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Fears over Scots' World Cup clash

THE Thatcher Government hoped that Scotland's poor record at the World Cup would help avoid a potentially incendiary clash with holders Argentina as the Falklands War intensified, documents released by the National Archive reveal.

The football championships were just weeks away when the conflict between Britain and Argentina began on April 2, 1982, with ministers fearful that hostilities could spill over on to the football pitch as the world watched.

Within days of the war beginning, Neil Macfarlane, the Government's Environment Minister, wrote to the Sports Council urging all British sports governing bodies to stop "bilateral competition" against Argentinian teams, whether in the UK or Argentina; fixtures in third countries were allowed, which obviously included the upcoming World Cup in Spain.

The Prime Minister was told in a confidential note that while neither Scotland, Northern Ireland nor England were in the same qualifying group as Argentina, they could theoretically meet in later stages.

But the note explained Alex Fletcher, the Scottish Sports Minister, was anxious. "He is particularly concerned Scotland are scheduled to play an early fixture against Brazil and that this could provide an excuse for the kind of crowd troubles which had been feared before the Falklands became an issue." The issue of withdrawing the home nations was a fraught one, with Britain's ambassador to Madrid making clear such a move would be "taken badly in Spain and would be interpreted as a slight on Spain, not a statement about Argentina".

In a later memo marked "secret", Mr Macfarlane told the PM there was speculation "in all quarters that we may now dissuade our three teams from playing in this event".

The minister pointed out the loss of British military life had "had a marked effect" on some players, who felt "revulsion at the prospect of playing in the same tournament as Argentina".

Mr Macfarlane noted how Scotland's second match was against Brazil and, "if successful", the team could play Argentina in the second round.

But Mr Fletcher, the Scottish Office Minister, downplayed the likelihood of a Scotland-Argentina clash, telling Mrs Thatcher the Scots had "never yet qualified for the second round". The World Cup began on June 13. A day later the Argentinians surrendered.

As it happened, there was no clash between Argentina and any of the home countries on the football pitch.

Scotland lost to Brazil 4-1 and then drew 2-2 with the USSR, which meant they again failed to progress to the second round. England, Northern Ireland and Argentina made it to the second phase but got no further. Italy were champions.

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