“People say Scotland is just a wee nation and don’t have much of an effect on the world. Well, we might only be a small country, but we’ve had a few effects.”
The Sheraton Hotel, Gothenburg. June, 1992. Head coach Andy Roxburgh prepares his team for a step into the unknown.
“When you go out on that park today, you’ll be doing something that no other Scottish player has ever done,” he said hours before Scotland’s first ever appearance at European Championship.
“All those superstars of the past, nobody ever did what you are doing – it’s something that nobody can ever take away from you.”
Debuts, the Dutch and dunked in a fountain
12 June, Gothenburg. Netherlands (Bergkamp 75) 1-0 Scotland
First up were the reigning champions – a star-studded Dutch team at the Ullevi Stadium.
Despite a spirited performance, full of energy, commitment and passion, the Scots eventually succumbed to a Dennis Bergkamp strike 15 minutes from time.
“We were huge underdogs,” says former Scotland midfielder Stuart McCall, who had celebrated his 28th birthday a few days earlier by getting thrown into a fountain by his team-mates.
“We got so near, it was tough losing a goal in the last part of the game like that. I look back at that Dutch side and the actual goal they scored involved Bergkamp, Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten. Four world-class players, and they had Ronald Koeman at centre-back.
“We came off the park thinking we gave everything and did better than most expected us to do, so we took a lot of confidence.”
There was no time to dwell on the result, the situation was already critical in terms of qualification. Scotland had just lost to the European champions, but an encounter with the world champions was less than 72 hours away.
Yet, spirits remained high in the squad.
“After the game we had to fly to Norrkoping straight away but Ally McCoist and Stewart McKimmie had to stay behind for drug testing,” McCall remembers.
“One of them couldn’t pee and they were ages, so myself and Gary McAllister got Coisty’s room key and did all the childish pranks. We took the batteries out of his TV remote, put salt and pepper in his bed and all stuff like that.
“When Coisty got back, he thought it was Gordon Durie and Duncan Ferguson, so they were in a prank war for the rest of the tournament.”
No favours and crates of champagne
15 June, Norrkoping. Scotland 0-2 Germany (Riedle 29, Effenberg 47)
The mood in camp was jovial, but the players knew they had to be at their best against Germany to stand any chance of advancing to the next stage.
It was an uncharacteristically open game, and one in which many Scots believe they could have scored a hatful, yet they somehow lost 2-0.
Karl-Heinz Riedle opened the scoring after 29 minutes, and an unfortunate deflection from Stefan Effenberg’s cross two minutes after the break resigned Scotland to a group-stage exit.
“We felt extremely unlucky,” said Roxburgh. “Scotland pulverised Germany for a lot of that game. They scored a freakish second goal and the scoreline was a nonsense.”
After the match, the Scotland boss was asked to address the travelling fans, who had been cheering his name.
“We hope you feel it was worth it,” he said, with the crowd unanimously cheering in response.
“I know he’s the opposition, but Berti Vogts is a pal and after the game he said to me – will you beat the CIS for us on Thursday?
“I said no, we’ll beat them for us.”
18 June, Norrkoping. Scotland (McStay 7, McClair 16, McAllister 84 pen) 3-0 CIS
Roxburgh gave a defiant fist-pump to the Tartan Army and walked back to the dressing room. Scotland’s hopes of qualification were gone, but their tournament was not over. They could still have an effect.
Their final opponents, CIS – the Commonwealth of Independent States, the temporary team formed after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 – had drawn with both Germany and the Netherlands, and a win against Scotland would see them through.
McCall, sitting in the Scotland coach on arrival at Norrkoping, glanced over at fellow Rangers players Oleksiy Mykhaylychenko and Oleh Kuznetsov, who were staring back at him.
“Before the game, their bus pulled up next to ours. Oleksiy showed us a champagne bottle before the game, getting ready to celebrate.”
Kuznetsov alleges that McCoist told him the Scotland players were still drunk from the night before and therefore their opponents did not need to worry. But it quickly became evident that was not the case. Scotland ran out 3-0 winners, ending CIS’ qualification hopes and sending Germany through.
“After the game, the CIS players were absolutely distraught as we all went back to the bus,” said McCall.
“We had some beers back on our bus and were knocking on the windows. I remember pointing down to Oleksiy, saying ‘See that champagne you’ve got stored at the bottom of your bus, any chance we can get it?’. He didn’t see the funny side…”
Though on paper the match was a dead-rubber for Scotland, that victory meant a lot. It was a vindication of their efforts and performances in the tournament, and a glimpse at what could have been had luck been on their side against Netherlands or Germany.
“We finished with pride intact,” said McCall.
“Every tournament we got to we never qualified any further. The joke used to be that the Scotland team were back home before the postcards were, but England were knocked out by Sweden the night before.
“We went further than England in that tournament, even if it was only because we played a day later.”