Mention 1978 and he’ll go: “Argentina, that’s all I want to say.”
In a word-association game 1982 would probably produce an answer along the lines of: “‘Toepoke.’ It just annoyed the best-ever Brazil (never to have been world champs). Then the gentleman’s excuse-me: Alan Handsome and Willie Van Cleef. Goal difference again.”
1986? “Wee Gordon in his beach shorts: ‘Look, my leg can go this high.’ Dirty Uruguay. Can we still get out of the groups on appeal if we spell ‘Nezahualcoyotl’ correctly?” Then there’s 1990: “More bad kit, a cheeky back heel, Brazil again, Murdo poleaxed.” And 1992: “Hello Euros, we’re Scotland, gie’s a kiss.”
It was the Euros again in 1996: “Football’s comin’ hame? Comin’ ben? Something like that. But the ball moved off the spot! Gazza plonked himself in the dentist’s chair and a nation as one wanted to be Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man drilling into perfectly healthy teeth.”
But 1998, who remembers that? I mean, we all know what happened but by then did we start to take Scotland’s qualification ever so slightly for granted? Did getting to the finals feel a bit routine? What, we’re playing none-more-romantic Brazil again? Stop, you’re spoiling us! Well, after that of course everything stopped and we were NFI for all the subsequent parties.
Maybe you don’t think that about ’98 and I guess it comes down to age. If you were at the impressionable stage of life 23 years ago when Craig Brown, a former teacher, organised his school trip to the 16th mundial then everything about France’s World Cup will still be vivid, relevant and real. If you weren’t then you might be glad of the BBC Scotland documentary Mr Brown’s Boys.
Good title, good programme. I know all about the submarine mission to Argentina and how, semi-tragically, it wasn’t really a mission but I completely missed the Bannockburn Four. These were the guys who shinned up what must be the tallest flagpole in Scotland - a tricky task, they said, especially in kilts when you’re having to operate spanners - and took the battle site’s giant Saltire on an Auld Alliance tour, temporarily replacing it with a matted blanket. The attached note read: “Gone to France.”
Qualification for the tournament was eventful enough, what with the “One team in Tallinn” game and the rammy over whether Scotland should play Belarus on the day of Princess Diana’s funeral with the Rangers players conscientiously objecting.
Because France is so close, and because this was the era of the Professional Scotsman Abroad - Braveheart hunks no longer matching the kilt with Adidas Sambas and dirty white towelling socks - there was a huge clamour to be at the finals.
In the film Jim Leighton remembers Aberdeen playing St Johnstone as the domestic season wound down and Roddy Grant taking up his usual position at a corner-kick and almost treading on the goalie’s toes: “Hey Jim, got any tickets?” he hissed.
There was a World Cup song - Del Amitri’s “Don’t Come Home Too Soon.” Captain Colin Hendry wasn’t enamoured by the title - “What kind of message is that?” - nor the video director’s instruction to have him mimic a Ronaldo ad from the period, shot in an airport: “But I cannae do keepy-uppy!” the skipper wailed.
Craig Burley reckons a better name for the song might have been “Come Back At the Same Time As Usual.” The gap-toothed midfielder is possibly the doc’s star. Maybe you thought that by ’98 all footballers were living like monks. Not quite. “Two nights before a game,” he says, “wee Johnny after eating only salad would be doing pull-ups in his room - meantime we were trying to sneak beers up the fire escape.”
“Wee Johnny” is John Collins whose body really was his temple. Says manager Broon: “He liked to remove his jersey and show off the stomach. Deservedly so for the work he put into his fitness - unbelievable.”
So it was Brazil in the first game. Opening match of the tournament as well, in Paris. Brown had a great idea for enhancing the occasion with some extra wow: the team would walk onto the State de France pitch in kilts. “One thing I always insisted upon was that the players represented Scotland well,” he affirms. The SFA’s blazers had recommended, er, blazers plus flannels. Brown acceded to the request but this had been, um, flannel. The kilts went down a storm.
Darren Jackson, maybe more than most, pinched himself. His career had begun at Meadowbank Thistle, a part-timer working as a printer by day, and suddenly there he was facing the Ronaldos and Rivaldos. Jacko had his wee routine: always be last to leave the dressing-room. Just ahead of him was Colin Calderwood who liked to get in the zone by punching himself silly before the psycho roar: “Let’s f****n’ do it!” “Unfortunately,” laughs Jacko, “the big man stomped out of the room and turned right instead of left.”
Alas, Scotland were indeed home too soon. A shame for the team and their boss, with Leighton saying of Brown: “The nicest person I’ve ever met, in or out of football.”
The Tartan Army, though, will always have Paris. “It felt like you were in the centre of the world,” recalls one fan, as his mate lists the musical entertainment: “Ally McCoist singing ‘Born to Run’ with a backing band of Kenny Dalglish, Sean Connery, Gavin Hastings and Ewan McGregor. Has Bruce Springsteen ever topped that?”
Mr Brown’s Boys is on BBC1 on Tuesday at 9pm.