THE one thing you never want as a Scot is the nation resting its hopes on you. It’s a burden no man or woman can bear. Soon, it will drag you down.

In 1978, that burden was placed on the shoulders of Ally MacLeod. You might say he helped put it there himself, but he was only channelling Scotland’s inner nutter. You might also say it was only football but, when you’re not a proper nation, football is all you’ve got.

How did a nice, decent man like Ally find himself so reviled (for a time; distance has leant deserved re-enchantment) for the failings of some fellows on a pitch in far away Argentina?

Well, here’s the story: MacLeod, born in Glasgow in 1931, had been a good club manager, after a playing career as left-winger (nicknamed “Noddy” for his distinctive running style) at Third Lanark, St Mirren, Blackburn Rovers, Hibs and Ayr United.

In management, his Ayr side beat Rangers in front of 25,000 fans at Somerset Park, and his leadership at Aberdeen took crowds from 5,000 to 20,000. And so, in 1977, he was awarded that most poisonous of chalices: managing Scotland.

Introducing himself to his squad with the words, “My name is Ally MacLeod, and I am a winner”, his self-assessment quickly came good with a win over England at Wembley to win the home championship, before qualifying for the less important World Cup with victory over Wales.

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National mania erupted. And no country has more maniacs than Scotland. Amiable comedian Andy Cameron’s recording of “Ally’s Tartan Army” reached number six in the charts. It included the words: “We had to get a man who could make all Scotland proud/He’s our Muhammad Ali; he’s Alistair MacLeod.” Yes, he floated aboot like a bee and stung like a butterfly.

A crowd of 25,000 saw the team off at Hampden, where – nothing to do with Ally – they paraded prematurely in an open-top bus. It was all very Darien, all very indy referendum. Hooray. Oh, boo.

Caught up in the mental national mood, MacLeod promised that the side would return with “at least a medal”. Perhaps he was misquoted. They returned with at least a muddle. But he wasn’t misquoted saying Scottish football would “conquer the world”.

First, though, we had to conquer Peru. Who? Peru. Easy-peasy. They beat us 3-1 in a performance that Ally admitted had been “rank bad”. There followed a 1-1 draw with minnows Iran. Glasgow Herald: “Ally’s night of shame.” Tartan Army: “We want our money back.”

To be fair, Scotland could resort to its greatest national asset: excuses. Here were some: bonus dispute, hotel swimming pool with no water in it, nothing to do between games (training might have helped). It was also reasonable to point out that Argentina is unfairly hot.

To cap it all, winger Willy Johnston was sent home after taking a cold tablet which the bammy football authorities interpreted as a performance-enhancing drug. Right enough, it might have meant you didn’t have to stop a mazy run on goal to blow your nose. Idiots.

At a press conference, MacLeod offered a hand to an interloping mongrel dog, saying: “I think he is the only friend I have got left.” Dog: “Loser.”

All Scotland needed to do now was beat footballing giants Holland (subsequently competition runners-up) by three goals. Renowned sports writer Hugh MacIlvanney said Scotland “had every right to pessimism”.

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As it turned out, Scotland won 3-2, in a match featuring Archie Gemmill’s famous goal (officially ranked by Fifa seventh best ever in the competition). Later, goalie Alan Rough recalled there’d been no stirring speeches beforehand: “We just went out and played.” It’s a significant point: cut out the bluster, Scotland, and you might get somewhere.

After the bluster, the bleating. “Home by the back door,” lamented the Daily Record, while the Glasgow Herald calmly noted that “the football public expected more from Mr MacLeod in the Scotland job than he was able to deliver. He emerges from a chastening experience a wiser man”.

The wiser man himself reflected: “With a bit of luck in the World Cup I might have been knighted. Now I’ll probably be beheaded.” After one more game in charge, he headed out the door.

One thing Scotland does really well is fury, and poor Ally’s name remained mud for many years, until everybody calmed down and realised that he’d just been a cipher for the nation: daft, irrepressible, gallus, incompetent, unlucky.

In his autobiography, he asked: “Would the Scottish fans have tolerated anything less from me than whole-hearted conviction?” Answer: no. And the truth is that the experience made Scotland as a whole wiser, at least in football terms.

No longer are we gallus. We are pessimistic, fearful, unconfident. Scotland expects … nothing. My point about bluster earlier turns out be poor as, since losing it, we’re still not very good. And we still give managers pelters. That’s what they’re there for.

I happen to believe there’s nothing to football management, and that the main part of the job consists of standing in front of the dugout shouting “Come on!” True, you select the team, but in truth it pretty much selects itself.

Tactics is all guff. It would be more efficacious to wear a lucky charm. The manager is only the public face of the team, tasked with managing inflated expectations, providing in Scotland’s case therapy for a bipolar nation that carries you on a throne one minute and dumps you in a pond the next.

But then football, as the late Jimmy Greaves is supposed to have said, is a funny old game. And Ally MacLeod was a funny old bloke.

He was Scotland in miniature, surrounded by the Seas of Derision, dominated by Mountains of Illusion, his Fields of Delusion manured by a cultural history of failure.

The truth is if you don’t like Ally MacLeod you don’t like Scotland though, if you are Scottish, that’s understandable. Ally died in 2004, aged 72. In 2015, he was posthumously inducted to the Scottish Football Hall of Fame. Rightly so.