The First Half: Once Upon a Time in Satellite City

Tonight Scotland play Belgium in a World Cup qualifier and, no matter the result, they won’t be at next summer’s finals in Brazil, in fact, out of the 53 teams taking part in the various European qualifying sections, Scotland were the first country to be mathematically ruled out of that particular, always rather remote possibility, ahead even of San Marino and the Faroe Islands.

If you want to back Scotland to beat the Belgians at Hampden, my local bookmaker is offering odds of 4/1 but even though the recently appointed manager Gordon Strachan has implemented some immediate and obvious improvements, I really wouldn’t advise you to lump your life savings on that one. Or any money at all for that matter.

Rewind to 1977 though and things were very, very different for Scotland as far as football was concerned. The team then consisted of big name footballers from the top English clubs like Liverpool, Manchester United and Leeds, along with the elite of Scotland’s old First Division. Aston Villa’s Andy Gray, who in 1976–77 became the first footballer ever to be voted PFA Young Player of the Year and PFA Players’ Player of the Year in the same season, struggled to make squads, let alone secure a place in the starting eleven.

Kenny Dalglish and Joe Jordan were banging in the goals and finishing top of their qualifying group for the 1978 World Cup ahead of reigning European champions Czechoslovakia and a very strong Wales side was even expected rather than just hoped for.

The day immediately after they sealed their place in Argentina by beating Wales 2-0, this advert, for an event that had obviously been planned some time before the previous night’s tricky away game, appeared in the Evening Times:

Satellite City Victory Dance

Satellite City was the venue above the Glasgow Apollo previously known as Clouds, which had been seen as an ideal gig for up and coming pop, soul and disco acts who would maybe struggle to attract a big enough crowd to make a sizeable dent in the 3000+ capacity Apollo downstairs. Salvation (later to become Slik) were regulars and others who played there included Edinburgh glam rockers Iron Virgin and, before they had become chart toppers, The Bay City Rollers.

In 1977 though, Clouds moved with the times, rebranding itself late that summer as Satellite City. Suddenly a new breed of band like The Rezillos and The Zones began appearing and gradually more and more bands that could be described as punk or new wave such as Magazine, Wayne County and The Electric Chairs and Elvis Costello were booked to perform and Satellite City quickly established itself as the nearest thing the city was ever to have to a Liverpool Eric’s or the Electric Circus in Manchester.

Many new young local outfits were offered support slots for these acts; the very under-rated The Exile and Matt Vinyl and the Decorators both supported Sham 69 at different shows, some believed The Skids actually upstaged headliners Magazine and The Valves certainly gave The Pirates a run for their money. The singer of Bearsden’s Nu-Sonics, Edwyn Collins later penned a track called Satellite City that partly recalled the time early in 1978 when they played on the same bill as The Backstabbers, Simple Minds and reggae act Black Slate.

Satellite City was also later one of two Scottish venues chosen to host the Farewell to the Roxy tour but by this point the news had been announced that, like the London club, it would be closing down itself – along with the Apollo, which was to be converted into a bingo hall (something I’ll maybe cover in a later post).

The second of these Roxy tour dates actually took place on the day that the Scottish squad touched down in Gatwick on their way home from Argentina.

Farewell to the Roxy

The Second Half: Once Upon a Time in Argentina

After that Victory Dance at Satellite City, expectations that Scotland would go far at the World Cup had grown dramatically in a blaze of hype.

Largely the mood of optimism was down to team boss Ally MacLeod. Ally, a man who thought wearing a safari suit was a good idea, was as far from the stereotype of the dour Scottish manager as it was possible to get and he was never going to be accused of downplaying the chances of any team he took charge off.

Asked what he planned to do after he had won the World Cup, MacLeod gave a chutzpah overloaded two word reply that I doubt even Brian Clough or Bill Shankly ever matched. ‘Retain it’.

Very strange things began happening in Scotland during the run up to Argentina: many grown men decided to have their hair permed in emulation of stars like Alan Rough, Graeme Souness and Derek Johnstone. Over 25,000 punters paid money to give the squad a Gala Send–Off at Hampden Park before they flew off to Cordoba – this consisted of the inevitable pipe band and the squad waving to fans from an open-top bus which trundled round the edges of the pitch and then the squad waving to fans again from the bus as it repeated  its journey. Bizarrely this was televised live on STV as Argentina Here We Come!

Maybe strangest of all, enough folk also bought copies of Andy Cameron’s boak inducing dirge Ally’s Tartan Army, backed by the equally awful I Want To Be A Punk Rocker, to put the record in the UK Top Ten.

Some people really did get it into their heads that the team might just bring the biggest trophy in world football back to Scotland. You don’t believe me? Here. Have a look at this (and, no, I didn’t Photoshop in ‘World Cup Winners’):

World Cup Winners

There was even a T-shirt advertised in NME and elsewhere, based on the Lipsmackin’ Pepsi TV ads of the time:

Argentina T-shirt

To be fair, it wasn’t just Ally that was bumming up his side, there was no shortage of well respected football men willing to say nice things about us. Helmut Schön, for instance, the manager of defending champions West Germany, had been mightily impressed after watching the Scots, predicting that if they emerged out of their group: ‘There’s no telling how far they might go’.  

Of course, Scotland arrived home at the first opportunity having failed to pulp Peru or really irritate Iran let alone slaughter Spain or annihilate Argentina. The games against Peru and Iran were both dismal affairs and were accompanied by a drugs scandal, high profile fallouts with the media, a trio of players being banned from ever representing their country again but also a famous, breathtaking victory over one of the tournament favourites Holland that included one of the greatest goals ever scored. Thank you, Archie.

Ally’s side narrowly failed to qualify from their group on goal difference and before he made it back to Glasgow, there were already rumours he’d resigned (false) and that the SFA wanted Jock Stein to replace him (true).

He would only ever manage Scotland for one more match. In his 1979 autobiography, The Ally MacLeod Story, he reflected: ‘I am a very good manager who just happened to have a few disastrous days, once upon a time, in Argentina.’