Reviews / WordPlay: The epic failure of Scotland 74

Richard Gordon, one of the key voices in Scottish football, at Mareel on Wednesday night - Photo: Chris Brown

ONE of the key voices on Saturday afternoons for so many Scottish football fans, the experienced BBC broadcaster Richard Gordon, gave a talk at the 2014 Wordplay Festival on Wednesday night, writes Patrick Mainland.

In a welcome addition to the diverse literary festival programme, he focussed on the subject of his latest book Scotland 74: A World Cup Story.


The book documents the bittersweet campaign of a team of superstars who, despite being the only unbeaten team of the tournament, failed to reach the latter stages of the finals – something they, 40 years later, have never gone on to achieve.

Supporting the Scottish football team often brings up the phrase ‘glorious failure’, and Gordon writes of the anguish when the world-class squad featuring the likes of Billy Bremner and Kenny Dalglish “snatched defeat from the jaws of victory” in West Germany in 1974.

Scotland faced Brazil, Yugoslavia and Zaire in their group and were desperately unlucky not to go through, losing on goal difference, as they would again four years later in Argentina.


Addressing an audience ranging from the youthful to those old enough to remember, Gordon spoke of the talented squad’s hyper-nervous mentality in their three matches.

He told of the lead-up to the finals, including some disastrous preparation matches and drunken misadventures.

He then moved onto the tournament itself, its unavoidable tension and sheer spectacle, before taking questions from the audience in the Mareel auditorium.

The lifelong Aberdeen fan – as were many who turned up to hear his talk – spoke with great humour about some of the anecdotes he picked up interviewing members of the team, including the infamous Largs rowing boat incident where Celtic legend Jimmy Johnstone found himself drifting out to sea in the early hours of the morning.


There were plenty of other amusing drunken mishaps on the team’s travels, with even the manager getting involved.

The book is particularly thought-provoking when it focusses on the drastic changes to football since the ’70s.

The amount of money involved in the game today is staggering compared to previous decades, when for many players it was a working man’s career, and a relatively short one at that. So many players had to go on to find another source of income.

Above all however, ‘Scotland 74’ recalls the captivating passion fans felt and still feel to this day.

To finish, Gordon spoke of his experience as a journalist grilling the top managers, drawing the line between being a broadcaster and a devoted fan, working with his colleagues in radio and television, and the current state of the national team.

As he remarked near the end, hopefully in 30 to 40 years any book being written about the Scottish quest for tournament success will have a different theme.