Chapter 16: The Match Of The Century
Chapter 16
The Match Of The Century

For anyone living that in Britain on July 30th 1966, it would be one of those great all time 'where were you?' moments and for good reason. That day would be the day of the 1966 World Cup final but it would far from being any old final that was for sure. It wasn't just down to the fact that it was being played at Wembley stadium, some claiming it as the cathedral of football, but it was down to the fact the two oldest footballing nations in the world, England and Scotland, would have a date with destiny to become World Champions. For many, unless you lived outside of the British Isles, it was the dream final that everyone had wanted the moment Scotland had beaten Italy that night in Glasgow which confirmed their place at the World Cup and to perhaps to no one's surprise, the British press had gone into overdrive declaring it as the greatest day in the history of British football and pretty much all the newspapers having their front page headline claiming it was 'The match of the century'. Pretty much nobody could avoid it; even if you didn't care for football, this special occasion was not just an important event in the history of British football or sport, but actually British history that would stand alongside other famous moments in the country's history such as VE Day and the Queen's Coronation. Though Wembley was one of the biggest stadiums in the country, even it's vast sized was pretty much overfilled being full to rafters with ninety-nine thousand souls inside all waiting to see history (though some unofficial claims that one hundred thousand could've been in Wembley that day). Wembley had not seen such huge crowds ever since the White Horse Final of 1923, though thankfully there was no spillage of spectators overflowing onto the pitch. Such was the huge demand for tickets that the SFA even proposed the idea of moving the final to Hampden Park, a stadium with double the capacity that Wembley had, to cope with the expected crowds but FIFA insisted on having it at Wembley as always planned.

Regardless though, a ticket for the final was the hottest thing in town and everyone that was everyone all headed for Wembley with the usual huge numbers of tartan clad Scottish supporters making the traditional trip to Wembley though clearly this event was far greater than all that had happened before, but also people across England came from the likes of Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle and Birmingham just to name a few. Without question it was to be the biggest game between the two countries that they'd ever known and they knew that it'll be dreams for one team and nightmares for the other. Some of the players like Baxter and Johnstone for Scotland had a restless night knowing that the tension to lose this game was too great and that they'd either return to Scotland as heroes or enemies and the latter was scary in which the worst case might be that depending on how bad they lost then they might not be even allowed back into the country. The Scotland team had ended up staying at Homestead Court in Welwyn Garden City and early morning on the day of the final when the team were having breakfast, there was indeed more than a strong chance that at least one of the players were thinking of past games they remembered watching or playing in; many had grown up remember the famous 5-1 victory over England which many called the greatest game Scotland had with England though the same who had grown up with that game would end up having a horror story of their own when they played England in 1961 and were battered 9-3 by the English and the likes of Denis Law who was in that game, the mental scars of that game had not healed. That all said the last game between the two teams just a few months before at Hampden in the Home Championship had ended in a thrilling game which England won 4-3 and if the final was going to be like that then surely the world was in for a huge treat. But anything could happen in this mad fixture and who knows what lay in store for them.

The same sort of jitters could have also been said for England as Duncan Edwards, who had been chosen by manager Alf Ramsay to be captain for the team for this game, as he sat there having breakfast with his teammates at Hendon Hall Hotel in North London, it was only dawning on himself that he would potentially become the first England captain to lift the World Cup and what the after effects might be for all of them if they were to win today. Then again, while many had the English down as favourites and having the benefit of a home advantage, it hadn't been a World Cup that they had set the world alight. They had started off with a pretty dire 0-0 draw with Uruguay before recording two 2-0 victories over Mexico and France and even then those win hadn't exactly got everyone on their feet despite winning the group. The Knockout Stage had been quite a mad affair too with the Quarter-Final tie with Argentina being a bad tempered affair in which despite that Argentina team being one of the more talented teams in that World Cup, they had ended up sacrificing disrupting England with a spate of petty fouls. Their captain, Antonio Rattin, arrogantly challenged just about every decision that the referee made and was waving his arms around like a traffic policeman. Eventually he'd be sent off for his troubles and England would win 1-0 in what was in truth a sorry state of affairs that would leave a bad taste in the mouth of many in Argentina who called the game a robbery. England would end up playing the much fancied Portugal in the last four and there was the pressure of not only trying to get to the final but also the fact that the day before had seen Scotland make it to the final and that England didn't want to miss out on the final and the game itself would be a real classic of a game in which England just about edged it winning 2-1


The England team having breakfast just before the final
The England captain looked over at his teammates and he suddenly remembered many years ago of that horrible night in Munich six years ago in which a team of quite a number of English players who were all sure fire bets to play in the World Cup that Summer were killed. For Edwards, it had always been one of regret as to think what might have been if the accident hadn't happened, it had always been thought that by now the England team would have won the World Cup by now and much of the Busby Babes would have been the linchpin to take England to the promised land. It had been a long time but now they had finally made it to a final though ideally it would have been a lovely thought it all the English players on that flight had been here today though in reality, only he and Bobby Charlton were the only players from that flight who would be in the final today. An emotional thought, but there was no time for softness right now, not when there was a World Cup to take.

Ever since the last World Cup, he would end up leaving Manchester United to play in Italy for Juventus and he would remember the utter dismay that followed in the country when Scotland of all teams prevented the Italians from qualifying for the World Cup this year. Strangely enough when England reached the final, Edwards had gotten a letter from some of his Juventus teammates in which they wished him well in the final and made so secret that they wanted the English to win in what they saw as revenge against the Scots. It was quite a strange situation; here Edwards would be leading the team out to win for Queen and country and which has pressure in of itself, yet now he was getting pressure from the Italians wanting England to beat Scotland. How was one to describe all this? In the late morning, the two team buses had made their own ways to Wembley and all along the route, there was always the sight of a supporter heading for the stadium and when they got closer to Wembley, the surrounding area was a washed with colour and sound with perhaps the most noticeable thing in which a bagpiper on one street corner was playing Scotland the Brave while on another street corner, a busker with a guitar was playing There Will Always Be An England; no prizes as to guess who those two were supporting.

Many that day all have their stories about the day and the build up to it, but when both teams hit the dressing rooms and were resplendent in the national colours of their home countries, it was then that it had finally occured to them of what this meant for the whole country on both sides of the border. The tunnel saw both teams giving each other insults at each other, the fact they most of them were teammates at other clubs such as Law, Charlton and Stiles for Manchester United, were thrown out of the window as they prepared for battle, the rest just simply ghosted any teammate they knew at club level. Alas, insults alone aren't enough to win a final when it came time to walk out onto the famous hallow turf at Wembley. As the teams walked out, they were greeted by a deafening roar that might have been heard from all over London and also there was the sight of Union flags, English St George Crosses, Lion Ramparts and Scottish Saltires flapping wildly in the air which it some ways looked more like medieval flags being hung out for war, then again perhaps this was war? Whatever the reason, it was time for one set of eleven players to become heroes.


The teams walk out for the 1966 World Cup final with many Scotland and a few England fans in the background
With a blast on the Swiss referee's whistle, perhaps the one of the few neutrals in Wembley that day, the final began and Scotland went all guns blazing on an England team that looked sluggish and seemed taken aback by the whole occasion. After about five minutes, Baxter attempted to fire a shot on goal from twenty yards out but it was knocked over by Banks in goal who did barely enough to deny the Scots the opening goal. For the English supporters in Wembley, it was a wary situation they weren't comfortable by. For the Scotland players who have been use to see Wembley taken over by their fans for the England games, they were stunned to see that there is a large amount of England fans in the ground too, it would appear after all these years of Scotland fans taking over Wembley after all these years, the English have finally struck back to show that they mean business in taking back their hope. With nearly an estimated forty millions people watching the game across the UK on TV alone (a record for British television at that time) not to mention an extra 400 million world wide watching the game too to see this legendary fixture take place, it seems that the eyes of the world have looked upon Wembley for something big to happen.

The first ten minutes of the match has Scotland clearly the better team in terms of chances and look more determined to deny their arch rivals glory on home soil. That said it is nothing but frantic play from both sides goes back and forward with the Queen, sitting in the royal box along with the rest of the Royal Family, looking on expressionless. Will her loyalties lie with Windsor or Balmoral or is she one of the rare neutrals in the ground? The Tartan Army are chanting for their team throughout the game and they expect that surely all this play will make a difference and thankfully, it does. In the twelve minute, Jim Baxter outwits Bobby Charlton and takes the ball up the pitch for Denis Law to run into the penalty box before slamming it past Banks' hands which does a slight spin in the air from the impact before it twirls downwards into the back of the net and put Scotland ahead in the final and worthy lead by all accounts.

The roar from the Scottish supporters on the terraces is incredible; another to perhaps rock Wembley to it's foundations no less. Scottish flags are quickly brought out and are seen flapping all around the ground and no doubt great celebrations have already started at home, McCall though despite feeling delighted that they have the early breakthrough remains expressionless and knowns that it is still a long way to go yet and that there is no chance in hell that the English will lay down that easy for the Scots. He glances over towards Alf Ramsay who not so long ago was sitting with a thoughtful looking before suddenly he is up on his feet and is barking at his players to get back in the game and not let this slip by. Sure enough, England respond to his calls and in bizarre quirk of fate, that opening goal was what was needing for the men in white to start taking the game to Scotland and now they begin pushing the Scots back. With this new attacking style of play it is the English support that now start to find their voice as they can sense something is on the cards...

The moment after Law helps give Scotland the lead in the final

John Greig, Billy Bremner and the rest of the Scottish backline who not so long ago had very little to do up until that opening goal are starting to feel the strain of the strong English attack and it is clear that England are going to score and sure enough in the eighteenth minute of the game, Duncan Edwards slips up a pass to Charlton who runs forward with the ball into the penalty box and he has Bremner tailing him if he doesn't shoot now then his attack will come to nothing. With that he slams it home past the outstretch arms of Bobby Fergusson into the bottom left and thus, a roar from the English half in the ground erupts to greet the goal that ties the game and now and the England fans show their Scottish counterparts that they can celebrate too, if not better, than the Scots when it comes to celebrating a goal. Alf Ramsay punches a fist in the air to celebrate with many of his fellow countrymen and all that pressing has paid off and no one will deny that England deserved that goal. Now what could they do?

From the twentieth minute onwards, the first half is shaping up to be the great clash that many were hoping and, in some case, were expecting it to be. The equaliser from England has clearly shaken off any any fears the English had before seem to be playing with a whole lot more freedom that before which the Scots seem unable to match. Nonetheless and the game goes at quite a madcap rate with only a bad challenge by Moore on Baxter and Scotland are awarded a free kick in the twenty-eighth minute and Baxter, now considered the free kick specialised, steps up to take it. However his hit is greeted to sound of sarcastic cheers from the England fans for sadly for his freekick is an utter waste as he sends it flying over the English wall and way past the goals in which Gordon Banks had very little to do other than watch the bad freekick. Clearly this would be a moment that Baxter would not want to be reminded anytime soon.

Nonetheless it is wonderful game of football which is turning out to be a brilliant advert to the world of British football and the fact that is players at club level having to play each other at international level gives the tie a little bit more of an edge which given the large amount of Scottish players playing the English leagues stands for reason. So much back and forward action is taking place which is only adding the spectacle and so much so that it is when the referee blows his whistle for half time is it somewhat of a disappointment in which no one wanted such an exciting first half of football to end. That said, perhaps the fans are needing to catch their breath and as the players leave for the Wembley tunnel, some take the chance to look up at the big scoreboard reading 'England 1 - Scotland 1' and who knows just what might happen for the second half. Would there be a winner sorted out or will it go to extra-time? Given the nature of this fixtures, the answer was that anything could happen.


Charlton scores the equaliser for England


The half time team talk from both managers is coincidently pretty much the same. Both are saying to their player words along the lines of, 'Imagine if that lot win it? we'd never hear the end of it!' Either way, neither want to lose and whoever does will likely never let this down; Denis Law had even planned for whatever happened after this game to go to a golf resort for a free days and escape from it all. From then when the second half begins, is just like the first in which both teams are playing on level terms with each other; the cream has certainly arisen to the top with the talent on show and showing that both sides deserve to be in the final. Briefly there is a lull period in the game in which nothing of note happens up until the sixty-third minute in which Baxter, still smarting after that rotten freekick, tries his luck again with another set piece and vows to make this one a whole lot better. He sends the ball right past the English defence and Banks and Wembley suddenly becomes like a vacuum as the breath of everyone there is sucked out all of who are watching the ball looking like it is going in, but to his dismay, the ball ends up crashing on the crossbar and a glorious chance to retake the lead for the Scots is gone.

A good thing video footage didn't show the reaction of Baxter and many of his teammates as well as those with the England team would all see Baxter crying out frustrated words of profanity that to put it mildly wouldn't be quite suitable for a family audience. With Scotland missing a glorious chance, England have woken up knowing that any time they switch off then that will only encourage Scotland to come forward to attack and thus they start playing the ball around and with the help of the English supporters in the ground. McCall has one eye on his watch knowing that time is running out and that any chance Scotland can get mustn't be wasted as sooner or later, England will pay them out. No one knows but for some reason the longer the second half goes on is that Scotland seem to look like they are lacking belief with all that pressing from England possibly having an affect on them with Duncan Edwards having a real effect to nullify any Scottish attack.

Eventually the game rolls into the eighty-first minute and for many it seems as though the game has gone so fast that even those who have been watching the and not taking their eyes off it and stunned when they look at their watches at the time, whoever scores next surely is the winner. In that moment, Bremner tries to bring Charlton down, but the Englishmen quickly passes it up towards Edwards before then he crosses it up over towards Martin Peters who volleys the ball before it even hits the ground and slams the ball past Fergusson that sends England 2-1 up on Scotland and Wembley erupts in what is actually the completion of a turnaround that England have comeback from. Denis Law's opening goal is all but cancelled out and the look of despair and frustration. Now in a bad position and with little time to go, Scotland now have to risk it to press the English in the hopes that they could at least take the game into extra-time.


The happy English half at Wembley enjoying the moment England take the lead
Bizarrely in a twist of fate that echoed that in which Scotland's opening goal woke up the English, the reverse would happen after Peters' goal which now saw Scotland going out to risk it in the hopes that they can get something in the final ten minutes and the previously joyful English were now looking worried at what might lie in store. The game now on knife edge with McCall and Stein yelling out commands at their players to not give up and throw everything they have at the English and the game becomes a nerve shredder as Scotland start pushing England back. It is anyone's guess as to what will happen now and in the eighty-ninth minute, Scotland are awarded a free kick and it's right outside the penalty box. Surely a chance?

All eyes turn towards Baxter as he steps up to take the free kick and this time he knows he has to get it right, after two poor kicks, surely he has to get this right and the many thousand Scotland fans all wait with baited breathes hoping for a miracle. The whistle blows and Baxter fires the ball, however he messes up the power he puts into the kick and the ball ends up cannoning off an England defending and thus Scotland's last chance to take the game to extra-time is gone. The celebrations from the English supporters is now reaching fever pitch knowing they are so close to victory but in all the madness, few have not noticed what is happening down on the field. Alan Ball manages to get on the ball after it lands and before anyone can react, he fires it up the field where Edwards races up with it to go on a lighting fast counter attack. I that moment BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme recalls the last few moment of the game as Edwards finds himself close to the box with some supporters trying to get on the field to celebrate.

"And here comes Edwards. He's got... some people are on the pitch, they think it's all over..." Then he strikes it home to seal it for England and complete Scotland's misery. "It is now! It's three!"

From then on, that'll end the game and with a blast on the referee's whistle, England are 3-1 victors and are the new World Champions. Wembley is awash with sound and likely the whole country from Land's End to Berwick is celebrating. The Scottish players are heartbroken and it is only when some of the English players come up to swap shirts can they cheer up and in the cold light of day of the following day might be able to reflect on how far they have come and how they have done far better than any Scottish team before, in some ways, they never really lost in terms how well they did.

McCall and Stein know that they have done all of Scotland proud by getting here and while perhaps they have to admit that the better team won on the day, he knows that it'll probably won't be long until Scotland return to another final. For now, its England's moment of glory as Edwards, with tears in his eyes remembering the Munich disaster, raises the World Cup in the air with one hand and in the other, he points to the sky as if he is saying this is far his fallen teammates.


Law and Charlton swap shirts after the final whistle
Knighthoods, OBE's and much cash bonuses for the England team followed and all those players would end up being household names. The Scottish team, despite fears of not being allowed into the country again if they lost the final, they were greeted to a heroes welcome when they returned to Glasgow which did confused the players of why they were getting such love on the back of losing a final.

Whatever the reason, the 1966 final had been a wonderful game for everyone to see by the time the World Cup would return, it would be in a new decade but in the meantime, it wouldn't be long until the two auld enemies would meet again in two games that would have more than bragging rights at stake...

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Final results of the Knockout Stage of the 1966 World Cup

And there we, 1966 and all that. Hope you enjoyed the update as next up we move to Italy for Euro 1968. What will happen out there may you ask? Until then, catch you later!
Chapter 17: The Slaves Were Treated Better Than This - 1968 European Championship
Chapter 17
The Slaves Were Treated Better Than This


Two years later after the World Cup was held in England and said nation would go on to reach the promise land beating Scotland in the final, another football tournament would begin in Italy and this was to be the third European Championship. For the first time, all of the UK's four Home Nations would take part in it though it wasn't quite a normal qualification run which was more of a case of being closer to home in more ways than one. Much like with the 1950 and 1954 World Cups, the 1967 and 1968 British Home Championships would both double up as the qualifying rounds to save fixture congestion as suggested by UEFA, though unlike those World Cups in which the winners and runners-up would go through, only the group winners would be able to progress this time round and this was to make an already competitive and passionate fixture list in the British Sporting calendar even more dramatic. Right from the start, many expected that England or Scotland would be the most likely ones that would be looking to battling it out though in 1967, it was to be a truly memorable one for the Scots as despite suffering heartache of losing the final to their arch rivals, that year had seen a remarkable degree of football progress for Scotland. To put it mildly, 1967 had arguably been without question Scottish football's finest hour in which at club level, Kilmarnock would reach the Semi-final of that season's Fair City Cup were they would fall to Leeds United, however it was the efforts of the Old Firm that had everyone talking as both Celtic and Rangers would win the European Cup and Cup Winner's Cup respectably. The fact that three clubs from Scotland could've been in a final that season was amazing and while Old Firm fans would argue which trophy was more important in the grand scheme of things, the fact that two clubs from the same city had won European silverware that year was astounding and helped put Scotland on the footballing map in ways that had never really be thought possible. One would have assumed that Scotland hadn't really lost the World Cup in 1966, though speaking of which, they would have the last laugh over England in 1967.

In the final game of the 1967 Home Championship, and halfway point in the qualifying rounds, Scotland would get their revenge on England by beating them 3-2 at Wembley in a result that many North of the Border of a certain age will remember fondly as will those of a similar age south of the Border will think about 1966. Interesting up at that point, it was the first game as World Champions that England had lost to someone and the cheeky Scotland fans in an attempt to rub it into the English decided to use the rules of Boxing in which when a Champion is defeated, the victor is claimed World Champion and thus the Tartan Army would call themselves Unofficial World Champions. Oddly enough however that this was to inspire the rules of Unofficial World Champion to become a thing but that is another story. However it was a victory that was important than just bragging rights in which put them in a good position to make it for the European Championship for the summer of 1968. England and Scotland would battle it in a winner takes all decider at Hampden where England just needed a draw to go through while Scotland had to win if either wanted to make the trip to European Championship. With a large crowd of over one hundred and thirty-four thousand watching that game (a record for a European qualifier that still stands), it looked like with England drawing 1-1 that they'd make it at the expense of the Scots. However it would be a dramatic eighty-seventh minute goal by Denis Law that would defeat England and and have Scotland qualify instead of England. This achievement probably was more important for Scotland in some ways as they had the last laugh over the World Champions to prove that their victory at Wembley was no fluke. The destination was to be another football mad country like Scotland being Italy.

While the Scotland team was delighted and their many thousands of tartan clad supporters were looking forward for a balmy summer holiday in Italy, however despite winning the group, they had to play a two legged play-off Quarter-final which would be against Spain. A 1-0 victory in the first leg at Hampden Park placed the Scots in a good place as they moved to Spain to take them on in Madrid for the second leg in which Scotland ran out as 2-1 victors and thus, it was onwards to Italy. The Scots may have imagine soaking up the hot Italian sun and admiring the place with friendly people to boot, though they would soon find out that when they arrived in Italy, they'd probably wished they hadn't gotten here in the first place. From the moment they arrived at the airport in Florence, the team was shocked to be greeted by several angry locals who for some reason seemed to be out for Scotland more so than the other qualified teams however it turn out for very good reasons. The 1966 World Cup would see the absence of one certain team from the tournament which turned out to be Italy and the team that had prevented them from qualifying would be none other than Scotland of all teams. With this anger of being denied a place in England that summer, the Italians had never forgiven the Scots from stopping the Azzurri for making the World Cup in the qualifying rounds and they were clearly out there to cause trouble. However some of the Celtic players traveling to Italy felt things could've been worse if they had landed in Milan as some fans of a certain team that they had defeated in 1967 would have been there and no doubt would've wanted to have a meeting with those players...Jock Stein, acting as assistant manager, is only well aware of this rather scary fact knowing he can be a moving target to some.


Scotland vs England at Hampden Park during the final qualifying match in 1968

With all this bad blood hanging in the air, the team, staff and all the SFA officials would thankfully make their base away from the city of Florence and would feel at peace in the calm surroundings of the Italian countryside. However, it would only act as a reprieve before they would start their first game at this tournament with Yugoslavia. Speaking of staff, there would be a new manager in charge of taking the Scotland team. Despite taking the Scotland team to a final and pretty much covering himself in glory that no other Scotland manager had done before, Ian McColl would leave the job a year later after the final and the person to take the thankless role would be none other than Bobby Brown. Having only managed St Johnstone from 1958 to 1967, taking the Scotland job was going to a huge job though he would end up being the first full-time manager of the Scotland team and it would be him that would be behind that famous victory over England at Wembley in 1967 that pretty much cemented himself as the man to take Scotland forward; question was could he really go one step better?

When it came time for their Semi-Final tie with Yugoslavia, the team would leave their hotel on the outskirts of Florence and head towards the stadium. That said despite what many would think of it being a joyful time of potentially being just a game away from yet another final, the bus journey would actually be a silent and even somewhat a sombre affair. It harsh welcome the team had gotten when they stepped foot of the plane had shaken the Scots and things were no better today when the team bus entered the city and the closer they got to the ground there would be several Italian locals there waiting for them...all wanting to make life hell for the team. Scotland manager Bobby Brown peered from his window and saw some of the crowd crying out insults at them and he could only shake his head in disbelief. He knew that there was nothing wrong about some people getting passionate about football, but these Italians were clearly taking it too far for having it in for the Scots all because they had denied Italy a place at the World Cup, England in contrast were rather humble in defeat after Scotland denied them a place here in Italy.

Even though by this point in the day with it nearing eight o'clock in the evening, it seemed that the city had a feeling of being in the middle of a party as just a couple of hours ago in the other Semi-Final between Italy and the Soviet Union, the hosts had won to book their place in the final so it wasn't quite a surprise that the locals had a lot to celebrate about though the only ones not getting into the swing of things were the Scots. As their bus journey to the Stadio Comunale was getting nearer, things seemed to be getting more uncomfortable as by now they were being greeted with some unpleasant scenes as their bus was being attacked with rotten fruit being pelted at them and some more insults was equally being thrown at them. It did feel like that the bus itself was pretty much the only line of defence that was protecting the Scots from the wrath of the locals. They were unsure if their Yugoslavian opponents were getting the same treatment, but they did clearly feel like that they were the enemy here.


Portrait of the Scotland team prior to be flying out to Italy

"It feels like ancient Roman times," Dave Smith spoke up at last to break the long silence that had been with them the journey from their hotel to here

"How'd ye mean?" Bobby Lennox asked with a raised eyebrow just a rotten tomato splattered against his window, making him flinch in surprise.

"I's like the Gladiators and slaves bein' sent aff tae fight in the arena," Smith answered. "But I bet ye that the slaves were treated better than's bloody horrible this."

Several of the players and staff mutter in agreement but Denis Law, always with something to say, out of character of him says nothing. He hasn't been thinking about their current situation, but looking back just a month ago were he helped a Manchester United team to European glory at Wembley and had fulfilled what he'd had set out to do with the team when he joined. As good as it was, he still felt that he would only feel like he had fulfilled himself as a player if he won silverware for his country. It had been a painful thought of how close they had been to winning the World Cup two years ago and in his own ideal world, winning the World Cup against England at Wembley would have been his dream done there and then and he would have possibly ended up retiring from International duty.

