My World Cup: Asa Hartford (Scotland,1978 and 1982)

First published in My World Cup Lancashire Telegraph: Photograph of the Author by , Sports reporter

A SHORT time ago, a radio station north of the border decided to ask a collection of famous Scots where they were when Archie Gemmill waltzed past three Dutch defenders to score one of the World Cup’s most iconic goals.

For Scotland, this was their JFK moment.

They contacted Asa Hartford, currently the chief scout and reserve team manager of Accrington Stanley - the latter a role he previously held at Blackburn Rovers.

They were a little taken aback by his reply.

“I was 10 yards to his left, shouting, ‘Pass it to me, you greedy so and so!’” Hartford laughs now.

It is fair to say that, in the thick of the action, the phrase ‘so and so’ may have been adapted.

“What people don’t realise is that Archie never scored goals like that,” says Hartford.

“It wasn’t exactly his trademark.

“I was the first to get to him on his celebration run and, if I hadn’t, he would still have been running today.

“In the end, I was glad he didn’t pass it to me!”

While Hartford played in all three games for Scotland in 1978, he would feature only once four years later in Spain.

But, despite the frustration at a lack of action in 1982, it is his first World Cup that remains a recurring nightmare for him - and for everyone else who was there.

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Scotland’s campaign in Argentina has gone down in history as one of the great World Cup fiascos.

They went into the tournament with arguably their strongest ever squad, but departed after the group stage amid chaos and ignominy.

Their boss, the late former Blackburn Rovers player Ally McLeod, will forever be remembered for his rather misguided pre-tournament predictions.

“He said we would be coming back from the World Cup with a medal and in the end we did, but it was a wooden one,” recalls Hartford, the former Manchester City and Everton midfielder.

“I think the players wished he hadn’t said it.

“There was a lot of hullabaloo. Before the tournament we were all unveiled at Hampden one at a time.

“Looking back on it, it should have been low profile. Even at the time I didn't feel comfortable.

“We had players like Kenny Dalglish, Joe Jordan, Bruce Rioch and Lou Macari.

"The World Cup should have been the highlight of my career but in the end it wasn’t.

“You saw the problem between Roy Keane and Mick McCarthy with the Republic of Ireland in 2002, all the disputes over the facilities, and you can multiply that for us.

“The advance party had been out there and we were supposed to be able to train at the facility where we were staying, near Cordoba.

“But Derek Johnstone injured his ankle on the pitch and in the end we had to commute to a place 30 kilometres away to train.

“We were promised an Olympic-sized swimming pool, too. But there was no water in it. A lot of the players weren’t happy.”

If things had started on a bad note, they would only get worse when the matches began.

A shock 3-1 loss to Peru was followed by a 1-1 draw with Iran. Even a 3-2 win over Holland could not save them from an early exit.

“We played Peru and didn’t know anything about them,” said Hartford, who has been part of Accrington’s backroom staff for two years after working for Blackburn under Don Mackay and Kenny Dalglish in the early 1990s.

“We didn’t know they had two flying wingers. You don’t expect a dossier but we needed to know something about them.

“But at the same time we as players didn’t perform.

“Then we had the situation with Willie Johnston being sent home for drugs.

"I think it was caffeine, which was banned in those days.

“Sending him home really demoralised the squad.

“After that, the Iran game was the worst I have ever been involved in.

“It was a World Cup game but it was played in front of around 12,000 in a 30,000 stadium and there was no atmosphere.

"We went out of the tournament there and then really.

“We could still have gone through if we had won by three clear goals against Holland, but when we were winning 3-1 Gordon McQueen, who wasn’t playing in that game, went to the bar.

“He just couldn’t face spending another two weeks out there.”

Four years later, Hartford was left out of Scotland’s opening game against New Zealand, figuring only in the 4-1 loss to Brazil - a game that saw Zico score with a fine free kick.

Scotland failed to get beyond the first round once more, while even Brazil had a surprise exit in the second group phase.

“Brazil were fabulous and we made the mistake of upsetting them by scoring first. We should have just tried to hold out for a 0-0!

“I was in the wall for the Zico free kick. You just saw it go in the top corner and thought, ‘Oh, well done’. There was nothing else you could do.

“We were better organised under Jock Stein in 1982. But the squad just wasn’t as good.”

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