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The National (Scotland)
The National (Scotland)
Hamish MacPherson

Here's how Jock Stein became a hero for Scotland

THE centenary of the birth of Jock Stein took place on Wednesday and I have to say I was disappointed that the anniversary was allowed to pass without the acclamation that Stein deserved, especially as he was not just the greatest manager that Celtic ever had but was also manager of Scotland for seven years.

So in this second and final account of his life and career, I will be concentrating on the Scotland years of his career.

Many people thought Stein would get a knighthood for leading Celtic to becoming the first British and indeed, the first non-Latin club to win the European Cup. Instead, the club’s achievement was marked by a knighthood going to Sir Robert Kelly, the Celtic chairman, and Stein had to wait three years before he was awarded the CBE.

By 1970, Celtic were midway through their historic record of nine league championships in a row, a feat equalled only by Rangers (1988-89 to 1996-97) and Celtic again (2011-12 to 2019-20). In all, Stein won 10 league championships, eight Scottish Cups, six Scottish League Cups – five of them in succession – and five Glasgow Cups, plus the Drybrough Cup of 1974.

Celtic got to the final of the 1970 European Cup, beating Leeds United in both legs of a “Battle of Britain” semi-final, with the 136,505 attendance at Hampden Park still the biggest ever for a club match in European competition. In the final in Milan, Celtic were beaten by Dutch champions Feyenoord, which Stein remembered as his biggest defeat as a manager.

Stein, by that time, could have been manager of Manchester United, but he turned down the English giants. Instead, he concentrated on bringing new players into the Celtic team, often known as the Quality Street Gang. Following the Lisbon Lions was always going to be difficult, but Stein brought in the likes of Danny McGrain, Kenny Dalglish, David Hay, Lou Macari, Pat McCluskey and Paul Wilson, and they continued Celtic’s dominance well into the 1970s.

Stein often said his greatest achievement was keeping the wayward Jimmy Johnstone in the game for as long as he did, but his biggest disappointment was seeing the incredibly talented George Connelly walk away from Celtic as he was unable to handle the pressure.

In 1973, Stein suffered a heart scare and was hospitalised, but two years later, he nearly died in a horrific head-on car crash on the A74. He was taken to Dumfries Royal Infirmary, having sustained massive injuries, including a broken ankle that took three operations to fix. He was out of football for a year, and his assistant manager Sean Fallon had to take over the club.

The physical damage to Stein was obvious, and most people who knew him said he was never the same again after the accident. His failing powers as a manager irked Stein, and his legendary man-management skills faded. With Celtic at a low ebb in season 1977-78, he eventually decided to stand down.

Having been the first non-Catholic to manage the club, he was offered the chance to be the first non-Catholic director of the club, but it never transpired. He officially left the club when, at Stein’s recommendation, nine-in-a-row captain Billy McNeill moved from Aberdeen to become Celtic’s manager.

At the age of 55, Stein felt he had more to offer football than the television punditry at which he excelled, and he went south to manage Leeds United. After just 44 days, the opportunity for which Stein had waited came to pass when Ally McLeod left the position of manager of Scotland. Stein had also failed to settle in Yorkshire and very much wanted to go home to his wife Jean and their daughter Ray and son George.

On October 4, 1978, Jock Stein became the Scotland manager. Stein had previously managed Scotland on a part-time basis in 1965 while simultaneously managing Celtic, but this time he became the full-time manager of the national team.

Scotland’s squad of players had still not recovered from the shock of the disastrous World Cup campaign in Argentina under McLeod, but Stein immediately set about rebuilding their confidence, with the priority for him being qualification for the 1982 World Cup that would take place in Spain.

The squad in that era had some big names, such as Kenny Dalglish, Archie Gemmill, Joe Jordan, Gordon McQueen, John Wark, John Robertson, Davie Cooper, and Graeme Souness, but they still failed to qualify for the 1980 European Championships. Stein gradually introduced players like Steve Archibald while the Aberdeen trio of Gordon Strachan, Willie Miller and Alex McLeish became mainstays.

Qualification for the 1982 World Cup was achieved with just one defeat, and Stein now had achieved another ambition – to lead Scotland at a World Cup finals. Based in Malaga and Seville, the first match was against World Cup debutants New Zealand who gave the Scots a fright before eventually succumbing 5-2. The next match against Brazil saw Scotland take the lead before the tournament favourites ran riot to win 4-1. Scotland needed to win the final match against the USSR to progress from the group stages but could only manage a draw, and the Scots went home.

Scotland failed to qualify for the 1984 European Championships but did better in the qualification for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. It is often forgotten that in May 1985, Stein won his only trophy as manager of Scotland, with the Rous Cup secured by a 1-0 win over England.

On the night of September 10, 1985, Scotland played Wales at Ninian Park, needing at least a draw to progress to the play-off stage. Davie Cooper scored from the penalty spot late in the match to gain a 1-1 draw. In the dugout, Stein collapsed and was rushed into the medical room in the stand, but did not recover. He died from pulmonary oedema at the age of 62.

Scotland and the football world mourned the loss of a true giant of the game.

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