Alas fate had smiled on England that day but it had also given Law and his teammates a second chance at glory here in Italy. The team itself, packed with players who had won European glory at club level, were said to be a far better side than what they were before and there was a feeling and strong motivation that this time they weren't going to let this chance runaway from them. There was another fear for Law as he looked outside the window of an angry mob as his thoughts darted back to his time playing in Italy for Torino in 1961, who had gone with fellow countryman Joe Baker, in what would be to him a very mixed time at best for him. Though he had been left impressed by how far ahead the Italians were in the likes of fitness, training and sports science in compared to any team in Britain, his season long time in Italy had been an unhappy one with him saying that the football he had to play was joyless being overly defensive and had been the victim of being man marked by opposing players.

His unhappy time in Italy came to a rather sorry end in which though he was, much to his delight, being sold to Manchester United, a few days later he would find out he would be sold off to Juventus due to apparently a small print in his contract and was going if he liked it or not. Law had no intention of staying in Italy and promptly took a flight back to his native Aberdeen and went to sign for Manchester United as he hoped for in 1962 and thus, the Scotsman never looked back though the bitterness of his time in Italy still stung him as he looked at the angry crowd. To put it mildly, if anyone in that Scotland team had a reason to get back at the Italians for what was going on then it was without question Law himself and standing in front of them was Yugoslavia...


Portrait of Denis Law during his time at Torino


As the game starts, there is a sizable crowd of just over twenty one thousand souls and it is quite clear that not many of them are hear to support the Scots but to make life hellish for them. There is about an estimate of just under a thousand Scotland fans dotted around the ground waving a Saltire or lion rampart flag or wearing a tartan hat or scarf, but they are completely overshadowed by the mostly Italian crowd here The poor Yugoslavians didn't fair much better with only a handful of their own supporters here in the ground too who look more like government agents of some description. The Scots are playing in their change kit of all white and it hasn't been used since that dreadful game with North Korea in the last World Cup with some Scottish supporters saying that kit is a jinx for them, not to mention it does resembled rather closely an England kit. Sadly for them with no other alternate kit that can be used, they have to go along with it.

From the get go, the game is not a pleasant one as with it being in the middle of the Italian summer, the conditions are very humid for the Scotland players and even though by this point in the game with the time being nearly half past nine in the evening, the past day's heat is still here and the stadium has collected it like a caldron and that only adds to the problems that the team has. In contrast, Yugoslavia have absolutely no problems with this as clearly they are more use to playing in these conditions as they attack the Scottish penalty box with the men in all white being pinned back and barely can get out of their own half. It is not a good thing for the plucky Scotland fans here in the ground as it is only until the fifth minute that something happens for Scotland in which Laws get a break on the counter, against the run of play at this point, and blasts it towards goal, though the shot is an utterly woeful effort that see's the ball flying way over the bar and into the crowd behind the goal.

Then not long after that dreadful effort in the eighth minute, Yugoslavia strike back with Pavlović dancing around a clearly bewildered Scotland backline to hit with a wonderful effort on target in which Scotland keeper Ronnie Simpson has to come out to make a brilliant save as he sends it over the bar and out for a corner kick for the Yugoslavs. Neither any Scotland player is abled to clear the corner in which Simpson has to act the hero again to deny Vahidin Musemić a header on target in which he ends up Simpson keeping both hands on it to make sure that Yugoslavia can't turn it into a set piece. After ten minutes of play, Yugoslavia are clearly the better side with the Scots looking so passive and out of it; it seems that everyone that as conspired to hinder the Scots since they landed in Italy is come home to roost. Something has to be done in which the assistant coach can't stand what he is seeing.

"What the hell are you playing at?!" Stein cries out from the bench. "We're better than this. Start playing!"

Bobby Brown is quite surprised at see Stein take command like that, despite his reluctance for the Scotland job, he is acting like a truly great international manager and that is not including the work he has done for Celtic. Yugoslavia keep on pressing though in the fourteenth minute, a counter attack from Osim is cut out from Billy Bremner who lobs it up the field to find a Scotland player and it does become a little bit more positive from a Scottish perspective that they are not being passive as before and now the hope is can they find a way to more up the field with poor old Denis Law having been nothing more than a spectator being isolated from the rest of his teammates as hardly any of them can thread the ball up towards him.


Yugoslavia, Scotland's opponents in the Semi-Finals

Then in the seventeenth minute, Dave Smith gets around Holcer and quickly blasts it up towards Law who finally starts to look him he is clicking into gear and many of his teammates he'll do the work from here, but instead he is brought down by Fazlagić in a brutal tackle and a free kick is awarded to Scotland. Willie Henderson is up to take it and when the whistle is blown, he sends it up into the penalty box where a scrabble of bodies from both teams try to get on to it and the one player the ball falls to is Charlie Cooke who manages to get his head on it and looks like he is about to break the deadlock. Incredibly though, his efforts are saved by Pantelić who knocks the ball flying upwards before landing on the roof of the net. Cooke places his hands over his mouth knowing how close he was to scoring and the Scotland bench can only look on with dismay of how close they were too. Nonetheless though the positive to take from this is that the team is starting to get better in comparison to the shambles that started the match.

From that effort though, Scotland have a corner and Law is the one to get a head on it, though much like with Cooke, the attempt is no better and it is stopped by Fazlagić who leaps to grab the ball before kicking it up the field and out from their half to get it away from the Scots. As the twenty-fifth minute approaches, no goals have been scored and despite that purple patch of the Scots starting to create chances, they have failed to make the most of it and now the Scots are starting to look rattled once again with on one occasion being Pat Stanton foolishly giving the ball away and right in the path of a charging Yugoslavian player before it has to be cleared by John Greig. Slowly the game creeps along into the thirty minute mark and it is becoming quite clear that Scotland by this point have no chance to score in this half and from the bench watching this, Bobby Brown and Jock Stein both know that a serious team talk is needed if they are to get anywhere in this game and the best they can do is keep out the Yugoslavians from scoring so they can come with an alternate plan and already Stein takes out a notepad to write out what looks like the team talk for halftime.

As Stein does that, Brown looks behind him and can see the chants of the Italian crowd giving their all to make it difficult for the Scots such as jeering anytime a Scottish player gets a foot on the ball and their actions are probably making a difference in making the Scots have any sort of chance they can get from this game. He then looks back at the players and can only feel sympathy for them, they are not the team that did well in 1966 and it dawns on him that they are playing as if they have a ball and chain attached to their legs and that they need something to break them from this mindset. A lot of heaving and huffing takes place with Yugoslavia pushing forward and clearly the team that should be ahead with some of the chances they have had in this match, then in the forty second minute, a wonderful chance for Džajić to score in the eighteen yard box goes amiss when the ball scraps past the left hand post were it is so close the paintwork must've gone off, that attempt sums up just how rocky things have been for Scotland in this game. Eventually the half time whistle goes much to the relief of the Scottish players on the field who are needing this more than they'll admit with the score still the same as when the match started. Both teams leave the field with the Italians above the tunnel giving the Scottish players grief as they leave such as showing them rude gestures and shouting out insults in Italian. Brown and Stein look at each other and know a lot of work needs to be done before the second half begins.


Bobby Brown, on the left, taken sometime prior to the trip to Italy

For the first time that day since they left their hotel, the Scots finally find some peace in the dressing room with only the muffled sounds of the Italian crowd can heard outside. The players are exhausted, sweaty and need this brief rest bite to recover, but as they are chatting to each other about the game and how it has been for them, Jock Stein clears his throat for attention. The team all look at Stein and Brown and see that neither of the two men are happy of how things have been going.

"What the hell are we playing at?!" Stein scolds the players. "We're probably the best bloody team in the world to give away chances! How many have they had now? Ten, twenty, a hundred? It's naw good enough lads, and dinnae give me that excuse that the crowd are givin' ye hell, you should all be use tae that with the clubs you play at, especially the Glasgow boys here." He looks over at the Old Firm players and pauses to glare at them; those said Glasgow boys all have their heads down as if they've been told off by their Dad.

"We're goin' tae have to change the shape around," Bobby Brown then adds. "I think our 4-4-2 formation is doing more harm than good. Me and Stein agree that we're goin' tae have tae play 4-2-1-3 to get as much attackin' force as we can to break 'em doon." The players look at each other with surprised looks at what has been said then all look at the white board with Brown and Stein rubbing out the formation they had previous sketched out for the game and both begin to draw the chosen formation and gives details of who will be playing where. After going over the plan, Brown looks back at the players and then says the following. "Follow that plan, if that disnae work then nothin' will!"

When the Scotland players return to the field, the Yugoslavians are already out by the time the Scots run out and they are keen to get the game started, the crowd too are ready to make things hard for the Scots. It seems that no one wants Scotland to win this damn match for heaven's sake! As the game starts, Bobby Brown mobs his forehead with sweat that has developed before crossing his arms and hoping that his tactics will work. Privately, he isn't sure himself that they will but now there is no turning back and it is down to the players to see if they can make it all work. Thankfully for him and anyone else who is Scottish, things are looking good early on in the second half as the Scots start to play as a unit and start pressing forward. In the fifty-fifth minute, Willie Henderson is attempting to get the ball up to the attacking front three of Lennox, Law and Johnstone, but Paunović brings him down with an elbow to the face that is a blatant foul.

It is unclear if that elbow was deliberate or not, but it lets out a cry of protests from the Scottish players on the field, those on the bench and the Scottish fans up on the terraces. The referee then awards Scotland a free kick with a good few feet outside from the penalty box with Johnstone going up to take it. He blasts the ball over the wall and into the box but Pantelić makes a great attempt at saving it to keep the score still at 0-0. Clearly now despite the score still at deadlock, there is a game now forming here and the question is who will be the team that will finally break the deadlock? The answer for that happens in the Sixty-ninth minute as after making a clean tackle, Bremner punts forward the ball to Denis Law who runs like a bat out of hell into the penalty box and despite the calls from the two other Scottish attackers folloing him closely to give them the assistant, he decides to go it along and he volleys the ball towards goal where the ball hits the top corner of the post before heading downwards where the Yugoslav keeper dives to his left to try to grab it, instead he fails to to get it and the ball just narrowly crosses the line in what turns out to be a messy goal. A messy but glorious goal for Scotland!


Though not from the game, this image from sometime prior to the match shows Billy Bremner playing in the all white Scotland away kit

The new formation has worked and the Italians who had been giving the Scots grief all throughout this game go silent at what has happened. Then after the shock vanishes, the mostly italian crowd start letting out jeers and whistles in anger. The game becomes more scrappy then on with some dangerous tackles taking place and the Spanish referee, José María Ortiz de Mendíbil, being quite relaxed about the game in what seems like his way of moving the game flowing as best as possible. It is poor stuff from the officials, likely he humid conditions maybe playing a part in all this? In the seventieth-first minute, Scotland should have be awarded a penalty after Lennox is brought down in the box, but the referee to perhaps everyone's shock doesn't think it is a foul in the box and instead gives the confused and bewildered Celtic player a tongue-lashing over what he claims is a dive. In the days before red and yellow cards were a thing, this might have been looked on a yellow card. Whatever the reason, the Scots have been denied a stonewall penalty and the Yugoslavs have been let off the hook here.

"That bloody muppet," Stein mutters angrily at seeing the referee's actions while Brown can only shake his head in disbelieve, it only enforces the growing feeling like the forces of nature are all out to stop Scotland from getting anywhere despite having the lead here with less that twenty minutes to go. In the preceding ten minutes, Scotland seemed to have by this point shaken off that ball and chain that was holding them back and are now looking for a second goal with perhaps the best attempt coming from Bobby Lennox in the eighty-third minute who blasts it at goal towards the right but the ball ends up hitting the post and out for a goal kick. If only it had gone slightly more towards the left...

As the game enters the final ten minutes. Scotland are still leading 1-0 but Yugoslavia are far from out of this and are out to cause trouble for the Scots; the game by now is so evenly matched despite the score line that anything can happen. Law for the most part has been quite quiet for most of the second half despite his goal but he is not wanting to lay down so easily as they just need something extra to kill this game off. In the eighty-seventh minute, just right after a brilliant attempt by Džajić on the other end of the field to equalise, their best effort of this second half no less, Law decides to take matters in his own hands when he closes in on towards the penalty box. He has players from in blue swarming around him and decides to pull of a little party piece he learnt and rather than volley the ball, he chips it up over the defence and the ball goes spinning into the air and the keeper tries to get his position right to stop the ball, but instead the ball comes close to him and goes right past his fingertips where he can only look back in dismay to see the ball bobbing into for his second goal of the game. A really bizarre goal, a bizarre goal for Scotland and surely the winner now.

They are now surely there and the last moments of the game and this marred with some unpleasant scenes as the Yugoslavians knowing that the game is surely up for them, start showing their frustrations and begin to lash them out on the Scots with one moment in the last minute of the game with Bremner going down and getting into a shouting match between him and Blagoje Paunović, eventually the match ends in a minor scuffle between the two players before it seems everyone gets involved to the point when to looks like a riot is about to follow. The referee just manages to regain control just to let the game last for a few more seconds before finally blowing his shrill whistle for full time with Scotland coming out as 2-0 victors and into their second final. Despite this great achievement, their victory is not well received by the mainly Italian crowd as storms of booing from the stands follows and the players make a quick getaway down the tunnel to escape from an impending riot and sadly there would be well documented reports of some of the Scotland fans who had made it here to Florence would end up being attacked in the streets after the game. This was to cause anger back home in which Evelyn Shuckburgh, the British ambassador to Italy at that time, would call for strong action to be taken and for those Scottish fans heading for the final to be safe, a task more easier said than done.

Away from this though and in the safety of the dressing room as they await for the crowds to die down and for transport to arrive, the Scottish players and backroom staff are celebrating of getting into another final in quick succession, but it is Bobby Brown who despite the happy mood in that room remains the one who is concerned that after how badly the locals have treated them, it happens to be Italy they will face and will no doubt expect a harsh reception to their arrival for the final in Rome. Indeed they are the last team that Scotland would want to face. The next few days will be a tense one for him as soon his team will be making their way to the Eternal City in the hopes that they would be the ones to leave Rome as eternal heroes for Scotland. No pressure indeed.

And here we are, 1968 and Scotland are in Italy in which they are in for a rough ride out there! As some of you know your history, Scotland came very close to reaching Euro 1968 and giving the talent Scotland had at that time it is possible that they would have made it for that year and who knows what might have happened for the team out there in Italy. Next update will be the final and please give me replies on how you are liking this story and if you what are you liking better here in contrast to the old TL and what would you like to see going forward here? Until then, catch you all later!
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Chapter 18: The Italian (Tartan) Job
Chapter 18
The Italian (Tartan) Job

For a time, many among Scotland fans, nothing could top July 30th 1966 in terms of how far Scotland had gone in a tournament by making it to a final even though they would end up losing it; surely that was a one off? Well, in terms of reaching another final, the Tartan Army wouldn't have to wait long as only two years later on June 8th, the Scotland team would play in their first European Championship final against the hosts Italy. When the pre-match press conference took place prior to the final, one question was asked by the journalists to Bobby Brown about one question; could this Scotland team beat the Italians in their own backyard? Brown had been blunt at stated that the team had learnt from the past final at Wembley and it was all a matter to see if all work for them despite the overwhelming odds that were stacked in the Italians' favour. The British media, while still clearly in favour of reporting on England, had now thrown their weight behind the Scotland team and to Brown, any support would do. The game would be broadcast live on the BBC with it being quite a very late kick off at quarter past ten in the evening British Summer Time (quarter past nine in Italy of course) which meant many across Scotland would be staying up that evening either watching on TV or closely listening to their radio sets hoping for it all to go well. England manager Sir Alf Ramsay, acting a pundit on the BBC, told the media that he was certain the Scots will be more up for it after their World Cup heartache and much like how he predicted England would win the 1966 World Cup as far back as 1962 when he first got the job, he had predicted since the Yugoslavia Semi-Final that Scotland would be victorious in Rome.

That all sounded good but despite goodwill being sent out for the Scots, the players would find the trip to the Eternal City a very daunting one as they find out when their bus approaches the final mile before the stadium to find out many Italian men trying give the Scots grieve. As some of the players and SFA staff feared, the locals aren't happy that the Scots have gotten this far and will soon lock horns with the Italians in their own backyard; a defeat by these Scottish upstarts seems almost unthinkable by many in Rome and across Italy despite the fact this Scotland was packed with a few good players who had won European silverware and had all helped get Scotland a major final, something that the Italian team had failed to do two years ago. Regardless of this, the Scottish players can only look outside their window to see the odd traveling Scotland fan, decked out with the usual tartan hat and scarf and sweating in the boiling Italians heat, waving to them as the bus past by but most of the crowd were either at best lukewarm to their arrival or at the very worst looked out to get the players.

The players are all silent which includes Denis Law as he only knows too well just how serious football is for Italy. Having played in this country, he had gotten to know just how dangerous rivalry among clubs could be, no more so than here in Rome which while Law didn't play for either Roma or Lazio, the stories he had been told about how fans would die for their club from Rome's now infamous stabbing problem, it made his club run cold. Many of his countrymen would say that the Old Firm was perhaps the most dangerous football fixture on Earth but Law would now only roll his eyes whenever he heard that for here in Italy, any football derby here made the Old Firm look like nothing more than a playground argument. It's funny how much seeing something in a different country can change someone's mindset.


John Greig, the Rangers captain who would captain Scotland in the final for Euro 1968

It would be of course Denis Law that would break the long and awkward silence saying, "I don't know about you lads, but it seems to me that somebody disnae seem tae fancy us."

A few chuckles can be heard, a nice way to break the tension, and then Bremner speaks up as he notices one shirtless Italian glaring up at Denis Law and starts making rude gestures at him. "Aye, and I bet that Italian laddie pointing at ye seems to fancy ye."

Law tries to argue back at the Leeds United player but his calls are drowned out by the laughter from the rest of those on the bus. Bobby Brown smiles, he supposed that anything, no matter how lewd things might be said by the players such as that, will do to keep them calm before a final. Thanks to that little outburst the team seem to relax more and start chatting with each other as if they are a bunch of excited children on the way to visit Disneyland. Then again, playing here at this famous stadium being the Stadio Olimpico could be Disneyland in terms of being one of the most famous football venues that as a footballer you want to play at with it being up there with the likes of Wembley, Hampden and the Maracanã just to name a few.

With all that said as the imposing structure of the stadium in the evening sun became more clearer for the Scottish players from looking from their windows, an impressive stadium it was but it was all beginning to set in to some of the players as what this was all about. Could Scotland really do it in Italy's own backyard? It must be said that despite the feeling of the Italians hellbent on revenge, they had technically already achieve this in the reverse leg of qualification in the return leg in Naples when Scotland were beaten 3-0 even though by then the game was a dead rubber. Regardless with how many though who would come out on top, there is only one way of knowing and now there was no turning back for any of them.

From the moment the Scottish players walk out onto the field in the hot and humid evening in Rome dressed in their all white away kit (curiously Euro 1968 would be the only tournament in which Scotland played in only their away kit as all teams they played were in blue), it doesn't take a genius to see how the hostile atmosphere is a dangerous one for the Scots. If the atmosphere in Florence had been hostile, then it nothing for what the Stadio Olimpico is like as some of the players look towards the packed crowd being overwhelmingly full of expected and passionate Italian supporters all chanting out 'I-ta-lia! I-ta-lia! I-ta-lia!'. There is a feeling among many that the Italian team are out with a point to prove to make it up to their fans after failing to miss out on the World Cup to not only punish the team that stopped them from qualifying but also win silverware in their own backyard, a classic case of killing two birds with one stone. That said, it must be known that Italy didn't really win to get to the final, rather they actually managed to get here in perhaps the most bizarre way possible all thanks to a coin toss.

In the other Semi-Final with Italy taking on the Soviet Union, that game ended 0-0 after extra-time and rather than go to a replay as what had been planned for the final this evening if there was no winner, that match was all been decided on the flip of a coin in which Italian captain Giacinto Facchetti guessed correctly. Had things gone differently then it would have been the Russians that Scotland would face in Rome but alas it seemed fate was smiling on the Italians but this fact had been something that Scotland manager Bobby Brown had brought up to his players telling that Italy didn't really win and that they were damn lucky to get here compared to the Scots who did it the right way. It was unknown if any of the players took this fact to heart but it was an interesting point of view if one thought about it more. As the Scotland players line up following the long walk from the tunnel, they can't help but notice the number of over thousand or so Scottish supporters in one corner of the ground trying to be heard and waving their Lion Rampant flags in the air, but they themselves are getting quite a bit of stick from the Italian supporters nearby them who who the look of wanting no Scottish person either fan or player in this stadium.

Then again such treatment is really not that much of a surprise anymore for the Scots in the few days they have been in Italy. Scotland captain John Greig can't believe how rough it's been for them and the hostile nature is like something that is enough to make any brave man shudder and to add to the madcap situation when the teams were lining up in the tunnel, the sound of firecrackers were heard constantly and it was to Greig at least getting more ridiculous. There was nothing wrong about supporting a team with much passion but these Italians were taking it way too far for his liking. Still, they have a job to do and it some ways, it's good that they have another chance to play in a final just shortly after just two years. To win the trophy here and become European champions would be better than beating England at Wembley and calling themselves unofficial World Champions. Once the referee's whistle is blown, the team are off and way to take on Italy.


The Italian team pose for their team photo just before the 1968 final with Scotland
The early moments of the game see Italy pressing forward and looking for the early goal and it seems that they are playing like the team that has not only a point to prove but rather a million ones to say the least. Nonetheless while the Scots are pushed back, they show great character but not letting the Italians get through. This goes on for about eleven minutes when they against the run of play, Law threads the ball up towards Johnstone who is unmarked and looks like he could score a goal with pretty much no Italian around him as they were all in the Scotland half trying to flood the Scottish defensive area. However, Johnstone becomes too cocky and tries to act smart with Italian keeper Dino Zoff as he looks to chip the ball over, but he loses his balance from his run falls on his side, much to the delight of the Italian crowd and Castano rushes in to get it away and lob it up the field. Johnstone looks up and see's looks of frustration and anger from his teammates and the Scotland bench, especially Bobby Brown who looks like he'll give him some very harsh words after this first half is over unless they can get something from this.

Thankfully for Johnstone, his blushes are spared as the game becomes a battle in midfield with both sets of players trying to outwit each other. After just over twenty minutes the Scots have settled in the game and the Italian crowd's anger now aims towards their own players who think they should be ahead, but their lack of experience of missing out on the last World Cup is starting to show as the Azzurri attempt to find an opening goal. Brown and Stein have kept the 4-2-1-3 formation that helped them win the game with Yugoslavia and it right now it is helping the team go forward. That said in the twenty-eighth minute, Italy win a corner and there is a major scramble in the box as players from both sides attempt to try and get a head on and the ball would fall kindly at the head of Luigi Riva who hammered it home past the hands of Ronnie Simpson who he, and the rest of his teammates could only watch the ball smash into back of the net and the stadium erupts with joy as Italy have taken what is quite in all honesty a deserved lead and it seems that Italy's revenge is looking to be close to reality.

If the stadium wasn't already an unfriendly place for the Scots then it truly becomes hell on Earth for the now sweating and humid Scots who now have to try and get something back if they want to avoid humiliation and pain like that of the Gladiators of centuries ago. Unlike Hampden Park and Wembley in which the Scotland team could always be sure of a huge backing of their own supporters packing out a stadium in their thousands, there is hardly any of that there and a thought had come to each of them in which the thoughts went back to the many games they played at Wembley against England in which the Tartan Army would more than often take over the stadium far more than the English support and making it their own. They had to wonder if this was how it felt like. But there was no time for thoughts as Italy kept attacking and had no intention to just hang on to a 1-0 lead.


Riva, the goal scorer who opened the scoring in the final
Scotland were chasing shadows and anyone looking at it from a neutral view would say that Italy was more than a stick on for not only winning the final but to utterly humiliate the Scots with more goals that would make the 1966 final loss look rather tame in comparison. That all said after thirty-five minutes of relentless Italian pressure and some rather dirty play acting from the Italians, the most notable being a challenge made by Billy Bremner on Mazzola who went on to roll around holding his leg as if it were broken even though it was one of Bremner's more 'safe' challenges and the look on the Scottish player's face at seeing this performance was one of disbelief and even more so when after the referee had finished his words of warning to Bremner, Mazzola suddenly got up again as if nothing had happened. It would have been funny for the Scots if they weren't in a losing position and the only one of the team not really surprised by all this play acting is Denis Law who only knows too well that here in Italy these sort of things are used to more often than not to help win games.

