Free the Scottish Goalkeeper | @Alexecky

As part of a series of Scottish football history articles written for us by radio presenter Alex Horsburgh, today he attempts to get the much maligned Scottish goalkeeper out of jail with an explanation as to why this figure, so often connected with calamity, is maybe an innocent party...


The Scottish goalkeeper has been a figure of fun for many in other parts of the UK in the post WW2 era of football. Read any retro football, or just any football, social media page, even today, and the case for the defence when it comes to the man "between the sticks" from North of the border is more a pamphlet than a dossier. Although, to be fair your honour, I would suggest the prosecution is largely viewing the defendant through a false media narrative eminating from London. 

David Marshall, a solid Scottish keeper of recent years

When did all this "Scotch goalie" stuff start anyway? Who made the decision that a Scotsman was uniquely incapable in that position?

The loneliness of the long distance 'keeper has often been written about over the years. Goalkeepers have been pigeon holed with drummers and poets as off-kilter, solitary and almost insane figures; who stand alone as the ten men in front of them create the beautiful game, while the goalie stands poised and ready to make sure the artistry of their team mates on the pitch beyond the 18 yard line doesn't turn into the harsh reality of defeat. Outfield players can be termed as maestros, even in defeat, but the goalkeeper will ultimately be judged by the final score.

It is at international level where the cult of the inept Scottish goalie found its devotees post WW2 and while Scotland suffered a crushing 7-2 reverse at Wembley in the mid-1950s it was the year 1961 that maybe first saw the press, especially in London, suggest that Scots were philistines when it came to the art of goalkeeping.

Frank Haffey of Celtic held the yellow shirt as Scotland went 3-0 behind in the first half to an England side, managed at the time by Walter Winterbottom, in the annual finale of the Home Internationals tournament between the four British nations, a staple diet of the UK game until 1989.

Scotland actually pulled the score back to 3-2 then 4-3 in 1961 before an England attack, led by the brilliant Jimmy Greaves, pulled away then disappeared out of sight to the tune of nine goals to three. They inflicted a scoreline on their bitter rivals so traumatic that Scotland would only allow England to beat them again once in the next seven encounters.

Far from being devastated, Haffey seemed cheerful after the match, much to the annoyance of his teammates, even suggesting he'd most likely drop the soap in the away dressing room bath following a defeat that would have actually been 10-3 but for a disallowed English goal.

Frank Haffey was lambasted for his poor performance in 1961

The Scottish fans, outside of those who wished Haffey gone from the country (and he did actually emigrate to Australia eventually), also tried to make light of the defeat. They joked that with the match ball being orange, Celtic regular Haffey wouldn't touch it and Rangers full-back Eric Caldow wouldn't kick it (and you really have to understand Glasgow's sectarian history to appreciate that joke), but the 9-3 was largely blamed on "hapless Haffey" as one Scottish sports journo of the day put it.

Another tragi-comedic joke had already been written by Scots themselves by the time returning tartan foot soldiers had reached their homes after the painful Wembley Weekend of 1961:

Englishman: "Hey Jock, what's the time?"
Scotsman: "9 past Haffey."

With Spurs double winning team of 1961 containing Scotsman Bill Brown, it was natural selection that he would become Haffey's eventual replacement and throughout the rest of the memorable '60s, the Scots at international level would find themselves in the capable hands of Brown, European Cup winning Celtic goalie Ronnie Simpson, who made his Scotland debut at 36 in 1967, and the likes of Kilmarnock's Bobby Ferguson who ended up as a West Ham goalkeeping great.

The decade would end however, with another trouncing at Wembley. Jim Herriot (the unusual inspiration for the pen name of the Yorkshire vet who wrote All Creatures Great and Small as James Herriot), couldn't stop England winning 4-1 in 1969, despite becoming Birmingham City's regular 'keeper following club success in Scotland at Dunfermline Athletic, before he became an Anglo, then at Hibs after he left English club football.

Scotland's first English born player under the FIFA rule brought in in 1970, that you could play for the country your parents were born in, was Arsenal double winner and goalkeeper Bob Wilson in 1971 (2 caps v Holland and Portugal). He would later become a respected football presenter on BBC and ITV.

