Douglas: Scotland boss MacLeod would make some wild statements, but he was my pal (From This Is Lancashire)
Douglas: Scotland boss MacLeod would make some wild statements, but he was my pal
WHEN Ally MacLeod infamously predicted that Scotland would take the 1978 World Cup by storm, Bryan Douglas was not entirely surprised.
In six years as a Blackburn Rovers player, MacLeod had developed a reputation for dreaming big.
"He used to make some wild statements," Douglas remembers.
"He’d say if he won the pools he was going to buy a racehorse and he was going to ride it himself in the Grand National.
"Any game we played, no matter who we were playing, we were going to win.
"He once said to me he dreamt last night that we won 15-0 and he had scored 14 goals."
As it turned out, MacLeod never did ride a horse in the Grand National, or score 14 goals in a game.
Scotland didn’t sweep all before them in 1978, either, to finish in the top three and deliver the ‘medal’ he had promised.
Instead, they went out in the group stage after losing to Peru and drawing with Iran.
MacLeod was never allowed to forget his pre-tournament boasts by the media.
It came to define his career in the game.
But Douglas knew another side to MacLeod.
An outside left who scored 53 goals in 218 appearances for Rovers between 1955 and 1961, MacLeod was a friend - to such extent that Douglas still remains in contact with the widow of the Scot, who passed away in 2004.
"He was eccentric but he was infectious," Douglas says.
"He was a lovely lad to have around, and his wife too.
"His nickname was Noddy, he was here before, during and after the cup final in 1960.
"He was a character, in fact we shared a hobby, we had a couple of greyhounds that we used to run at Blackburn dog track.
"We kept very quiet about it. We were footballers track and I think greyhound racing was considered a little bit low, gangster stuff.
"But we enjoyed it, we used to go to Bolton and the one at Blackburn where Tesco is now.
"It was a hobby really and we had enough money. We enjoyed it.
"Our families were very close. He died a few years ago but when I finished football I used to visit him.
"His wife still lives in Ayr, my wife and I went there and spent a week or so with them.
"About two or three months ago she came down with her son to a game."
Watching the current World Cup brings back memories for Douglas of his own involvement in the tournament – particularly in 1962.
That summer, he travelled to South America for the World Cup in Chile.
Eventual winners Brazil would eliminate England in the quarter finals thanks to the great Garrincha and the sometimes suspect eyesight of goalkeeper Ron Springett.
"We thought we had a chance but this lad Garrincha headed one in," Douglas says.
"We had a goalkeeper called Springett who wore contact lenses and it was like Reg Elvy at Rovers.
"When I got into the first team Reg was the goalkeeper and when the manager used to come in on a Friday morning and pin the team up, Reg would have to go right up to it to read it.
"Bill Eckersley used to say, ‘What chance have we got tomorrow? That’s our goalkeeper!’ "Springett was a bit the same. He was okay if the ball was in and around him but if they hit one from 30 yards he would say, ‘What was that?’ "Brazil had a free kick about 20 yards out and it hit his chest, the ball flew up and they headed it in.
"Then Garrincha hit a looping one for 3-1, and we couldn’t get the ball off them after that.
"Garrincha was a fabulous player."
England went out of the tournament this time after collecting only one point from matches against Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica.
Douglas believes the English domestic season is simply too arduous for the national team to be at their best at the tournament.
He remembers his first World Cup in 1958, when England went out in the first round.
"We’d had a hard season at Blackburn, we got promoted that year and every game was a cup tie from Christmas onwards," Douglas says.
"We also got to the semi final of the FA Cup and lost to Bolton, we should have beaten them. They went on to win it.
"We never had a minute’s peace and then the season ended and we went on a mini tour to Russia and got beat by Yugoslavia 5-0, then straight into the World Cup.
"I’m sure a lot of us didn’t realise it at the time but mentally and physically you’re knackered.
"People like Brazil hadn’t played for three months, they came in like it was the beginning of the season. A lot of the continentals and Argentina were the same.
"It was the same four years after that and it’s the same now.
"The South Americans are mentally and physically ready. They have a big advantage.
"Most leagues in Europe have hard season. They have less league games now but they’ve increased the European Cup and there are internationals here and internationals there.
"We used to play Scotland and Wales, and one other. We weren’t in the European Championships then, it was just as I was finished that we went into that. The World Cup was every four years.
"Billy Wright had 105 caps, but if he was playing today he would have got 205 with the amount of games they play."