Speaking of Law however, the talented Scotland striker becomes the one player in the team who hasn't given up all hope for his team as in the thirty-seventh minute, Law attempts to run down on the counter with Rosato chasing him down and Law has to make the cross over towards Bobby Lennox on his left who gets a connection onto the ball with a diving header however Italian keeper Zoff makes a quickfire reaction to deny the shock Scottish equaliser. It might not seem like much but make no mistake as Scotland are far from out of it and if they can prevent Italy from scoring another goal then who knows? That said the five minutes of the first half are proving to be a nail biter being suddenly end-to-end action right smack bang on the fortieth minute, Ferrini is brought down by Doug Fraser just right outside the penalty box and the referee orders for a free kick to be taken. The Italians sense a second goal is near and as Domenghini steps up to take it, the volume inside the stadium increases as he takes it. The ball looks like it curl into the goal, but a dive to the right by Ronnie Simpson stops it from putting the Italians up. A groan follows from the crowd and cheer can be heard from the small number of Scottish supporters in the ground cheering their team on and perhaps the sound of one collected sigh of relief might have been heard across Scotland that night.

The game is certainly proving to be a touch and go game with many wondering where the goals will start coming in and who will take them, then just three minutes later after that Italian freekick, Willie Johnston manages to get passed a number of Italian defenders as he runs into the penalty box, but yet more are waiting for him and knowing that he can't do this himself, he makes the right call by threading the ball up towards Denis Law who is crying out to get the ball. Denis Law then with two other Italian defenders looking like they want to knock his head off than get the ball from it, makes a thunderous shot towards the bottom left in which Zoff dives into that direction however he can only get his fingertips onto the ball in which the ball is diverted off his hands and bounces it's way into the roof of the net. Against the run of play, Denis Law has dragged Scotland level against the hosts.


Live broadcast of the final, note Scotland playing in their all white away kit
Apart from the sound of the cheering thousand or so Scotland fans here in Rome, a deafening silence follows around the ground in reaction over that shock Scottish goal and now suddenly the feeling is there that there is a game on and one Italy have failed to make their dominance count. From the Scotland bench, Bobby Brown is delighted as too is Jock Stein who would get flashbacks just over a year ago in which Celtic had come from behind to beat Inter Milan to lift the European Cup, was lighting going to strike twice with yet another Italian team, this time the national side? When the crowd get their voice back, it is a set of jeers and there is a commotion with several Italian players surrounding the Swiss referee Gottfried Dienst (funnily enough the same referee Scotland had in their final with England) complaining that the Scottish goal was offside but the referees waves for the Italians to get back to the centre circle to get ready to kick off again.

The Italians both on and off the field are not happy as that goal from Scotland was not suppose to happen and as game nears the end of the first half, the Scots turn out to be more in control and jeers and whistles can be heard every time a Scottish player gets a hold the ball, most jeers seem to be aimed at Denis Law for obvious reason and the Italian players are becoming more frustrated by all this. This goes on with Scotland keeping Italy at bay until the whistle for the first half is heard and it is greeted by a storm of jeering and whistles from the home supporters who show their displeasure by throwing various rotten fruit at the players as they leave to go down the tunnel. This stuns the Scottish side who, despite some dirty tricks the Italian players have been trying to throw at them all game, they can't help but feel a little bit sympathetic for them and the pressure they must be under to deliver. With the game evenly tied, anything can happen in the second half and it is needed for the Scots to rally round and try make that goal mean something going forward...

Once the second half begins, the Azzurri start trying to boss the game around like how they did it at the start of the game by playing some fancy footwork which does bamboozles the Scots for as early as in the forty-ninth minute, Anastasi makes a wonderful shot on target but only the hands of Simpson stop it from going in. Speaking of which, the Celtic goalkeeper playing for Scotland here in Rome has had to make a number of saves throughout the game and by the time the fifty-eighth minute comes round, he's had to make eleven great saves just in this half alone in compared to the two saves that his Italian counterpart has had to make in this second half so which just describes it in nutshell of how determined Italy were out to win it. The Scots are clearly riding on their luck and in all fairness, the Italians should have scored by now and their fans are demanding it.

It can only be said though that the climate is really starting to get to the Scots in which playing football in the humid and baking heat in the height of summer in Italy does seem like a foolishly thing to do at least for Bobby Brown's opinion. He knew about how the team had struggled in the 3-0 defeat in 1965 in Naples when even though it was winter when they played, the humid conditions were still there in which the stories he heard from those who were there was that by the time the first half was over, the team were already dead on their feet and couldn't bare the thought of playing yet another forty-five minutes. It was now worse as here they were to play in even more humid conditions and there was the added pressure that this was a final with all of Europe watching it live.

Despite everything that the Italians throw at the Scots, Brown's advice for them was just to keep their shape and to the plan in which the longer the Italians couldn't score then the more chance there was of getting something out of the second half. Scotland soak up waves of pressure and by the sixty-ninth minute, the Italians seem frustrated that they can't seem to add anything and this is the moment for Scotland to make their move. After seeing some of the Italians fancy footwork, Law decides to try out some himself and to the amazement of the crowd, he starts playing a game of keepie-up's much like what Baxter did with England at Wembley the previous year. This angers the Italians with cries of jeers and whistles being showered down from the terraces who think the plucky Scot is making a fool of them and Lodetti charges at him, but Law quickly crosses the ball up towards Dave Smith who doesn't try anything fancy but instead sends the ball up to Jimmy Johnstone who in turn doesn't want to make a blunder and makes amends by cross the ball to Law who has ran up the field and slides in put the ball into a one way direction towards goal past the legs of Zoff. It might not be the most powerful shot nor is it the best goal ever scored, but Law's second goal of the match is a vital goal that completes the turn around that sends Scotland 2-1 up in the final and the players celebrate knowing that they nearly there at glory.


Rare photo of Bremner attempting a bicycle kick in the final
The Italian crowd are silenced once again; in some ways Law takes pride in the stunned reaction as with the fact he has scored twice against the Italians, it is a bit of personal revenge himself given the miserable time he had in Italy a few years ago so one can understand what this means to him. If the reaction of the Italian crowd wasn't scary enough then it becomes like something you'd see from a South American country as the crowd's utter contempt for the Scots becomes more vicious as bits of garbage and half eaten food start to being thrown from the stands if a Scotland player is nearby the edge of pitch. However, what none of that nearly seventy-thousand strong Italian crowd would like to admit is the realisation that final, or rather their final is lost and those Scots that had put misery on them from not only preventing them for qualifying for the World Cup but are about to heap more misery on them with what is looking to be a humiliating loss at home.

With one would expect from a home team being beaten in a final, the game becomes more nasty as the Italian players start making vicious fouls on the Scottish players to the point when it looks like they could break more than a few bones; a full all out brawl on the field is not exactly out of the realms of fantasy given how things are going on here. In the seventy-third minute, Guarneri makes a dangerous tackle on Charlie Cooke who hits the deck with an almighty crash and to the shock of his teammates, the Chelsea midfielder doesn't get up and looks to be in great pain as he riles on the grounds clutching his leg. This angers Bremner who charges at the Italian Centre Back for revenge looking like he is about to perform a Glasgow Kiss on Guarneri and this causes an almighty uproar with both teams who gather round the poor Swiss referee for action to be taking and the Italian police are making worried looks with each other at the crowd with the fear that a riot is about to break out at any moment. The whole thing is looking like a powder keg waiting to go off.

After about two minutes of arguing, finger pointing and playground shoves being applied by both teams, the referee after much tired reasoning that any Swiss man can give, the game resumes but it has rattled the Scots that makes start to lose their heads in many ways despite hanging on to that 2-1 lead. After a scrappy period of some rough play, Domenghini is brought down outside the box by Bremner and the referee, who has warned the fiery Scot from his charge earlier, has now little choice but to force him to leave the field and reduces Scotland to ten men, much to the great delight of the crowd here in Rome who roar in delight as if a goal for Italy has been scored. As the Leeds United player walks off, gaining the rather unwanted title of the first player to be sent off in a European Championship final, he is greeted by Italian fans near the tunnel as they begin to mock him and taking great delight at his misfortune. Then things look seemed get worse for Scotland as Domenghini takes a wonderful free kick that looks set to be going in but to the horror of many Italians, the ball bounces off the crossbar and out for a goal kick. Any inch lower and the ball would have gone in for an Italian goal, the Scots are hanging on for dear life with a man down.


View of the stadium during the final
The final ten minutes become a thrilling and tense game that if you are a Scot, you can't bare to watch with Italy being now the team very much on the up and with the Italian supporters screaming at their players to not lose concentration and get that second goal that would take this game to extra-time. The Scots have no chance to get another goal either in these closing minutes or with extra-time to play, the latter being a dreaded thought as with how tired the Scottish players are, there is no chance in hell that they can do anything now and that they would be a sitting target for the hosts. The only thing they can do is try to waste time by passing the ball around and hoping no Italian player will get it. Slowly the game seems to move with the crowd screaming out for a goal that they need to avoid losing and for the Scottish players, it's hard to know if the clock is moving or if it has stopped.

Five minutes then to go now, despite still hanging onto that 2-1 lead, the Scottish players are all but under the cosh with them now being pushed back and trying all they can to hold on even if means just trying to run the clock down which of course doesn't go down well with the Italians and from the bench, Bobby Brown and Jock Stein can only look on with their hearts racing knowing how damn close they are to victory yet things can all turn out to be very cruel as it can be for the Scots. Whistles are heard from all around the ground as time slowly ticks by and one can only wonder what everyone watching the game back in Scotland are feeling at that moment; most likely hiding behind the couch or perhaps take the dog out for a late evening walk. Domenghini tries another attempt on goal in the eighty-eighth minute with a wonderful volley that Simpson knocks over the bar to go out for a corner kick and Italy waste no time to take it. Once the corner kick is taken, the ball is grabbed out of the air by the Scottish keeper who kicks it out of the Scottish half and hopes that'll be his last effort in this game, Simpson falls to his knees and prays that they can do this. The final few minutes tick by and then with the crowd growing more and more hysterical that it's all about to end in tears and no one knows what to do, up until that is until a certain whistle is hear...the final whistle!

The Italian players drop to their knees in despair, some openly weeping at how this has happened and the huge crowd of mostly Italians are stunned into silence at what happened with no doubt a few tears being shed too. What has happened is this...Rome is stunned, Italy is stunned, all of Europe is stunned...Scotland are champions of Europe! Law is in tears and is embraced by Johnstone who knows that Law missed out on the European Cup final with Manchester United not so long ago due to an injury and had to watch his teammates enjoy their moment of glory. Now he has glory of his own and it's so much sweeter than anything he could've imagined. Even the Rangers and Celtic players who have tasted European glory before with their clubs can never describe what a feeling this really is of taking their country to glory.

Prior to collecting the trophy, an SFA official made the request that should Scotland win the final, they have to be wearing their familiar dark blue jerseys for the cameras and their happy looking kit man hands out their familiar dark blue jerseys for their moment of glory as it comes to collect the trophy. Despite all this, Bobby Brown and Jock Stein know that they have to be respectful for the hosts despite the treatment they've received by not overdoing it with the celebrations. Most of the crowd have left for the exit with all the Scottish supporters here celebrating like crazy with some invading the pitch to congratulate their heroes but soon it is time for the players go up to collect the trophy and Jock Stein notices the British press crew who had been so happy with England winning in 1966 are showing what could be even more appreciation for the Scot's triumph in the Eternal City.

Once Greig lifts the cup and his teammates celebrate, from Gretna Green to John O'Groats, the whole of Scotland parties like never seen since VE day and while there hadn't been a day when an Englishman would remind the Scots of that day in 1966, there now wouldn't be a day that would go by too when a Scotsman would remind the English of that night in Rome in 1968 when Scotland, the nation that invented international football all the way back in 1872, became champions of Europe. When the team returned at Glasgow airport, thousands came out to welcome them home and for two months after that famous final, no talked about anything other than football and the hurt of 1966 had vanished. Speaking of which, the Scots would turn their attention to Mexico in two years time and a chance to have another shot at the World Cup and this time to try and pry it off from England's hands. For some who would remember how badly things went for England and Scotland in Brazil in 1950, the aim for the British to reclaim their crown as the kings of football and finally been achieved with one Home Nation a world champion and the other now a European champion. In some ways if football was to all but end here then the story for the British would have a happy ending here, but alas a new decade was on the horizon and only then came the new pressure of trying to defend their glory from everyone else...

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Final results of the Knockout Stage of Euro 1968

Scotland, champions of Europe 1968! It has always been said that the Scotland team of the late '60's and early '70's was the best team Scotland ever had and many will say that had they qualified at all during that time then it's not far out the realms of possibility that they might have gotten something. Anyway next we now move into more familiar WC territory for many of you readers out there as Mexico 1970 is next and I hope you are still enjoying this and what would you like to see in this redux that was never done in the original TL. I'm all for hearing different ways of how to improve things so please let me know!

Until then, catch you all later as we're all off for the big trip to Mexico!

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Chapter 19: The Big Trip To Mexico - 1970 World Cup
Chapter 19
The Big Trip To Mexico


The year is now 1970; the swinging Sixties are all but over and a new decade approaches along with the ninth World Cup to be held in Mexico. It is a first World Cup for more reasons than one could imagine, one of these is the obvious fact that this World Cup to be hosted in North America as apposed to the tournament being held in Europe or South America and there is a great deal of excitement surrounding it when the teams start coming in from all over the World, well, technically Europe and the Americas. Even in the small space of time that there have been between now and the last World Cup, there has been improvement in satellite technology and one of these is that fact that all games can now be broadcasted live on television to almost everywhere in the world in contrast to have to wait to hear how their team had gotten on. Finally, there is also one finally important detail about this World Cup which is important and that is the fact that for television audiences is that all games would be broadcasted in colour for the first time and the vibrant colours of a Mexican summer would be vastly different to the rather soulless black and white footage from England years ago. Speaking of which, the England team were far from a soulless team going into this World Cup

In terms of British football, the end of the last decade could not have gone better in which Britain could happily claim that it has a World and European Champion and thus have regained their perch of being the old masters of football and showing the world that they meant business. The truth of the matter is that it is two separate teams that are World and European champion who both only made it to their first final during the last World Cup and the other team here in the mix is only making their third time at the World Cup; these teams are England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Sadly for those wanting all four British teams there, Wales missed out on qualification thanks to have the horrible luck being in brutal qualification group with Italy and East Germany, the latter would end up qualifying for Mexico. It was disappointing that Wales couldn't make it to Mexico themselves considering that they qualified for the last two World Cups, it is interesting to think what might've been had they made it.

England, as World Champions, had the benefit of having an automatic spot at the World Cup due to being World Champions while Scotland and Northern Ireland had to qualify like others. Northern Ireland, dragged and kicked by a force of nature known as George Best, managed to get past the Soviet Union in qualification while Scotland shocked everyone by preventing West Germany from making it to this World Cup, though it must be said that the were a far better team than at the last World Cup and were a European Champion to boot so much of those words about the team were there for good reason. Following their success in Italy two years ago, the players had all gone down in nearly every Scottish home as a household names however one mustn't forget their manager, now knighted as Sir Bobby Brown following their victory in Italy had played his part in helping to get his team this far and had sealed his fate for many of his countrymen to dub him as Scotland's greatest ever manager as what Sir Alf Ramsay was for England (the latter also being knighted as his team achieved glory in 1966.)


Sir Bobby Brown (left) walking alongside Sir Alf Ramsay (right), two of British football's greatest mangers at international level

While much was said about the two champion teams from north and south of the border, not much was ever much given to Northern Ireland despite having the world class talents of a certain George Best over the fact that not many expected much from them and in some cruel way, the press and media all might have had a point for if it weren't for Best then Northern Ireland might not have been here for the great Mexican jamboree. That all said, following their appearance at the 1966 World Cup the team had gained experience and now had a new manager in the dug out, Billy Bingham, to lead them for chances of glory and George Best was seen as the prized secret weapon that was going to help lead them all the way.

When the draw was made, the three British teams would soon find out who the teams they would be playing; Northern Ireland would be placed in Group 1 along with hosts Mexico, who'd they play in the open match of this World Cup, alongside with Belgium and El Salvador which was considered not a bad draw for them. England on the other hand were placed in with former two times champions Brazil along with Romania and Czechoslovakia which was looked on as a tough group and finally there were the Scots who would be placed in Group 4 with Peru, Bulgaria and Morocco which was seen as a very good group for them.

The Scots and Irish thought that while they might've had the best sort of groups that they hoped for, England looked as though like they had drawn the short straw, but then again, football is a funny game so who's to say things were going to go the way they could do. However, on their transatlantic flight out to North America taking a whole six weeks before the tournament kicked off, they don't go straight to Mexico but rather make a landing in Florida in the United States where the three teams make a strange appearance at NASA's Cape Canaveral. They aren't preparing to become astronauts to fly out to the Moon on the Apollo space missions, but the trip to the Cape is more of a psychological exercise as well as a physical one to get the teams use to the hotter climate when playing in Mexico.


George Best (left) sometime during training in Florida prior to the start of the 1970 World Cup

Another factor of taking the trip to the United States over than the training was to get away from the intense media attention the squads were receiving everyone else, true they are somewhat known Stateside but are really next to nobodies out there and this is in some ways a refreshing change for them. That is until they get there in which word gets around among many British expats living in Florida that the English, Scottish and Northern Irish teams and soon NASA finds itself swarmed by a motley group of British expats wanting to see their national sides traning together in what is quite a once in a lifetime opportunity. That all said, the trip to NASA does receive some attention with squad members meeting up with some of the Apollo astronauts with some scenes such as The England squad meeting up the astronauts of the Apollo 13 mission and hearing how they survived their well documented and harrowing ordeal, the Scottish squad meet up with the first man to walk on the Moon, Neil Armstrong, a man of Scottish descent who tells the Scotland team to, "knock 'em dead, boys" while out there in Mexico.

However, it is one amusing bit of film taking during that time in Florida that is well remembered by all in which involves the Northern Irish squad and fellow NASA astronauts all watching George Best trying to teach Alan Shepard, the first American in Space and the commander of the upcoming Apollo 14 Moon mission, to play a game of keepie-up's and not having the best of luck trying to match the skill of Best. Despite this the two men from very different backgrounds and everyone watching look like they're having fun with a remarked comment by Sheppard later on asking how Best would like to try, "that fancy skill on the Moon?" Best would later say that his meeting with Sheppard would be one of the more thrilling moments in his life and remarks saying that he must have been the only footballer to ever nutmeg a Moonwalker.

After this, the trip/training exercise ends with the teams getting a tour around the NASA and seeing the large Saturn V rockets getting ready for future missions. Regardless of what some might think of this trip as nothing more than a PR stunt put on by the British Government in the hope of extending relations between the United Kingdom and Untied States, the trip to Florida has been of great help for the squads to help get them all acclimatised to the humid and hot conditions that await them as they head southwards to Mexico.


The England team training at Cape Kennedy shortly before leaving for the World Cup with various British expats living in Florida watching on
However, even before either team kicks a ball, there is a rather bizarre mix bag that follows them and no more so than Bobby Moore in which when the England team made a brief stop in Columbia to play a friendly though it would become infamous for the whole Bogotá Bracelet affair in which Moore was detained in Columbia for four days for allegedly stealing a bracelet though thankfully for him and England, he would be released ready in time to play in the World Cup though the Mexican press didn't seem to hold them in high regards and make the calls of calling them a team of 'drunks and thieves'. The other sad thing was that with football now more into the psyche of the British public like never before, politics had gotten involved in which Harold Wilson's Labour Government would use the timing of what they hoped would be a successful tournament for the Home Nations, mainly of course with England, would help give them a boost in winning the general election that was to take place in June during the middle of the World Cup.

Some people didn't take too kindly to bring football into politics in which the biggest critic would be Scotland manager Sir Bobby Brown who would argue about this though few didn't think it wouldn't add up to much, though incredibly, it was heard by the Government and thus the 1970 General Election was pushed back for an early July date to take place way after the World Cup had ended. It's unknown why this sudden change of plans though it is widely speculated that with Brown's newly create aura and standing among much of the Scottish public, Labour didn't want to lose any Scottish votes if they went against his words, so Wilson and his government quietly shifted the date further back. Did it help? That remains to be seen...

If all of this wasn't mad enough, there was one more final strange event taking place just before the World Cup would begin that the three Home Nations teams would be roped into a publicity shoot which would involve another British visitor to Mexico which was none other than LNER A3 class steam locomotive 4472 Flying Scotsman which just at the start of it's 1970 second tour leg of it's United States and Canada (Having starting from Slaton, Texas), it was decided that while on it's way to the West Coast of the United States, the promoters would take the locomotive to make a brief detour towards Mexico City for was officially as part of a goodwill tour to extend friendship in Anglo/Mexican relations and business, unofficially though it was seen as a rather shameless PR stunt to stand alongside the UK's football teams. After this the tour would carry on on what would be an ill-fated trip of North America but that is another story. With all that said though, it was time for the World Cup to begin with Northern Ireland having the honour to take part in the opening match of the 1970 World Cup...

Playing in front a huge crowd of over one hundred thousand in the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, Northern Ireland line up to play the hosts Mexico. A lot of attention was on Best to see if he can put those skills to good use to help his country to victory as what he could do for Manchester United, however there is some serious looks on the faces of the squad as they know how much it means for Northern Ireland as just last August, the country which gripped by a serious of riots from both sides of the Protestant and Catholic divide and since then there had been many unfortunate and tragic scenes that had come out of Northern Ireland which had done much to give the impression to the rest of the world of Northern Ireland being a dangerous place. The one thing that had been a feel good story that had been a much needed shot in the arm for optimism had been that their team had qualified for the World Cup in Mexico and although neither of the players wanted to mix sport with politics as well as their own religious views, they knew that on that fact they would have to keep their heads down and hoped that playing and perhaps going all the way in this World Cup would help unite their troubled little country. With their game being broadcast live back home by the BBC, Northern Ireland start of the opening group match with Mexico, and the large crowd is there supporting the hosts.

That match however would be pretty much the moment in which George Best would announce himself to the World in which what happened in the thirty-eighth minute would go down in history as one of the greatest World Cup goals ever scored. From inside the Irish half, he nicks the ball of the feet of Vantolrá and made a mad dash with the ball with many Mexican players trying to stop him but the cunning Irish Left Winger knows what he's doing as he nears the eighteen yard box, BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme has been on the edge of his seat as he witnesses Best's one man run saying the following: "He's got the ball, he's now heading down the left field and...the Mexicans players are trying to stop but he's going all by himself a-and he's getting close out there...!" Then with a stadium and many Northern Irish viewers back home all on the edge watching this wonderful bit of football, Best fires it home past Mexican keeper Ignacio Calderon to put his team 1-0 up. "He's done it! YES! That is a truly magnificent goal, without question one of the greatest you'll ever see!" Wolstenholme is practically bouncing on his seat from the sheer joy he's just witnessed and no doubt many back home would be doing the same. Best has opened this World Cup without question with one of the finest goals every seen and the Mexican crowd, rises to their feet as one to applaud an amazing bit of football by George Best.

It was a goal that would inspire many a young boy wanting to play football, one of them being a certain young Argentine boy who would go on to make quite a name for himself in years to come, but he would always say that George Best was his hero. Nonetheless in that game, Northern Ireland would defeat the host nation 1-0 and would end up going on an unbeaten run also beating Belgium and El Salvador to win the group and put themselves in a good position going forward in this World Cup, a vast contrast to the rather sad and controversial way they exited the last World Cup but certainly there were no nerves here and with George Best dragging this team forward (who would bag another three goals in the group stage alone) then who knows what they might be able to do...?

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Final results of Northern Ireland's Group at the 1970 World Cup

For the 1966 Runners-up and current European Champions, Scotland have come into this World Cup with more than a point to prove; they have come to rip the World Cup off the hands of the Auld Enemy and crown themselves as the champions of the World. Sounds crazy? Not really considering that this was a Scotland that was in many was an improvement on even the one four years ago. Their first game would be against Morocco though it's fair to say that things nearly went off the rails early on when the African side took a shock lead and the fears of yet another North Korean debacle looks like to be repeated. However this is a different Scotland team and they would end up coming to turn the game around and win 2-1. As good as this was to get them going, some weren't really that impressed with the performance however Scotland would answer all critics in their second group match when they would put on perhaps one of their greatest World Cup performances in which they would crush Bulgaria 5-2 which more or less booked their passage through in which Denis Law would end up scoring a hattrick in that game.