Wilson's Scottish father served in the military and Robert was born in Chesterfield, but it would be home Scots to the fore again in goals for the national team mostly in the early 1970s. Aberdeen's Bobby Clark became new regular first pick for the national side, although his appearance in the 5-0 defeat at Hampden v England in a SFA centenary International in January 1973 placed him in Haffey territory, and he too ironically ended up emigrating to become a respected college soccer coach in the USA.

Peter Shilton takes the 'Hand of Joe Jordan', 13 years before Maradona's ' Hand of God' 

Celtic's Ally Hunter replaced Clark for the Wembley match of May 1973 in the Home Internationals. Sir Alf Ramsey said it was Scotland's best ever side in his era as England manager, despite the Scots losing 1-0, but Hunter's slip (allowing a tame shot to slip under his body), which led to Czeckoslovakia going 1-0 up at Hampden in a crucial World Cup Qualifier in the September, ended his international career despite Scotland winning 2-1 to qualify for World Cup West Germany '74.

Yorkshire born of Scots parentage, David Harvey was next in line for Scotland and the Leeds Utd goalkeeper was part of the Scotland team that remained unbeaten, despite elimination in the First Round group stage, at World Cup 1974. His Leeds commitments and then injury meant there wasn't an extended run for the national team though.

Stewart Kennedy and Wembley 1975 is well known to any Tartan Army veteran and the performance of the Rangers number one in a 5-1 defeat by England raised the spectre that had hung over Haffey, Herriot and Clark. Press on both sides of the border savaged another memorable Scottish goalkeeping performance for all the wrong reasons. Sheffield Utd goalkeeper Jim Brown was Scotland's replacement on the bench at Wembley '75 and one wonders if things would have been different had Scotland manager Willie Ormond elected to bring him on after a Kennedy knock at 2-0 or at half time after Bruce Rioch (penalty) had pulled the score back to 3-1.

And then came Alan Rough, who was actually a part time player at Partick Thistle when he broke through to the Scotland national team in 1976 despite Jim Brown playing in the top tier of English football at the time with Sheff Utd.

Rough would be pitched into the Scotland squad at a time when they were so good up front and in midfield (Jordan, Dalglish, Gemmill, Hartford, Masson etc) that the yellow shirt was largely an afterthought. It has to be said that if the sometimes underrated Rough did make an error, it would usually be corrected by an embarrassment of outfield players back then.

Alan Rough

Rough helped Scotland to two World Cups in 1978 and 1982 and when his successor, Jim Leighton, lost a contact lens in the decisive game in Wales (final score 1-1) that took the Scots to Mexico '86, Rough came on as a sub to help push Scotland over the line for their fourth successive WC qualification.

Even when Jim Leighton was a Scotland regular (1983-1998), he could not escape the curse of the Scottish goalie and this time it would be at club level as Alex Ferguson dropped him for the 1990 FA Cup final replay at Wembley in favour of Les Sealey after a 3-3 draw v Crystal Palace which was also played at Wembley.

Man Utd won the replay 1-0 but Leighton would forever see himself as scapegoat for the first game, falling out permanently with the manager he played for at both Aberdeen and Old Trafford, and he maybe even felt Fergie had succumbed to Scottish goalkeeping myths too, rather than accepting the part played by the tenacious Palace side (which included Ian Wright) who weren't overawed by United's history in the 3-3 match.

The 1990 FA Cup final was arguably a study in self preservation by Fergie as well because, after four years in charge without a trophy, the future Sir Alex would surely have been sacked had he not won his first trophy in England against Palace. Leighton may argue that the Scottish goalie on this occasion was thrown under the bus when the desired result wasn't achieved first time around by the manager.

Leighton would be challenged for his spot as Scotland number one by Andy Goram of Hibs, then Rangers throughout the 1990s. Whilst Goram kept clean sheets at Euro 96 v Holland and Switzerland, he will be forever connected with THAT Gazza goal in the 2-0 defeat by the English - although Andy has told me he did actually get fingertips to the shot, and if it had been a full hand he would have saved it. I believe him because Goram, like Leighton, was one of Scotland's goalkeeping greats and both goalkeepers infact largely dispelled the doubts surrounding Scots in that position, peddled by the likes of infamous TV pundits, in Scotland at least, Jimmy Greaves and Jimmy Hill who largely based their opinion on a belief that England were basically just better at everything.

Andy Goram with Alex Horsburgh in 2019

Those who have been in goals for Scotland since 2010 have probably been busier than those in the nets in the previous six decades, as the national team has faded badly in the last ten years. However hat is certainly no fault of the likes of Craig Gordon or Alan McGregor who have both been decent successors to Leighton and Goram.

