How Scotland's forgotten internationals are re-writing history and adding caps to careers
For some brief, intoxicating moments it was possible to know how Steve Clarke feels when he sits down to pick his team, something he will do later today ahead of tomorrow’s final group game against Denmark.
Not that those Scots I contacted last week are in the frame for this particular fixture. Their day has been and gone. It is why it must have been surprising to take a call informing them of some recent news relating to their Scotland careers. Caps are like children in that you tend to know how many you have. And unless you are Rod Stewart, you don’t expect that number to change in your seventies and eighties.
I rang Willie Morgan at his home in Cheshire. Willie! Was he sitting down? Yes. Congratulations! “What are you talking about?” the former Manchester United winger replied, somewhat understandably. As the SFA have yet to get round to alerting him to last month’s sudden announcement pertaining to the nine-match world tour a rump Scotland squad embarked upon in 1967, I informed him he now had an extra five caps and two additional goals. “You’re kidding? Well, that’s brightened up my day.”
Over the course of a ten-minute chat, we re-wrote his international career. No longer did the then Burnley player’s debut come against Northern Ireland in October of that year, where he came up against his future Old Trafford teammate George Best. Instead, it arrived against Israel in May 1967. It’s now emerged that he scored 21 minutes into his debut. “Not bad,” he says. He could barely remember scoring v Israel.
“At the time, in the 1960s and early 70s, unless you played in Scotland for Rangers and Celtic your chances of playing for Scotland were kind of rare,” he told me. “So I was delighted to get the call up. All the players on that tour, we always considered we were playing for Scotland, so why didn’t we get caps? It was crazy.
“We just laughed about it,” he added. "The tour was fantastic. It was about getting to know people better as well as memories. One of my greatest friends, and he still is, Jim McCalliog, was on the tour. There was a great camaraderie among the Scotland players.
"Bobby Brown was the manager. Andy (Penman) and I became good friends on that tour as well. I liked him very much. It was so very sad when he left us very young.”
The conversation drew to a close with Morgan saying he was looking forward to hearing from the SFA. “It is fantastic news,” he stressed. “Ok pal. Give my love to Scotland.”
To be fair to the SFA, they are in the process of contacting players as well as updating their records. It’s a colossal task, although Wikipedia, which can be up updated by anyone interested enough to do so, is already wise to the news that five games – three against Australia and the clashes with Israel and Canada that book-ended the tour - have been elevated in status to full internationals. It’s just that no-one has told many of those involved, hence why I thought I’d deliver the joyous news myself.
Not everyone is delighted, however. There have been grumbles among football historians. What the hell are the SFA playing at? They’ve only succeeded in creating a retrospective guddle. Statisticians are sitting with their head in their hands in libraries all over the land.
Why, they ask, hasn’t a game against Norway on Scotland’s continental tour of 1929 been upgraded, or, say, meetings with a touring Canadian side in 1888 and 1891 which involved full-strength Scotland teams. What's so special about the 1967 tour, where the squad was made up largely of young, promising players after Celtic and Rangers' success in reaching European finals meant multiple call-offs.
“On one side I am frustrated as a historian that all the records that have been written, everything that has been put down on websites and books, now needs to be rewritten,” says Andy Mitchell, author of the recently published The Men Who Made Scotland: The definitive Who’s Who of Scottish Football Internationalists 1872-1939. “On the other side I can see the merit in giving recognition to Harry Hood, Alan Anderson, Alex Ferguson, and the others. It is great they can be given a cap and be paraded at Hampden and take the applause of the crowd. However, it’s a step up from giving them that sentimental recognition to re-classifying a match as a full international.”
One suspects Ferguson was a major reason why, seemingly out of the blue, there was an urge to make this change. The knight of the realm is many things but he was never a Scotland international. That changed last month when he went from zero caps to four overnight. An SFA statement claimed that “on further investigation” the governing body had decided to re-classify some games on the tour. This decision was ratified at SFA board level with seemingly little consideration given to the statistical chaos unleashed.
Ferguson’s appearance at half-time against Israel last month when he was presented with his cap proved inspirational, since Scotland, down 2-1 at the time, rallied to win 3-2 with an injury-time winner from Scott McTominay. But it also raised as many questions as answers.
Ferguson’s high-profile status ensured plenty of media coverage. The son of former Burnley and Blackpool goalkeeper Harry Thomson got in touch via Twitter. Does this mean his father, who played twice on the tour against Israel and Australia but did not represent Scotland again, is now a fully-fledged international, eight years after his death? Happily, it does.
Other ramifications include Morgan now qualifying for a silver medal, awarded to Scotland players who reach 25 caps. The former winger joins the likes of Billy Dodds and Neil McCann on 26 caps.
Perhaps the most striking upshot of these changes involves the prolific former Aberdeen and Hibs forward Joe Harper, whose five-goal haul in the 7-2 win over Canada means he now has an international strike rate of more than a goal a game. Not many can claim that. Only Hughie Gallacher can compare. In fact, Harper is now joint holder of the record for most goals scored in a single match with the legendary former Newcastle United and Chelsea striker, who also scored five times against Ireland in 1929. These are significant amendments.
Ferguson writes at length about the tour in his first autobiography, Managing my Life, where he seemed to suggest that it was medals as opposed to caps they deserved for being sent to some of the world’s most turbulent hot spots in what was meant to be the summer of love. “If Kate Adie had travelled on the first two legs of Scotland’s world tour, she would have been in her element,” he opines. “Our visit to Israel was curtailed by the little matter of a war and in Hong Kong we were subjected to a curfew because of fears of student riots.” Ferguson also recalls breaking the nose of an opponent in the opening game in Tel Aviv: “I just had an awkward style and my arms were always flying about. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”
Ian Ure wore the captain’s armband for the first and only time in his international career against Israel. It was clearly a tousy encounter. On top of the Ferguson inflicted smashed nose, Ure sustained a broken jaw. The nasty injury, the most painful of his career until he broke it again playing for Arsenal six months later, ended his hopes of seeing the world at the SFA’s expense. He flew straight home to London sucking blended food through a straw.
Perhaps the pain was worth it now he has one more cap, taking him from 11 to 12. “So I have another cap!” he exclaimed when I contacted him at his home in Kilmarnock a few days ago. He, too, was unaware. Ure seemed mildly tickled by this bonus cap revelation, coming as it does shortly after a second knee replacement operation and as he prepares to turn 82 next month.