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Scotland: We'll always have Brussels | @AlexHTheMAX

Before the political velvet divorce of Czechs and Slovaks in the 1990s the old Czechoslovakia were a formidable international football team. Scotland had many interesting encounters with them from their first match against them in 1937 until the late '70s and three World Cup qualifying campaigns for 1962, 1974 and 1978 inclusion produced six memorable matches, and indeed a seventh fixture, which was a one off game that would go the way of the old Czechoslovakia.

Alex Horsburgh (@AlexHTheMAX), with the help of a Man United great interviewed in 2018, plots another glorious failure for the Scots against a team that would only be denied by the best of Brazil in the World Cup final of 1962.


Scotland meet the Czech Republic in their first Euro 2020 (2021) tie on June 14th at Hampden. Scotland famously denied the former Czechoslovakia a World Cup place in 1978 as the then European Champions of 1976 failed to overcome the Scots in a three team qualification group that included Wales.

However, in 1961 a rare play off match played in neutral Brussels saw Czechoslovakia see off Scotland after the nation's had shared the lead in another three team qualification group for Chile 1962 with Eire also included.

No Goal difference to seperate them back then so a one-off match would decide the group as both teams had the same number of wins on their path to the seventh World Cup tournament.

Scotland and Man Utd great Pat Crerand played in the qualification campaign for Chile and remembers the Czechoslovakia team fondly, if not the actual play off-result. He said in 2018:

"Czechoslovakia got to the final of the World Cup in Chile. But if Scotland had got through and played I think we could have reached the final too. Who knows? We might have gone all the way. Not being involved is definitely a regret. We should have gone further with the team we had.

Pat Crerand - Formerly of Celtic, Man United and Scotland 

But we had five withdrawals through injury in the play-off. Bill Brown of Spurs, who was a brilliant goalkeeper, Billy McNeill, who was great as well, Duncan Mackay, our right back, Alex Scott and winger, Davie Wilson, his Rangers team mate, all missed out. It might have been different if they had been involved.”

Pat has a point. Each member of that quintet had played for Scotland in their final Group 8 match against Czechoslovakia at Hampden Park two months earlier and had recorded a 3-2 victory, achieved courtesy of a first half Ian St. John goal and a second half Denis Law double. 

It was a particularly sweet result for Crerand as he had become only the third Scotland player ever to be sent off in the previous meeting with their rivals four months before that – for fighting with opponent Andrei Kvasnak - in a game in the Tehelne Pole Stadium in Bratislava which their hosts ended up winning by a resounding 4-0 scoreline.

“It wasn’t a regular occurrence in international football at that time,” he said. “But it was just a scrap with one of their players. That happens in football. But that result shows just how good Czechoslovakia were. Before they were broken up they were some team.”

Scotland were far from the only side to be turned over by Czechoslovakia during that era. Indeed, the other team in their qualifying group, the Republic of Ireland, lost 3-1 at home and were thrashed 7-1 away by them.

Crerand rates their talisman Josef Masopust, the Dukla Prague stalwart who would be named European Player of the Year in 1962, as highly as any player of that or any: 

What a player Masopust was,” he said. “He is probably not as celebrated now as he should be, but for me he deserves to be mentioned alongside Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas, George Best. He was incredible.

Josef Masopust greatly impressed Crerand

He was a midfield player, a left half like Jim Baxter. He could pass, he could dribble, he had a great engine. To be honest, he had everything. Unfortunately, he was held back by the system in Czechoslovakia at the time. He couldn’t get out of country, none of them could.”

Crerand and his team mates, despite the absence of Brown, Mackay, McNeill, Scott and Wilson, gave Masopust and his compatriots a tough match in in a play-off game on November 29, 1961, that was watched by a crowd of just 7,000 supporters.

Ian St. John put them ahead in the first half when he headed home a Jim Baxter free-kick before Jiri Hledick levelled and the Liverpool striker was on target again in the second half only for Adolf Scheler to once again equalise and make it 2-2 at the end of the 90 minutes.

Scotland just couldn't rise to the occasion for a third time and retake the lead again and two well worked goals by Czechoslovakia in extra time finally foiled the Scots attempt to qualify for a third World Cup on the trot.

There would be revenge for 1961 in 1973 when a new Scotland generation (although Dennis Law was still there) beat Czechoslovakia 2-1 at Hampden to qualify for the 1974 World Cup in the then West Germany thanks to goals from Jim Holton and Joe Jordan after the visitors had taken the lead due to terrible goalkeeping error that ended Celtic goalie Ally Hunter's Scotland career and saw him replaced by Leeds United fave David Harvey in West Germany for the finals.

Scotland saw off Czechoslovakia again in the race for a place at World Cup Argentina in 1978 with the key game being a 3-1 Scotland win at Hampden, 12 months after Czechoslovakia had seen off West Germany on pens in the final of Euro '76, with that famous Panenka spot kick maybe turning the match into the first great televised European Championship final.

Scotland first played the independent, and communist free, Czech Republic in 1999 and lost 2-1 at Hampden.

Scots won't want that scoreline repeated on 14th June but they know the visitors to Glasgow on Monday can contain shades of the great co-operated side of the 1960s and '70s.

It's another great Scot-Czech match up to start the Euros for the ever hopeful, and indeed new generation, of Tartan Army foot soldiers.

By Alex Horsburgh (@AlexHTheMAX) for The Football History Boys (@TFHBs).

©The Football History Boys, 2021
(All pictures borrowed kindly and not owned by TFHB)

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