Stein was bingeing on goals. Rangers had broken the transfer record between Scottish clubs in October, 1968 when they paid Hibernian £100,000 for the 21-year-old and he scored hat-tricks in his first two appearances (against Arbroath and Hibernian) for the Ibrox club, adding a brace in his third, an Inter-Cities Fairs Cup tie away to Dundalk.
A treble treble arrived against Clyde that season but it was his feats with the national team – scoring nine goals in a six-game spell – which did most to raise his profile.
In spite of the error of omission by the governing body, the 72-year-old, pictured, revealed that he will be cheering Steve Clarke’s men on from his armchair in Linlithgow, hoping that someone can surpass his tally.
“I was the first person to score four times for Scotland since Hughie Gallacher 40 years earlier [five goals against Ireland] and no-one has done it in the 50 years since then, which just shows how difficult it is to do,” said Stein.
“Obviously, Cyprus weren’t at the same level as we were but you still had to go out there and do it. It’s probably even harder to score for Scotland nowadays because even the poorer countries are coached better and more organised than they used to be.
“Nobody even scored a hat-trick for Scotland again until Steven Fletcher did it twice against Gibraltar in 2015. Robert Snodgrass and James Forrest have also done that since then but it’s not easy.
“I’ll be watching the game on TV on Saturday night, hoping that someone can match or even beat my record. It won’t bother me to lose it because it would be good for the country.”
Stein still finds it difficult to understand how Scotland, with a depth of talent to choose from which Clarke can only dream of, failed to compete at World Cups and European Championships between 1958-74.
“When you look back at the team [which dismantled Cyprus], we had some great players; Billy McNeill, Billy Bremner, John Greig, Eddie McCreadie, Willie Henderson, Charlie Cooke, Alan Gilzean, Eddie Gray… every one of them would have walked into any Scotland side of the last ten years,” he said.
“With talented individuals like them – and we had quite a few others as well – it was just as frustrating for us that we didn’t qualify for major tournaments then as it is for the current generation.
“In that particular World Cup qualifying group only one country went through and we were up against a great West Germany team.
“Even so, we pushed them all the way, drawing 1-1 at Hampden and losing the return 3-2 over there. They went on to reach the semi-finals in Mexico the following year.”
Indeed, Gerd Muller emulated Stein’s four-goal haul nine days later as the Germans beat Cyprus 12-0 in Essen but it has yet to be bettered by a Scot.
“People remember the goalscorers more than the players who set up the chances but I had good service that day,” he said. “I might have had five that afternoon because our last goal came from a penalty taken at the Rangers end. However, Tommy Gemmell was on penalty duty and he was too big a lad to get the ball off!
“However, notching a hat-trick for your country is something you dream about so getting four that day put it high on the list of the best moments of my career.”