The build-up to tomorrow’s Uefa Nations match between Scotland and Israel in Haifa’s Sammy Ofer Stadium has often referred to it as the fourth fixture between the countries following three games in the 1980s. However, it is often overlooked that the two countries met for the first time on 16 May, 1967, in Tel Aviv, when a Scotland XI narrowly beat their hosts 2-1 in what for the Scots was a non-cap international.
This was the first match on a nine- match world tour undertaken by a Scotland party, with games in Israel, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, covering about 30,000 miles in a month. The manager was Bobby Brown, the former Rangers and Scotland goalkeeper, who despite having held the post for only three months, had already writ his name indelibility in the annals of Scottish football by leading the country to the unforgettable victory at Wembley against World Cup holders England a month earlier. Now 95, Brown recalled: “The idea of the trip was really a joint one between the SFA and myself. Being fairly new to the job, I was keen to get to know the players better and have an extended period of time to work with them while the association were keen on a summer tour from a goodwill perspective.”
Because of European commitments, players from Rangers, Celtic, Leeds United and, initially, Kilmarnock were not available but Brown did not consider that disadvantageous as it gave him the chance to try some lesser known players. The Scottish-based players assembled at the North British Hotel in Glasgow’s George Square before flying to London to meet up with their English-based colleagues. Once there it became apparent to tour captain Ian Ure of Arsenal that all was not well in the camp. He commented: “Among the players there was not much appetite for a trip round the world at the end of a hard season, most of us just wanted to lie on a beach in the sun. And several players were unhappy with the daily allowance allocated them and I had to negotiate on their behalf, successfully, with SFA president Tom Reid, of Partick Thistle.” That having been sorted out it was a happier party that flew to Tel Aviv on 15 May, arriving the evening before the match. Jim McCalliog, Scotland’s goal-scoring hero at Wembley, remembered: “When we landed I was surprised to see lots of armed soldiers at the airport, although I was vaguely aware of tension between Israel and Egypt then. The soldiers escorted us to our base, the Ramat Aviv Garden hotel and we were told a curfew was in force.”
What McCalliog did not know was that by then Egypt had closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, an act Israel had previously said would be tantamount to a declaration of war, and had mobilised forces along its border with Israel, ratcheting up the tension. Just over two weeks later ,the Six Day War would engulf the region, with Israel pitted against Egypt, Jordan and Syria.
The following afternoon the teams lined up in the Ramat Gan Stadium before 27,000 fans. Israel, although not a leading football nation, were no pushovers, having recently drawn with Poland and lost by a goal to Romania. After half an hour, Clyde’s Harry Hood replaced Andy Penman. The game was described as ‘not being a classic’, with Ure dominating in defence and Willie Morgan showing up well. After 21 minutes, Scotland took the lead thanks to a Morgan goal from close range followed soon after by an Israeli equaliser. Six minutes from time Alex Ferguson (whatever became of him?) headed home the winner after a goalmouth scramble. Brown was happy with the win considering the bumpy pitch and being the players’ first game together. The game will live long in the memory of Ure as he sustained a broken jaw which ended his tour. “I can still remember it clearly, their dirty wee so and so of a centre forward deliberately elbowed me in the face. I played the whole game but afterwards was in agony. For some reason there was a delay in diagnosing it as a fracture and then I had to return to London to have it treated. The worst of all was just after I was back playing I broke it again in a collision in training with Terry Neill.”
That prevented him enjoying a visit with team-mates to ‘Mandy’s nightclub,’ run by Mandy Rice-Davies, one of the leading figures in the Profumo/Christine Keeler scandal a few years previously when the Minister of War resigned amid allegations linking him to prostitutes. She gave the memorable reply when it was put to her in court that Lord Astor denied an affair with her,”Well, he would,wouldn’t he?” McCalliog remembers her meeting them on arrival and having a drink with them. “I have to say she seemed charming. All the boys took to her and her place was lovely.”
Soon the party left the simmering tension of Tel Aviv to fly into a crisis in Hong Kong where frequent street riots were happening. Let’s hope that Scotland avoids lurching into crisis tomorrow by beating Israel.