Wed Oct 12, 1977 – Ireland 0 Bulgaria 0
Thirty years ago today in Lansdowne Road, I watched Ireland bow out of the World Cup campaign for Argentina 1978. Our fate had been sealed long before, thanks to two outrageous refereeing decisions in earlier games. Frank Stapleton had a perfectly good goal disallowed against France in Paris, and Johnny Giles had a perfectly good goal disallowed against Bulgaria in Sofia, both of which resulted in damage not only to our chances of qualifying but also to my fist and my television set. Now we were third in a three-team group, having to beat Bulgaria by perhaps a million goals, and also hope that France and Bulgaria drew their final match, if we were to feature in the 1978 World Cup Finals.
Our line-up certainly had the potential to attack. Young goalkeeper Gerry Peyton of Fulham was protected by Paddy Mulligan of West Brom, Mark Lawrenson of Brighton, Dave O’Leary of Arsenal and Jimmy Holmes of Spurs. The midfield three were former Bohemian Gerry Daly of Derby County, Johnny Giles (who was the first Shamrock Rovers player to line out for Ireland since Eamon Fagan in 1973) and Liam Brady of Arsenal. And the front three were Don Givens of QPR, Frank Stapleton of Arsenal and Steve Heighway of Liverpool. There were two League of Ireland players on the bench, Bohemians goalkeeper Mick Smyth and Sligo striker Paul Magee, alongside Ray O’Brien of Notts County, Ashley Grimes of Man United and Mickey Walsh of Blackpool.
But, as usual, Ireland flattered to deceive, though we had by far the better of the possession. Johnny Giles came close with a long shot early on, and Gerry Daly, Don Givens and Steve Heighway all missed chances before half time. But the longer the game remained scoreless, the more confident the Bulgarians became and the more frustrated we did. Givens was booked for blocking their goalkeeper, and Dave O’Leary was booked for throwing the ball at an opponent. Gerry Peyton had only one save to make, but by the time Frank Stapleton blasted a late chance over the bar, it would hardly have mattered if it had gone in. Our chances of scoring another 999,999 goals in the final few minutes were remote.
And so I prepared myself for yet another World Cup Finals without Ireland playing in it, which to be honest was not that hard to do as it was all that I had ever known in my life. Meanwhile in Belfast, Holland beat Northern Ireland with a goal from Willie Van De Kerkhof, almost ensuring the Dutch a place in Argentina. And England beat Luxembourg away with goals by Ray Kennedy and Paul Mariner, but looked unlikely to finish ahead of Italy in their group.
But Scottish fans were celebrating a 2-0 win over Wales at Anfield that meant they had qualified for their second World Cup finals in a row. Their first goal came from a penalty after a hand-ball in a crowded Welsh penalty area; ironically, it may have been Scotland’s Joe Jordan, and not a Welsh defender, who handled the ball. But there was no doubt about Kenny Dalglish’s winning header with just minutes to go, which had Scottish comedian Andy Cameron rushing for pen and paper to write perhaps the most addictively enduring football song of all time:
We’re on the march with Ally’s army
We’re all going to Argentine
And we’ll really shake them up
When we win the World Cup
Cause Scotland are the greatest football team.
The B side of Cameron’s hit record was not quite so enduring:
Ah want tae be a punk rocker
But ma mammy wullny let me
She says if ah’m a punk
She’ll throw me oot and hit me
Ah want tae be a punk rocker
But ah’m feart tae be a punk
Cos ma mammy wullny let me be a punk.