As Scotland’s players, coaches and fans left the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, beaten 3-0 by Morocco on 23 June 1998, few likely expected that this would be the last time they would experience this feeling for at least 22 years. Unfortunately, the feeling they would lose would not be that of an embarrassing defeat or once again exiting a World Cup at the group stages. Instead, no Scotland player, coach (barring Berti Vogts) or fan would experience their nation making it to a major international tournament.
In the eleven qualification campaigns since 1998, poor management, squad in-fighting, abrasive fan culture and a general decline in player quality, among other problems, have so far combined to see Scotland miss out on five World Cups and six European Championships.
This is the beginning of a three-part piece on each of these campaigns, with this first instalment beginning with Scotland’s qualification efforts for Euro 2000.
This qualification campaign, unlike more recent attempts, began with a genuine level of optimism around it. Why shouldn’t it have? Scotland had qualified for four out the five major tournaments in the 1990s, while the rest of their group – the Czech Republic, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Lithuania, Estonia and the Faroe Islands – had all failed to qualify for the 1998 World Cup.
Their squad was seemingly well set for the campaign, too, with new and emerging players like Barry Ferguson, Neil McCann and Don Hutchison all coming into a team that benefited from the experience of Paul Lambert, Gary McAllister and their seasoned manager, Craig Brown.
Their campaign, however, was anything but straightforward. Narrow wins against Estonia and the Faroe Islands, a draw with Lithuania and defeat to the Czech’s at home was a generally uninspiring start to the group. The following game against the Czech Republic then threw up problems which would have further-reaching implications.
With the Czech’s leading 2-1, Scotland captain, Gary McAllister, gave a pass away which should have led to a third goal. He was greeted by a smattering of boos from the Celtic Park crowd (Hampden Park was undergoing reconstruction work at the time). While this initial hostility could have been brushed off, McAllister was then met with a similar reaction when he was substituted off. Disgusted, McAllister left the ground without talking to the media, teammates or Craig Brown.
A week later McAllister announced his retirement from international football. “Last week’s result against the Czech Republic was a crescendo of a night which had a major bearing on my decision,” the Coventry City midfielder said. While 34 years old at the time, Scotland would still miss the influence and ability McAllister brought them, and this was no better highlighted than in the swansong he was about to have with Liverpool between 2000 and 2002.
The negative energy carried through much of the rest of Scotland’s qualification campaign, with the low point coming in a humiliating 1-1 draw with the Faroe Islands. This, combined with the wholly unexpected event of the Czech Republic winning all ten of their games, all but ended hopes of automatic qualification, but wins in their final two games against Bosnia & Herzegovina and Lithuania left Scotland in second place with a respectable 18 points and secured a play-off spot.
In the play-offs, Scotland drew England, the ‘Auld Enemy’. Managers of both teams welcomed the draw, with England’s recently appointed Kevin Keegan saying both teams had hit the “jackpot” with the draw, perhaps banking on passion driving his talented but under-performing England team to the following summer’s tournament.
Craig Brown, meanwhile, was more pointed in his comments, saying “I think the England team were stronger in Euro ’96 [their most recent meeting] and I don’t think we need to fear them.” Brown may have been trying to do the opposite to Keegan, playing down the historical aspect of the game so as not to over-excite a squad with several youngsters and newcomers.
The talking finally ended on 13 November 1999, with the first leg at Hampden. Despite a 2-0 loss for Scotland, the result could easily have gone the other way, with neither team impressing. Regardless, England were in control of the tie.
Four days later, Scotland made their final visit to the Old Wembley stadium. Spurred on by a classically exuberant tartan army support, Scotland dominated the game, with Keegan later admitting that he was unsure what had happened to his side’s mentally. Scotland’s domination, however, only resulted in one goal, with Don Hutchison – capping off an excellent qualifying campaign – scoring just before half-time.
Despite being buoyed on by a rendition of Flower of Scotland from their travelling support, Scotland were unable to find the goal that would take the game to extra-time. While Brown had secured what is still 21 years later Scotland’s last win against England, Keegan’s men scraped through to the finals in Holland and Belgium.
So began Scotland’s qualification journey through the 2000s. At the time of this 2-1 aggregate defeat, it could be put down as a small blip following the decade of qualification that came prior. In actual fact, this was as close as Scotland would come to qualification for years to come.
2002 World Cup
With Craig Brown still in charge, Scotland turned their attention towards qualifying for the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan. Grouped with Croatia, Belgium, Latvia and San Marino, the minimum hopes for Scotland were once again second place and a play-off spot.
Their start to the campaign further boosted these expectations, with wins versus Latvia and San Marino being followed by an away draw against a talented Croatia and another draw with Belgium at Hampden, where victory was only denied by a 91st-minute Daniel Van Buyten header.
