IT says it all about Alex McLeish’s memories of Scotland’s Peru nightmare in 1978 that he rates it more painful than watching England win the World Cup!
The national boss was a 19-year-old who had newly made the breakthrough at Aberdeen when the country crashed 3-1 to Teofilo Cubillas and Co in their opening game of the Argentina Finals.
And, as he recalled, it was the rudest of awakenings for the massed ranks of fans watching back home who had fancied them to do well and possibly even win the World Cup itself.
“I can’t remember whether I was in Glasgow or even abroad for a holiday at the time. But I certainly remember watching the game,” said McLeish.
“I’d been watching the World Cups since 1966. That was in black and white!
“It didn’t have the ending I’d maybe have wanted. But watching us getting gubbed by Peru was probably worse.
“We went in with such high expectations, only to realise the Peru team were not too bad a team actually.
“We found that out the hard way.
“It was funny because after the defeat, I think everybody wanted to buy the Peru strip!”
A grim memory it might be, but the sobering defeat, McLeish admits, was the catalyst which helped launch his own international playing career.
That opening defeat to Peru was followed by a disappointing draw with Iran.
Scotland did recover some face by beating Holland in the final group game, not least because of Archie Gemmill’s wonder goal.
But it was too little, too late.
With Ally MacLeod subsequently resigning, it was time for change.
“It was a new era,” McLeish continued. “Jock Stein came in, and he took the chance to bring a few of the younger ones in.
“That is generally the way it is in football. Youngsters tend to get their chance on the back of something going wrong.
“It is then that guys who have had a good season at club level can find themselves making the leap to international level.
“Then once you get into the team, it is what you make of the opportunity.
“I took mine. I always remember Archie Gemmill chaperoning me in the first game, and that was me off and running.
“Then it is about making sure you try and make the jersey your own.”
McLeish’s haul of 77 caps proves he did exactly that, and he is excited at the thought of players of coming in and making an impact of their own on the trip to South and Central America in the coming fortnight.
“There will be a lot of new faces, but it’s a fantastic experience and we’ll ask them to embrace it,” he said.
“The motivation for them is obviously to win a Scotland cap – for some of them again, for some of them for the first time.
“I am sure that there will be immense pride in the guys that I am taking with me.
“We want the boys to be as comfortable as possible, for them to feel the way they feel at their clubs.
“We’ll be working with them in terms of their confidence levels, and their approach to the games.”
It might be needed, with the Peru and Mexico heading for the World Cup Finals in Russia on the back of an impressive qualifying campaigns.
“They are both highly skilful, they play at slow tempos in terms of possession, but in a flash they can turn the tide in terms of the speed aspect,” he said.
“So, yeah, they have a different style of play. It is a fantastic opportunity for the new guys to learn from a different experience.
“The challenge is for the guys to show they can compete with two teams going to the World Cup.
“Spoiling their party. That is the motivation.
“We are Scots, and when we are backed into a corner, we look to come out battling and scrapping.
“If the guys grab their opportunity, then it is win-win for us.”