Paris: 10th of June 1998, Scotland v Brazil in group A of the 1998 FIFA World Cup. Surely every Scotland supporter can remember exactly where they were to watch the game? I vaguely remember sprinting home from school full of anticipation, my country against one of the finest national teams to ever grace the game, and what a game to open the World Cup. Brazil had been Scotland’s Kryptonite at World Cup finals, grouped together in 74, 82 and 90 prior to this latest match up. Unsurprisingly Scotland had never won. Surely the law of averages would work in our favour and a positive outcome could be achieved?
Ninety minutes later however, anticipation and hope faded to disappointment and hurt although – while the team made every Scotland fan extremely proud that day – there was still the question of what if? What if we hadn’t conceded the opening goal in the first 5 minutes? What if Tom Boyd hadn’t been responsible for that ridiculous own goal? Too many questions and not enough answers; that’s what makes football the beautiful game, one that unfortunately it just doesn’t go your way sometimes.
The 1998 World Cup was the first I remember watching and the nostalgia still hits me when I see highlights from certain games or read articles about the tournament. The build-up is what I can vividly recall the most, what 7 year old boy doesn’t want to be watching football every day for a whole month? The added bonus of your home nation qualifying too just added to the hype. Sitting watching the opening game between Scotland and Brazil with my dad made me fall in love with this wonderful tournament, the rollercoaster ride of emotions through 90 minutes; I will never forget it.
Although the 3 points eluded us, I was confident that we could win against Norway in Bordeaux. The Scandinavians had an excellent team that had qualified for the previous tournament and had been ranked as high as 2nd in the world just a couple of years earlier. As I recall watching the match at a friend’s house who didn’t actually like football, I couldn’t believe after the buzz of nearly getting a result against Brazil that a draw against Norway would be considered a disappointment. Goals shared between Havard Flo (Tore Andre‘s brother) and Craig Burley, who had dyed his hair blonde for the occasion meant the match finished at 1-1. A first win at the finals since 1990 would have to wait.
On to Saint Etienne where Morocco would be the opponents and a win would be sufficient to qualify if Brazil defeated Norway (and in what would be one of the shocks of the tournament, Norway only went and won 2-1 with a late penalty after trailing with just 10 minutes remaining). Scotland manager Craig Brown fielded a strong starting eleven featuring Kevin Gallacher and Gordon Durie up front who would be spirited in targeting a defence that had already conceded five goals in their two games so far. Even though I had school the next day I was allowed to stay up and watch the whole match, though looking back I don’t know why I bothered. The 3-0 drubbing was Scotland’s heaviest defeat in a World Cup finals match since a 4-1 reverse at the hands of Brazil in the 1982 finals in Spain. So much hope at the start of the match turning to sheer embarrassment by the end. Morocco deserved the win and this was another World Cup Finals tournament that Scotland missed out on qualification for the knockout stage (the eighth consecutive time – a record).
Who knew that this would be our last match at the finals of a major tournament for 20 years and counting. The reality was that we were regular Jekyll and Hyde participants at footballs top table – think the majestic result against Holland in 78 to the shambles of Costa Rica in 90. If I knew then that being a Scotland supporter was going to be this difficult, I think I would have picked another sport. But that’s the thing with football, you can never leave, it just keeps pulling you back in. Never mind though eh, I had Euro 2000 to look forward to!