How eight days killed the dreams of a nation

Forty years ago, Scotland was a country that couldn’t wait for football’s World Cup to start.

The Scots were the only nation from the British isles which had qualified for the finals in Argentina, and manager Ally MacLeod seemed incredibly optimistic about the nation’s chances in South America.

In a group with Peru, Iran, Scotland and Holland, we were guaranteed to take at least one of the top two spots in the group, to qualify for the next phase.

This was a time when Scotland boasted players at the top clubs in England, with talents like Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness, Lou Macari, Archie Gemmill, John Robertson, Joe Jordan and Martin Buchan. Comedian Andy Cameron released his single Ally’s Tartan Army, full of a small nation’s hopes of winning the World Cup. What would possible go wrong?

Well.. Scotland were well beaten by Peru and drew with Iran. That just left the Netherlands, who boasted the talents of Ruud Krol, Johnny Rep and future Celtic boss Wim Jansen.

Despite a 3-2 win over the Netherlands – the eventual runners-up in the tournament- and an amazing goal from Archie Gemmill, Scotland’s dream was over.

This campaign is being featured in Scotland ’78: A Love Story, a documentary to be screen on Wednesday, 6 June on BBC One Scotland, from 9–10pm.

The programme looks at how, over the course of eight days, the stellar squad stumbled from disappointment to calamity. Shortly after arriving to an enthusiastic welcome from the locals at the team’s base, the group was facing unexpected challenges on and off the pitch.

From poor results against so-called weaker teams, to a failed drugs test and a fans’ rebellion, the campaign has gone down in the annals as one of the most infamous.

But four decades on, this compelling documentary takes a long hard look at Ally’s Army and asks whether the Summer of 78 was really so bad.

Using previously unseen footage, player recollections, and fans’ diaries and photos Scotland ’78: A Love Story charts the journey of the team and its followers on a remarkable footballing odyssey.

Former players such as Willie Johnston – who was in the eye of the storm- captain Bruce Rioch, Lou Macari, Derek Johnstone and Alan Rough give their insights from within the embattled camp as the problems mounted.

Members of the Tartan Army have been tracked down to tell the stories of the sacrifices they made to get to the finals. Another recalls the challenge a remote community faced to watch the tournament on television back home.

And members of Ally MacLeod’s family reflect on their feelings as a media storm engulfed the manager 7000 miles away when the wheels started to come off the bandwagon.

The consequences of the failed campaign were felt beyond the stadiums in South America. To this day pub scholars wonder aloud if the poor performance on the pitches of Cordoba and Mendoza in 1978 resulted in a low turnout for the referendum the following year.

It’s a story that features wild optimism, farce, sadness, scandal and ultimately one of the most uplifting moments in Scotland’s footballing history.