1978, corned beef and dirty wars: World Cup memories (4)

Where to next? Don’t cry, it’s Argentina that Pete Sixsmith recalls for the fourth chapter of his World Cup book of memories. Another England-free tournament, more crushed Scottish hopes and a final that tore up the romantic script …

No England yet again as Don Revie’s flops failed to make it to Argentina. But Scotland did go and were, in the eyes of many of their fans, and their manager, Ally McCleod, outside bets to bring the trophy back to Glasgow.

They had an embarrassing Departure Day at Hampden, where they waved at the assembled multitude and then each squad member drove off in a Hillman Avenger, presented to them by Rootes, who had a plant at nearby Linwood No More (See The Proclaimers Letter From America). Optimism flowed as quickly as the Tennents Lager in its cans with pictures of women on the side.

They were drawn in what looked like a reasonable group, Holland, Peru and Iran being their opponents. They travelled in numbers and there were stories of one group heading for Cordoba by submarine, which was interesting as Cordoba is in the foothills of the Andes. If they did make it, I am sure they would have preferred that they had been depth charged rather than having to sit through the pain that followed.

Argentina was an exotic location and I remember looking for the cities involved in a school atlas. Buenos Aires was easy to find and I had heard of Rosario. But Cordoba, Mendoza and Mar del Plata were complete unknowns to me and it made me realise what a huge country Argentina was. All that corned beef!!!

In addition, Argentina was not a democracy. There had been a military coup in 1976 and the Junta that ran the country was made up of hard line, right wing army officers, who believed that torture and oppression were the best way to “get the country back on track” – this involved killing any opponents of the regime, quite often by throwing them, still alive, out of helicopters as they hovered over the River Plate.

So, a controversial choice and we saw football being used as a panacea for the problems in Argentine society. The crowds turned out in their thousands and introduced us to the confetti celebration. Argentina embraced the beautiful game and, not for the first time, the beautiful game ignored the political realities of the host nation.

I watched this one in Shildon, having moved back to my parents’ house for 18 months or so. The colour TV was bigger than 1970, the games kicked off at a reasonable time and without my perennial favourites of Yugoslavia and the USSR, my support went to Peru because of their strip.

It was a white shirt with a red diagonal stripe across it, the nearest I could find to red and white stripes. In addition, they had some cracking players. Teofilio Cubillas was an outstanding striker who scored five goals and would have been a wow in the English game now. And they had a superb attacking centre half called Hector Chumpitaz who had a huge barrel chest so opposing forwards just bounced off him.

They romped through the group stages, beating Scotland and Iran and drawing with Holland, thus setting up another episode in the Scottish Football Book Of Gallant Failures.

The final group game was between Scotland and Holland, which McCleod’s team had to win by two clear goals in order to progress to the next group stage. Ally had been shown to be completely out of his depth as Scotland stuttered to a draw against Iran; he was caught on camera with a manic look on his face as his team huffed and puffed and failed to blow the Persian house down. But he had one more chance against the Dutch and they almost did it.

Cruyff had not travelled to Argentina and the Dutch were not as good as they had been four years previously. Neeskens was still there as was Johnny Rep (great name for film noir), but the far more limited van der Kerkhoef twins and Dirk Naninga, (an earlier version of Thomas Hauser), meant that power and strength replaced subtlety.

It was a cracking game, which saw Scotland take a 3-1 lead thanks to a wonderful goal from Balding Archie Gemmell, which had Bobby Charlton going bananas in the commentary box. Had they held on, they would have gone through on goal difference, but, like Sunderland, they blew it and Rep got one back to take the Dutch through. McCleod, having left a hero came home a clown and lost his job soon afterwards.

One of the disadvantages of watching it at my parents was the fact that they were receiving pictures from the newly built Bilsdale transmitter. It had a nasty habit of going off and it did just before a potentially fascinating game between the hosts and a newly resurgent France.

This led to much cursing from yours truly which continued as I went into the garden to wave my fist and hurl obscenities in the general direction of Teesside. This brought Mrs Neal from next door out and she told me that they were still on Pontop Pike and the game was on in their house – and then went back in without asking if I wanted to watch it. Bile was transferred from Bilsdale to the occupants of 7 Drybourne Park, Shildon which brought Chief Inspector Neal out to advise me to calm down or else. I went into the garage and threw coal at the wall for 10 minutes and then dragged the sleeping dog out for an unwanted walk. It wasn’t a bad game either.

Peru caved in spectacularly to allow Argentina to go through from the second group stage to the final, and Mario Kempes and Leopold Luque, prompted by Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricky Villa, saw the host nation to victory over Holland. It was tight as Naninga levelled near the end, but Kempes and Bertoni sealed it in extra time.

Memeries: Ally’s face as Scotland failed to beat Iran; the infuriating theme tune that Radio 2 used for its World Cup programmes; members of the Argentinian Junta looking uncomfortable when exposed to their population at games; BAG’s goal against Holland and my mum thinking he looked like Roy Kinnear; confetti;


Next: how dozens of flies hatched out because of the 1982 World Cup and how I came to dislike Kevin Keegan.

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4 thoughts on “1978, corned beef and dirty wars: World Cup memories (4)”

  1. It’s not an ignorant comment, Diego. I have read about the situation in Argentina and it is common knowledge that a right wing junta persecuted those of the left and murdered many of them. Even now, the Mothers of the Lost assemble in Buenos Aires to remember their children who were killed. You are quite at liberty to disagree with my interpretation of Argentine history, but not to tell me to restrict my comments to football.

  2. Diego: since we – you? – believe in freedom of expression, you are completely welcome to write a piece for Salut! Sunderland, preferably with reference to football but by all means seeking to justify or explain the events in Argentina at that time.

    You are also welcome to suggest that perfectly intelligent, rational contributors to one of football’s most literate websites should write about football and nothing else. But in doing so, of course, you are intellectually wrong.

  3. Limit your comments to football and stop repeating ignorant comments about a country you dont know. You have no idea about what was going on in Argentina at the time that leaded to that military coup.

  4. I remember Cubillas scoring with the outsier of his foot from a free kick and the TV experts going bananas as if it was the first time it had ever happened

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