NO Scotland supporter needs or particularly wants to be reminded that it is now 21 long and painful years since the national team last graced the finals of a major tournament at France ‘98.

But you have to go even further back than that, all the way to 1985 in fact, to find the last time this country successfully negotiated the play-offs for either the European Championships or World Cup.

It was 34 years ago this very week that Alex Ferguson’s men played in the first leg of their UEFA-OFC play-off against Australia at Hampden.

Scotland won that game 2-0 in front of a crowd of 61,940 thanks to second-half goals from Davie Cooper and Frank McAvennie. They went on to draw 0-0 in the rematch at the Olympic Park in Melbourne a fortnight later to book their place at Mexico ’86.


READ MORE: Graeme McGarry: Fan-owned Partick Thistle can look forward to a brighter future

The national team - who will today find out whether they will face Bulgaria, Hungary, Israel or Romania in the Euro 2020 play-off semi-final in March and if they will have to play Norway or Serbia at home or away in the final after that should they get through – have certainly had their chances since.

They lost 2-1 to England in the Euro 2000 play-offs in 1999 despite beating their opponents 1-0 in the second leg at Wembley and took a 1-0 lead into the second leg of the Euro 2004 play-off against the Netherlands in 2003 only to get thrashed 6-0 over in Amsterdam.

Scotland’s disappointing track record in double headers when qualification is at stake underlines how hard it will be for Steve Clarke and his players to secure a spot in next summer’s finals regardless of what happens in the draw in Nyon this afternoon.

Jim Bett, the former Aberdeen and Rangers midfielder, came on in the first of those encounters with Australia and can recall it being a tension-filled occasion due to the intense demands that the Tartan Army had of their heroes at that time.

“We had reached three World Cups in a row and were expected to get through to the finals,” said Bett from his home in Iceland yesterday. “We had been involved in 1974, 1978 and 1982 and people just thought it was natural. It didn’t matter what group you were in, even if it was a difficult one, you were always expected to qualify. That puts more pressure on you, those high expectations."

Scotland, too, went into those matches in difficult circumstances following the sudden death of their manager Jock Stein from a heart attack at the end of their World Cup qualifier against Wales in Cardiff two months earlier. However, Bett recalled how the appointment of Ferguson, who was his manager at Pittodrie at the time, as caretaker had helped them to cope with the tragedy.


READ MORE: 'Well Society chairman says fan ownership can flourish at Partick Thistle

“Fergie was assistant and knew all the players very well,” he said. “He had been around the squad for a long time so he was the obvious choice to take charge. It made it easier.

“Fergie had everybody fired up for the game, but we were always very confident playing in Glasgow. We had beaten a lot of teams there and our self-belief against Australia was high. We were excited about getting the win and going through.

“At that time, Scotland had a good quality of player, individuals who could change games and manage matches as well. We did expect to get to Mexico. But that doesn’t mean to say it was easy mentally. There was a lot of pressure on us."

Bett continued: “I had just come back from a cartilage operation and was getting my match sharpness and fitness back. I wasn’t involved in the Hampden game that much. I came on for Gordon Strachan in the second-half. But it was a deserved win.

“Having said that, I remember it being a nervous and open match until Coop got that first goal. Once we got our noses in front the home support helped us. That was a huge thing. Hampden is a hard place for away teams to come to. We knew we were halfway there.”

Bett, who made a total of 26 appearances for his country between 1982 and 1990, is confident that Scotland can get through their last four tie regardless of who they are pitted against thanks to the three game winning run they are on as well as the game being at Hampden.

“Having the semi-final at home will work in Scotland’s favour,” he said. “I think the fact that they will go into the game on the back of wins against San Marino, Cyprus and Kazakhstan is important too. Some people might have thought those matches didn’t matter because the team couldn’t qualify automatically, but they were great for confidence.

“The teams Scotland could get are all quite difficult, especially Romania. Countries from the old Eastern Bloc are always tough and agile. It isn’t going to be an easy game because we don’t have the quality we once had.


READ MORE: Motherwell’s dynamic duo still intact as Willie Pettigrew enters Fir Park hall of fame

“But playing the first game at home is a major boost. Getting a home draw for the final will be important as well. There will be a great crowd there and I am sure they will get right behind the team.

“It is important they had these wins. Then again, the game is in March. Hopefully there will be nobody missing. Steve will be wanting his players to be fit and in good form. The players will be looking forward to them. They know they have one game to win. The confidence is back a bit.”

The 1986 World Cup campaign ultimately ended in disappointment for Bett, whose late goal against Iceland in Reykjavik ensured Scotland recorded a vital win during qualifying and finished second in Group 7, as he didn’t feature in any of their matches in Mexico.

“I was disappointed not to be involved,” he said. “I thought I should have been playing. The manager said he didn’t want to play too many Aberdeen players. But I had played in all of the qualifying games. It was difficult to take.”

It would, though, perhaps have been harder if Scotland had come up short in the play-off against Australia and not been involved at all.