The final group gate would be against Peru who themselves had won their first two group games that booked their place and thus the game itself would become a battle on who would finish on top. In the end, Scotland would run out as the winners in a 3-1 bashing of the Peruvians in a result that proved to everyone that this a Scotland team that was not to be messed with and was out to show the world what they could do. Also at that same time, it was the first time a Scotland team had won all three of their group games which just went to show of how much the Scotland football team had changed ever since that rather ill-fated adventure in Brazil nearly twenty years ago when they ended up leaving after just two games.

With the news that England had also made it into the last eight from their tough group, all three Home Nations were through though it must be noticed that both the Scots and Irish took some great delight that they had managed to win their groups in contrast to England who could only finish up as runners-up behind a much fancied Brazilian team that had caught many people's attention and honestly a neutral couldn't really blame England to lose to that sort of team who were very different to one that flopped in their World Cup defence in the last tournament. Nonetheless, with three British teams though, who was to say that any of them could go out there and defy the odds to prove to the world that British football was still king? It wouldn't be long to find out...

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Final results of Scotland's group at the 1970 World Cup

And here we in Mexico for the 1970 WC, said by many as their favourite tournament, hmm, I wonder why...? So yes, England's group stage games are pretty much the same as OTL with Scotland taking the place of West Germany's place and same results with Northern Ireland manging to win their group with victory over Mexico in the opening game. Quite similar to the old TL but there are a few tweaks here and there but keep an eye out on more changes plus this is were we branch out to things outside football that are changing as you might have noticed here. Anyway as always, the final eight:
Northern Ireland vs Uruguay

Italy vs Mexico

Brazil vs Peru

Scotland vs England
So then, who will win and by what score line? Hope you enjoyed this update and stay tuned as more fun and frolics in Mexico is yet to follow! Until then, catch you all later!
Chapter 20: An Englishman, A Scotsman And An Irishman Go To The World Cup...
Chapter 20
An Englishman, A Scotsman And An Irishman Go To The World Cup...

The 14th of June had arrived and with it so too were the Quarter finals for the 1970 World Cup. For this, all four games would start at the same time and both the BBC and ITV for British viewers would broadcast both games involving the Home Nations though it would be said that many British eyes and even perhaps the rest of the world were casting their eyes over to the game between Scotland and England in which the two old rivals had been brought together for what looked to be an epic rematch and that match itself would be shown live on ITV (or on STV for Scottish viewers). For the other Home Nation there, Northern Ireland would take on Uruguay which would be shown on the BBC but sadly, they barely got a noticing from the rest of the British press as it was quite obvious nearly everyone wanting to cover that other certain game. Still, there was the Northern Irish press team there along with a few hundred Northern Ireland fans among the small twenty-six thousand supporters in the stadium proudly wearing green and white while waving their Hand of Ulster or Union Jack flags in one corner of the stadium with even a banner being raised saying 'Are you watching Dublin?' which is an obvious dig at their southern neighbours. However the rest of the stadium is filled quite a number of the supporters in the ground are either curious Mexican locals or the vast majority being that of Uruguayan fans who have all made the trip north in the hope that they can repeat their own heroic shocks of 1950.

As the teams emerge from the tunnel, they are stunned to see the vast Estadio Azteca looking quite empty, barely a quarter full to put it midly. It's strange that there is hardly anyone here though it's more likely that most of the locals are watching Mexico's game with Italy over in Toluca. Still, a game has to be played and the Dutch referee blows his whistle to start the game. As the teams start playing, it is an interesting thing to note that two of the smallest countries left in this World Cup are playing against each other and it will guarantee that no matter whoever wins, a nation with less than five million people will be in the last four. Nonetheless, Northern Ireland nearly get off to a perfect start with just two minutes play when George Best sends the ball towards Dougan in the penalty box who fires the ball towards the goal, only for it to meet the hands of Ladislao Mazurkiewicz and keep the game goalless. As typical with this World Cup, this game along with the other games have all kicked off at noon due for television viewers in Europe but it means playing in the baking hot Mexican heat which is never good for anyone and Northern Irish manager Billy Bingham knows this as he tries to keep cool in the shade while all he can do is watch his team to try play Uruguay.

Bingham knows that South American teams play very different to European sides and he expected this Uruguay side to be no different, yet he didn't expect them to be quite physical as they started performing many bad tackles on the Northern Irish team in the thirteenth minute, Atilio Ancheta brings down George Best that looks like it almost breaks his legs and leads to many angry Northern Ireland players to confront the defender and the referee has to step in to ease tensions; it has also become clear that the Uruguayans have marked Best and in doing so to make sure he can't cause damage decide to inflict damage on Best in perhaps the worst way possible. Thankfully for Northern Irish viewers, Best gets back up on his feet and Ancheta, who has been given a yellow card by the referee for that moment, glares at his attacker and gets back into the game. From a free kick Northern Ireland are awarded which ultimately comes to nothing, the game carries on and it does become quite brutal with bad tackles taking place with neither side getting nowhere near a goal and the referee trying desperately to keep the game flowing. So much so that during that first half, Northern Ireland goalkeeper Pat Jennings would later re call years later that he spent more time being a spectator to near brawls on the field rather than someone trying to get a shot on target. The humid conditions are likely a factor to this and as the Ulstermen try to play the game, few of them have any thoughts about how the other game is getting on...


Jennings (left) and Best (centre) talking over things with manager Bingham (right) sometime during the 1970 World Cup

To the surprise of perhaps no one, very few in mainland Britain took any interest in that game as the overwhelming majority of British viewers tuned into ITV to watch the big Quarter-Final encounter between Scotland and England. Other than the fact it was not only another big game between the two oldest footballing nations in the world or that it was a rematch of the final four years ago or even the fact that it would be the first to be played in the Americas, it had more importance that it would be between the World and European Champions which gave build up to it a unique edge like no other game prior had done. Alf Ramsay and Bobby Brown, now both knighted as 'Sir', both famously said in a pre-match interview to the press that no longer did either side see the other as inferior but as a worthy equal that either wanted to beat. Truly, it was Champion vs. Champion, mouth watering for the press no less. That all said, some cynics feared that it might be something of an anti-climax as the last game between the two sides was only back in April in the British Home Championship where they played out a dull 0-0 draw at Hampden with many finding it not good enough for if either of these two sides were to go all the way if they played like that. However even before a ball was kicked, there was good news for the Scots and bad news for the English in which England goalkeeper Gordon Banks wouldn't be playing in goals due to apparent food poisoning and that the backup keeper, Peter Bonetti, would play in goals. That said Brown had warned his players not to think that Banks being out would make things any easy for them as there were ten other English players on the pitch too...

With an estimated twenty-eight million people in the UK alone tuning it to watch the game live, it would also be remembered by a certain generation of the first England/Scotland game to be broadcast in colour for the first time were the white shirts and navy shorts of England and the blue shirts and white shorts of Scotland were now clear to make out and the very image of them lining up in the hot afternoon Mexican sun made for quite a surreal image that so far removed from either Wembley or Hampden. However many would think that this was the first game between the two to be played in colour though it turns out that this a classic Mandela effect as funnily enough the Home International game between the two was the first to be broadcast in colour. With that all said from the moment the two sides walked out onto the pitch and into the blazing Mexican summer sun, there was a serious edge in the air as whoever won this game would surely have a good chance of playing in the final and maybe going on to win the World Cup.

The stadium in the Estadio Nou Camp in León is filled to the brim with over twenty-three thousand curious locals who are all willing to see the oldest International football teams in the world take place in their city and of a small number of England and Scotland fans who've made the long journey out to Mexico. The game kicks off and right from the get-go, it proves to be a thrilling game with it being quite an open game and the spectators' heads going from left to right like a tennis match and it seems only a matter time until one side opens the scoring and in the twenty-first minute, Gemmell brings down Edwards just outside the penalty box and England are awarded a free kick. Many bodies are gathered in the box and despite some of his teammates motioning to the England captain to cross it to them, he focussing on Cruickshank's goal and finds an opportunity. The referee blows his whistle and Edwards kicks the ball over the Scottish wall and right past the arms of the poor Scotland keeper to slam the ball into the back of the net and put England a goal up so soon. There is great excitement from the handful of England supporters in the ground who are glad to get the early goal while their Scottish counterparts can only look on with dismay of being sucker punched by a fabulously free kick. They now know they have to come out and fight but it does look to be a tall order...


England fans making themselves heard during the Quarter-Final with Scotland

England start to outplay the Scots, the heat clearly getting to the latter, and even in the early moments of this match, it seems that England have this game already in the bag and no sooner than that opening goal in the twenty-ninth minute, England nearly get a second with Allan Mullery outwitting Cruickshank, only for the ball to just narrowly go over the bar. From the bench, Bobby Brown has his arms crossed and can only shake his head at how poor they are playing, with all the talk of Banks having food poising, he has to wonder if his own team have gotten a nasty bug of some kind. It is painful viewing for Scotland fans and joy for England fans which Ramsay feels satisfied as there was a great deal of criticism over his team not being all that good, no doubt victory here would shut them up. That all said just after the half hour mark, Scotland do find themselves back into the game with Bobby Lennox finding himself in a good position in the thirty-third minute when he fired a rocket at goal but it was down to Bonetti who got a hand to it to deny a Scottish equaliser.

The strange things is that Scotland actually begin to start to control the game and end up looking more like the team that are going to score yet despite England looking ropey, the Scots can't find a way and it is with great relief for those watching south of the border and those in the north some annoyance that the first half ends with England leading 1-0 though are quite lucky to hold onto it still. When the teams walk off the pitch some wonder what will happen next; some think England will hold on to this result and add to it, others think Scotland will score and go on to win themselves, but very few that day will know just what madness was to follow in that stadium...

Meanwhile in the capital city just as that game was nearing the end of it's first half, so too was Northern Ireland's game with Uruguay. After forty minutes, it is still goalless and the small crowd are voicing their anger at wanting to see goals being scored. Then in the forty-third minute, Pat Jennings for perhaps the first time during that whole game is called into action when Julio Morales fires in a great ball, only for Jennings to dive to the left to keep it out as the South Americans are awarded a corner kick. When the ball flies into the box, Morales nearly scores again with a header and like before, Jennings comes in to keep the game scoreless. The first half is then over and the two teams go off the pitch with some of the players exchanging dirty looks with each other over the dangerous play that has been taking place, in some ways it could be said that a powdered keg is waiting to blow off at this rate. Bingham knows that they have to break the deadlock somehow.

Following a half time team talk and hearing what the score was in the England/Scotland game was at this moment in time, they returned to the pitch with some renewed hope that they could win this with the score still firmly deadlocked. This time the Ulstermen start playing a more silky South American style of football with George Best showing how it's done (then again, he has been doing this on football fields in England that are more like mud baths than pitches) and bizarrely enough, Uruguay start playing a more physical British style of play which makes the game look really strange for some. Both sides go near throughout the game for the opening goal, but sadly none are successful and up in the commentary box many of them are struggling to try and make the game more interesting, amusingly though the only bit of entertainment comes from the motley group of Northern Ireland fans singing in one corner of the ground with some lewd lyrics that BBC commentator Alan Weeks apologises to the viewers for some 'industrial language.' Surely something has to happen soon or this game might be about to head into Extra-time and with more of this heat, who would want that?

The players return to the sun-drenched pitch with some of the players thankful to get some cool shade while both supporters in the stands can be seen enjoying their ice cream and using fans trying to keep cool. The second half then begins with Scotland now fighting with renewed belief that they can do this and clearly England are starting to look rattled early on this second half and surely it is only a matter of time until Scotland get what they deserve. Then in the forty-eighth minute of the game, it does happen. Denis Law takes the ball up the field before back passing it towards Tommy McLean who takes the ball and looks out for Bobby Lennox motioning him to cross the ball up to him, in which the Kilmarnock player duly applies. Moore tries to stop the ball landing at the foot of the Celtic striker, only for Lennox to leap into the air and header a downwards header that Bonetti has no chance to grab and thus Scotland are back in the game.

Lennox celebrates with his teammates and Busby applauds his team's great fighting spirit to come back an he looks over to see Ramsay shaking his head and then starts talking with his assistant coach, no doubt talking about who to take off and who to come on thanks to the new substitute rule in place. There is a further moment of drama in the fifty-first minute when Moore makes a wonderful tackle that he used in the Brazil game which he snaps the ball off the feet of O'Hare and the Derby County player is caught completely unaware of what has happened and Moore passes the ball towards Mullery only for him and Stanton to make a collision into each other. It is a clear accident in which no one is at fault, but both players try to argue with the referee over who they think was to blame, instead the Argentine referee is having nothing of their lip and decides to book both players, much the annoyance of both teams, their managers and the fans all shaking their heads at such a stupid act.

Nonetheless, the game quickly restarts and just five minutes later from that incident, Law takes the ball from the half way mark and goes on a run like a man possessed to win and no English player can't seem to stop him with him dodging them with such skill and the closer he finds himself near the penalty box, many in the stadium start to rise with them all thinking that another goal is coming. The moment just as he is right outside the box, he strikes the ball towards the right of the net and there like with that first Scottish goal, there is no chance of Bonetti catching that and Law's screamer sends Scotland 2-1 after coming from behind to stun the World Champions. It is truly a wonderful goal and ITV commentator Hugh Johns would say during the aftermath of the goal was, "Truly you have to say that is magnificent! Denis Law has struck a sword through English hearts everywhere!" Also unknown to the players that somewhere in Argentina, a young boy watches that moment on television and declares that he would like to try that run someday...


Scotland fans celebrate taking the lead against England
One has to wonder how the reaction back home in Scotland was like as probably everyone is celebrating like they've won it as England try to desperately find a way to get back into the tie, however there is still a long way to go yet and next up would be a moment that that point out the madness that this game was to descend into. In perhaps one of the most bizarre and more painful moments of the World Cup, Martin Peters, in the sixty-seventh minute tries to get his head onto a cross by Alan Ball and Cruickshank keeps his eye on the ball the whole time as he rushes to his left not looking where he is going. He gets a hand to knock the ball over the ball but as a consequence of not looking where he is running into it, he slams into the goalpost and falls to his side, completely knocked out cold. Pretty much everyone in the stadium grows quiet, fearing something bad has happened after a few seconds of him not getting up. Peters fears something bad has happened and motions for attention to come his way.

Thankfully, the Scottish medic team is on their way and try help the unfortunate Scottish keeper who is still out cold. For about a minute they try to bring him back and even the English medic team in a moment of panic run out towards their Scottish counterparts to try and help out. By now both sets of players are surrounding the stricken keeper fearing the worse has happened, however there is a great cheer and applause around the stadium when Cruickshank does slowly rise up while sitting down clutching his head looking dazed but nonetheless alive. That all said he is clearly not looking good to carry on playing so without any choice, Bobby Brown turns towards Bobby Clark, the Aberdeen and backup Scottish keeper and tells him to go on. With England's Gordon Banks not playing in this game, the match itself would be forever known as a tale of two keepers with both backup keepers having to play in this match.

Cruickshank is helped off the pitch as Clark rushes on to go in goals as now he is suddenly placed into a corner kick situation. The kick takes place in the seventieth minute with Edwards taking it, the ball crosses into the box and much to the horror of the Scots, England score thanks to a header by Peters with the score now at 2-2 and all square once again. Regardless of what's happened, no one will be asking for their money back in terms of sheer drama and goal scoring taking place. Also just a minute later after that goal, Charlton goes off and Colin Bell goes on but that doesn't mean both sides have everything to play for. In the seventy-sixth minute, Edwards nearly strikes home a wonderful volley that Clark makes a bumbling save that he nearly drops, thankfully he doesn't make a fool of himself there, though nerves are looking to starting to show for the Aberdeen keeper and he with many others will have likely forgot about the other match taking place...


Scotland keeper Jim Cruickshank before his injury during the game

In the other game with Northern Ireland, the game is still 0-0 though that doesn't tell half of the story in which the game itself has been quite a rough affair in which both sides can't seem to get a lucky break. That is until the seventy-fourth minute in which John Cowan was brought down and it was once again that man, Ancheta, who strikes again and brings the Northern Irish midfielder down with many of his teammates all crying foul to the referee. Thankfully for them, the referee agrees and he runs up to Ancheta to show another yellow card and with brings out a red card to send him off. The Irish supporters can be barely heard cheering this action as the Uruguayan teammates try and hopelessly fail to make the referee to reverse the sending off, however the choice is final and Ancheta makes the walk of shame as he leaves the field and leaving his teammates a man down but thankfully not losing any goals just yet. Even after this, Uruguay players are still furious with what is happening and it takes another two minutes before things have calmed down, though like with many things, the heat is getting to everyone.

Surely now with their opponents being a man down, the Ulstermen have the advantage and they begin to try and prove this but showing the weak defensive flanks that the South Americans have. Towards the end of the first second half, it's clear that this game is Northern Ireland's to lose now and right up into the eighty-third minute of the game, George Best decides to end this game for good and with him dancing around the left side of the Uruguayan penalty box, he gets around several defenders before he lobs the ball right towards the right hand corner of the net, scoring yet another wonderful goal that rivals that goal with Mexico but more importantly, it is a goal that puts Northern Ireland 1-0 up in the dying moments of the game and he is surrounded by his teammates who know they are so close to the last four if they can just hang on.

Uruguay, shocked and angered by how things are looking dire, now desperately try to get a goal back but now all the Northern Irish players pull back to 'park the bus' as to make sure that their losing opponents have no chance to get back in this game. They try and try but it's no avail and after a pretty stuffy and defensive minded performance from Northern Ireland, the final whistle blows and great celebrations follow as little Northern Ireland have won this Quarter-Final and are in the Semis for the first time since 1958 and across the small yet troubled country, it is a moment that all can celebrate together. As the celebration on the pitch carries on, Bingham then comes out from the dugout to congratulate his players, but instead they grab him and host into the air and begin to walk around the pitch with him on their shoulders. It is a truly great moment and while this game might not be getting not that much noticed unlike their larger neighbours, it feels like there is something that this Northern Ireland team can do. The question now is who will they face and could the great George Best win a World Cup on his own?


Northern Ireland players celebrate after their victory over

During the time in which Northern Ireland was closing in to victory, things were hanging in the balance between England and Scotland when the game rolled into the last ten minutes. Nothing seems to happen for the most part up until the eighty-third minute, Bobby Brown makes a change when he brings on Jimmy Johnstone for Denis Law, whom the latter is not at all pleased of going off as he feels he's been doing all the hard work for Scotland during this game. Both teams are scared of losing to a last minute goal from somewhere and start playing without any of the fury that they had earlier. Speaking of substitutions, Norman Hunter goes on for Peters in the eighty-fifth minute as both managers start to feel like Extra-time is looming and it no one wants to screw up at this point. That is until right of the death when Scotland's O'Hare finds himself in a good position and looks like he'll score a dramatic goal, but Moore is just in the right place at the right time as he just manages to deflect out O'Hare's goal out for a corner kick and the Derby County player can only put his hands on his head in disbelieve how close he was for scoring and becoming the hero for his country.

With that the game finishes at 2-2 and now the game will be played for a further thirty minutes and curiously the first time that this two old rivals will play Extra-Time together. As much as it has been a great advert for British football, it has been nerve shredding for fans on both sides and there is still a lot more to play which is not quite perhaps what those with strong anxiety watching this game will want. The two managers start giving their players new tactics on how to finish this game off and before anyone knows it, extra time begins. In the ninety sixth minute, Edwards makes a fabulous run at it and fires it past Clark and thinks he has scored, however his joy is quickly gone when the referee strangely chalks it off, leading to much booing from the England fans in the ground thinking it was a clear goal. Then to make matters worse for England in the hundred and eighth minute, Johnstone makes a great move around the English defence and hammers home the ball to put Scotland 3-2 up, GOAL!

The game has become an utter madhouse with the pressure and heat making both teams open and in this case, England's defence crumbles and the fear that not only England might on the way out but also is the added fear that the team to knock them out might be none other than the Scots is one to cause terror in their hearts. Following that goal, the game becomes quite bad tempered with both sets of players becoming more agitated, no doubt thanks to the blistering hot sun and the referee looks to be on the verge of losing control of the game and it not be that of a surprise if this match was to end into an all out brawl between both teams. England though seem to find inspiration from someway as if someone has lit a fire up their backsides as they go hunting for a goal to draw level but despite their efforts, Scotland hold firm and before they know it, the first fifteen minutes of extra time are up with Sir Alf Ramsay knowing he just has another fifteen minutes to go to keep a hold of their World Cup. He knows he can't let those Scots ruin everything for him, after that defeat at Wembley three years ago, he won't give up so easily.


Charlton during the game with Scotland

The second part of extra time begins with both teams all watered down in mostly their own sweat and both are out to find the goal that might have huge implications for the game as a whole, if Scotland score then they are surely through, if England do then the game turns on it's head once again. Jock Stein, sitting next to a stoned face Bobby Brown, is sitting down on the bench with his hands over his mouth feeling the strain as what is happening, it is a game not for the weak of heart giving how much this game would give anyone a heart attack, God knows how millions back home are feeling, most likely the hospital attendance has spiked because of this game. Then in the hundred and seventeenth minute it all happens. Duncan Edwards is seen making great passing towards Francis Lee and then with the knowledge that time is against England, he sends the ball up towards Colin Bell who utterly slams the ball into the right side of the goal with Clark making a dive for it. It looks like he'll save it, but the ball just narrowly rolls under him and all he and his teammates can only do is watch the ball go in for a goal that brings England back to 3-3 to add more drama to this game of utter shear insanity. Clark slams his fist to the ground in anger that it was such bad luck and for the joyful English supporters, more to add to their list of Scottish goalkeeping blunders they always have a habit of taking great delight in.

It is true madness out there with the game clearly becoming the one everyone will remember from this World Cup and England now have their tails up with them going in for the kill for their fans yelling 'Attack! Attack! Attack!' while Scotland are looking more like the team on the ropes and nothing like the team that was so close to winning the game earlier. England keep pressing and in the the final minute of the game, England's efforts are awarded with a corner kick with even Bonetti running up from the goals to help with what will surely be the last moment of the game. Edwards takes a deep breath as he feels his heart is hammering against his chest as he prepares to take the corner, this has to be it he must be thinking as he looks into the face of the Scottish players all hanging around the penalty box looking weary about how the game has panned out. The whistle blows and he kicks it towards the box, Scotland fans can only hope the ball is kicked away but the ball lands right into the box with a mad scramble of players trying to get on it and Bell nearly strikes the ball home but Clark knocks it away...but in his horror, into an incoming Mullery who with perhaps the easiest effort he is ever going to get just taps the ball in...

GOOAAALLL!!! 4-3 to England!!! Scenes of utter bedlam follow with the Mullery get piled up on by his players and their supporters in the ground can be seen celebrating like wild, the same with millions across England, and even the local Mexican crowd can't help but join in with the celebrations for witnessing perhaps the craziest game of football anyone has seen, only downside was that it was not the final. That said in all these scenes of jubilation, not everyone is happy as the distraught Scottish supporters simply don't know what to do and the players who felt like they have all been given the biggest sucker punch of all are all lying on the ground absolutely heartbroken at what has happened in the dying moments of the match. Scotland captain John Greig tries to get the players back on their feet for any small but hopeless chance of hope they might have even in the dying embers of the game. Most however can't do it for the fact they have lost it right at the death and most sympathy goes for Clark who has face buried into the grass feeling like he has brought shame for himself and his country. However his teammates console him just for the last push and the nearly inconsolable keeper gingerly has to move back into his position.

Sadly for Scotland, any hopes of a fruitless comeback is short-lived as the referee blows his whistle for full time and England are through to the Semi-Finals in the most dramatic of fashion. It has been a true champions game with all the drama and excitement that some where hoping for with it later going down as the greatest England/Scotland match ever while also being labelled as the 'Match of the Century' by most outside of Britain whom the latter had boasted the 1966 final was the match of the century though even they would have to say this game possibly topped that. Sir Bobby Brown himself is heartbroken, but Ramsay comes over to shake his hand and congratulate him on the game.


Johnstone leaves the field with the rest of the team after their heart-breaking 4-3 loss in the Quarter final to England
"Well done dear chap," Ramsay consoles Brown. "A bloody good game that was, gave us a huge scare there. I'm sure at this rate, Scotland will be World Champions within the next decade I'm sure."

"A-Aye," Brown croaks, his voice filled with emotion. "Good luck for the rest of the tournament."