Despite that late disappointment, Scotland still sat in second place, only missing out on first due to goal difference. However, as Croatia won their games in hand and then drew again with Scotland at Hampden, they took second place with a one-goal advantage on goal difference.
That left Scotland with a must-win game away to Belgium just four days later. On the night, however, Scotland could not deliver. While they may have had the better of the ball, Belgium took their chances, securing a 2-0 win with another last-minute goal. This left Scotland all but out of contention for a play-off position, with a seven-goal-swing needed in the final group games for them to overtake Croatia. Brown knew at the time what the result meant, solemnly stating: “The World Cup is over for us now.”
Perhaps somewhat deflated from knowing their likely fate, the Scots had to come from behind to eventually beat Latvia 2-1. Finishing the group on 15 points, two behind Belgium, Van Buyten’s last-minute equaliser now seemed costlier than ever. Having lost only one game, Scotland had now failed to qualify for two successive major tournaments for the first time since the early 1970s.
With Brown’s contract expiring at the end of 2001, his eight-year tenure at the helm looked to be over after a record-breaking 71 games in charge. Following Brown’s resignation and several senior players following him, the nation and its team needed to be boosted and rebuilt. Inspired by England’s recent appointment of Sven-Gӧran Eriksson, the Scottish Football Association (SFA) turned to an unlikely candidate to carry out this task.
Four months on from Brown’s departure, the announcement finally came on 12 February 2002 that Berti Vogts would be Scotland’s new manager. His signing was a messy and protracted affair as the SFA had to buy out his contract with the Kuwait National Team, costing them £200,000. At the time it seemed a coup for Scotland, with Vogts having led his own national team, Germany, to victory at Euro ‘96.
For many, however, the bigger story about Vogts’ appointment was that he was the first non-Scottish manager to take charge of Scotland. This signalled a break in tradition from the SFA, whose previous three appointments – Sir Alex Ferguson, Andy Roxburgh and Craig Brown – had not only been Scottish but also ‘in-house’ appointments, having held various roles within the national set-up before ascending to the top job.
Both the cost and the break from tradition that came with the appointment put pressure on Vogts to be a success. Coupled with the failure in the two previous qualifying campaigns, a positive start for Scotland’s new manager was essential.
Such a start did not come. Failing to have qualified for the World Cup, Scotland instead acted as sparring partners for nations to warm-up against prior to the tournament. Against France, Nigeria, South Korea and South Africa, Vogts and his team were beaten in all four games, scoring only two goals and conceding 13.
Unfortunately, an opening draw with the Faroe Islands meant that this form carried into the start of Scotland’s latest qualification campaign. In a further sign of Scotland’s declining standards since Euro 2000 qualifying, only Luxembourg and Scotland had dropped points against the Faroes twice. Some pride was then restored with back-to-back wins over Iceland.
In the second of those games saw a winner from Lee Wilkie, a new arrival in the squad and one of 40 other players given their international debut under Vogts. When Brown left his role as manager, several senior players followed him, meaning Scotland had to replace the likes of Kevin Gallacher, Colin Hendry and Tom Boyd, among others. Vogts’ solution was to trawl through all levels of the British game; in his search, he found promising names like James McFadden, Darren Fletcher and Graham Alexander. While not making his debut under Vogts, Kenny Miller was also a regular for Scotland in this campaign, having appeared only once under Brown.
However, a majority of these debutants were signalled as evidence of the decreasing quality from which Scotland had to choose. This group of players included Graeme Murty, Andy Gray (not that one), Warren Cummings and Gareth Williams. These players all made only a handful of appearances for Vogts’ Scotland before never being seen at international level under another manager.
With no disrespect to the ability of those players, the consensus at the time was clear that use of players from lower divisions and the high volume of players being selected represented Scotland’s struggle to adequately replace the successful players of the 1990s squads. Vogts’ eventual successor, Walter Smith, said as much: “Those of us involved in trying to find Scottish players were aware there were not as many people pushing forward.”
So with his new group of players, Vogts pushed on with his attempts to take Scotland to Euro 2004, but victories in the previous two games against Iceland were soon tempered with a loss to Lithuania. This result meant that Scotland now needed to pick-up points against their manager’s former employers, Germany, at Hampden.
Surprisingly, they achieved one, with Kenny Miller’s goal giving Scotland an unlikely point. Revenge against the Faroes followed, but an uptick in Iceland’s form meant that Scotland still only sat third in their group with two games remaining. Once again, a result against Germany was required to maintain hopes of a place at Euro 2004.
“Christian! Christian!” shouted a frustrated and now embarrassed Berti Vogts. He was calling for his defender, Christian Dailly, whose shouts of “Cheats! F*****g cheats!” just seconds earlier were heard clearly in his manager’s post-match interview with the BBC’s Chick Young.
