THE Scottish psyche remembers the fond farewell with a wince.

The holding of a parade at Hampden before the national team headed for Argentina in 1978 now seems like an unnecessary invitation for humiliation to stride through the door marked Scottish Football History.

However, Alan Rough remembers the return trip more clearly. "We flew to Argentina in a big Jumbo, sitting in that bubble at the top of the plane. On the way home, we were all stuck up the back. The plane stopped off at Heathrow and I was sitting with my pals Derek [Johnstone] and Joe [Harper] and saw all these players getting off who never left a plane in London. They were obviously ducking out of landing in Glasgow. We had received the phone calls, there was to be a reception committee."

The goalkeeper recalls the plane trundling along the Glasgow runway and seeing protesters on the tarmac. "God knows how they got there. I do not know if they were staff or baggage handlers or whatever. Ally [MacLeod, the manager] is off the plane first and he waves to them in salute. We are under the seats shouting at him to look at the words on the banners. It was hostile. There was a bus on the tarmac to take us into the terminal."

Rough, a goalkeeper who made three World Cup finals for Scotland and narrowly missed out on the 1974 tournament in Germany, smiles at that memory but his recollection of Argentina is darker, still painful.

Scotland had been drawn in a group containing the Netherlands, Peru and Iran. There were genuine hopes of progress for a strong Scottish team that was marked with genuine class in key positions.

"The Iran game was simply the lowest point of my football career," he says of the 1-1 draw that followed a 3-1 defeat to Peru. A brilliant 3-2 victory against the Netherlands, with that Archie Gemmill goal, was not enough for Scotland to go through, losing out to the eventual finalists on goal difference.

"We did not think we could do something spectacular, despite the pre-tournament hype, but we did think we could qualify from the group. We were good enough to qualify and that was the failure."

There was bluster from Ally MacLeod in advance of Argentina, and one remark remains in the mind decades on. Asked what Scotland would do after the World Cup, he replied: "Retain it." There was more wit and mischief in this than any arrogance, but it has become a motif for how hope became humiliation.

Rough is blunt about how the tournament progressed. "The Peru side were better than any of us thought but if we score with the penalty then that puts us in a very strong position," he says of Don Masson's miss at 1-1. Scotland, too, had taken the lead in that match.

The performance in the Iran game remains a matter of mystery to him decades on. "Sometimes in football you play games and look back and say: 'How did that happen?' There are games that come up and hit you in the face. Nothing went right. It was disaster time. The media was in a frenzy and then there was the Willie Johnston situation."

This reference to the winger failing a drugs test shows how the adventure had become lurid farce. After the Peru match, Gemmill was asked to supply a urine sample but he was severely dehydrated and so Johnston took his place. After filling an unmarked sample tube, it was found Johnston had tested positive for the stimulant Fencamfamin, taken as a constituent part of over-the-counter medicine Reactivan. Johnston, who was sent home with the media stalking his every airport transfer, said later: "I was in the best form of my life and had no need for artificial stimulants. And in any case the Peru match was the worst of my international career, so you could hardly say Reactivan was performance-enhancing."

With one point in the group and one player sent home, Scotland were now in a spot that tested both nerve and spirit. In the final match against the Netherlands. Scotland had to win by a three-goal margin to progress but fell short.

"We had a point to prove against Holland but I don't remember any stirring speeches in the team before that match," says Rough. "We just went out and played the way we were capable of playing."

This was, after all, a side that included Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Gemmill, who were all important parts of teams who won European Cups. "The quality of player was fantastic compared to now," said Rough.

The events of 1978 had an influence on subsequent tournaments. "After we went out we had three or four nights to kill until the flight home," says Rough. "We moved into Buenos Aires and the SFA booked us in a doss house while the officials were put up in the Sheraton.

"In 1986, Big Jock [Stein] had it all organised. The accommodation was great and he encouraged the players to play golf. The tournament was a serious business but he knew players had to switch off at some point," says Rough.

He accepts that Argentina 1978 is now a shorthand for Scottish football disaster. But he points out: "We made the World Cup finals and had a group record of losing one match, drawing another and then beating a great Holland team who were unlucky to lose in the final to the hosts. Would we take that now?"