Ramsay then allows Brown to leave to comfort his players while Ramsay heads over to his jubilant England players. That all said as he looks over to the losing team, he can't help but feel sorry for his Scottish counterpart to lose in such a heart-breaking way but knows that pressure is still on his players to go all the way and that they have answered most critics of what some think of his team. Brown and Jock Stein on the other hand can only look back at the Scottish supporters in one part of the ground holding their scarfs up and playing a bittersweet rendition of 'Flower of Scotland'. The sad truth is that Scotland are out of the 1970 World Cup and though he or anyone else doesn't it know it then, this is to be his last time as Scotland manager and the question of what happens next will remain to be seen.

Though with one British team out, two more are still in with a fighting chance...

...And breath. Yes, this is pretty much OTL's West Germany vs Italy game but given to England and Scotland here to the match of the century here. Once again I hope you enjoyed this update and don't forget about NI here doing their part and as always, here is the last four as they stand:
Northern Ireland vs Brazil

Italy vs England
You know the routine of who will win and why, plus I'm taking requests for this TL for anything football related or even outside of football here E.G trains in the UK, to get a mention here as I like to give something back to the small number of fans who enjoy reading this TL. Until then, catch you all later for the last four!
Chapter 21: When Best Met Pelé
Chapter 21
When Best Met Pelé

After their dramatic victory over the Scots, England were awarded a place in the Semi-finals where they would take on Italy while on the same day and very same time, Northern Ireland had the unenviable task of taking on this mighty Brazil team who pretty much everyone was already writing down as the ones who were going to win not only that game but the whole tournament outright. That all said there was something interesting about the latter Semi-Final in which was a main talking point in the build up which was simply that this game would see Pelé taking on George Best. It was pure box office by just the mere sound of it; the two best footballers at this World Cup and perhaps in all of the world were about to face of each other in what was hoping to be an exciting game and no one needed to be reminded of how this game was such a David vs Goliath story. When the Northern Ireland team walked out onto the sun kissed pitch alongside the Brazilian team in the Estadio Jalisco stadium in Guadalajara, the largely Mexican crowd had clearly made their support for that of the Brazilians and the Northern Irish players could just make in one corner of the ground were a small number of two hundred motley Northern Ireland fans were trying all they could to make themselves heard with no doubt pretty much all of Northern Ireland would be watching the game live on ITV (England's game would be broadcast live at the same time on the BBC which meant the only thing the average British viewer was going to get that day on June 17th was nothing but football).

As the game began, the men dressed in green and white knew that this, other than their last Semi-Final in 1958, would be the biggest game in Irish footballing history and with the might this Brazilian team had along with the following they had received from the Mexicans, Northern Ireland were not just underdogs but maybe even said to be the underdog's underdog given how so much the odds were all stacked against them. They wouldn't have time to think on this thought as before they know it, the Spanish referee blows his whistle to start the game and right from the very start, the Seleção were tearing down on the Northern Irish flanks with it looking like that they would score at any moment without even five minutes played and in the second minute of the game, Jairzinho nearly does this to open the scoring but his shot is saved by the hands of Pat Jennings and the Northern Irish keeper knocks it out for a corner kick for Brazil which is taken but thankfully Northern Ireland manage to clear it. Any neutral watching this would no doubt be shaking their heads at just how the two sides looked so difference in their play in which the Brazilians were zipping the ball around like fun in the humid Mexican heat.

It's by no means good to watch from a Northern Irish perspective but nonetheless manager Billy Bingham has told his players prior to the game to have pretty much hold every player back near their penalty box with the feeling that this Brazil team will do nothing but attack and only then should the men in green can break forward if they see a rare opportunity in the Brazilian defence. It might seem quite a ludicrous idea to play this deep and inviting so much pressure than looks like they'd be doomed to failure, however and much to everyone's amazement, the plucky Ulstermen defence is holding and no goals have been scored after ten minutes. So astonishing is this that after Jennings saves yet another attempt by Pelé in the tenth minute, some of the Mexican crowd who had been all for the Brazilians can't help but start to applaud the Northern Irish for their great underdog character they are showing in the face of impossible odds. Surely it can't be done...?


When Best did meet Pelé though sometime after their meeting in 1970


While Northern Ireland were in the middle of their battle with Brazil, England were locking horns with the Italians in the Estadio Azteca, a team that had been through a difficult period for not qualifying for the last Word Cup and losing the European championship final in their own backyard, all thanks to Scotland of all teams. As Ramsay watched the game with his team nearly taking the lead in the twelve minute thanks to a Hurst attempt on goal that is saved by Italian keeper Enrico Albertosi, he couldn't help but think but wonder if the Scots had gotten this far then it would've been quite likely that the Italians would be out for Scottish blood and the game could've been a riot. Ramsay had been wondering about that idea since yesterday if Scotland losing had been the right thing, though there was one thing he would thank the Scots for and that was effect of what they'd done to the Italians and that they weren't as strong as many thought they were despite the hot climate out here in Mexican was more suitable for the Italians. Another curious thing about this game was the kit England was wearing; it wasn't the usual white kit they'd wear but rather a unique and never before seen away kit being a yellow shirt and blue shorts. Why it was decided to use this kit no one will really know but it is a curious piece of English football history.

With all that said by this point, England had pretty much the better team throughout this first half so far, clearly the Italians seem to lack a team of match winners and it would only be a matter of time until they scored; then again this perhaps wouldn't been so easy if the Italians had won in 1968 or qualified for the last World Cup so maybe the Scots had indivertibly helped? A bizarre thought but right now those sort of thoughts were not to be thinking about as there was a game to play. England seem to be doing fine, then in the fifteenth minute and from out of nowhere, Riva fires the ball past Bank's hands (now feeling better after his food poising scare which had ruled him out for the game with Scotland) and the England keeper looks back fearing the worse. But the ball just clears past the post and Riva has his hands on his head thinking that Italy had taken the lead, either way, England have been let off the hook here.

Then just a minute later after Banks kicks the ball high up the field, Mullery get's himself on to it and passes the ball up the Edwards who see's Cera coming right at him, only for him to think fast and pass the ball downwards towards Charlton who strikes the ball home right into the back of the net. 1-0 to England and the small number of traveling England fans celebrate and can be seen waving their Union jacks along with the occasional St. George Cross flapping around the stand. Just the start Ramsay was hoping for and he's thoughts about the Italians might be about to be proven right though he knows that had Riva managed to score just before that goal then things would have looked very different for the defending World Champions.


Italy and England captains Facchetti and Moore shake hands prior to the Semi-Final, note England wearing a rare away yellow kit
For Italy, it is a hard one for them to stomach and with that opening goal they have let England score, the Azzurri then try to find a goal from somewhere to get back level but this England team now are able to hold off any Italian attack that seems to come their way and Ramsay's words of this being a better English side than the one that won the tournament back on home soil are starting to be proven right and one that the England manager hopes will convince the cynics and doubters about his selection in which despite the success he has brought for his nations, it seems that you just can't satisfy everyone which in this case is the English press. That being said though, it does seem that the game with Scotland has lifted a big weight off the English and they are playing like they have been freed from a ball and chain and playing like World Champions as what many of their supporters expect them to do. Lord knows the reaction if they had lost to the Scots in that Quarter-Final...

What does seem more strange for anyone expecting the Italians to play with that flair they are known for and that everyone loves to see is that the teams seems just really average. Not that that is to take anything away from England's game it just seems rather strange to see Italy looking like they are under pressure from somewhere. Whatever the reason, all that does happen is that it seems to get all the more better for the Three Lions as in the twenty-seventh minute after end to end action, Duncan Edwards decides to volley with the ball that hurtles through the air, hit the crossbar, bounce downwards to the ground then goes upwards where it hits the roof the of the net and that stunning goal puts England 2-0 in front. A game that is going beyond perfect for the English though not without some bad scenes.

Following that goal and with the Italians looking clearly out of it and with a mountain to climb, rather than try to double down on getting back into it, some of the Italian players decide to involved with that other bad view of the Italian game; play acting. The men in blue try to plead to the referee that the goal is offside but the referee orders them back to ready for the restart of the kick off and rather than try and change the game they end up looking like a bunch of bad tempered kids. Though none of the England players know it then, this game is far from over...

Over in the other Semi-Final and much like with England, Brazil were by far the better side in this match with Northern Ireland. Though unlike England who had been able to break the deadlock, the Brazilians despite all their tremendous pressure have had no such like in which the plucky Northern Irish team had kept the score still at 0-0 after half an hour of the first half gone. Granted, the Northern Irish have had a (very) few number of chances to try and score themselves, thanks mostly to George Best and to a lesser degree, Dougan. Nonetheless, most of the chances were all coming from Brazil. In the thirty-second minute of the game, Craig Dave is given a yellow card by the referee and Brazil are awarded a free kick outside the penalty box. Thankfully for the Ulstermen, the attempt is saved by yet another by Jennings. The Tottenham keeper smiles as he gets up with the ball, there have been rumours surrounding him that big offers in Europe are on the cards for him to join some of the biggest clubs out there thanks to his performances throughout this World Cup that next to his fellow countrymen Best, have helped dragged the little nation this far.

A minute later after the free kick, Jennings kicks the ball up the field where Cowan gets to it quickly before making a lightning fast pass towards Best who decides to take on the Brazilians himself as he plays their silky style of play that is unlike anything the men in green have played before. In fact, he plays that style so well that some would wonder if the Northern Irish team had snuck a Brazilian player in a green top and before anyone knows it, he strikes home a shot into the right-side that goes past the hands of Brazilian keeper Félix and in an aftermath moment that causes nearly over fifty thousand people in the Estadio Jalisco, along with millions more around the world to go silent in shock, little Northern Ireland have by all forms of logic a goal ahead against the mighty Brazil. Best is dogpiled by his teammates as they celebrate that goal and the small traveling supporters can't help themselves but wildly celebrate in the stands.

Reportedly as many were watching back in Belfast, their were no criminal activity taking place as the game was being played and when Best scored, pretty much everyone came rushing outside pubs or their home to let out their unconfined joy showing how much this really meant for Northern Ireland as a whole. Despite Brazilian pressure and a very late attempt by Rivelino to try and pull one back, once again saved by grateful hands of Jennings, the game ends with the incredible fact that Northern Ireland are leading the Brazilians and if all goes to plan, they are just another forty five minutes from not only creating one of the greatest shocks in the history of the World Cup, but close to reaching the final. Some of the small number of Northern Irish fans who had a camera on them all start to take picture of the scoreboard that would famous in not only Irish football history, but British footballing history as the scoreboard would read the following...

Brasil 0 - Irlanda del Norte 1
When the team left the pitch the Northern Ireland couldn't help look up to see the reaction of all those Mexicans who were all just staring in shock that their chosen team they wanted to do well in this tournament was suddenly behind. But what really got them was when Billy Campbell told the rest of his countrymen to look up at where their fans where situated and whom were causing all the noise in this large stadium that was quiet like a library. Such was the gravity of the situation starting to sink in that for some of the fans couldn't help but be in tears as they, probably like the rest of anyone connected with Northern Ireland, couldn't believe what was happening and that their wee nation could actually get to the final. That said, there was a nervous embarrassment among some of the team as they entered their dressing room over that despite leading the game they had actually done hardly anything to justify being in from. Did they honestly deserve to be in front after how we'd played? The answer is probably not, but this was something special that none of them


Northern Ireland fans during the first half of the Semi-final with Brazil

The funniest thing about that game was the halftime team talk which all that happened was to have Billy Bingham look at them all silently as they were all seated for about a minute...then he burst out laughing which the rest in that dressing room joined in.

"Christ above," Bingham chuckled in disbelief. "I don't know how ye've done it, but yer ahead in this bloody game! Tell me, are we aren't the real Brazil team in disguise, right?"

Some of the players after this quietly made their way towards the outside of the Brazilian dressing room when they pressed their ears up against the door to hear their manager Mário Zagallo giving them harsh loud words in Portuguese and some couldn't help but laugh whenever they heard their manager say one of their names, most of the time it happened to be George Best which it didn't take much to put two and two together to realise that they were marking out Best for their plans in the second half.

Eventually some member of the Mexican FA saw those players up against the door and quickly ordered them to get back to the Northern Irish dressing room, but nonetheless all of this had helped ease the tension for most of the players. That said, there was a feeling in the back of the mind of many of the players that this was all a little bit too good to be true as after the break, the players returned onto the field and into the blazing heat of the Mexican summer...

At the same time as Northern Ireland and Brazil kicked off the second half, England and Italy would start their second half though for the latter is looked like an awful task to try and come back from 2-0 down. But then with this heat that could cause havoc with any team's defence then who knows what might happen? From the start however, England carry on playing good football and the Italians were clearly under pressure with some of their supporters in the ground getting on their backs fearing that it was all about to go wrong for them as they started to cry out much abuse at their players. England though kept pressing and nearly scored to make it 3-0 in the fifty-third minute by an attempt by Peters though has his shot saved and thus avoids more humiliation on the Italians. To their credit, the Italians have been giving England a fair bit of trouble on the left flank and Edwards is unable to try and stop them and the Italians nearly score thanks to Riva in the sixty-first minute who's attempt is saved by Banks.

Some of the England fans in the stadium, already assuming victory is theirs, start singing 'God Save The Queen' and a little bit of 'Are You Watching Scotland?' However joy does come to the Italians in the sixty-eighth minute when Boninsegna finally scores for Italy thanks to a brilliant volley in which he wastes no time to grab the ball from the back of the net and rush back to the centre circle to get the game restarted quickly and the confident England fans in the ground start who were making all the noise all go silent and all start looking at each other with nervous looks. Another ten minutes go by and it becomes quite an open game with Italy making what seems to be a last big push to try and push for an equaliser and maybe even find a last minute winner.


Some scenes during the Semi-Final between Italy and England

There is great tension now in the stadium and Ramsay shows no emotion sitting on the bench with his arms crossed as the ball goes back and forward up the pitch and there is a big scare in the eighty-third minute thanks to an Italian corner when Riva has his head on the ball in which almost seems to go in, but in a moment that rivals his wonderful save against Brazil in the group stage, Gordon Banks somehow manages to keep it out with Riva and perhaps everyone else on the pitch stunned at what has happened and leads to a big 'What If' moment in Italian football history.

Within the final few minutes, things do start to get ugly as though Italy now have a lifeline to pull back a dramatic equaliser, the Italian players for some reason start to play act at times with some strange 'injuries' falling down easily and even causing the referee to book some England players for these fouls even if most were hardly that deserving of a card. Whoever thought this idea to play act would though no doubt be happy as now the Italians were starting to get on top of England here and Sir Alf Ramsay could only look on and wonder if things are about to go wrong...

In the other Semi-Final, the Brazilians came out quickly looking determined to avoid huge embarrassment and put these Irish upstarts in their place. The effect is immediate as within the first minute of the second half, Northern Ireland get off to the worst possible start when Jairzinho pulls off a great move past the Irish defence and finally becomes the first player in this game to finally to get the ball into Jennings' net and Brazil have got the goal they pretty much deserved. The Mexican crowd roar with approval as they make no secret of who they are wanting to win and some of the Northern Irish players can only shake their heads in dismay of giving away the goal so soon with the game already level.


Jairzinho celebrates his equaliser for Brazil against Northern Ireland, right at the start of the second half

As feared by some of the players, it was too good to be true and Northern Ireland now have to try and not to play deep as what they had been doing throughout the first half and now have to start moving players up the field more to try and be more adventurous in this second half. However this Brazil is clearly fired up and is doing all it can to not only take the lead, but win this game handsomely to really batter the underdogs into the group. Attempt after attempt goes by and all of them are from the players wearing yellow shirts and blue shorts. Even George Best looks powerless to do anything to help his country to regain the lead as the man marking the Brazilians have planned is working and It is clear who might be the winner in this game after all.

Northern Ireland are utterly battered all over the pitch and tempers are starting to be frayed in which there is a total of five Northern Irish players are booked for some bad tackles on the Brazilians. Yet despite all the odds being against them, the men in green and white have somehow managed to the score level at 1-1 for nearly thirty minutes of the second half and it seemed like perhaps pulling of an upset was possible, though extremely difficult. However, it couldn't last forever as reality would hit the Northern Irish in the face as in the eighty-second and eighty-sixth minutes of the game, a double from Pelé in quick succession finally put an end for Northern Ireland's impossible dream of World Cup glory with Brazil leading 3-1 and now cruising to the final. While no one can deny that Brazil deserve the lead, the way that those goals happened so suddenly was an utter gut punch.

Best tries one last attempt with a long range shot at goal but alas, his shot clips the corner post in which even a mere consolation goal for Northern Ireland never happens and with that, the referee blows his whistle and the Brazilians celebrate for getting into the final. The Northern Irish players are devastated that they just couldn't make it, but kindly the Brazilian players come over to the Ulstermen and the teams shake hands and swap shirts round with a cameras pointing towards Best congratulating Pelé as two of the tournament's best players see each other as worthy equals in their own rights. Brazil are happy of what they have done, but no team in this tournament had ever given them much of a scare than Bingham's merry men who now have a third place spot to deal with. Question, who was it they were to face...?

Just as the game with Brazil and Northern Ireland was coming to an end, so too was the game with England and Italy in which while the former were still hanging onto their 2-1 lead though the latter is the one in the closing minute doing all the attacking in the search to find the goal to take this game to Extra-time. It is a far better performance by the Italians though the main criticism to be levelled at them is why couldn't they be like this much earlier in the game. The game towards the end seems to drag on with neither side breaking down for another goal to be score and right up in the final minute of the game, Sir Alf Ramsay can be seen finally getting off the bench and running towards the touchline to start yelling at the referee pointing at his watch asking that full time is over.

A moment later, the referee dully applies and with that England have made to their second final after the tightest of victories winning 2-1 over Italy with the Italian players falling to their knees in despair that their hopes to reach the final have gone up in smoke and that all efforts came little too late. As Ramsay comes over the field to congratulate the players, Peters comes up to him and asks him one question that probably every Englishman wants to know. "Sir, do you know who we're playing in the final?"


Ramsay being interviewed by a BBC reporter following their victory over Italy

At first he is unaware of who the team will be though he does have a hunch that Brazil might be the team to face but for now, he just wants to bask in the glory of the fact that he has taken England to their second World Cup final and still have a chance to defend their crown in the Mexican capital just a few days later. Soon enough, word gets round that England will be facing the Brazilians in a rematch following their encounter in the group stage and it is perhaps the final that everyone wanted being the current World Champions taking on the young pretenders.

A day before the final however, there is one final match to be played for the losing teams in each Semi-Final in which Northern Ireland and Italy are drawn together to play in the Third Place match which in some ways is the game to avoid the wooden spoon. This time however there is joy for the Italians for a single goal from Riva is enough to defeat a tired and heartbroken Northern Ireland team that has Italy winning the bronze medal. As sad as it was for the Ulstermen to fall so close from reaching the final, they had become quite a few people's favourite team for the fact of their sheer underdog nature that had captured the attention of many plus the adventure that the Northern Irish had in Mexico would go down in football legend.

Indeed, the story of the Northern Ireland team at the 1970 World Cup become almost legendary with it them being remember as the team that scared Brazil and in 2000, on the 30th anniversary of that World Cup, the BBC would make the critical hit documentary film called 'Little Giants', which told the story of Northern Ireland's brave exploits and featured interviews from Bingham, Best, the rest of the squad and even some of the few lucky fans who went to Mexico to support their team. They may have not won the World Cup or even third place, but when they returned to Belfast, they were greeted at the airport by a huge crowd of fifty thousand people to welcome them home and many wanted Billy Bingham to be knighted and with all the mad celebrations that followed the squad when they returned, one has to wonder what if they had managed to win the World Cup. More like Sainthood dare it be said. Nonetheless, little Northern Ireland were out of this World Cup and the world would tune in to watch the rematch they were all looking forward too...

And there we are, the Semi-Finals are done and dusted and now we move onto the final in which for some of us in the final that probably should've been had things been more kinder but alas, that's life. Anyway hope you enjoyed that update and hopefully you'll look forward for the final update of 1970, until then, catch you all later!
Chapter 22: Us Against The World
Chapter 22
Us Against The World

Following Brazil's hard fought 1-0 victory over England, Pelé had time to chat to Duncan Edwards after the final result and thus wished him and the rest of the England team all the best and hoping that they'd meet again in the final. Few would've thought it would've happened that the two teams would meet again given some of the other teams that the two teams had to play in the knockout stage, but in the end the two sides were to be reunited once again. For many, it was the final that everyone predicted and some even hoped would happen and it was interesting that for the first time in the history of the World Cup that the two winners from the last two tournaments would meet in a final so there was indeed a great deal of interest from a world wide audience who were showering the Brazilians much praise but sadly there didn't seem that much for England though nothing to do with on pitch activities. While the defending champions had gotten to another World Cup final which was greeted with great delight back home, it's fair to say that England getting this far was treated with a degree of lukewarm from the local Mexican populace.

It is fair to say from the moment they arrived, they haven't been all that liked as for starters, Bobby Moore was arrested in Columbia for apparently stealing a bracelet though later the charges were later dropped though this was not the worst of it as in what really was the real stinker for the whole campaign and what could only be described as an international diplomacy disaster was comments made by Ramsay and especially the English press was that of criticising the country from the poor food, mainly after what happened to Gordon Bank's food poisoning and of how ramshackle everything was. Not surprisingly this didn't go down well with the Mexicans and the England team found themselves jeered by most of the Mexican crowd wherever they played and they had only gotten more and more hated the further they went on. It was rather cruel in all fairness but alas sadly they had only gotten themselves to blame for having what felt like a whole country against them so to quote Bobby Moore years later he would say that it was like they were against the world.

But even if all of the above hadn't happened for the English contingent, they still wouldn't find any sympathy from the locals as pretty much every Mexican that loved the beautiful game all wanted this Brazil team to win and not because they were a neighbouring Latin American country, but because of the way this Brazil side had played throughout this tournament which had captivated the world and perhaps to no one's surprise had won them many fans along the way which had saw them end up as becoming the people's team to lift the World Cup that year. That might have not been the best confidence booster for the English player but on the day of the final early in the morning, the England team are all gathered inside the hotel lobby where they are watching highlights of previous Brazil games in this World Cup on a small and rather batter looking television set and are watching the highlights from the last Brazil game with Northern Ireland. Sir Alf Ramsay then turns the volume down to get his players attention, they themselves are all, like many others across the world, are left amazed by the skills of this Brazil side which even though they already played them, they never really had the chance to look back on them and admire them.


Moore (left) and Ramsay (right) sometime during their stay at the team's hotel in Mexico
There is a long silence in which the England manager glances round at the assembled players sitting around him before finally starting to speak. "So then...we're in our second final and it'll be this Brazilian team is who we'll be playing against that hope to take the World Cup from our hands."

He points towards the screen in which just so happens, planned or not, to be the moment in which Brazil scored their third and final goal against Northern Ireland. There is more silence among the players who are all curious to hear what Ramsay has to say, not to mention several hotel staff members who happen to know some English are secretly hearing the team talk.

"They might the darlings of this World Cup, but let me tell you a little secret...they are a bunch a bloody con men!" The England manager suddenly barks up again with a notable disdain in his voice as if he sick to death about this Brazilian team.

Perhaps to no one's surprise, there is a loud gasp among the players and those hotel staff members listening with several of them exclaiming in shock at their manager's statement.

"You're joking!" Martin Peters calls out.

"Rubbish!" Keith Newton adds.

"Gaffer, you can't be serious!" Duncan Edwards cries out fearing that the manager has had too much sun. "You can't just write them off like that when they managed to beat us before!"

"Silence!" Ramsay commands in which the room goes silent again. "How are we suppose to beat them if you have that attitude? They might as well have won then if you are all wanting to give up. No listen here as after doing some research on them I've found the secret to take them down, they are preparing for the biggest con trick in football and there is a weakness to them..."

The players all lean forward with curiosity at a supposed weakness in that team that Ramsay had spotted. "Everyone is going on about what a great attacking side they are, but have you heard any of them talk about their defence now...?" His words leave his players silent with many of them thinking for a moment about that supposed fact and several of them muttering 'no' to the England manager.

"Exactly," Ramsay carries on. "Everyone from Canada to New Zealand are all talking but nothing but that attacking front line though they all seem to forget that our Irish friends have shown the world a crack in that Brazil team that no Tom, Dick and Harry has ever bothered to comment on and Northern Ireland almost knocked them out had it not been for two late goes from that Pelé chap. In summery, they might be all fine and dandy up front but their defence is hopeless and if you can get past that front line I think we have nothing to fear for today if we can press them hard give them a taste of their own medicine. So in summery, in utterly hopeless team that can't defend for their lives. So what are you lot waiting for? It's time to defend that trophy and bring it home, lads."

