No. 24: Gemmill’s Solo Stunner For Scotland (Argentina, 1978)
Whilst it may seem an unfathomable prospect these days, Scotland were actually a very good soccer team towards the back end of the last century. I kid you not!
Boasting arguably the world’s finest footballer at the time in Kenny Dalglish, the toughest player in the world in Graeme Souness, and exciting talents like Archie Gemmill and Lou Macari, the Scots qualified for the World Cup finals in Argentina in 1978 with high hopes. They’d beaten England 2-1 at Wembley in 1977 after all!
The Scots were pitted in a group with South Americans Peru, minnows Iran and an imperious Holland side. Whilst they may not have been able to top the group ahead of the Dutch, they certainly had enough quality to take points from their other two clashes.
Their opening game was against Peru, and it proved to be a real struggle. Scotland took an early lead through Joe Jordan, but toiled in the sweltering Cordoba sun, eventually losing 3-1 as Peruvian front man Teofilio Cubillas ran riot.
It meant that victory over Iran was imperative. But once again, the Scots wilted after a bright start. The Iranians put through their own net just before half time, but some slack play from Ally MacLeod’s team allowed Iran to score an equaliser and take a share of the spoils.
After such an awful start to their campaign, the Scots looked doomed. Only a three-goal win against Holland—one of the strongest sides in the competition—in their final group game would be enough to see them progress.
Their hopes looked to be dashed immediately, as the Holland’s star forward Bob Rensenbrink scored from the penalty spot. But the Scots battled back, with Dalglish levelling just before half time.
After the break, the Scots pushed forward, and Gemmill took centre stage. Scotland gave themselves a glimmer of hope when the Nottingham Forest man put them 2-1 up from the spot, meaning they now needed just a couple more to progress.
Then, in the 68th minute of the game, Gemmill picked up the ball on the right-hand-side and did this:
What happened next?
After Gemmill’s sensational goal, the Scots found themselves needing just one goal to qualify for the second group phase. But somewhat cruelly, the Dutch found themselves just one goal adrift three minutes later as Johnny Rep’s shot took a slight deflection off none other than Gemmill himself.
The Scots were out on goal difference again, for the second time in as many World Cups.
Looking back, with English football in disarray, Scotland had a wonderful chance to make an impression and carry the torch for British sides on the world stage. And whilst they showcased exactly how good they could be in that victory over the Dutch, they never seemed to perform when it really mattered.
The whole tournament was punctured with issues that would have surely had a detrimental effect on the side. Most notably when West Brom forward Willie Johnson failed a drugs test midway through the competition and was subsequently sent home in disgrace.
But Gemmill’s goal remains one of the greatest in the history of the World Cup and an iconic moment in Scottish football. It’s one of those goals you can watch over and over again; the touch, the link up with Dalglish, the balance and the finish are an absolute joy to behold.
The goal is etched in Scottish folklore, and immortalised in a rather raunchy scene from the film “Trainspotting” too. I’ll let you check that out for yourself, though.
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