Scotland's lower-division footballers came close to glory in a now-defunct European competition in 1967. Steve Menary takes up the story

When Craig Levein started his new career as Scotland manager on March 3, he took on a job burdened by expectation but not success. However, Scotland did once come close to winning an international tournament hosted by their Euro 2012 opponents, Spain.

The UEFA Amateur Cup was set up in the 1960s to bridge the gap between countries with professional leagues and the communist Eastern Bloc, where footballers officially had jobs but really played full-time. Only players from clubs outside a country’s top flight were eligible for the Amateur Cup and Yugoslavia was the only eastern European entrant in the first event that began in 1966.

The Scotland side, placed in the same qualifying group as Wales and the Republic of Ireland, was chosen by selectors, who relied heavily on players from the country’s sole senior amateur side. Queen’s Park had won the Scottish Cup ten times between 1874 and 1893 but their insistence on maintaining amateur status meant that they were soon outstripped by the professional clubs.

Queen’s Park, known as the Spiders, had dropped out of the Scottish top flight in 1957-58, but had a nucleus of strong players in the mid-1960s and were a match for anyone in the Second Division. Their coach Harry Davis took the same post with the amateur national side, as did his captain and right-back Bill Neil, who had played for Great Britain in the 1960 Olympics. All but one of the Scotland XI that kicked off the Amateur Cup on February 26 were Spiders. The exception was 21-year-old Hearts striker Donald Ford, who was reluctant to turn pro until his accountancy exams were over.

Scotland’s amateur Home Nations fixtures against Wales doubled up as UEFA Amateur Cup qualifiers and Ford scored both goals in a 2-0 win at Muirton Park, Perth. He scored again the second match, a 4-0 thumping of the Republic of Ireland in front of 8,000 at Dublin’s Dalymount Park. After the game, the team celebrated by watching Freddie and the Dreamers.

A win in the return on May 25 would ensure qualification and though only 500 fans turned up at Celtic Park, Scotland repeated the Dublin result with Ford again scoring along with Malcolm Mackay and a Niall Hopper brace.

Before Scotland finished the group with a 1‑1 draw against Wales in Llanelli, England had won the World Cup but their amateur side couldn’t repeat the professionals’ success. Managed by Charles Hughes, later notorious for advocating long ball tactics while director of coaching for the FA, England were eliminated on goal difference by Austria.

Although St Mirren’s Alistair Bell featured in a qualifier, only one non-Queen’s Park player set off for the four-team finals in Spain in June 1967 but it was not Donald Ford, who had just passed his exams and been offered professional terms. “I remember signing professionally at Tynecastle,” recalls Ford. “It was one of the hardest decisions I had to make as a young footballer as I knew I’d miss out.” Ford was to be a member of the full Scotland squad at the 1974 World Cup and also played cricket for his country.

Patrick Thistle’s George Cumming came into the Scotland team for the final qualifier and retained his place for the semi-final against Spain, which would see one of Scotland’s finest international performances. Spain were on course to qualify for the 1968 Olympics and their side that turned out at the Estadio Lluís Sitjar on June 16, 1967, featured several Barcelona squad players.

Scotland struggled to contain the hosts in the first half in front of a raucous crowd of 20,000. As the match wore on, however, the Scots asserted themselves and after 67 minutes outside-right Millar Hay beat two players to put them ahead. Ninety seconds later, Lito equalised through a penalty. The match had started at 10.30 so it was gone midnight when extra time began but the tiring Scots were freshened up by a torrential downpour that did not have the same effect on the hosts.

“They played 4-2-4 and in extra time the forwards stopped tracking back,” recalls Hay. “They started to give up; I’d never seen that before.” Left-winger Ian Campbell put Scotland into the lead and completed a 3-1 win after his shot went in off a defender. At five to one in the morning, the final whistle finally went. “The finest amateur international I’ve ever seen,” enthused a Scottish selector.

Less than a month after Celtic won the European Cup, a second Scottish side brought up within 25 miles of each other in Glasgow had reached another European final. Pumped with adrenaline, the Scots knew they couldn’t sleep straight after the game and went for a drink instead. Afterwards, no taxis would take them to their hotel. “The drivers all knew who we were and wouldn’t stop,” says Hay ruefully.

The next day, the shattered Scottish players spent the day in saunas instead of training and the final, which was played less than 48 hours after that marathon semi, proved too much. Austria had needed extra time to beat Turkey 1-0 but that match finished before Scotland had even kicked off. While the Austrians brought in five new faces, the same Scottish XI took the field on June 18.

Playing a hard pressing game, Austria took the lead on 22 minutes. Although Mackay equalised, the Austrians dominated, led brilliantly by Josef Hickersberger, who was his country’s coach at Euro 2008. It was Hickersberger who surged through a gap in the Scottish defence on 41 minutes to regain the lead. The Scots battled on but were always second best, not helped by Cumming playing with what turned out to be a dislocated wrist. The score stayed 2-1.

In the next two Amateur Cups in 1970 and 1974, Scotland failed to qualify and did not bother entering in 1978, after which the tournament was scrapped as amateurism was all but defunct. Scotland’s professionals won the Kirin Cup in Japan four years ago but the 1967 Amateur Cup is as close as a Scottish national side has come to winning a European international tournament.

From WSC 278 April 2010

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