It's unknown if that sort of advice was the best thing to say but what it does do is make the English player rethink their views on this Brazil team that maybe they can ignore all the hype swirling around the Brazilian team and focus on how to exploit the weaknesses as what Ramsay has pointed out to them and just maybe they can actually defeat this Brazil side and defend the cup from the clutches of the Brazilians....

It is a determined looking England squad that line up in the final with the packed Estadio Azteca of over hundred thousand people in there, the majority of which are all in favour of the men dressed in yellow and blue to be their chosen team and thus England have to make do of being the pantomime villains of trying to deny the trophy to Brazil. However Ramsay has also instructed his players that it's not a bad thing that with everything seeming to be all against them as it will fire them up and surely make them play better as winning it will good 'take that!' feeling to anyone who wanted them to fail throughout this World Cup. Once the anthems are done and the handshake from both captains take place, the referee blows his whistle for the 1970 World Cup Final to begin.

From the start of the game, it proves to be quite an exciting encounter with perhaps to the surprise of many watching with England doing all the pressing in the early exchanges of the game and putting the Brazilians under the cosh on their flanks and during that time find themselves getting quite deep in that Brazilian half. The men in yellow do seem taken aback by this burst of aggression from the English and seem to be a far contrast to the team that played some beautiful attacking football. As crazy as this might sound but maybe, just maybe, Sir Alf Ramsay was right about this Brazilian team of being a bunch of conmen and having an utterly hopeless defence?

In the twelve minute of the game, England's early pressing is awarded when Moore manages to make a sliding tackle on Tostão who was charging down on the counter before quickly slipping the ball up towards Alan Ball who flicks it up towards Edwards who goes for a long range volley towards the Brazilian goal but the ball is only barely knocked over the bar by Félix in which goes out for a corner. The following corner doesn't come to nothing but for the thousands of people in the ground, it seems like the English are playing more like Brazil here and the Brazilians and Mexicans are not liking what they feel is the whole dream outcome of a Brazilian victory going off script. Can it really be happening?

Action shot during the final with Brazil and England
Funnily enough, that shot on target by England turns out to be what is needed for the Seleção to finally come to life and this time start to turn the tables on England as Brazil begin to strike back as the upfront duo of Pelé and Tostão work together to cause chaos near the English goals with a near goal for the men in yellow happening in the fifteenth minute in which Pelé lets one rip at goal in which Banks has to make a dive towards the left to punch it away from goal to keep Brazil out. Nonetheless, the Brazilian team that everyone with their attacking style of football is familiar with is back and striking back against the champions, no doubt back by the Mexican crowd cheering them on to victory and making no secret of who their loyalties lie. and Jairzinho nearly strikes home the ball towards goal about a minute later with Banks once again having to dive in and save it. For the neutrals, it is a thrilling final that many were hoping it would be. It's all going to plan so far of frustrating the Brazilians up until the eighteenth minute when Gérson makes a pass up towards Pelé outside the penalty box which Moore tries to replicate that wonderful tackle he did in the group match, it does make Pelé stumble, but he carries on and fires home the ball into the back of the net to put Brazil a goal up in the final

An almighty roar from the stand follows from the crowd and the English players can only look on at the celebrating Brazilian players and feel gutted after all that hard work they put together at the start of the game has all come to nothing. To be fair though for the English, it had been an open game in which either side could have scored the first goal and in this case it just so happens to be that Brazil get that vital goal. Now Brazil start to take their game up another gear as the team now go on the hunt to find another goal and for the next few minutes, England seem unable to get a foot on the ball as Brazil seem more than happy to zip the ball all over the field and things look set to go worse for England in the twenty-third minute in which Gérson nearly makes it 2-0 and it's only thanks to once again Gordon Banks to stop it from going in and is pretty much the one English player so far that is keeping England's head above water.

The whole game is a true meeting of two brilliant football nations with either side showing of their skills such as Brazil playing silky football and England with their strong physical game, especially in defence for the latter, which makes for interesting comparisons. Duncan Edwards despite not having much luck with the ball following his early chance on goal is really pushing himself to his limit as before this game started, he knew that this was going to be the toughest game he has ever faced in a England jersey and in the thirty-second minute tries to make a pass to Peters only for it to be snatched by Everaldo who punts the ball up the field. It is looking to be Brazil's game up until the thirty-seventh minute when, against the run of play, Moore does replicate that tackle and passes the ball up towards Mullery who then crosses the ball to Edwards who is waiting for it before diving in to header the ball home and strike home the equaliser for England. Game on! The crowd, other than the fair number of England fans in the stadium celebrating the goal, are silent at seeing England somehow get one past this Brazil team that has drawn the game level, it was just the same as in the last final when they came back from a goal down...


England fans celebrate the goal that makes puts the game level
Was it all a bit luck that England got that goal there? Perhaps but in truth none of the English players will care for that as to finally get past that defence that their manager has pointed out was suspect does wonders to help boost morale to hopefully plan ahead. That all said and knowing that halftime is near with a few minutes to go, the England players start playing back in defence to prevent a Brazil goal from happening and keep the score like this or in the best case scenario they can somehow get another quickfire goal from somewhere though it is highly unlikely for the latter to happen.

That all said, the English players themselves are stunned that Ramsay's tactics are working but there is a feeling in the air that surely it can't be all too good to be true? That indeed turns out to be the case as Brazil end up firing shots back at England in which prevents any late English attack to happen and anyone looking at it can only say that Brazil will regain the lead before the break. Despite an almighty Brazilian onslaught in the English defence area, the first half ends 1-1 and the players trot off the field to catch their breath on what has been quite an exciting game of football that has certainly been worth everyone's money for those in the stadium.

That said, it's difficult to say which team is the happier though there is no doubt is the more happier manager which happens to be Sir Alf Ramsay who will be happy that his plans have worked and that the equaliser couldn't have come at a better time and now with it being half time, he can get the players together to cool off and plan out for what they should do for the second half. For those who had questioned him about saying that his England team could beat this Brazil team and for lying out in the sun too long, he can't help but have a large grin on his face as they walk down to their dressing room as he gets the players ready for a huge second half to follow...

Following a rather straight forward team talk at half time from Ramsay who simply said to his players for more of the same, the England players rush out onto the field in which the Brazilians are already waiting for them and wanting to get the game restarted and thus a huge forty-five minutes of football begins in which anything could happen as the old saying goes. The second half begins and the game starts at quite a tight pace with both sides trying to outdo each other like a chess game with the silky style of Brazil and the physical style of the English both making for very different contrasts to each other yet neither seem quite able to get one over the other after five minutes of the second half gone. Then in the fifty-first minute of the game, Moore manages to replicate that tackle from the group game and passes it up to Peters who makes a run with it before giving it to Edwards who without thinking and trying to replicate what he did in the first half, Edwards fires the ball into the top left of the goal past the grasp of Félix which, to the amazement of over one hundred thousand people inside the Estadio Azteca, puts the World Champions 2-1 up in the final and thus complete the turn around.

Other than the small number of England fans in ground celebrating and clearly on cloud nine, the stadium is stunned in silence as now Brazil have gone from being 1-0 up to be in a losing 2-1 position which to many was not part of the script and quickly the Brazilian team makes a mad dash to try and get back into the game. From the bench, Ramsay can't help himself but leap from his seat and punch the air as if he knew that he was going to be vindicated after all those questions asked about his sanity in trying to top that Brazil side. Also, what this also does for him is give a message to his opponents that they were not going to give up this World Cup without a fight.

That all said Brazil don't buckle from find themselves behind and pretty much just keep repeating their pressure on the English defence. Despite all this, England hold their ground from the wave of attacks though the heat and humidity that is starting to get to some of the players and no more so than Edwards. In the fifty-seventh minute while making a sprint with the ball, he is ruled offside despite it looking like he was onside and the England player confronts the referee to express his displeasure with some seeing that the heat is starting to get to him. However, the referee is having none of it and Edwards is given a yellow card for his verbal actions, much to the delight of the Mexican crowd who hope that Brazil will start to fight back soon, though time is starting to run out if they are not too careful...


View from the England bench just before the goal that put England 2-1 in the final
After that booking, not much happens then with England starting to look like they will park the bus on Brazil seeing as they are holding the lead in this final but Ramsay is worried that Edwards is growing more agitated by the minute as rather than keep an eye on the game, he seems to focus his attention on Edwards and knows that anymore reckless actions by him could see him sent off and losing a man in the final would be the last thing Ramsay needs. So in the sixty-first minute when Brazil get a throw in, Ramsay makes the substitute of bringing on Francis Lee for Edwards with Bobby Moore being made the captain for the rest of this half.

While Edwards does look unhappy of being taken off, it does seem good timing as the now former captain looks like he wants to start another argument with someone and whatever happens next, Ramsay knows he'll have to let Edwards cool off. The large stadium crowd is quite subdued up until four minutes later when Moore passes the ball up to Terry Cooper, but his shot proves to be just a tad too powerful as Cooper stumbles forward trying to get a foot on it, only for then Jairzinho to snatch it off his foot and start running with it. He charges down the field before crossing it over to Pelé before he in turn strikes it past Banks who despite his efforts to stop it going in, it's not enough as he and his fellow coutrymen can only watch helplessly as the ball finds itself lost in the netting which of course puts Brazil back level in what is turning out to be a thrilling final which has sent the crowd roaring in approval and most likely are not going to be asking for their money back for the sheer entertainment.

The fact that Pelé scored in the sixty-sixth minute of all things, a number meaning so much to any Englishman, in the final against England means that the irony is not lost on anyone in the know and even Ramsay now leaning back with his arms crossed has to wonder what luck did they deserve for the Brazilian equaliser to happen at that time of all times. With the crowd cheering them on, Brazil start to crank up the pressure and the England team is now starting to look disjointed and clearly rattled from that goal and the only thing they can do now is to move out and start pressing. A plan that was to ultimately decide this final.


Peters during the final taking on some of the Brazilian players
England's rather reluctant tactic of trying to counter the Brazilian's pressing with pressure of their own ends up leaving their previously rock solid defence weaker and this is just what the Brazilians have been waiting for in order for the game to turn in their favour. The waves and waves of yellow shirted players laying siege on the English defence pays off handsomely in which in the seventy-first minute, Jairzinho curls in a wonderful volley that outwits the England back four and once again puts Brazil back into the lead and look of utter despair and frustration on the faces of the English players says it all.

With less than twenty minutes to go from what is now looking more than certain now a Brazilian victory, any plan the England team had for this second half falls apart and Ramsay can only watch helplessly as he knows his country's grip on the World Cup is on the verge of being ripped off from by Brazil, a team that he will privately admit to himself are far from the worse team to lose to but he can only hope that things will not get any worse. Alas, despite a late rally to try and hold off Brazil going in for another goal that will surely kill the game off, that plan goes astray.

In the eighty-sixth minute and with not much time to go and with even some sections of an ecstatic crowd about to spill onto the pitch to celebrate Brazil's coronation as World Champions, Pelé lets the ball roll out with no one nearby which to some looks like he is given up to play any more of this game, only for Carlos Alberto to come out of nowhere and strike the ball home to cause more misery on Gordon Banks and In the end, that would be it. The referee would blow his whsitle to end the game and Brazil are the new, and many would say deserved, World Champions and despite some promise from England after taking the the lead, their quest to defend the World Cup has ended in failure.


Pelé celebrating with his teammates and some of the delighted crowd over Brazil's victory over England in the final
The England players are exhausted, weary and to add more salt in the wound for them are nearly trampled in the pitch invasion that follows from Mexican and Brazilian fans all wanting to celebrate this great and glorious moment for a team that many will say was destined to win and for the many decades from then on will say was the greatest team to lift the World Cup. Despite English heartache, they have played their part in what has been a terrific game that much like this Brazil team will say was one of, if not the greatest World Cup final ever played. In the middle of all the madness and the shower of praise being poured onto the Brazilians, there is one nice moment between Pelé and Moore coming over to congratulate each other for the game and for both being worthy finalists.

Granted England may go home empty handed which might sour things for all England fans but Sir Alf Ramsay is sure that a lot more will be seen of not only England throughout this new decade but from the other British teams in which after the team return home, makes the bold claim during a press conference that there will be a British team in another final within this decade either England or one of the other Home Nations to play for silverware. This may seem like tall claim, Ramsay has seen something in which others haven't and considering the talent the Home Nations do have, he might have a point.

What ever happens now, a brave new world has appeared and while the swinging sixties might have ended, a new decade of football has started with a bang and for some this might be the moment in which football not longer becomes a mere sport but so many more things from culture, art and a way of life. Whatever happens, the Home Nations will be there to be part of it.

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Final results of the 1970 World Cup

And there we are, Brazil as 1970 champions. Nothing original there but hey, it's that Brazil team, any TL with them not winning the WC that year would go beyond ASB and would likely see me being kicked of AH because of it, haha! Anyway, next update will take us to Euro 1972 and there will be a British team taking part in it, question is who will it be and will they do well? Find out next time and I hope you enjoyed this update :)
Chapter 23: Playing For Pride - 1972 European Championship
Chapter 23
Playing For Pride


While England may have lost their grip on the World Cup to Brazil, a team that no one could argue totally deserved it, much was expected from the Home Nations as the new decade began. Things though would turn out to be very mixed to say the least in which while the United Kingdom's football club teams were enjoying success and thus many believed that this success at club level would translate to international level began with nothing more that total football domination and carry on with the British remaining the real kings of football. While club level it had gone well with Glasgow Rangers and Tottenham Hotspurs for example winning both the UEFA Cup Winners Cup and UEFA Cup respectably in 1972, things hadn't gone to plan for the Home Nations as qualification for Euro '72 had proven to be a disaster for most. Wales failed to qualify for yet another tournament and even Scotland, the current holders, to everyone's surprise failed to qualify which they would be unable to defend their crown. However the biggest shock was in the qualification Quarter-Finals was with England being knocked out by West Germany which meant for the first time England since 1950 that the English would not be playing at a major tournament. The sudden downturn for the British teams all had their own problems with Duncan Edwards making the unexpected choice to retire from international duty with England, which many claimed to have had a factor in failing to make Euro '72, Wales having bad luck and the feeling of not reaching a tournament since 1966 and Scotland, the now former European champions, undergoing a down period with Sir Bobby Brown leaving his post as Scotland managed for failure to qualify and the quest to find his successor would begin.

While all the teams on the British mainland had failed to qualify, there was however one team from across the Irish sea that the UK could rally behind which was none other than Northern Ireland and one that everyone in that country badly needed to bring a feel good factor to Northern Ireland. Following their brave run in the last World Cup, they had brought joy to a troubled country that had, briefly, caused tensions on both the Protestant and Catholic divide to be put to one side during that run in the World Cup for both to celebrate in that wonderful summer of 1970. Even after when the team returned, the troubles seem to mostly vanish and any brewing religious tensions that there were very minor and it seemed football had done it's part to help mend any divide there was...Then came infamous day known as Bloody Sunday. January 30th 1972 would go down as one of the darkest days in Northern Ireland's history in which Thirteen unarmed civilians were shot dead in Derry/Londonderry as British paratroopers opened fire on a banned civil rights march and later a fourteenth victim would die a few months later having been shot by a paratrooper (decades later many of those paratroopers who opened fire would be trialled for their actions though some might have felt it was all too late). The next few months up until that summer prove to be one of the violent years of what was to be known as 'The Troubles' and the formation of the IRA in that time yet in the middle of this living hell, the Northern Ireland football team had managed to make it to Euro '72 as the sole British (or just the Irish representative, depending what side you where on) and one that the timing to appear at yet another tournament was very much welcomed news to bring to the people of Northern Ireland and could not have come at a better time. Question was though, could they really united a country that seemed far more divided that what it was during the last World Cup?

When the Northern Irish players landed at Brussels Airport and were greeted by the local press and many excited locals who had been waiting to see the Fourth ranked best team in the world arriving in their country. However with all the troubles that had been going on back home, some UEFA higher ups feared that the Northern Irish team would bring along supporters who they thought might be carrying bombs with them and could cause chaos across Belgium and even just after Northern Ireland did quailfy, UEFA seriously considered expelling the team from the tournament with all the drama that was happening at home. This didn't go down well with the other British football associations who backed the Northern Irish saying that their supporters, also known as the 'Green and White Army', had always shown a fantastic reputation and support for their team at home and abroad and the idea of banning the team was quickly forgotten about, though the supposed plan still irks Northern Ireland supporters to this day thinking that they were trying to be screwed over by those at the top. But in all fairness, it wasn't surprising given that bombings and killings were the only things that the world seemed to know when one mentioned Northern Ireland then that is what one would think about. Though their team had done some good, Billy Bingham and his players knew that had a job to bring glory to their wee country and put all the hell and troubles to the dustbin to history, it was time for football to play it's part in helping heal the wounds and when a country needs a hero, Northern Ireland could count on a certain George Best.


George Best during his 26th birthday in May that year
While it seemed that with someone like George Best in the team leading the charge, it seemed as though all would be good and considering how well they had done in Mexico two years ago some would have expected for Northern Ireland to go one step better though alas, things can change in just two years and George Best was no exception to that. From a man who might have been able to win a World Cup on his own from that summer in Mexico, many look on that time as the peak of his international career and from then on things had started to go downhill thanks to what was to be the start of his now well documented drinking problems and the 1971/72 season had been something a poor one in which Manchester United ended up in eighth place and most of the time Best found himself absent from much training sessions and even made the shock announcement that his was retiring from football but later had a change of heart.

In the middle of this drama, he had helped Northern Ireland to qualify for 1972 though it must be said it was rather debateable in which how much help he had really done in which while had had scored in the group stage, it was actually the help of his teammates, now having left from clubs in England and Scotland to play on the European continent which had been key to help them win the group and during their Quarter-Final tie with Yugoslavia, George Best didn't even score in the 3-0 aggerate victory for Northern Ireland and some even said he was more like a passenger in that team rather that actually dragging them all the way like he had done before. Pretty much this signalled to many of how much in a short time that Best was declining and how on Earth he was going to help Northern Ireland to glory here in Belgium was a mystery to everyone there.

That said, strange things had always happened in football and who was to say that George Best would defy his critics and end up dragging Northern Ireland all the way to the final in which compared to the World Cup in which there were eight games to reach a final, there was only a Semi-Final to navigate in order to get to the final so it wasn't impossible if Northern Ireland could do it. Was 1972 be a year for unlikely heroes to be made?

Northern Ireland's first game on the 14th June would be played at the Emile Versé Stadium in Brussels where their opponents would be Hungary with West Germany and host Belgium would play in the other Semi at the same time. As the players walked out onto the pitch, there was below half full with just over sixteen thousand spectators to watch the game and only about two thousand of those in the ground were Northern Ireland supporters, the rest where mostly locals and the odd Hungary fan who could be seen waving a Hungarian flag. It wasn't a good atmosphere by any means and when they lined up for the anthems to be played, some of the Northern Irish players, mainly the Catholics in the side, looked noticeably quite uncomfortable as they knew God Save The Queen would be played first before the Hungarian anthem; there was still that tension among some of the Catholic players in the team who didn't want to have that as anthem due it's connections to the loyalists in Northern Ireland.

What they hadn't realised though that Billy Bingham was very well aware of their problem that some of the players had over with the anthem and had privately made plans to use a different anthem that he got the idea from the Welsh rugby team who used Land Of My Fathers as an anthem and one that he was sure would be suitable for the players who were uncomfortable. So when the band standing behind the players began to play the anthems, to the surprise of the players, it wasn't God Save The Queen that they heard, but none other than Danny Boy (or Londonderry Air as some would call it). Footage of the players can be seen with them all looking noticeably stunned and bemused at this and even some of the players such as Martin O'Neil could be seen with his eyes filled with tears as it is a tune that means a lot to the players and everyone back home to bring them all together as shown with the players all placing their arms on each other's shoulders as a mark of standing together.

It is said among many Northern Irish historians in which that moment really became a watershed moment not just in football terms but rather the whole country in which many in Northern Ireland would begin to identify themselves as neither British or Irish but rather just Northern Irish. Many of the players would always reflect on that moment with fondness with George Best going on to say that the moment was perhaps the most emotional he had ever played for Northern Ireland and no doubt many in the team all shared similar feelings about it though the one fear just before kick off was as for being such a emotional moment, would they have the strength to play the game?


The Emile Versé Stadium in Brussels; the location of the Semi-Final with Northern Ireland and Hungary

For that answer, that wasn't to be the case as instead the team seemed more fired up to play for Northern Ireland and when the game started, they began to push forward into the Hungarian defence and Best passes the ball towards Derek Dougan, who had made his move to AC Milan right after the World Cup in 1970, nearly fires Northern Ireland in front in the eighth minute but his shot is knocked upwards by Hungarian keeper, István Géczi, and the Northern Irish forward is showing the football world that there is more to them than just George Best. The Hungarians aren't any pushovers however as they begin pushing forward into the Northern Irish half and this time the Hungarian captain Ferenc Bene nearly strikes home a goal in the thirteenth minute but Pat Jennings makes sure that it won't go in.

Disappointedly, Northern Ireland's early attacks in the game fade to nothing as Hungary start to boss the game around and Bene nearly attempts another shot on goal in the nineteenth minute, but his attack is snuffed out by Sammy Nelson who makes a well timed tackle before taking the ball up the field and sending up towards Dave Clements. As the ball gets towards Clements, he does get a foot to it but he is barged into by Lajos Kű who quickly see's a yellow card and the Irish are awarded a free kick. A lot of pushing and puffing for both teams follows as both are playing unattractive workman like football and not stylish play like some would be hoping for as the East German referee ends up stopping and starting the game due to some dubious offside moments and fouls that makes it difficult for either team to find a rhythm to play to.

Then in the twenty-seventh minute, Tommy Jackson runs with the ball on the flank and passes the ball towards O'Neil who sends the ball up towards Best who finds himself inside the penalty box and prepares the fire Northern Ireland in front. He shoots but to his disbelieve, Géczi somehow manages to keep the ball out thanks to his leg getting in the way after he dives the wrong way as the ball rockets upwards and Best, and perhaps any Northern Irish person watching, can only place his hands in shock at just how that ball just didn't go in, either way it is the save of the tournament there and one that Best fears that his country might regret missing.


Nelson during the Semi-final with Hungary
Northern Irish frustration starts to build up as despite having a number of good chances, Northern Ireland just can't quite seem to get the ball into the back of the net even with Best and Dougan trying everything to help. Then in the thirty third minute, István Szőke rushes into the Northern Ireland penalty box and Alan Hunter attempts to slide in and whip the ball off his feet, unfortunately he just times it badly as the tackle just so happens to be just into the box and as soon as Szőke falls, the referee books Hunter and points for a penalty to take place. It is then down for Jennings to try and stop it as Bene goes up to take it, Jennings goes the right way and with that he just manages to save it and the cheers erupt from the Northern Irish fans in the ground over the fact that they just avoided a bullet and Pat Jennings will pretty much guarantee himself that he will get a free beer in every pub in Belfast whenever he returns.

From the touchlines, Billy Bingham yells at his players on the field to not lose heart and for them to get back into the game and the players make the most of that Hungary penalty miss in order to try and grab the lead themselves. Northern Ireland begin to fight back and in they begin to look more of the dangerous team in the game and in the thirty sixth minute, an error by Lajos Kocsis allows Hunter to thread the ball up to Best who takes the ball with him and run it down the field with a few of the Hungarian players trying to stop him, but yet while Best may not be in his prime anymore, he hasn't lost that touch and he makes great movements in trying to avoid the Hungarian players. Then he crosses the ball over towards Dougan who knows exactly what to do and with the Hungarian keeper caught off guard expecting Best to score, Dougan takes his chance and the ball rockets into the right hand corner of the goal but alas the ball clatters on the corner and a chance to take the lead has gone astray.

The Northern Ireland fans in the stadium are enjoying themselves that their team is putting up a good game and yet the Belgium police are wary of them just in case someone in that mad, joyful crowd is carrying a bomb; which given that there is strangely a more larger police presence around where the Irish fans are shows how much the Belgium police aren't taking any chances. The first half of the game carries on at a more tighter nature as neither side seem to want to lose a goal before the first half is over and thankfully for both sides, the first half ends at 0-0 and in all fairness, either side can win this game, question is will have to be settled in extra time or penalties?

