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A shot at glory? Not for us, thank you

IMAGINE for a minute that Scotland did actually qualify for the World Cup this summer.

Scotland's Willie Bauld goes close against England in the 1950 match between the ancient rivals, which was watched by a mere 134,000 at HampdenPhotograph: PA
Scotland's Willie Bauld goes close against England in the 1950 match between the ancient rivals, which was watched by a mere 134,000 at HampdenPhotograph: PA

Pretend Gordon Strachan and his side somehow performed footballing miracles to meet the qualification criteria to the full, and that both Fifa and the Brazilian FA's organising committee were making desperate pleas to have the Tartan Army involved at the showpiece.

Then suspend your disbelief one more time when it turns out that SFA chief executive Stewart Regan and the association's office bearers have decided that the whole thing is not worth the hassle and declined the invitation outright. It seems an outlandish plot line, even taking into account the arcane and convoluted regulations and bye-laws of the SFA constitution. But it was exactly what transpired the last time the World Cup was held in this corner of South America.

As you might have guessed, the backdrop to the affair was the kind of wrangling and flexing of muscle between Fifa and the home nations which still goes on to this day. While the Scots (and the English, Welsh and Northern Irish) had joined Fifa back in 1905, the onset of the First World War led to a break in all football, and before long all home nations were resigning in unison in 1920, concerned about the suitability of playing nations with whom they had recently been at war, and the increasing foreign influence in the laws of the game.

It wasn't until 1946, a year after the conclusion of the Second World War, that they would return to the fold, by which time three World Cups had been contested without UK involvement. While the home nations' joyous return to Fifa was celebrated with a match in May 1947 in front of 135,000 at Hampden Park between Great Britain and a 'Rest of Europe XI' - Team GB won 6-1 - time was short and organisation was rather chaotic when it came to UK integration into the first post-war World Cup, to be held in Brazil, originally in 1949 then pushed back a year.

Long-haul travel back then was expensive and dangerous, and ultimately the Brazilian FA had to settle for 13 rather than 16 competitors for the event. Amid a raft of concessions to the home nations was the proposal that the four UK nations would comprise one preliminary group, with the two finalists offered a place at the World's Cup (sic) in Brazil. This meant a 50% success rate, and a far less onerous qualifying task than that afforded to any other group of nations, but as recorded in the SFA minutes of a meeting of the general secretaries of the home nations in Liverpool in January 7, 1949, it was effectively too generous. Instead it was determined that the 1949/50 home international championship should proceed as planned and only the winners should go.

"It was agreed to recommend that the four British National Associations should enter provided the Federation agree to relax the regulations in the following respects: (a) to consider the British nations as one group (b) to exempt those nations from the preliminary competition and (c) to consider the country winning the British International Championship in 1949/50 as the group winner for the purposes of the World's Cup competition proper."

For Scotland that meant Northern Ireland away, and Wales and England at Hampden, and things started well. The trip to Windsor Park ended with an 8-2 win for the Scots, with debutant Henry Morris of East Fife marking the occasion with a hat-trick. Next up was a 2-0 triumph against Wales, a crowd of 74,000 seeing goals from Celtic's John McPhail and Clyde's Alec Linwood set up a decider against England, who had been equally rampant thus far, beating Northern Ireland 9-2 at Wembley and running out 4-1 winners in Cardiff.

Still the entreaties came from Brazil, rebuffed by hardline SFA secretary George Graham. "It was decided to inform the International Federation that this association would abide by the original conditions of entry proposed by the British associations, and will only compete in the World's Cup competition proper if this association are winners of the British championship in 1949/50."

Goal difference wasn't taken into account, so a draw would have seen either team permitted to travel to Brazil calling themselves champions. England, so the story goes, weren't that worried: they had already determined that they would attend no matter the score. Recent precedent suggested there wouldn't be much between the two teams.

After a goalless first half at Hampden in front of 134,000 punters, Chelsea's Roy Bentley opened the scoring with a shot which Morton's Jimmy Cowan couldn't keep out. Hearts' Wille Bauld hit the bar, and Willie Waddell went close at the death, but time was up. In the hours, days and weeks following the match, Scotland captain George Young, encouraged by England captain Billy Wright, pleaded for the chance to attend, his cause taken up by the public. The Brazilian FA were also back in touch. But Graham was having none of it.

"Telegram was received from the Football Association of Brazil. In view of the representations made, the committee gave this matter their fullest consideration and decided that having entered the competition under certain conditions with the other British National Associations, they could not now depart from their decisions as stated in items 101 and 125 of their minutes for 1948-49."

Stiff upper lip, lack of cash, a misduided sense of honour; take your pick. But Scotland have still never graced a World Cup in Brazil.

At least we didn't embarrass ourselves against the USA either.

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Football

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