THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

European Under-18 Championship qualifying match

Scot-v-Wales40015 February ~ Paul McStay and Alistair Dick were young enough to be holdovers from the Scottish team that had sensationally won the previous year's Under-18 European Championship in Finland. This qualifier at Ibrox for the 1983 edition in England ended in a draw, but Scotland went on to top the group – which also featured Northern Ireland – after winning the return game against Wales 1-0 in Newport the following month. In the finals they were knocked out after finishing second to England in a group that also featured Spain and the Soviet Union (only the four group winners qualified for the semi-final).

The squad lists are the only interesting thing in the ultra-skinny programme. What the hell happened to all these promising players? Good enough to play for their countries at the ages of 16, 17 or 18, most of them were either retired or journeymen by their mid-20s. Let's take the Scotland squad as a sample – out of this team, McStay alone made the squad that travelled to Italy for the 1990 World Cup seven years later when most of these lads should have been in their prime.

McStay played 76 times for Scotland and over 500 times for Celtic, the only world-class performer on this list. John Robertson had a hugely successful career at Hearts, with over 500 games and 300 goals, and won 16 Scottish caps. After these two, only Peter Grant, a gritty Celtic water carrier, played at full international level (twice), though Dundee United regular John Clark scored against Barcelona at the Nou Camp in their famous UEFA Cup run of 1987, and again in the final that they lost over two legs to Gothenburg.

And then? Alistair Dick had debuted for Spurs at 16, but played only 17 times in four years, before being signed by Johan Cruyff at Ajax; a serious injury followed, then spells in Australia, South Africa, and finally at Alloa Athletic. Rangers goalkeeper Andy Bruce played just six times for four different clubs and retired in 1987. Partick's Gerry Doyle seemingly disappeared without trace. Paul Sweeney and the late Ronnie Coyle were stalwarts at Raith, while players such as Ronnie Sinclair, David Rennie, Paul Flexney, Andy Kennedy and Willie Falconer made steady but unspectacular livings up, down and across the British Isles. Jimmy Page played for Dundee United just 13 times before retiring through injury, while Jim McKechnie went from being signed by Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest from Celtic, to ending up on a free transfer to Derry City by 1986.

A process of natural selection, or the result of poor coaching and player management? SFA president Willie Harkness writes in the programme that the previous year's championship win in Finland "gave such a tremendous boost to Scottish football". Sadly, players like McStay have been a rarity ever since.

Result Scotland 1 Wales 1

Scotland squad Andy Bruce, Ronnie Sinclair, Gerry Doyle, Paul Sweeney, Ronnie Coyle, David Rennie, Paul Flexney, Jim Page, Jim McKechnie, Paul McStay, Peter Grant, Andy Kennedy, Willie Falconer, John Robertson, John Clark, Ally Dick

Wales squad Andy Dibble, Michael Hughes, Mark Waite, Paul Bodin, Alan Knill, Michael Williams, Wayne Mumford, Carl Metcalfe, Huw Morgan, Clayton Blackmore, Wayne Matthews, Raymond Pulis, Paul Evans, John Allen, Colin Pascoe, Robert Jones

Ian Plenderleith

Ian Plenderleith's "Rock n Roll Soccer: The Short Life and Fast Times of the North American Soccer League" is out now, published by Icon Books

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