The second half goes off to a dramatic start and not for the more good reasons. In the forty-eighth minute, O'Neil is brought down by István Juhász in quite a vicious tackle that makes the Northern Irish players scream out for a foul and the referee goes out and Juhász see's a yellow card though some would argue that the tackle deserves a red card. Back and forward the game is so open that no one can honestly predict who might be the winners in this game could be. In the fifty third minute, Dougan tries to score another goal but his attempt is poor as the ball flies over the bar and just two minutes later, Sammy Mcllory goes on as a substitute for O'Neil who hasn't been the same since his tackle and the weakened O'Neil stumbles off and fears that perhaps his tournament could be over before it's even started depending on his injury.

To try and get their team to raise their spirits, the Northern Irish fans begin singing Danny Boy and there is a likely chance that perhaps at least one place somewhere in Northern Ireland there is a person singing it too. Over ten minutes go by and nothing happens with both teams failing to get a shot on target with it looking like tension gripping both teams with no goals still scored by this point. Then in rather perhaps unexplained reasons in the seventy-second minute of all minutes giving the year 1972 has been for Northern Ireland, Danny Hegan crosses the ball towards George Best who bounces the ball on his chest and with a little twist, he volleys the ball from outside the eighteen yard area and the ball rockets towards the goal where it hits the crossbar, bounces downward and goes up hitting the roof of the net and Best's outstanding goal helps put Northern Ireland in front and finally break the deadlock. It is a goal that only someone like Best can score with the Northern Irish fans celebrating like wild and even the local Belgians in the crowd watching the game can't help but applaud for witnessing perhaps the greatest goals they've ever witnessed.

During the celebrations, Best would make a jog up towards where most of the press and media are located and throws up a rude gesture as if he was wanting to get one over those many critics who have doubted him and have called him nothing more than raging alcoholic. Then again not many notice it as do as the the traveling fans in the ground and those watching on television back home, all of which can hardly believe that now they are so close to the final and on the verge of doing something that the great side of 1970 couldn't have done. However the Hungarians are not giving up as they begin to push back for an equaliser which they hope they can get before the game is over and they do manage to go on the break and attack the Northern Irish flanks where they do trouble the defence and there are three shots on target in the seventy-eighth, ninth and eighty-third minute on goal, all of which thankfully never hit the back of the net but amusingly, miss by going past left and right of the post and over the crossbar.


Jennings and Best look at each other in the dying moments of the Semi-Final
The game is now in the ninetieth minute and there is three minutes of injury time and Hungary are now throwing everything forward to find that certain goal which in all fairness depending on how well they have been playing since Northern Ireland took the lead, they do deserve it. Then right in the last minute of injury time, Hungary are awarded a free kick right outside the box and Bingham throws his arms up in frustration that they have to call it this late in the game. Sándor Zámbó goes up to take it and there is no doubt many Northern Irish fans praying, both either Catholic and Protestant, hoping that the ball won't go in. The ball is fired and everything seems to go in slow motion as the ball flies over the wall and Jennings dives to the right and soon see's that he's just going to miss grabbing the ball and fears the worse as the ball seems to be going in. The ball however just goes past the post and Jennings would later say the ball was so close to the post that it pretty much scraped the paint of the pole and after a few seconds of laying on the ground, it only just dawns on him that Zámbó has missed and that was the last chance Hungary had. Surely it was victory now?

He quickly kicks the ball far up the pitch and before he knows it, the referee blows his whistle and in perhaps the most dramatic and greatest moment in Irish and British football history, Northern Ireland have beaten Hungary in a nerve shredding 1-0 victory and are in the final; their first ever final. George Best falls to his knees and points to the heavens, no doubt thinking of those who have lost their lives to the troubles. Northern Irish fans are on cloud nine and some try to invade the pitch, but the Belgium police stop them and instead, their wild celebrations carry on in the stands and eventually spill onto the streets of Brussels where no fan will sleep tonight and will end up staying on the streets where they'll be there for the final.

How any of the many fans out there in Belgium will get tickets for the final is another matter though in the meantime, they'll just enjoy the moment. They say a great tragedy can bring people together and achieve greatness, the Northern Ireland football team of 1972 has, against a background of the troubles, booked their place for the final and now it can be said that all four Home Nation teams have gotten into a final for any of those who are wanting to still cling onto the fact that the British are still kings of football despite the start of the decade not starting all that well for the Home Nations. For Northern Ireland, a land which has been crying out for something to cheer about and feel proud about themselves, their plucky football team has not only played for pride but has also made it to a final and now all that is standing in Northern Ireland's way of glory will be a strong and much fancied West German side, all to play for in four days time. Question now was could they do it?

And here we are in 1972 and Northern Ireland make to Euro 1972! It is similar in the old TL though there are a few changes here and bit more information given out which I think helps flesh out the TL such as talking about the Troubles that by chance in 1972 was probally when it was at it's worst; all of this I think helps improve it. I know some of you will say that NI didn't do well to even qualify though given how different in terms the Home Nations are with their National Sides, it's not far off to think that if some of their players did perform E.G George Best, then they would certainly have done better. Also how would the Northern Irish public reacted to seeing their team play a major tournament during that year?

Now then, off to Brussels in which Norn Iron will take on the Germans and the hopes of becoming European champions. Will they do it? Find out next time!
Chapter 24: Müller vs. Best
Chapter 24
Müller vs. Best

The temperature inside the Heysel stadium on the 18th June was hot, humid but thankfully not at boiling levels that could affect a player's mindset trying to play football. It would be a stadium that would be well known for another but far more tragic event years later but that is another story...however speaking in terms of football, today would be important as this would the European Championship final of 1972 and at the end of the day, a new champion would be crowned. The stadium that could hold sixty-thousand spectators was however only holding just over half that number with some thinking that the crowd could've been much bigger had the host nation Belgium made it to the final, however the two teams that were to compete would be West Germany and Northern Ireland and the vast majority of the supporters in the ground were German in which many had all made the short journey over the border to be here. As the two teams walked out onto the field to the great reception that awaited them, the Northern Irish players felt like despite being in the Belgian capital, it did feel like it was an away game somewhere in West Germany considering how many of their supporters were here all up there on the terraces.

They glanced over to see where their fans where and there was indeed about only six thousand plucky Northern Ireland fans in the ground who most of them had been at the Hungary match just four days ago and had stayed the extra few nights in Brussels trying to book any hotel that could take them; some of them had didn't have any money having used all the money they had to get to Belgium and instead had no other choice but to camp it out on the streets like homeless people. Though they were thankful for the fans who had made the journey out here, the gaps in the terraces were painfully evident. It wasn't like Windsor Park where there would be nothing but a field of expected faces trying to cheer their team on to victory, but the Northern Ireland fans could hardly be blamed for the lack of fans that had turned up. Times were tough and The Troubles had made life hellish for the people back home with stories of bombings and fights between Protestants and Catholics being not uncommon in daily life; even to add more salt in the wound, the Belgian authorities refusing the Irish FA to give out more tickets to their supporters due to the never ending fear of a sudden bombing. Even if the Troubles weren't even a thing, that wasn't the only thing make life hard as there was also including the hyper inflation, high unemployment and never ending industrial disputes and strikes that were not exclusive for Northern Ireland but the UK as a whole and to top it all off, that wasn't even including the amount of pundits and neutrals who didn't give the Northern Irish a chance against the much fancied West Germans and one BBC pundit that shall not be named even made the bold claim that it wasn't worth if for their fans to support their team knowing that defeat was the only outcome. It seemed as though the game was already lost even before anyone had kicked a ball.

They were all saying that while the final was a mismatch of sorts that Northern Ireland were the clear and massive underdogs and that the contest would be a contest between masters and pupils, they still admired how they had gotten this far and that everyone was licking their lips of the prospect of Gerd Müller taking on George Best, arguably the two best forwards in Europe. Northern Irish manger Billy Bingham didn't care for everyone thought of his team or their rather feeble hopes of victory but he knew that they had character to take on anyone, however he did find it quite arrogant that everyone seemed to think the West Germans were unstoppable. That might be on paper however they had failed to qualify for the last World Cup and although Northern Ireland had gotten there and had stunned the world just at what they could do, everyone seem to deliberately forget their heroics. It seemed that the only way to shut up this confident boasts was to beat the Germans and back home from Belfast to Belleek, there were many gathering in bars and living rooms all huddled around television sets drinking nervously into their beer as the game started, Brussels seemed like a world away for those watching the game on television.


Some lucky Northern Ireland fans in Brussels for the Euro '72 final
With a blast on the referee's whistle, the game began and despite the massive roar of the crowd that greeted the kick-off, Bingham's voice could almost be heard above the rest of the crowd with him shouting, "Put it up to Dougan! Put it up to him!" Hamilton tries to hold the ball in order to find the right time to send it up the field, however his attempt is quickly snuffed out by Günter Netzer and takes it into the Northern Irish half and it looks like an early goal within the first few seconds of the match is about to happen, however Netzer's pass to Erwin Kremers is thankfully caught by Liam O'Kane before he passes it back towards his Nottingham Forrest teammate, Tommy Jackson and thus avoids an early embarrassment for Northern Ireland. The West Germans right in the early exchanges of the game are looking to be the more likely team to score with Northern Ireland unable to get out of their own half, even George Best seems unable to do anything to get forward and the only thing that he and his teammates can do is just try to fend off the waves of attacks from the Germans.

However despite the Germans best efforts, they have been unable in the opening fifteen minutes of the game to break down Northern Ireland's resolute backline and with that the game has proven to be much more surprising than anyone had thought as neither side had scored and the ball had barely moved outside of a thirty yard stretch of grass in the middle of the pitch, with the ball being snatched of a player's foot almost as soon as whoever received it. It was a battle in the midfield with Dave Clements locking in a tussle with Uli Hoeneß trying to outdo each other. No punches were being thrown thankfully but the surface of the grass proved to be challenging for both teams as sliding tackles took place as the referee's whistle was barely out of his mouth as these tackles went on and it was quite strange that no card had been shown so far, maybe this Austrian referee was trying to not have a stop/start game like others would've done.

As the game then crept into the twenty minute mark, the West Germans were starting to show their strength and just a minute later, they were awarded a corner kick and pretty much everybody gathered round the penalty box as Kremers fired the kick and Müller almost fires West Germany in front had it not been for the ball hitting the crossbar and the German supporters behind the goal can only let out a groan as a glorious chance goes begging. Best and Müller both stare at each other as they both run out of the area and Best has been aware of the build up of the meet between him and the stocky little centre-forward, nicknamed 'Der Bomber' by the Germans themselves which bemuses Best and many others knowing how much the Germans are trying to live down their wartime past.


Pat Jennings during the final
Then just seven minutes later, 'Der Bomber' himself manages to get past Pat Rice and Sammy Nelson with a well planned run which takes him right towards the edge of the penalty box before he curls in a wonderful shot that Pat Jennings leaps forward to try and get a hold on it, but he can only watch in despair as the ball thunders past him and crash into the back of the net to send the West Germans 1-0 up. A great roar from the mostly German crowd follows as Jennings picks the ball up and kicks it out the centre of the field in frustration, it has not been the wonderful clean sheet record he had in the last World Cup. The pundits who have all predicted an easy win for West Germany were probably feeling quite vindicated that their predictions seemed to become a reality.

From then on the West Germans start turning the screw down as they try to look out for another goal while at the same time push and pull the Northern Irish players around like ragdolls which is so apparent that even those who expect a mauling by West Germany can't help but feel sorry for them as they struggle to keep out waves of German attacks, that is not including the fact that unlike Müller who has certainly showed up in this game, George Best has been rather absent throughout this first half as he has yet to make a shot on target. That all said as the whistle for half time was blown, it hadn't been the mismatch final that everyone had thought it would be as the West Germans walked off leading 1-0. That all said, some were already quite sure as to who would be lifting the trophy in an few hours time.

The watching Northern Ireland fans, both in Heysel and back home weren't feeling all that down as some had feared for a rout in this first half alone and in some ways had been proud that their team had gone toe to toe with one of the continent's great footballing nations and had come out mostly unscathed and while they hadn't had much of a shot on target, West Germany hadn't been much better having not made much clear up chances themselves despite having a deserved lead. All that was needed surely was for the team to get the ball up to the feet of Best and hope for a little bit of magic that could come out of it, after all, they were only just a goal down. However as the team were walking off the field, George Best himself was already getting a sense that with how poor he had been in this first half that his critics were going to be already writing down on how they felt his ropey form was going to hurt his country's chances. Question was could he really help turn things around in that second half?


The West German team lining up for the final


It is a set of mixed emotions among the travelling supporters on how they feel about their team's chances though there is a small number that have reasons to be cautiously optimistic, the Northern Irish players themselves however all felt rather despondent. They had gone into the game hoping to cause an upset earlier on, but now they could see why everyone was placing bets on the West Germans to do well; they were good, bloody good in fact and there really shouldn't be any shame of losing to them considering their reputation. Yet Billy Bingham reminded them they were only a goal down and that the pressure was all on the Germans as they had failed to qualify for the last World Cup and would be hosting the tournament within two years meant that they too would also be under pressure to win much more than anyone might have had for Northern Ireland. Quite a lot of mind soothing seemed to take place throughout the interval and by the time the Northern Ireland team returned to the filed, they had looks of confidence that weren't there when they went off. Bingham sat on the bench along with several other players and members of staff as the second half began and all of them knowing that this was going to be the most important game in the history of Northern Irish football.

Despite him building up their confidence that they could do it, privately, he actually had doubts that they could topple this West German side and he could only hope they'd make themselves not look foolish out there. Those who had watched the players dressed in all green closely noticed that there was a slight spring in their step and even swagger that wasn't there before and much to everyone's amazement, Northern Ireland began to push forward with Best and Dougan leading the charge. But just as they had stunned the Germans in the early moments, the German players began to get back in the game and push back the underdogs and began laying siege to Northern Ireland's suspicious yet solid defence; pretty much a repeat performance of the first half. However with pretty much every West German player pushing forward into the Northern Irish half, Bingham ordered Best to move up the field and away from the mass of players surrounding the Northern Irish penalty box. Then in the fifty-fourth minute, Pat Rice manages to find his foot on the ball and before it can be snatched by a German player, he lobs it over to Best who takes the ball without up the field and is unmarked as he runs with the ball with pretty much no German player near him.

The West German fans and their manager scream at their players to get back and stop Best, but the cunning Ulsterman knows what to do and for what is perhaps the first time in the whole game, George Best finally gets a shot on target and the ball goes right past the hands of the stunned West German keeper, Stepp Maier, who tries to save it but to his dismay Best makes a cheeky chip over his head and from out of nowhere and against the run of play, has shot Northern Ireland back into the game and belly flops in celebration on the field towards the corner flag with pretty much all his teammates dogpiling on him. The plucky number of Northern Irish fans in the stadium have now finally something to cheer about and the overwhelming numbers of West German supporters are stunned into silence at what has just happened. From the bench, Billy Bingham gives his players the thumbs up knowing that it's game on.


Pat Rice before lobbing the ball over to Best
The West German players hadn't been expecting this, they should have remained in front and not looked back and now there were looks of shock that the players exchanged with each other, the game wasn't going to go the way they had expected. The next few minutes of the second half prove to be quite a scrappy affair with Jupp Heynckes trying to win the ball at every opportunity just as O'Neil and Jackson would be too. Those overconfident pundits who predicated a West German victory can only watch on nervously as the players in green start playing a brilliant game of football which helps makes the final feel more open rather than one-sided as it had been for the whole game. That all said, despite now getting a fair bit of possession of the ball, Northern Ireland struggled to find a shot on target and then in the sixty third minute, Northern Ireland are awarded a corner and Bingham knows that these are probably the only time in which Northern Ireland can score from right in front of the nervous looking Northern Ireland fans standing behind the goal.

Mcllory takes the corner kick and Dougan tries to get his head on it but it is knocked out of the box by Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck going near the centre line, however the ball is caught by O'Neil who witnesses several big German players coming towards him, so instead he does the only thing he can do and cross it over to Best who makes a quick check of the goal before firing it home and making Maier dive to the left to get it. The German keeper does it his hands to it but he can't get a good enough grip on it and the ball cascades up from his grasp and hits the roof of the net and sending any Irishman in the ground into utter raptures. Against the odds, Northern Ireland have come back from 1-0 down to lead 2-1 thanks to two wonderful shots from that man, George Best. Even Billy Bingham can contain himself as he and Terry Neil, who is also sitting on the bench, embrace each other and dance around like lunatics yet who can blame them? Northern Ireland is in dreamland! If the wildly celebrating Northern Ireland fans in Heysel Stadium are anything to go by, lord knows just what is going on back home with celebrations like it's New Years Eve. Pretty much everyone cannot believe what they are seeing, it hadn't seem possible at half time and now they have the unbelievable chance of becoming European Champions...or have they?

In the middle of the celebrations, things become rather bizarre in which the goal is been mark as being offside with it being that George Best was seemingly to be in a offside position though it is hard to tell given how fast everything went and while the Germans can all breath a sigh of relief, there is confusion and anger among the players in green in which the Austrian referee is surrounded a swarm of angry Northern Irish players all wanting to know as to why that goal was chalked off. The poor Northern Irish supporters who just a few seconds ago seemed to be on cloud nine had suddenly found their hopes and dreams utterly crushed in a rather cruel fashion and some even began to jeer and start to act rather restless and the Belgian police force having to keep and eye on the Northern Irish fans all take various looks of fear at each other over that the worst might happen...


Der Bomber at work...

In the typical and rather unfortunate situation of things going horribly wrong for the Irish, that chalked off goal would be the moment in everything started to fall apart for the Ulstermen. Northern Ireland players after realising their arguing with the referee was going to get them nowhere end up having to reluctantly get back into game but it is clear that some of the players are still fuming over what happened and those in question look like the ones that might be the ones who'll lose their heads and this slack play would come to bite Northern Ireland as just five minutes after that controversial moment, the salt is poured into the wound further as Müller (who else?) strikes back with a goal thanks to a great teamwork goal thanks to Netzer and Kremers to lead the game with the score at 2-1. It is a frustration moment for the Green and White Army as some have to wonder why this must happen for them and even George Best seems unable to help drag Northern Ireland out from this hole of despair.

It seems that with constant German pressure now firmly being the theme of this second half is that the rout that some had predicated looks like to be a sure thing. One thing is certain that whoever scores next will surely be the goal that will well and truly decide this final. As the match wears on, the Northern Irish players were starting to look tired and had done pretty everything they could to take the game to the Germans but alas it looks to be all for nothing. Despite making two substitutes to try and freshen up the team, Bingham's players look like they were being pushed to their absolute limit and in the seventy-sixth minute, Müller goes on his own with the ball and despite the likes of Alan Hunter and Dave Craig trying to stop 'Der Bomber', the German centre forward takes the ball and for some reason decides to strike it forward from quite a distance from the eighteen yard line and everyone watches with held breathes as the ball goes flying and Jennings prepares to make a save for it.

Instead he only just misses out on grabbing it as the ball rockets past him and hits the top right hand corner that gives him his hattrick and puts West Germany further into the lead with the score now reading 3-1. The West German supporters find their voice again and start making all the noise knowing that they have surely got this game in the bag thanks to a wonder goal from that man and the Northern Irish players are absolutely exhausted, they just haven't got anything left in them. In the closing moments of the game, many West German supporters start appearing on the side lines waiting to begin a pitch invasion, it is only a matter of time. The only bit of amusement in the game is from the downhearted Northern Irish fans chanting out to the man who broke their hearts chant the following; "Gerd Müller, you're a wanker! You're a wanker!" Wherever or not he knows what they are saying is unknown but it is clear that he is not going to be the most favourite man in Belfast that is for sure.


Some happy West German fans in Heysel
By this point, the game looks to be well and truly out of sight for Northern Ireland and this means that the West Germans have the game in the bag and as of a result they end up taking their foot off the gas but even with this, Northern Ireland just can't seem to find to find even a consolation goal and for the neutrals who were hoping for an epic clash with Best and Müller in seeing who would be the best. In the end, it would be the German that came out on top that it must be said that George Best was far from his best and with that, the final had turned into a rather one-sided and anticlimactic outcome that what a few expected.

Finally after a bruising last few minutes of added time, the referee blows his whistle and West Germany are the new European champions with their supporters making a mad rush onto the pitch to celebrate putting all the ghosts they might've had to the past and now turn their sights on in the World Cup taking place in their home country in 1974. Bingham goes over to his distraught players who felt they could've done it, but the truth being was that they were up against it and the fact that they went toe to toe with West Germany and come out with their dignity intact despite the score line showing otherwise was truly something special. Both players exchange handshakes and the number of Northern Irish fans in the stadium began applauding and chanting for them in which the players walk over to them and applaud back at them for supporting them all this way.

Best though is feeling upset, he probably can imagine he can help the team make it to the next World Cup in two years time but at the same time only dawns on him that this was perhaps his only chance of winning silverware for his country and now that chance has gone. There is also the question regarding his own fitness and what will be well documented stories about his drinking and how his international career seems to be on the wane and for a player considered by some as one of the greatest players ever, it is a sad fall from grace. The other question though is will Northern Ireland ever make it to another final? In future, time will tell but for now, this was West Germany's time in the spotlight.


The winning West German team

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Final results of Euro 1972

And so we come to the end of Euro 1972 and also is Northern Ireland's hopes of winning silverware. Pretty much the same victory for the Germans as OTL though a slight change here from the old TL is that Northern Ireland aren't so that good here as I have to try to keep a bit of realism here, ok, that's not saying much considering you have Northern Ireland in a final but still...

Anyway, next update we head off to West Germany for the 1974 World Cup and will we see all four Home Nations there and or if not, who will miss out on the next flight out to West Germany? Find out next time and let me hear what you have to say about predictions and how are you enjoying the TL so far? :)
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Chapter 25: Money, Money, Money... - 1974 World Cup
Chapter 25
Money, Money, Money...


With the West Germans winning Euro 1972, it gave them the feel good factor needed for them to increase their hopes of winning the 1974 World Cup in which they were hosting it were hoping that they would win it in their own backyard. Strangely for this World Cup, there wouldn't be a knockout stage but another group stage, two of them in fact, that would be the second round (or Semi-final depending on how one would look at it) and whoever would win either of those two group stages would qualify for the final. The game was also undergoing major changes off the field and that change would be in the form of commercialism; television would be the game's new paymaster and this also included major sponsors throwing money around. Looking back on the whole thing in hindsight, the 1974 World Cup could be best described as a 'get rich slow scheme' and when the Scotland, England and Northern Ireland teams arrived in West Germany (with the poor Welsh missing out on it again), each of the players had mixed results on this new experience.

Players such as George Best, who had done a fair bit of this sort of flash lifestyle at his time at Manchester United, got to grips with the sponsor offers very well as if it was second nature though he seemed to handle it better than how his football had gotten itself too by this point in the decade. Some of the other British players heading out to West Germany didn't do too bad though the rest either didn't do well or couldn't really care about it. The latter probably had a point as this was the World Cup and it was all about playing football and that should have been the main thing rather than trying to promote some new footwear from either Puma or Nike. The three British teams that had made all had a tough time in qualification with England squeezing past Poland in the final group game at Wembley and Scotland getting the better of Czechoslovakia. Northern Ireland also somehow managed to getting the better of Bulgaria and Portugal, despite most of the players, especially George Best, being past their prime, and were only allowed to play their games at Windsor Park at the last minute due to security fears, which prove to be unfounded as tensions between the two religious sides in the country had reduced and football had, in some ways, helped to make things better.

In addition, their fans would join the hordes of Scottish and English fans all making the trip to West Germany to support their team. For the group stage, Scotland were drawn in Group Two with champions Brazil, Yugoslavia and Zaire; Northern Ireland were given a tough selection in Group Three placed in with the Netherland, Sweden and Uruguay while in Group Four, England were given without question by many being the group of death in which they would be joined by Argentina, Italy and Haiti. Nonetheless, three teams set off to the continent with the usual goodwill messages from all over from fans, politicians and even royalty all of which wishing them well in hte World Cup. Regardless though, it was time for football...

The first Home Nation to play would be the Scots though it was fair to say that there was a lot expecting from the Scots. When Sir Bobby Brown left the position of Scotland manager after their failure to qualify for the last European Championship, it was always going to daunting for anyone to fill the his boots and the poor fellow in the role would be under great pressure to try to not only match what Brown had done but maybe go one step better; an impossible task in any sense of the word. Who would be it? None other than Willie Ormond. Previously having only managed St Johnstone and only having a handful of caps for his country having played at the 1954 World Cup, he wasn't quite a glamorous appointment though even before taking over for Sir Bobby Brown, he wasn't even the first choice.

