Macari recalls Scotland's 'bizarre' 1978 World Cup
It's 40 years since the 1978 World Cup finals in Argentina, where Lou Macari was one of four Manchester United players in Scotland's squad - along with Martin Buchan, Joe Jordan and Gordon McQueen. Back in 2014, he spoke to us about the experience...
How did Scotland’s World Cup adventure of 1978 acquire such infamy?
It was probably the most bizarre Scottish campaign ever. We secured our place at the World Cup by beating Wales and, somehow, a momentum built up in the press about us not only getting there but winning it! I laugh now when I look back. We even went around Hampden Park on an open-top bus, before the tournament, with a replica of the World Cup at the front! We had a very good team but it was never going to be good enough to conquer the world, not in Argentina’s backyard, with Brazil also competing and far more used to the conditions than we were. We got the results that you might have realistically expected us to get, although we did beat Holland, the eventual runners-up. Everything was stacked against us really: the heat, the humidity – even the balls were different.
We started with a list of 80 players and, even though I’d played in the games to get us to the World Cup, I wasn’t confident I was going to be in the final squad because the 80 candidates were all genuine. The next cut-off was 40 and after that it was just a matter of keeping my fingers crossed. Then the manager announced the final squad and I was in it. Naturally, I was delighted.
Did your World Cup experience live up to your expectations?
Well, I had no real idea what it was going to be like. I didn’t know anything about the other teams in our group, Peru or Iran, so it wasn’t like nowadays when you’d have dossiers on the teams you were facing. So we went there not knowing anything about the opposition but believing we could get results all the same. We probably were a little bit ill-prepared compared to other teams but there wasn’t as much emphasis on preparation. Our training facilities were inadequate, we didn't take our own chefs so we weren’t used to any of the food and the place we were staying in wasn’t ready either. It was a stables block that was in the process of being converted into a hotel and, when we arrived, they were still hammering things down! It had a swimming pool, but there was no water in it. Oh, and the bus broke down on the way to the hotel. But despite all that, I realised when I got there just how big the World Cup is. It is the biggest occasion you can ever be involved in and, despite our results, I am delighted that I was there to experience it. I take great pride in it.
What do you remember of the games themselves?
I played in the first match against Peru [Scotland lost 3-1] and I was a sub in the second. The sense of not knowing your opponents was definitely the case when we played Iran, who flew about the pitch, completely used to the heat, while we were crawling around. Their players weren’t household names but were still good enough to make a game of it and give us problems, which they did [they drew 1-1]. This left us with a mountain to climb in the last game, needing to beat Netherlands by a few goals to qualify. We only won 3-2 so were knocked out at the group stage. Archie Gemmill’s goal in that game was quite possibly the best ever scored in a World Cup. It was an unforgettable moment.
Were you impressed by the turn-out of the Tartan Army, especially given how much it would have cost the fans to get over to Argentina?
Yeah, of course, the Scottish support was great and they got there in numbers despite the expense. I think there are still some great stories coming out about it and it was 40 years ago! One story that still goes around Scotland is that six fans left Glasgow on a submarine and never returned. Maybe they never came back because of how the tournament went, maybe they got lost at sea, maybe they met someone in Argentina and settled down. There are so many fantastic stories that have come out of the World Cup but the one story that wasn’t so good was probably the most important one - our results.
What advice do you have for players taking part in their first World Cup?
The main thing is to soak it up and enjoy it as you may never be at another one. They only come around once every four years and you can be a good team and not qualify for the next tournament. People like George Best never went to a World Cup so you have to count yourself lucky to be around at the right time and, if you get there, make the most of it and savour the memories. It’s a great occasion and it could be an opportunity for a younger player to shine, or for someone unknown to make a name for themselves. There have been several unknowns who've done that over the years – I remember Toto Schillaci and Roger Milla in 1990.