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Spiers on Saturday: Kenny Burns on Argentina, missing out at Rangers, and that headbutt

These days Kenny Burns is living in the Nottingham area, doing a bit of after-dinner speaking, a bit of matchday hospitality.

It is all so orderly compared to how it was 36 years ago this World Cup summer, when Burns unwittingly became a guilty man amid the tragedy known as Scotland's 1978 World Cup campaign.

They say it took a full week for Alan Rough's perm to stop billowing from the jet-stream off Teofilo Cubillas' free-kick after it flew past him that fateful night in Cordoba. Well, 36 years on, Burns confesses to still feeling World Cup pangs as he watches the current, memorable fare being served in Brazil.

You may remember Burns for other things, like two European Cup winner's medals with Nottingham Forest, or an infamous headbutt on Arsenal's Richie Powling which was captured vividly by the Match of the Day cameras. These are worth exploring with him.

Life started out for Burns at Burnbrae school in Priesthill, and then at Hillwood boys club, both in Glasgow. In fact, he might never have played in English football at all, had Rangers not despaired of him.

"I?¯was an apprentice at Ibrox in the late 1960s, during the Davie White period, but only for a year," said Burns. "It didn't work out for me. At that time guys like Jim Baxter, Kai Johansen, John Greig, Sandy Jardine and Ronnie Mckinnon were starring for Rangers.

"I?¯was on £10 a week at Ibrox but I?¯was also still playing for Glasgow Amateurs at the time and, when I?¯got sent off something like three times in five matches for them, Rangers got wind of it and decided to let me go.

"Then a scout took me to England, to play for Birmingham City, and the rest is history. I?¯was at Birmingham for six or seven years, got quite a few goals, before Brian Clough signed me for Nottingham Forest."

At Forest, Burns would have an amazing career. He went from nowhere to winning the English First Division title, to winning two European Cups and to being voted player of the year by the English football writers in 1977/78. In other words, on either side of the sheer debacle of Argentina '78, Burns was having the time of his life.

"I?¯had been a striker most of my young life and at Birmingham City, but in my first pre-season at Forest we had a friendly and, when the teams were read out, it turned out they were playing me as a centre-back beside Larry Lloyd," he said. "That was it. Forest had signed me as a striker but they turned me into a defender.

"To be honest, when I?¯signed for Forest [in June 1977] I'd hardly heard of Brian Clough. I?¯knew he'd been at Derby and what have you, but Forest had just come up from the Second Division. Within three years I?¯had two European Cup winner's medals in my drawer."

Burns was indisputably one of Britain's finest footballers - a truth neither recognised then nor even now in Scotland - when he went off as one of Ally MacLeod's chosen 22 for the 1978 World Cup. Words like "Cordoba", "Cubillas" and "Mendoza" were about to rudely introduced to his brain. He played in Scotland's two opening games, losing 3-1 to Peru and drawing 1-1 with Iran, before being dropped for the final group game against the Netherlands, which Scotland won 3-2.

"There is no doubt we took our opponents lightly," he said. "We'd never heard of Cubillas but he became a hero at that World Cup. The same applied against Iran . . . I?¯mean, who the hell were these Iran players? It turned out they were strong, talented and could compete.

"Against Peru, big Roughie let in two goals at his near post and got the look from some us. That was a bit of a crime. Then there was all the complaining about our hotels - one of which seemed to be a two-star job - and the rest. Everyone was pretty unhappy.

"Nowadays people would tell you: there are no mugs in a World Cup finals. But we never thought like that back then. We were 'Scotland the brave' and all that. I?¯still believe, with the class players we had in that team, we should have made it to the quarter-finals."

Burns did not really have a gripe with Ally MacLeod, although ironically, given that he would become a rare Scottish hero of that campaign, he did come to resent Archie Gemmill. "Ally wasn't like your manager; he was like your mate, your pal," said Burns. "As the boss he probably needed to be more aggressive, more assertive. I also didn't think he was a well man back there in that heat - not many of us were.

"I?¯played in the opening two games against Peru and Iran, but then got dropped for Archie Gemmill for the Holland game. Ally had said to us, 'guys, I?¯want you to play for me like you do for your clubs', and Archie said, talking about me, 'well, Kenny doesn't play for us like he does for Forest.' I?¯could have killed Archie there and then, and Ally went and dropped me. Saying that, Archie went and got that goal against Holland."

It is?¯put casually to Burns that, in his marauding pomp back in the old English First Division, he must have got over the Argentina experience soon enough, a point he was quick to correct.

"No, I?¯didn't just brush it off," he said. "Losing games really hurt me and there was a lot of hurt after that 1978 World Cup. I?¯came back to England, to Forest, and got plenty stick for what had happened. I?¯played alongside Martin Buchan in Argentina and I?¯looked upon keeping a clean sheet with pride, like scoring a goal. But we'd lost three to Peru and one to Iran, so it bothered me. I?¯vowed to make myself better and, two years later, in our second successive European Cup final, against Hamburg, I?¯kept Kevin Keegan pretty quiet as we won. So I?¯took my football pretty seriously."

A hard man on the pitch, and sometimes a nut-job, Burns is also remembered for head-butting Powling during a tense affair at Highbury, a moment that lives to this day on YouTube. Did his image as hard and sometimes thuggish bother him?

"Naw," said Burns. "I?¯think it bothered that guy I?¯head-butted more than me, to be honest. I?¯was young and you don't always do what you're told. I?¯got fined 50 quid for that butt on Powling."

His one regret in football? "I'd have loved to play junior football in Scotland, but I?¯never got that chance," Burns said. "That's real, true, quality football, that is. I'm really sorry I?¯never got the chance. I'd love to have played junior; it's my one football regret."

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