A Scotland international weekend isn't just a time for gloom, but for sweet nostalgia. There was a period in our misty, occasionally murky past, when these Icelanders visiting Hampden Park today would feel skelped and disorientated by Scottish wingers, either beaten for pace, or with the tendons attending to their crotches traumatised by these twisting, taunting icons of the Scottish game.

Funnily enough, Willie ''Bud'' Johnston is alive and well, still 5ft 7in, still trim and compact at no more than 11 stone, and pulling pints for his thirsty customers in his Kirkcaldy pub. When I met Johnston yesterday I was struck by how little he has changed in 30 years. I was also struck by the great contradiction he represents in many footballers: an essentially quiet, shy man whose head started boiling when he crossed the white line.

Incredibly, it is over 37 years since Johnston, now 56, won his first Scotland cap. It is also 30 years since he was a part of Rangers' victorious European Cup-Winners' Cup side, and with a nice numerical roundedness, 25 years since he made a nasal compound called Reactivan and ITN's Trevor McDonald both famous after Ernie Walker and the SFA sent him home from Scotland's completely tragic World Cup campaign in Argentina.

History has since appreciated that Johnston was literally an innocent abroad in that incident but it was an episode which summed up the strange way in which trouble and strife followed this quiet man throughout his career. It is worth recalling that, exactly a year prior to that Argentinian fiasco, when Scotland visited South America in 1977 with customary conceit as a warm-up before actually qualifying for the World Cup, Johnston had left the pitch in tears having been red-carded against Argentina after what STV's Arthur Montford referred to as ''yet another stramash''.

Yesterday, before debating anything else, I thought it worth putting Johnston on the spot and testing whether any latter-day confession might be forthcoming about a 23-year football career which witnessed red cards flying like shrapnel. At Rangers, West Bromwich Albion, Vancouver Whitecaps, and Hearts he was adored but . . . there was a flashpoint, wasn't there, Willie?

''I did some daft things but guys were always out to get me,'' he said, still sounding more sinned-against than sinning. ''I mean, I'd be standing in the tunnel at places like Old Trafford and Anfield, and I'd hear guys say: 'Where's that c***, Johnston? Where is the bastard? 'Cos we're gonna break his legs today.' Honestly I did! Idiots! Bampots!''

I said: ''Yes, but I mean 18 red cards? There was still a temper, wasn't there?''

''S'pose so,'' said Johnston reluctantly.

Perhaps a personal confession on behalf of the writer is appropriate here. For any wiry kid like me who took a football and could run like a whippet, Johnston was an exceptional role-model, and I crafted myself on his baggy-shorted walk and running style, a ritual which has left a deformity to this day.

Johnston was the original bubble-gum card Scottish winger: crouched, quick, conceited, cheeky, but more than anything, when in the mood, brilliant. And, like Jimmy Johnstone and others with their meagre haul of Scotland appearances, from today's impoverished perspective, here's the cruel crux: Johnston won only 22 caps.

''I was actually what you would call the classical inside-forward but they changed me into a winger,'' he told me. ''When I went to Rangers in '62 they discovered I had speed and they stuck me out wide. I tell you, I hated it. You went ages without seeing the ball. There was also a terrible clique at Rangers at the time and with all these great players - Ralph Brand, Bobby Shearer, Eric Caldow, and others - you had to go around referring to everyone as 'Mister'. I found it very hard. Plus, Jim Baxter was there. The first thing Scot Symon said to me inside Ibrox was: 'Stay away from Jim.' ''

His international career, typical of the time, shaped his club career. Like Kenny Dalglish and many others, Johnston's jaw would regularly drop, sitting in the Scotland dressing-room at Hampden, hearing Denis Law, Billy Bremner, Eddie Gray, and others talking regularly about the king's ransoms they were earning in England. It eventually prompted his move from Rangers, six months after the great triumph in Barcelona, in December, 1972.

