IT was that bleak Caledonian football mix of farce, drama and anguish. But tragedy – the almost mandatory ingredient to Scottish fitba’ – was an apt word, not a lazy reaction to a scuffed miss or a conceded goal. It was September 10, 1985, at Ninian Park, Cardiff. It was the night Jock Stein died.

An evening laced with extraordinary events was about to be drowned in grief. Wales were playing Scotland for the chance to continue the march to the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. At half-time Scotland, who needed a draw to qualify at least for a play-off against Australia, were losing 1-0.

The Scotland dressing room was about to witness an explosive moment. Out on the park, Alan Rough, with the carefree abandon of a substitute goalkeeper, was having “a carry on”.

“I was warming up with Davie Cooper and we had been told we could not use the goals because a Welsh military marching band were walking up and down the pitch. So we had a wee competition to hit the ball across the breadth the park and see how many hats we could knock off,” says Rough, then a 34-year-old coming to the end of a 10-year international career.

His glee was not reflected in the dressing room. Jim Leighton, the starting goalkeeper, had told Stein that he had lost a contact lens and had no replacements. The Scotland manager, needing an equaliser to maintain the momentum towards Mexico, was thus embroiled in a crisis he could not have foreseen. He had barely more than a hour to live.

“Brian Scott [physio] came out and told me that I had to go in because I was coming on,” says Rough. “But I was not having any of that. I thought it was a wind-up. But he became increasingly angry and I said ‘All right, I am coming’.”

He entered a dressing room that was being shaken by harsh words. “The manager and Fergie [Alex Ferguson, his assistant] were in the shower room. They were roaring. Fergie did not know Jim wore contact lenses and Stein was raging,” says Rough.

From a "carry on” on the Ninian Park turf, Rough was now thrust into the centre of a bizarre drama. “The players were all sitting silent while Stein was shouting. He was still growling when he approached me,” he says. The call to arms was succinct. “He just walked up to me and said: ‘Right, you are on you fat b******’.”

He adds: “The bell calling us back on the pitch rang so I just put on my jersey and got on with it. That was the last time I ever spoke to him.”

The story of the match was sensational in sporting terms. Cooper and Rough, the players having a “carry on” at half-time, were the subject of two of the last decisions Stein made as a manager. Cooper, the wonderfully gifted Rangers winger, came on to to score the penalty that earned Scotland the 1-1 draw that would take them into an ultimately successful play-off with Australia.

But the celebrations were stifled brutally, the game becoming an irrelevance as Stein lurched and fell, leaving the dugout as the game was ending. He was taken inside where he succumbed to heart failure. He was 62.

“I did not think he looked right all week,” says Rough. “His colour was not right, he was not his usual self. He liked his grub and he wasn’t at the meal times sometimes. I do not know if there was something he was not telling everyone but he was not himself,” says Rough, who played just one more match for Scotland, earning his 53rd cap in a match against England.

Stein, too, was under professional pressure. As a club manager he had won 10 league titles, eight Scottish Cups, six League Cups and a European Cup with Celtic alone. As the international manager he had taken Scotland to the World Cup in Spain in 1982, but he knew the price for failing to qualify for the World Cup in Mexico would be an unseemly departure from the Scotland job.

“I could see there was a commotion,” says Rough of his first intimation there was something wrong on the trackside. “There were people running about and we knew something serious was going on. He was taken to another room for treatment and we just sat in the dressing-room. We were getting updates but it was all confused. I do not think we knew he was dead when we left the stadium in the bus. We were all just sitting stunned. No talking. No celebration. Nothing.

“It became clear, though, that he was dead as the bus wound through the streets on the way to the airport. There was a trail of supporters and obviously news was beginning to filter out as we went along the road and we saw fans greetin’ at the kerbside. It was like a trail of anguish. And then at the airport we just sat there. That sort of victory would have been followed by champagne before the plane, champagne on the plane. But it was like a morgue. There is no other word,” he says.

Rough, though, hangs on to better memories of a revolutionary manager.

“He was a dominating figure,” says Rough, who played for Partick Thistle, Hibernian and Celtic in a career that stretched from 1969 to 1990. “My early memories of him were after games at Firhill. They used to do press conferences in the hall and I would walk past and he would be telling the press men what they should write. He seemed to be the magical wizard who controlled everything.”

Almost as an aside, he adds with a smile: “He hated goalies. He took the goalie in training as there were no goalkeeping coaches then. He worked us hard, put us through it. We always thought he had something against goalies.”

He has no doubt about the capabilities of Stein. “He was the best. He commanded respect, there was an aura about him. Team talks were very, very thorough. He knew the opposition inside out. He had that something that people respond to,” he says.

Stein, too, could make his point in word and in gesture. “He was the kind of manager that when we went on a trip the players got off the bus before the SFA officials. It was not unknown for him to go into the hotel and book all the best rooms for the players and let the SFA take what was left. He was always for the players, the players always came first.”

Rough, too, has a fund of personal stories that testify to what he calls Stein’s powerful wit and equally potent anger.

“Jimmy Steele [masseur] had a bookies credit card that was passed round the squad for putting on bets. I wasn’t a big gambler but I had it one afternoon when the manager came in and said he had received a tip for the 4.45 at Perth. He told me to put on a big bet for him. I fell asleep and the next thing he was in the room telling me it had won at 10-1. I had to tell him he was not on. He just slammed the door. The next day he read out the team and I wasn’t in it.”

Rough, too, was once taken as back-up on a trip to Ireland when Stein told him he would not be part of the match-day squad. “Some of the press men persuaded me to have a drink the afternoon before the match, saying Stein could not complain because I was not playing. They told me to put Coke into my drink to disguise the whisky. I had three or four whiskies and then decided to go to my room. Unfortunately, I carried a glass with me and who comes along the corridor but Stein. He passes me and then turns sharply, asking what I was drinking. I told him it was Coke. He took the glass off me, had a sniff and poured it over my head. You could not kid him on.”

On another occasion, Rough played for the under-23s under Stein in Romania the night before a full international. “We won and he told us to go out and enjoy ourselves. But he knew there was nowhere to go. But we went to the British Embassy and played dominoes and darts, would you believe. We were well served with drink. At about 3am we headed back to the hotel and there was Stein sitting on the step.

“He said: ‘Hey you, come here, are you drunk?’ I told him: ‘What do you think?’ He then told me I was on the bench in the full international the next night as Stewart Kennedy [Rangers keeper] had pulled out. It was the longest game ever. I was sitting with a pail at my feet for the whole match.”

But the man who played a central role in a tragic night in 1985 is keen to emphasise the humour of the extraordinary manager. “He brought me back into the squad for the Wales match and he shouted at me over dinner, asking me if I was enjoying being back. I said I was and I thanked him for the chance. He told me: ‘Don’t thank me, it was my wife. I was sitting at the table and I said I needed another goalie. She said: ‘I like that Alan Rough’. So you were in.”

Rough admits he was never quite sure of the truth of that. He has no doubts, though, that he was in the presence of greatness when playing for Stein. Or even when walking past him with a suspicious Coke.