SOME people’s favourite goals are exquisitely crafted affairs full of slick interpassing and involving just about every player in a team. Others, Gordon McQueen among them, value simplicity.
McQueen’s favourite – and we are talking here, of course, about a goal he scored himself – came on a June day in 1977, during a game in north London.
Asa Hartford chipped up a free-kick from the left. McQueen, big blond mane billowing behind him, barged into the box and headed into the goal.
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Simple as that, and yet a thing of beauty, all the more so as the match in question was at Wembley, for Scotland, against England. It was the opening goal of the game and set Scotland on the way to a 2-1 win, at the end of which the visiting supporters poured on to the pitch and proceeded to dig it up.
Those were thrilling days for Scottish football, with the 1978 World Cup just around the corner, and at the time that pitch invasion was widely viewed as mere over-exuberance. That game and many others between the two countries are relived in Tartan Pride, a new television documentary about the oldest fixture in international football, to be shown on BBC Alba on New Year’s Day.
The 1977 match may have been an ecstatic occasion for Scots, but, according to McQueen, it in fact marked the beginning of the end of the fixture’s importance.
“It was massive in those days,” the former Leeds and Manchester United defender told The Scotsman. “It has changed a lot – it’s not as massive and it’s not got the same meaning.
“It’s been overtaken by the Champions League and World Cups and European qualifiers. The last Scotland-England game, at Parkhead, never even sold out. It’s just like a glorified friendly now. I think it’s still important to Scottish fans, but I’m not sure about anybody else.
“It’s definitely not got the same clout as it had years ago. The same with FA Cup finals – they’re a thing of the past too.
“I think with the disappearance of the Home Internationals and the rise of the Champions League, the Scotland-England match was always going to decline in importance. There was a lack of interest from England, and various other things happened in the games – trouble with supporters and things like that – and it just died a death. In 1977 we had the fans coming on to the pitch and the incident with the crossbar being broken down due to over-enthusiasm. But other people put it down to hooliganism – ripping up the pitch and breaking the crossbar. So take your pick.
“The disappointing thing that day was we couldn’t go round with the trophy, because we couldn’t get on the pitch. You got a trophy for winning the home internationals, but although we’d won it we couldn’t parade it.
“It was a pretty wild fixture, a pretty mad fixture, and a fixture that everybody wanted to be involved in and play in and to go and watch. It was just the way things were at the time. That was the big game of the season, the game every Scotsman as a boy wanted to play in. It was huge.”
McQueen, now 62, won 30 caps in total between 1974 and 1981, but none of the other appearances came close to giving him as much pride as he felt that day in 1977.
He said: “When you grow up you’re taught to dream of getting picked for Scotland, playing against England at Wembley, beating England at Wembley. And when you score a goal against them and do that all in a oner, it’s not a bad day’s work.
“Tactics weren’t the same in those days. It’s a simple game made difficult now.
“If we got a free-kick anywhere near the box, if me and Joe Jordan were both in the team, either Joe would attack it or I would attack it, one or the other.
“We had a really good team. That was the time of Ally MacLeod mania, Argentina mania. Everybody thought we were going to win the World Cup, but we never even qualified [for the knockout stages] when we got there. But we were a good team, and a confident team as well. We had people like Kenny Dalglish, Danny McGrain. We knew we were a good side.”
The present Scotland side hardly stands comparison to that one, and last month’s 3-1 defeat by England at Parkhead was a reality check after a period of increasing optimism under Gordon Strachan.
Even so, McQueen, for all he is sure his own team were superior, is convinced that the current manager is making real progress.
He said: “That was a very disappointing performance against England, but things have changed, and we’re looking an awful lot better than we have done for quite some time. We’ve got some pride back in the national team now.
“I think that was a game too many, as Gordon said. But we’re heading in the right direction, and we can see an improvement in the spirit and in the organisation.”
• Tartan Pride airs on BBC Alba on New Year’s Day at 9pm.
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