''At the end of the day it's what you're in football for, isn't it: the money?'' said Johnston tartly. ''I mean, you can't eat medals. Rangers were a huge club but I was on (pounds) 60 a week and I said to Willie Waddell that I wanted a rise to (pounds) 80 a week. Waddell said I had 'nae chance'. So then I said, okay, what about a (pounds) 10,000 signing-on fee for a six-year contract? I can still remember Waddell's words to me: 'Willie, you won't get a brass farthing.' Neither I did, either. So I left Rangers for West Brom and went straight on to (pounds) 120 a week.''

That season, 1972-73, was to be the start of a rich five-year seam in Johnston's career, a seam which would end in part-comedy, part-tragedy. At the Hawthorns he would play under Don Howe, the manager who signed him, and then Johnny Giles and Ron Atkinson, and each provided Johnston with an insight about what good football is about.

''You get great coaches and great managers, don't you, and they're not always the same, are they?'' he said to me. ''I mean, Don bloody Howe . . . what a man. He was a great coach, a really great coach, but he sometimes had me playing as a left full-back for West Brom. In fact, when I think about it, I was the original wing-back under Howe. He'd been at Arsenal when they won the double with that Iron Curtain defence of theirs and I think Don's philosophy was, if it's good enough for Arsenal, it's good enough for West Brom.''

After Howe, though, under Johnny Giles, and with Johnston, Laurie Cunningham, Cyrille Regis, and Ally Brown all in the team, West Brom embarked on a vintage period in the club's history. ''We were beating teams like Manchester United at Old Trafford and qualifying for Europe. But then . . . [Johnston shakes his head] . . . it all went wrong for me.''

Just about everybody by now has a hazy idea of what befell Willie Johnston at the 1978 World Cup. He took Reactivan, prescribed tablets for his hay fever (which he was still suffering from yesterday), and fell foul of FIFA's still-crude early dope-testing procedure.

It all led to one of the great capers in the vast tragedy of Scottish football: Johnston being sent home and then, infamously, appearing live on the BBC's Nationwide programme with Frank Bough (in which his yellow Reactivan tablets, held up for viewers' pleasure, began to melt under the studio lights), as well as, for Trevor McDonald, one of the first moments of glory for ITV's bespectacled Bafta-winner.

For history's sake, Johnston's own seemingly authentic recollection is worth recording. ''I knew nothing about anything,'' he began unpromisingly. ''I always had hay fever and my doctor had told me to take these Reactivan tablets. So before the Peru match, which you'll know we lost, sadly, 3-1, I popped two of them in my mouth.

''After the match they're wanting a urine test, aren't they, and I think Archie Gemmill was meant to do it. For some reason Archie wasn't up to it so I said: 'I'll go.' The next thing I know, we're at that reception for Scotland players and officials that night, when Trevor McDonald and the ITV crew suddenly come upon me and switch on their lights. I'm thinking: 'What the f***'s all this about?'

''I genuinely didn't know what was going on. But Asa Hartford suddenly yanked me and said: 'Hey, wee man, you've failed the test!' Well, that was it. Ernie Walker ordered me to my room, and the next day, like a criminal, I was driven away beneath a blanket to Buenos Aires airport and put on a

29-hour journey home.

''When I got to London, my West Brom manager, Ron Atkinson, was there to meet me. And Ron asked me to do him a favour. He said he had a pal at the BBC who was about to get the sack, and would I do him a turn and go on Nationwide to explain my situation. Ron was my boss; you did what you were told. That's when I found myself being interviewed by Frank Bough. I couldn't wait to get home to my wife, Margaret, but it was the beginning of the end for me.''

Looking back now, what happened to Johnston was tragic. He lasted only a few months more in British football. Though completely innocent of deliberate wrongdoing, supporters at opposition grounds started chanting ''Junky! Junky!'' and West Brom swiftly dropped him. ''I was told, though I can't vouch for this, that Bert Millichip, then West Brom's chairman and a bigwig at the FA, had said: 'I don't want him to play ever again for West Brom,' '' claimed Johnston yesterday. He left England for Vancouver in the 1978-79 season, his career at the top effectively finished.

How Scotland could use a re-incarnated Willie Johnston today. Even with his tablets and tantrums.