THE all-time record for punishment exercises handed out to Scottish school pupils on the same day came on February 8, 1989.

The Scotland football team just so happened to be playing a World Cup qualifier in Cyprus. The game kicked off in mid-afternoon our time when those of us of a certain age had classes when really we should have been sitting through a life lesson, watching our brightest and best struggle badly against a diddy country.

Radios were hidden. Ear pieces inconspicuously, not really, placed in an ear. No way were we missing out. As we said in room 31 on the second floor, ‘Entrer Dans Eux.’

Scotland were good then. This was the 1980s. We reached the World Cup in 1982 and 1986. We were going for five finals in a row. So confident was Andy Roxburgh, the manager, he even started with David Speedie that day, a player as far removed as it’s possible to be from an international footballer.

In the back row we listened when Mo Johnston, at his peak, put us ahead early on. But the Cypriots equalised before half-time thanks to a dreadful piece of defending by Dave Narey of all people. They took the lead just after half-time.

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Jim Leighton came for a cross ball. He missed it by about 40 yards. Scotland had about ten chances to clear but failed and a man called Ioannis Ioannou made it 2-1.

My mates and I began to panic, especially when Alan McInally was thrown on with ten minutes to go. If Big Rambo was the answer, what in God’s name was the question?

Richard Gough scored. But we needed more than a draw. The 90 minutes came and went. There was extra-time, all six minutes of it, and then big Gough got himself onto a header and we won, somehow, in a way Scotland never did in that it was genuinely dramatic.

Cue bedlam at the back of the class. We might have got away with it but my mate Guv jumped out of his chair with a ‘ya beauty’ in a voice so loud it had ships turning in the Clyde.

The teacher was furious. I couldn’t blame her. After all, her carefully thought out lesson about how to order a new kitchen in Paris to a group of kids from mainly working class kids brought up in an era of high unemployment was vitally important. She must have felt she was wasting her time.

I’d apologise to now but can’t remember her name or the French for sorry.

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These scenes were repeated across the country at schools, offices, factories (the ones Thatcher hadn’t closed down - right kids) on an afternoon when a lot of people had to leave work early.

That’s what Scotland meant to us. My daft group were perhaps showing off a bit but a pack had been made. There was no way, if there was a way, we weren’t going to at least get score updates.

Scotland mattered. A huge amount. We all supported different clubs but this was our country. It brought my group of pals together and prepared us for life in that being a Scotland fan is full of disappointment, pain and bouts of anger.

The French teacher punished us all. I would liked to have said at the time that I have no regrets but couldn’t find the right expression.

I have written before about being a Scotland fan, with and without a laptop, and why so many of us who lived through what are now known as the good days – Roxburgh started with five defenders in Cyprus plus Roy Aitken as a midfielder – fell away from the national team.


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It got boring. Reporting on it, never mind watching. Players who you would rate as average didn’t want to turn up. If they don’t bother, why should anyone else.

We play Cyprus, them again, on June 8 for the first time in a qualifying match since that campaign for Italy 1990. Do you want to know something? I’m getting excited.

Not 1989 excited. The last 30 years have been mostly appalling. My brain doesn’t allow my body to rise above the level of apathetic; however, I’m off that day, legitimately, and I’m going to get the game back together and go to Hampden to watch Scotland.

Two are in prison and one runs a "café" in Amsterdam but they will be with us in spirit.

Steve Clarke, I have convinced myself, is going to be the first Scotland manager for over 20 years to get us to a major tournament. He’s a superb coach with charisma, character and a presence, the 55-year-old sharp-tongued Ayrshire man is exactly who and what we need.

The players will turn up, always a good start, training is going to be good, everyone will know their job, and we are going to start winning games – starting with the Cypriots a few weeks from now.

Had Clarke not been in situ, I probably would have watched the game on telly. Not now. I’m buying a ticket, going for pints and with some pals we will head to Mount Florida with hope and, for of those of us who can manage, a skip in our step.


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Clarke called this the pinnacle of his career and I believe him. It wasn’t for Walter Smith, Alex McLeish or Gordon Strachan. We have at last got a leader who knows what’s he doing and actually wants to be there.

Clarke said all the right things at his first press conference, which actually went past without anyone making a backside of themselves.

The players are happy at last. Clarke and his team were who they wanted. The SFA got something right. Note the decade.

This is the start of something special, folks. We are going to the European Championships and then two years on, packing the factor 40 for Qatar. The good times are back. Scotland are charging out of the international football’s wilderness. Let’s party like it’s 1989. Let’s Pump up the Jam and Ride on Time. We are coming down the road. Maybe.


HENRIKH Mkhitaryan of Arsenal will not travel to Azerbaijan for the Europa League against Chelsea because he is Armenian. There are ‘political tensions’ between the two countries. The midfielder feared for his personal safety. This was Uefa said after it the player confirmed he would stay in England.


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“Working alongside Arsenal, Uefa sought and received assurances regarding the player’s safety in Azerbaijan from the highest authorities in the country. As a result of these guarantees, a comprehensive security plan was developed and given to the club.”

Even after speaking to the government, they had to draw up a security plan. What a disgrace.