The first person to be given the role to replace Brown would be Tommy Docherty though in his short time as manager, he suffered a mixed bag of results before being lured away to manage Manchester United. So thus it all fell to Willie Ormond who was given the rather thankless task of taking Scotland to the World Cup in 1974. However, it was fair to say that things all started off on the wrong foot for his time as Scotland manager when they suffered a horrendous 5-0 loss to England at Hampden Park in 1973 which, to add further humiliation to a defeat at the hands of the Auld Enemies, the match in question was to celebrate the SFA's 100th anniversary. Not the result that Scot would've wanted and one that even today few would want to remember in a hurry.

However one year later after that humiliation though, Ormond would redeem himself as they made it to the World Cup finals in West Germany and there was good confidence from the players that this team, which included pretty much all of Leeds United's Scottish brigade, had a good chance of making an impact at the World Cup. Yet while they got off to a winning start against the group's whipping boys Zaire 2-0, there was an uncomfortable feeling that they should've scored more goals as Yugoslavia and Brazil would be certain to score more goals and this was made very apparent when Yugoslavia would destroy the African minnows 9-0. To make matters even harder for the Scots, their second group game would be playing the world champions, Brazil.


The two captains shake hands before the start of the game
It's unknown what most Brazilians were thinking of when they were to play the Scots on the 18th June, but one thing was for certain was that many in Scotland had been waiting for this game the moment they found out they were to be drawn to play them and the thought of playing the World Champions was an exciting one and with Pelé no longer playing for Brazil, there was a genuine feeling among the Scottish players as they lined up for the anthems in Frankfurt that they could make an upset in this game. Some cynics thought the Brazilians would be all over the Scots, but as the game went by in it's opening few minutes, it became clear that this so called unstoppable Brazil team weren't so big as everyone seemed to rave about. True they were threatening with a goal during the match but Scotland didn't seemed scared by them as they held their ground and another thing to notice was this Brazil team was no where near the high quality that had stunned the world four years ago.

As the game progressed, Willie Ormond looked around the Waldstadion and only did then really notice the huge hordes of Scotland fans, now nicknamed The Tartan Army by folks in the press and media. There does seem to be a larger crowd of Scots here and pretty much everyone in the ground is cladded in tartan of some kind and were all doing their part in cheering for Scotland; nice to know that they had support out here, though the German police were understandably on edge, would they be like the England fans that they could fight at any moment at the drop of a hat suddenly? At times Scotland did the occasional shot on target but many of the attempts were coming from Brazil but David Harvey was doing his best to keep the ball out of his net.

The Brazilian fans in the ground and watching it back in South America were more nervous than their Scottish counterparts, they had started poorly in a 0-0 draw with Yugoslavia and a sudden defeat here could end be damaging to their hopes of retaining the World Cup, even the Brazilian punters watching the game felt a cold feeling up their back that seem to tell them that something wasn't right here. Try as Brazil liked, they just couldn't get the opening goal as the first half ended 0-0. Ormond must've been breathing a sigh of relief to survive this onslaught, they had nothing to fear and that title of World Champions was just a name that didn't make one invincible, after all, Scotland had shown that in a certain game in 1967...

The Second half would prove to be more of an entertaining game with Scotland now starting to cause trouble for Brazil, now looking rather rattled with them looking like they were running out of options. This style of play was only tempting the Scots to strike with Willie Morgan trying to nutmeg Marinho Peres in the fifty-third minute of the game, he didn't succeed but his attempt no doubt made for great entertainment for the folks watching the game back home, after all, how many could say they attempted that move on Brazil? Ormond glanced over to his Brazilian counterpart and could see that Zagallo wasn't looking at all impressed by what his side were doing. The Tartan Army would've thought a draw with the champions would've been a good result, but there was some who thought that winning would be the greatest thing ever. Then in one heart stopping moment in the 67th minute, Joe Jordon fires home a header on the Brazilian goal but his attempt is saved by Emerson Leao.

However, he stumbles forward and the ball finds itself into the path of Bremner, who is not expecting it. "GET IT IN!" Cry out his fellow teammates, Ormond and perhaps every Scot watching the game in the stadium or watching on TV; all wanting the ball into the back of the net. Billy Bremner's reflexes aren't that sharp as some would like and he has very little time to react, but thanks to his teammates, the best he can do is toe poke and everything seems to go in slow motion as it seems to aim past the goalpost. Bremner notices this and makes a further tap in before Leao can grab it and the stadium grows quiet like a vacuum has sucked out all the noise as they await for what might happen next. Slowly, and not exactly the most exciting move seen in a World Cup, the ball casually rolls in past the goal line...

Bedlam; absolute sheer bedlam after the goal is scored and the Tartan Army are making an absolute racked to the point in which the stadium might even crumble in on itself with some of their delighted fans trying to make a beeline to the field to embrace Bremner, but those are caught by the police and are pushed back to the stands or some of them having perhaps too much to drink end up getting led out of the stadium by the police. The small number of Brazilian fans in the ground can only look at each other in shock at what is happening, are they, the World Champions for goodness sake, about to make an early exit from the tournament? The same is applied to the Brazilian players who now have to find a way back into this game, though in truth, Brazil only have themselves to blame for letting the game turn into Scotland's favour. Time is now running out for the Brazilians...


The moment Leao drops the ball into the path of Bremner
Some tackles start to take place thanks to Brazil as they fund themselves trying to fend of Scottish attacks down on their flanks. This goes on now for the rest of the game and in the seventy-second minute, Scotland are awarded a corner kick and in yet another heart stopping moment, Jordon tries to header on goal again and it looks like Scotland will find themselves 2-0 up, though the Brazilian keeper this time prevents further embarrassment on Brazil. That all being said, Brazil should be back in this game, 1-0 leads are often dangerous to hold on to as the longer it goes on for, the more chance there is for the winning side to concede and that is what Brazil are hoping to do if they are wanting to save their hopes. No one can tell if the game is going quickly or slow if you are either a Scot or a Brazilian, but one thing is certain that the game is turning into a nail biter of a game.

A series of attacks from both sides happen but neither keeper are troubled by them and this goes on right up until the last minute of the game with the Brazilian fans jeering their side's performance while some Scots start yelling out for the referee to blow his whistle. However, a large number of Scotland fans can be seen singing 'Flower of Scotland' in the dying moments of the game to express their pride. Incidentally, the lyrics 'To send them home to think again' become more fitting for this Brazil side that now see an early exit from the World Cup. Then the final whistle is blown and the traveling Scotland fans rise as one to celebrate their famous victory over the World Champions. Indeed, the moment itself will go down in history as not only one of the greatest moments in Scottish football, but in British football too. Once again the happy Scotland fans try to invade the field yet again but the police won't let celebrate their moment of glory with their heroes.

It would be hard for supporters to decide if this result of becoming unofficial world champions yet again was more special than beating England at Wembley in 1967. Following this victory, Scotland win the group by drawing with Yugoslavia in their final group game, the latter sneaking into second place at the expense of Brazil. It was hard to know how well Scotland's World Cup hopes might have been going forward but one thing was certain, Scotland were going into the second round and the traveling Tartan Army were preparing for a great tour of West Germany. Who would be brave enough to doubt their hopes?

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Final results of Scotland's Group at the 1974 World Cup

When it came round for Northern Ireland to start of their World Cup campaign, there was much to be expecting from Northern Ireland in which the plucky team that had the nerve to score against Brazil in the 1970 World Cup Semi-finals and managed to get to a final two years later. However, this was not the Northern Ireland team that was before and while things change, the change here was not that good, mostly regarding one certain George Best. Reaching the final of Euro 1972 would be with hindsight the last hurrah for George Best for after that, things began to fall apart for him. That season with Manchester United would end up being a disaster for him in which his last competitive game for the Red Devils in January of this year and would fail to show up for training though that wasn't the worst of it.

Best would be arrested and charged for stealing but these charges would be dropped but the worst was in that season, Manchester United would be relegated and his fitness would then go into freefall; the only good thing to report of what was a truly disastrous season was the fact that Northern Ireland had were heading to the World Cup though even his place on the plane wasn't a foregone conclusion. His poor form that year had not gone unnoticed but Northern Ireland's new manager Terry Neill who had seriously considered dropping George Best for the World Cup, an unthinkable thought by many though judging by his ropey form it wasn't hard to see why. Best though would get the nod to be included in the team for the World Cup though it is said that it wasn't Neill's choice but rather from those in the IFA who in seeing the football world turning more to commercialism who in seeing George Best being already well established as a commercial celebrity in his own right, demanded that he should be in the team no matter what his form was like.

That said, George Best would end up be part of many advertisement campaign prior to the World Cup who was more than happy to take part in them, mostly with those advertising drinks though none of this would see him form improve when it was really needed for the World Cup. In some ways, some would say that because of this star appeal at the expense of the rest of his teammates, George Best was practically shoehorned into the squad and it is quite likely that had Neill not been forced into having him part of the team by the IFA, then there is a strong possibility that George Best might've not been included for the World Cup jamboree in West Germany and with hindsight, many have begun to wonder if him not going might have changed things for Northern Ireland and for good reason.


Just one of the many things you could find Best's face on during the earlier 1970's

Northern Ireland might have been thinking good things when they saw their group had no real heavy weights to show with perhaps maybe Uruguay being the real team that looked a problem and a Dutch team that no one had a clue on how they would perform. Northern Ireland's first game with would against Sweden in Düsseldorf in which despite the Ulstermen looking like the better team throughout, they were were unable to make the most of the chances they got most thanks to George Best's poor finishing in which the groans from Belfast might've been heard and it was sad to see this for had this been the George Best of four years ago then Northern Ireland would have surely been leaving the Swedes for dead. In the end the game ended in a 0-0 draw and while this wasn't the end of the world, it really could have been much different had Northern Ireland scored in the game.

Next up would be Uruguay who were needing a win following their opening game loss to the Dutch yet for the Ulstermen, they knew that a victory would be more than enough to surely book their place in the next round. Things would start of quite good in which Chris Nicholl would open the scoring for Northern Ireland in the twenty-sixth minute and it looked as though another open would happen soon enough yet once again, the problems with George Best reared it's ugly head as despite him clearly trying this time, his finishing was utterly dreadful in which he couldn't score and so bad was it that he was taken off to be substituted with twenty minutes to go, a choice that was to have huge consequences for with just five minutes to go, Uruguay scored to ultimately draw the game and thus, Northern Ireland's own hopes of progressing were looking shaky though after all the chances they had, they had only themselves to blame.

It was then in the aftermath that drama gripped the camp in a story that would have had the red headed tabloid press drooling at over the rumour going around that for the final game with the Dutch, Neill had decided to drop Best. It was a shock though some felt that it was only a matter of time given how much of a busted flush George Best had become though it was the IFA trying to meddle with the team selection to try and shoehorn Best into the side with alleged stories that he had to start every game no matter what to due to apparent secret deals with various sponsors that wanted him to and if he wasn't then the IFA could be hit in the pocket. With all this nonsense going on behind the scenes, Neill would blink first and Best would find himself back in the starting XI at the last minute much to the surprise of many, though really it wouldn't have mattered if Best had started that final game...


Chris Nicholl, one of the standouts from that Northern Ireland team

What happened in Northern Ireland's final group match in Dortmund was to be nothing short of a disaster. In a game plague with an uncertain pre-match for the Ulstermen no thanks to the question if Best would play, the Northern Ireland team looked weary and scared even and in both the fifth and forty-fifth minutes of the first half, Northern Ireland gave away two penalties which saw the Dutch sitting happily on a 2-0 lead on the end of the first half and with a mountain to climb; technically speaking Northern Ireland could still go through with a draw depending on what happened in the other match with Sweden and Uruguay but it was clearly a faint hope that no one could feel they could do it after what had happened. The only one to be absolutely sure was to win but then again this would be the famous Dutch team of 1974 and their brand of 'total football' that the Ulstermen had to deal with.

It would get worse from them as George Best looked a shadow of himself and couldn't help find a way back into the game as the Dutch really clicked into their game plan and with that would score another two goals near the end to put them far in front with a 4-0 score line and any faint hope that anyone had for Northern Ireland getting something in this match to try and go through was crushed. George Best would thought finally get the ball into the back of the net during this game late on but alas it was nothing more than just a mere consolation goal in what had been in truth a rotten game for the Ulstermen and with that, brought the end of Northern Ireland's 1974 World Cup campaign though there would be more to follow in the aftermath of Northern Ireland's exit.

George Best would find himself out of favour with the team; true the IFA would get the money from sponsors for having him starting all the games but would all come at literally a cost with Best's position with the Northern Ireland team going forward and that World Cup was to be the very last appearance the world would get to see George Best at a major tournament. The thought of the national side going forward with the man who had been the force of nature that had dragged the team to major tournaments for nearly a decade would be missing for the team and the thought of anyone trying to fill his boots would be a daunting one and what was to happen for Northern Ireland? No one knew...

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Final results of Northern Ireland's group at the 1974 World Cup

Last but most certainly not least to make up the Home Nations out in West Germany would be England who would find themselves placed in a group of death with Argentina, Italy and Haiti. That all said despite making it to the World Cup and getting the tabloid press behind him, England manger Sir Alf Ramsay couldn't shake off the fact just how vicious they could be when things didn't go well for the national team even though they had made it to two World Cup finals in a row ever since they won it in 1966; they just seemed like they didn't want to be satisfied unless they would win the damn trophy. So right after the Poland game in the qualifying rounds in which England would win at Wembley, Ramsay made the shock announcement that he would leave the England job after this World Cup, even if they were to go on and win it. It was hardly the best preparation he'd admit for the team going into this tournament but he had felt like he had overstayed his welcome in the job and now would be the time to step down for some one with fresh ideas to take the team forward.

It didn't make things easier as England's first game would be against Argentina and for the South Americans, memories of that Quarter-final in 1966 were still fresh in the minds of any Argentine and here was a chance for them to get revenge over the English. All around Stuttgart many England fans could be see around the area and there was a few unfortunate incidents with English supporters chanting 'Two World Wars and One World Cup' to the German public and even a scuffle or two between Argentina and England fans which many hoped wouldn't have happen. Thankfully as the large crowd filled up the Neckarstadion, there was a good atmosphere as the teams lined up for the anthems to be played.

Right from kick off England looked the more dangerous team as they held possession and their fans were enjoying the moment, yet Ramsay remained expressionless as Argentina showed that they weren't backing down so easily and Aldo Poy nearly scored for Argentina in the eighth minute only for Ray Clemence to make a great save by diving to the right. Ramsay yelled at his players on the touchline to get forward and not let them score early in the game, though the game was slowly turning into a bad tampered game with sliding tackles taking place and Clive Thomas, the Welsh referee, was trying all he could to make the game move along and not book anyone, though both sides would argue that perhaps there should've been a booking with how things were going.


England and Argentina making it tough for each other during the first group game at the 1974 World Cup
Twenty five minutes had gone by and despite good chances for either side, no one had scored and the game was becoming more of a battle than anything and some were wondering if there would be a goal in this game. Then thankfully in the twenty-seventh minute, Kevin Keegan makes a brilliant move around Roberto Perfumo who passes the ball up towards Mick Channon who slips it under the grasp of Daniel Carnevali and fires England into the lead. Though England might have the opening goal, Argentina are far from out of this game and they keep pressing, however just three minutes later and after having the ball past to him, Enrique Wolff drops a clanger as he fails to get a grip on the ball before Martin Peters whips the ball of his feet before charging forward with the ball who rather then give it to one of the strikers up front, he decides to go it alone and fires home a long range shot that to the amazement of many, it goes in and in just a few minutes, England are leading 2-0. The England fans start milking the moment throughout the first half and it doesn't help the Argentine players who are growing frustrated and Carlos Babington is given a booking right near the end of the first half and when the first half ends, few will doubt that England will throw this away.

The second half see's then Argentina flying out of the traps and determined to get something out of this game and for about ten minutes, they look the more better team that should score and the loud England fans that were enjoying the game all suddenly go very quiet. Then after a brutal push forward, Ramón Heredia scores in, rather ironically, the sixth-sixth minute and Argentina surely have something to sing about then with the score now 2-1. Chants of 'Are-gen-tina!' start to be heard from their supporters as the players keep pressing forward and Ramsay is now fearing that all the team's hard work could be ruined. But England hold on thanks to a few subs that help plug up the defensive wall that keep Argentina out for now. The game goes at quite a lightning pace when before anyone notices that soon it is the eighty-seventh minute of the game and England have to hold off one last push as Argentina come in again and Mario Kempes rushes in with the ball before crossing it over towards Agustín Balbuena who slides in in the box and he sends the ball hitting the crossbar and Clemence makes a mad save that keeps the ball directly on the line. The Argentine players protest that it's a goal, but Clemance, still lying forward on the ground holding the ball is damn well sure that the ball hasn't crossed the line as if many Englishman watching the game at home.

The referee isn't sure himself and instead heads over to the linesman to get his view of the situation. Many hearts are in the mouth of many and after what feels like ages, the referee points at the centre circle and the traveling Argentina supporters celebrate wildly. Ramsay himself is unhappy and yells out a barrage of abuse at the Welsh referee in which in the modern game would have seen him given a red card and sent to the stands. Then after a few manic moments, the game ends 2-2 and it is the Argentines who are the more happier after the game, one would've thought they would've won the game. That being said, there is still two more games to go but Ramsay now fears the claws are out to get him.


More action during the game with England and Argentina which ended 2-2
It was far from the start that Ramsay would have wanted and as he feared, the English press came to attack him for what they felt was him throwing away a 2-0 lead in which in truth there was no excuse for that other than the fact England lost their bottle in the moment. Nonetheless they had gotten a point from the opening game and up next would be minnows Haiti in Munich in which England were expecting to crush them with ease and that is what happened; England would utterly destroy Haiti by seven goals to nil which would go on to the highest score line that England had ever won at a World Cup by and thus it did seem to put England in a good position going into their final group clash with Italy though in some ways, it wasn't all that easy in terms of outcomes. As the table stood in Group 4 prior to the final group games to be played on the 23rd June, it was extremely tight with England and Italy both tied with three points and Argentina two points (Haiti having nothing) and there was great uncertainty which of those three big footballing nations would make an early exit.

With this in mind, Ramsay was sure as hell going to make sure that England would progress, but he was notably cautious prior the teams coming out of the tunnel at the Neckarstadion in Stuttgart as Italy looked like a team with a point to prove. As the teams emerged from the tunnel, they were greeted by thousands of their own supporters cheering and waving their flags and it was the atmosphere that Ramsay would've wanted as England fans hadn't exactly made the best first impression when they arrived despite warnings from the FA not to bring up any WWII related stuff. However things had gotten better with reports that Italian and English supporters mixed together around Stuttgart, though both sides had deep down worries that one of them would be going home and that was always a horrible feel to have mainly with the pressure of this game as one of them might not be able to go through to the next round. As the game started, Italy were the team that were making themselves known as the likes of Mazzola and Anastasi running down the England flanks and trying to find the opening goal early on in this game and Mazzola almost did find the opener in the sixth minute but the grateful hands of Clemence stopped it from going in.

The England fans could only watch, sometimes behind gaps in their fingers as they watched the Italians utterly hammer England with the Azzurri having a point to prove to show their worth and get revenge on England for beating them in the Semi-final in the last World Cup. The poor defensive line of England that had come under criticism in the English press was right under the cosh trying so hard to keep out the Italians from scoring. After twenty minutes of what was quite honestly a one sided game, England finally started to push back and their own supporters cheered loudly for them that finally something good was happening for them. However in the twenty-fifth minute, Norman Hunter would bring down Causio and would be given a booking from the ref. Ramsay rubbed his chin in thought of how to stop this Italian team, his team had been way too cautious and should've been more adventurous in moving up the field, so he get's on the touchline and begins barking orders for the players to do just that.


Sometime during the first half in which both England and Italy try to find the opening goal to the game

About six minutes later, England finally start making inroads in the Italian half and the first England chance comes to Kevin Keegan in the twenty ninth minute when he tries an ambitious shot from 30 yards outside the box but Dino Zoff knocks it up over the bar and out for a corner kick. A sudden chill goes up the back of many Italian fans in the ground as they begin to fear that their lack of scoring a goal with all the domination that they've had will come back to haunt them, and it does. In the thirty-eighth minute, after England start to turn the game around, Martin Peters takes the ball past several of the Italian defence line before he crosses it up over to his fellow Leeds United player, Allan Clarke before he tucked it under the arm of Zoff who tries to make a mad attempt to save it, but he is unlucky as England go 1-0 up.

The Italian players all looked stunned, after all their possession and how well they had worked the game throughout, they only have themselves to blame for letting them go behind in the game that they should've been leading with all the chances they've had, alas as the old saying goes 'football is a funny old game'. Italy do try to stage a late comeback just before the break, but they are too slow to make any steam as the first half soon ends and their supporters jeer them as they leave the field with the England fans applauding their team's efforts and are very much liking what they have seen so far. Now they needed to extend their lead and see this game off as word soon gets round in the other match, Argentina are leading 2-0 at the break and looking set to go through and with it unlikely that Haiti can cause a huge upset, it is down to either England or Italy to avoid an early exit here.

That said, the end of the first half does bring with it some rather infamous scenes in which the pressure of an early exit is getting to some of the Italian players and there are squabbles between them and the English players and as of a result the West German referee has to try and calm the situation down though it is rather a sorry image to see a bunch of grown men acting like that, if it wasn't for a major game then the scene might have been almost something straight out of Monty Python. Nonetheless, it was still a slender 1-0 lead for England and Ramsay knew that they needed another goal and avoid throwing a win away like with Argentina. Surely though his players could do it though?


For the second half, the Italians try all they can knowing that if they can't get something here, they are facing elimination from the tournament but to their credit they actually start to play some good football and this time England find themselves looking rather all over the place with Italy clearly out with a point to prove. The English defence does all it can to stop the Italians to make an impact though there are a few heart stopping moments in which Anastasi nearly slipping in the ball into the back of the net in the fifty-third minute though it is only thanks to the hands of Clemence to keep out that goal and keep it at 1-0 for England.

Italy though keep pressing and England start to look rather rattled and seem unable to get forward and the feeling for an Italian equaliser seems a sure-fire thing to happen though the question is a matter of when it might happen and sure enough, the worst fears of the English happen in the sixty-fourth minute. It is Cappello who ends up firing in the goal for Italy with an utter rocket of a shot that nearly rips the back of the net and with that, Italy are back in the game and no one can say that they don't deserve it and it is now all hands to the deck for England.

The rest of the second half would end up being a tense affair for England but also for Italy in which while both have four points, even that might not be enough as it can all go down to goal difference with how many Argentina can get in their game with Haiti; a win is pretty much is needed by both to go through. England fail to get forward most of the game, never mind trying to get the ball into the back of the net but neither can Italy who are desperate in trying to find the winner which for whoever finds it will pretty much book their place, but as it stands there is no clue as to who will be in a better place here.


All tense faces in the final group game with England and Italy
In the final ten minutes of the after so much Italian pressure which all in the end came to nothing, England do start to probe up the field to try and find a shock late winner themselves though they have to be careful in making sure they don't leave themselves exposed at the back. There is nothing though that England can't do in order to try and win the game for themselves and thus before long after what is a right nerve shredder of a second half for both teams, the final whistle blows and now it the question on everyone's mind is who made it through?

England, Italy and Argentina all end up on four points though it with England who win the group thanks to goal difference and it is with said goal difference that decide the fate for the latter two. The Argentines end up beating Haiti 4-1 and in the tightest and most heart-breaking fashion for the Italians, it is Argentina who by the very slimmest of goal difference sneak through in second place and Italy are dumped out of the World Cup. There are more than a few sighs of relief from the English knowing how very different things might've gone had fate not smiled on England there.

When the team got back to their hotel they are greeted by a large group of delighted England fans standing outside the hotel awaiting for them as they get off the bus. It is here that they can finally relax and get themselves ready for what is follow and they soon found out the news that they would be in Group B along with the hosts West Germany, Sweden and Scotland. It was to be another group of death to go through, not what anyone wanted but alas, only two Home Nations were left and would one be left standing?

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Final results of England's group at the 1974 World Cup

And so England and Scotland are through, Northern Ireland though crash and burn in the first round though. Anyway both have a difficult group with the schedule list as follows:

Game One

Scotland vs. West Germany
Sweden vs. England
Game Two
England vs. Scotland
West Germany vs. Sweden

Game Three
England vs. West Germany
Sweden vs. Scotland

Group A is pretty much the same as OTL except Yugoslavia replaces Brazil, so, what are your predictions for the scores and the group? Will either England and Scotland make it to the final or is it a step too far? Find out next time and hope you enjoyed this big update! :)
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