In my final summing up in the case for the defence of the Scottish goalkeeper, I would suggest that the very nature of the position will always provide triumph and tragedy in equal measure for any citizen who decides to take up goalkeeping, whether he be a Scot or from elsewhere, for it is a perilous occupation frought with danger and cannot be looked upon as one where you can hide behind sub-standard performances by your teammates if you have an off day.

When it comes to decisive footballing decisions the buck may always stop with the goalkeeper but whether he is Scottish, English, South American or from planet football itself he is first and foremost a human being so forever capable of error.

I ask you then to find the defendant, the Scottish goalkeeper, innocent of the charges of incompetence placed before him and ask you to accept a plea of not guilty.


Three Scotland goalkeepers who changed games:

1. Alan Rough v Wales 1977

The much maligned Rough pulled out a top drawer save from a John Toshack shot at Anfield (used as the Welsh 'home' venue by the WFA to accomadate the huge crowd). With the scores at 1-0 to Scotland, it kept them in the match they eventually won 2-0 to qualify for World Cup 1978. Toshack collapsing onto the turf as Rough tipped his netbound shot over the bar at the Kop end was maybe even an expression of how the Tartan Army felt at the time as it was truly a wonder stop.

2. Andy Goram v Holland 1996

Scotland faced a difficult opening match against the best Dutch team since the 1970's at Euro 96 at Villa Park in Birmingham. Goram was at his shot stopping best denying a deadly Dutch forward line in a surprise 0-0 draw and on the one occasion the orange machine did look like getting beyond him John Collins was there to scoop the ball off the line with both hands as Goram inadvertently obscured the referee's view.

3. Jim Leighton v England 1985

Scotland's first Hampden win over England for nine years was largely down to Leighton, despite Richard Gough's headed winner over Shilton in the Glasgow rain, with the 1-0 victory the Scots first clean sheet against the Auld Enemy at Hampden since 1974.

Leighton was, as always, brave as a Lion and coped well with a greasy Queens Park pitch against a decent England team that would reach the World Cup Quarter finals a year later.


Three Scottish goalkeeping performances from hell:

1. Stewart Kennedy v England 1975

Five different England scorers (Gerry Francis, Kevin Beattie, Colin Bell, Kevin Keegan and David Johnson) and a nervous Kennedy is beaten three times on his right side in the first half as he froze at Wembley. Scotland experienced their worst defeat in London for 14 years and England actually threatened the Scottish goal less than ten times in the match.

2. Jim Leighton v Morocco 1998

The great Leighton bowed out of international football in Scotland's last game at a World Cup to date as Morocco beat them 3-0 in a match they had to win to get beyond the first round group at France 1998. Scotland as an eleven disappointed on the night and the sight of Leighton falling into the net as rampant Morocco went three up is food from the table of those who dine out on Scottish goalkeeping errors.

3. Jim Blyth v Wales 1978

The then Coventry City goalie blew a future career in the Scotland team by time wasting against the Welsh in the Home Internationals at Hampden to protect a 1-0 lead late on in the game. Blyth rolled the ball out to both full backs before receiving a succession of back passes in his hands (when it was legal to do so) but then he came a cropper when Willie Donachie hit his back pass a shade too hard and Blyth was caught hopelessly out of position. Final score 1-1 thanks to Hampden's most memorable OG.


Honourable GK mentions:

Neil Sullivan

The English born Wimbledon goalkeeper who was caught out by the famous David Beckham halfway line lob was another recipient of the parents/grandparents rule which allowed him to play for Scotland, and he held the GK shirt the last time Scotland beat England in 1999 at Wembley, but he and his national team just missed out on a place at Euro 2000 on a 2-1 aggregate play off defeat from the Three Lions.


Keith McCrae

He played for Scotland at League International level before these type of matches were dropped in the late 1970's but the Motherwell then Manchester City goalie can perhaps lay claim to being one of best 'keepers never to get a crack at the coveted Scotland yellow goalkeeping shirt. A product of a time in the early 1970's when every top English side had a clutch of Scottish players in their team.



This piece was kindly written and given to @TFHBs by Alex Horsburgh - you can follow him on Twitter: @Alexecky

©The Football History Boys, 2020
(All pictured borrowed kindly)

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