The annual climax to the domestic season was an occasion which would see the handing over of the baton to Scotland as the dominant British force in the international game. Although England still led the Home International Championship, a win for the Scots would give them the title and send them off as Britain’s sole representatives in the World Cup in good heart.
On a horrendous spring day in Glasgow with rain teeming down, over 94000 turned up at Hampden to roar Scotland on. Amazingly this was the lowest crowd for the fixture in 50 years, the attendance failing to reach six figures for the first time since the 1920’s. The febrile atmosphere led David Coleman to announce that “This a test of nerve and character as well as football ability.”
Coleman was in the commentator’s seat for the BBC as both they and ITV provided live coverage of the match (Hugh Johns called the game for ITV). The game was shown as part of ESPN’s “Dead Good Match” series, and it’s this programme that is in my collection.
Scotland lined up with four of Leeds United’s title winning side in their line-up. Billy Bremner led a side which contained goalkeeper David Harvey as well as Peter Lorimer and Joe Jordan. There were also four of Celtic’s Scottish Title winning side with Danny McGrain, Jimmy Johnstone, David Hay and Kenny Dalglish.
England were forced into their team changes. Norman Hunter replaced Roy McFarland who had damaged his Achilles against Northern Ireland, while Frank Worthington started in place of the AWOL Stan Bowles (see previous game). Martin Peters also returned to the side in place of Kevin Keegan.
“The astonishing Hampden Roar rings round the ground” as the game kicked off. Scotland started at a fast pace, the Leeds combination of Lorimer and Jordan combining, with Lorimer picking out his striker with a cross from the right, Jordan volleying just over.
Scotland’s fast start unsettled England and their eagerness soon paid dividends. Frank Worthington, having dropped deep to collect the ball from a Keith Weller throw in, was caught dallying by Bremner. The Scottish captain nipped in to steal the ball away from the Leicester front man, and his tackle saw the ball fly forward to Lorimer. The winger never got to the ball, denied by the onrushing Shilton, but the ball bounced out to Jordan on the edge of the box. The big number 9 shot goal wards with the outside of his boot, and was deflected into the net by Mike Pejic, the full back sliding to attempt to keep the ball out. Jordan was officially credited with the goal, with replays unclear as to whether the ball was goal bound before Pejic’s intervention.
Scotland, like the red lion on their flag, were rampant. Hay burst forward from midfield, running 50 yards before turning Todd inside out and firing goal wards, only to be denied by Shilton in the England goal. It was the first of many saves by the Leicester City stopper and prompted Coleman to comment “the shot was good, the save was brilliant.”
On the half hour Shilton was powerless to stop Scotland doubling their lead as England again shot themselves in the foot. Pejic was again involved, incorrectly believing that England would get a throw in as he let the ball run out of play. The linesman gave Scotland the throw and from it the ball made its way to Dalglish on the far side of the box. He drilled the ball towards the six yard box. Shilton had anticipated this and was in position to collect the cross, however Colin Todd decided to intervene, only helping to divert the ball towards the near post area vacated by Shilton and into the net for Scotland’s second.
At half time, and with Joe Jordan riding roughshod over the English defence, Joe Mercer made a change at the back. He introduced Dave Watson of Sunderland in place of Hunter in an attempt to compete physically with the Leeds striker.
Jordan though remained a thorn in England’s side and forced Shilton into another fine save. The big forward found himself in space on the right hand side of the box. In one movement he turned sharply and fired a looping effort goal ward, only to be denied by Shilton at full stretch, who pushed the ball away: “A piece of sheer magic… The arm of Shilton just seemed to extend to turn it away. A superb piece of goalkeeping” Coleman enthused.
The England goalkeeper was not quite as convincing moments later when Scotland earned a free kick 25 yards out. In Peter Lorimer, Scotland possessed the man with the hardest shot in football and “Thunderboots” as Coleman dubbed him, drove a low skidding effort past the England wall. Shilton got behind it, but was unable to handle the shot, the ball bouncing of his chest and into the danger area. Fortunately his defenders helped him out by clearing the danger. Coleman sympathised with the keeper, “even Shilton couldn’t handle that.”
England were making little impression going forward, and introduced Malcolm Macdonald into the fray in place of Worthington. However the Newcastle striker, as at Wembley two weeks previously in the Cup Final, made no impact whatsoever.
In fact if another goal was to come it would be from Scotland, and Shilton was pressed into further heroics. A nice move saw Dalglish free on the edge of the box. His shot across Shilton was superbly pushed away, only into the path of Jimmy Johnstone. The Celtic man was flagged offside, but he and Shilton were unaware and his powerful effort was superbly blocked by Shilton, recovering from his prone position to dive the opposite direction to keep the ball out. “They don’t produce much better in goalkeeping terms than that… The first save was splendid, the second …a near miracle” Coleman observed.
The final whistle sounded moments later handing Scotland the Championship: “A famous victory for Scotland” announced Coleman. The triumphant Scotland side bathed in the joy coming from the terraces. Perhaps most joyful of them all was Jimmy Johnstone, who had been heavily criticised in the days prior to the match by the Scottish press after his “high jinks” following the win over Wales. Celebrations had got a little out of hand and Johnstone had found himself adrift at sea in a rowing boat with no oars, causing the Coastguard to be called to rescue him. Johnstone celebrated the win by giving the press box numerous V signs, before joining his team mates in a lap of honour round Hampden Park. Spirits were certainly high in the Scotland camp as they prepared to embark on their World Cup adventure.