Dailly’s anger was directed towards his German counterparts, whose diving he believed had been the cause of both a penalty being awarded to Germany and the sending off of Scotland’s Maurice Ross, both helping Germany to a 2-1 victory
Both Young and Vogts carried on as normal, but the outburst became the main talking point from Scotland’s trip to Germany. Luckily, no action was taken against Dailly – except by his mother: “It wasn’t until I got to the team bus that I started getting phone calls – including one from my mum – and I realised I was in real bother!” – and over time, the initially heated moment has come to be viewed with humour.
But at the time, Scotland could not escape the reality of the situation that the loss had left them in. Their fate was now out of their hands, and in the final round of fixtures, they needed to beat Lithuania while hoping that Iceland were beaten by Germany. One month later, in October 2003, Scotland carried out their side of the deal, edging past Lithuania 1-0 courtesy of a Darren Fletcher goal, and Germany carried out theirs, defeating the Icelandics 3-0 to secure their former boss a play-off spot.
As it was four years previously during the Euro 2000 qualification, Scotland drew arguably the strongest team from the pot for their play-off: the Netherlands. While both sides may have entered this play-off having finished second in their groups, the Dutch’s mix of world-class talents like Japp Stam and Phillip Cocu, and rising stars such as Rudd van Nistelrooy and Rafael van der Vaart meant that there was no doubt as to who the favourites to progress were.
Yet against these odds Scotland prevailed, winning 1-0. In arguably Scotland’s best performance under Vogts, an early James McFadden goal – the first of several memorable qualifying goals for his nation – allowed the team to set up defensively to stifle the Netherlands’ attacking talent. Christian Dailly also redeemed himself with an excellent man-marking display on Patrick Kluivert.
However, by beating them at Hampden, Scotland seemed to have simply angered the Dutch. Four days later in Amsterdam, the Netherlands gave Scotland something of a reality check, inflicting a ruthless 6-0 defeat. There was to be no disciplined defensive display this time, as a young Wesley Sneijder scored early on to open the flood gates in a game that resulted in Scotland’s biggest loss since 1961.
Perhaps more prominent on the players’ and coaches’ minds at the time, however, was that yet another qualification campaign had been unsuccessful. Qualification for the 2006 World Cup was now a must.
2006 World Cup
As with their campaign to qualify for the 2004 Euros, qualifying for the 2006 World Cup in Germany got off to a very bad start. A draw and then loss at home to Slovenia and Norway, respectively, was followed by an even more embarrassing 1-1 draw against Moldova. For the tartan army, many of whom wanted their manager gone after failure to qualify for Euro 2004, this was the final straw, and it proved to be so for Vogts as well.
Under increasing pressure, Vogts resigned on 1 November 2004. While fans rejoiced at what many felt was a long-overdue move, Vogts’ remarks and reasons for leaving at the time make for sour-reading. “The major factor has been disgraceful abuse,” Vogts wrote in his statement. “It has degenerated into a physical nature, especially on recent occasions where I have been spat upon.”
He went on to acknowledge that this group was a minority of the support, but this still highlights a worrying trend from Scottish football and it’s supporters at the time. Five years previously the team captain, Gary McAllister, had been forced to make a similar decision to Vogts after receiving abuse from fans.
Bearing this in mind, the SFA knew that their next appointment was vital. With the experiment of a non-Scottish coach having failed, they returned to tradition and appointed Walter Smith, a Scottish manager who had also spent time working in Scotland’s U18s U21s and first-team set-ups in the 1980s.
After five months of settling into the job, Smith’s first qualifier came against Italy. In a somewhat expected result, the eventual winners of the 2006 World Cup dispatched Scotland with a 2-0 victory, but this defeat did give rise to a positive reaction that injected some hope into Scotland’s qualification chances.
Four consecutive unbeaten games, including an impressive draw versus Italy and an away victory in Norway, brought Scotland away from the foot of their qualification table. However, defeat to Belarus in their penultimate game saw yet another case of points being dropped needlessly and their hopes of qualification ended mathematically.
In truth, it was always a difficult ask for Smith to deliver qualification from the situation he inherited. Scotland at least now seemed in a better position than the one they found themselves in at the beginning of the campaign: in Smith and his backroom staff of Tommy Burns and Ally McCoist, both fans and players had coaches they believed in and felt confident following; attendances were up at Scotland’s home games in their final few qualifying matches, and players frozen-out under the previous regime – like David Weir – were welcomed back into the squad.
On the evidence of the previous four campaigns, hope may have been a dangerous thing for Scotland fans. Yet, many felt that the team were finally moving in the right direction, and in truth, they had to be. While failing to qualify for Euro 2000 could be written off as a blip, by 2006 Scotland’s qualification troubles were becoming a trend.
This is Part 1 of 3 pieces looking at Scotland’s qualification struggles this century. Part 2 will focus on Scotland’s attempts to qualify for Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.