Brown on Scotland’s France 98 journey

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June 8, 2021
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    Warning: This article contains strong language that might cause offence.

    Colin Hendry stood proudly with a ball under an armpit and a pennant in hand, staring.

    Monaco's John Collins swaggered back and forth with his chiselled chest on show. Colin Calderwood roared like a caged lion. And at the back, Darren Jackson loitered, waiting for everyone to leave.

    Then there was Craig Brown.

    Taking part in his third World Cup, the Scotland manager poked his head around the dressing room door. With 80,000 fans and a global audience waiting, his side's yellow-clad opponents strode by, arms linked, ready to defend their title.

    Brown retreated inside for one last battle cry. "I went in and said 'guys, I've just seen Brazil holding hands. They're shitting themselves!'"

    An eight-year hiatus from the game's biggest stage was at an end, with the 1998 finals and a date with the world champions, Norway and Morocco to come.

    For the Scotland manager, it was the culmination of months of preparation that included hotel hunting, different duvets, a disappearing Andy Goram, a training session with Rod Stewart and a phone call from Sean Connery. What followed wasn't dull, either.

    Goram, Rod & a call from James Bond

    As well as a cooked breakfast, Brown had other things on his plate one morning in May 1998.

    Scotland were in New Jersey for the final leg of their preparations, with games against Colombia and the United States. Goalkeeper Goram wanted a word. He was done and was leaving the camp despite the manager's best attempts to talk him round.

    "To his credit, he spoke to me and sent me a lovely letter saying he had to go for personal reasons," he says. "I still have it to this day.

    "It was a big story but we were in America and were going to a World Cup. We had been before and it could be a bit of a star-studded affair. Two years earlier Rod Stewart invited us to his concert at Madison Square Garden. About 5,000 outside couldn't get in, meanwhile our boys were up on the stage.

    "He visited us again and we had him take part in training, he coped admirably."

    Rod was not the only man to offer Brown and his team their best. "I remember getting a call from Sean Connery. The girls at the office would think it was a wind-up. My secretary would say, 'That's Ally McCoist on saying he's Sean Connery'."

    Sean ConnerySean Connery enjoying himself at Scotland's World Cup opener against Brazil

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    Gyms, duvets & French with John Collins

    With Jonathan Gould replacing Goram and the injured Gary McAllister part of the staff, Scotland flew to their plush camp in St Remy, a picturesque part of southern France.

    Brown says "you don't just pick these hotels out of a brochure", and offers an insight into the lengths that were gone to to ensure the place was perfect.

    "There was no gym, so we had to build one," he recalls. "Guys like John Collins were obsessed with fitness, so we kitted out an annex to their requests. We even asked them about the weight of their quilt and the length of the bed they wanted. We went to every effort."

    A football team descending on a town is one thing, but the world's media following is another. Brown declared Scotland's hotel a no go for the press pack, with "around 200" journalists packing into the town hall prior to the opener with Brazil.

    "Andy Roxburgh got Italian lessons for himself and the staff at the World Cup in 1990. In France, I had John Collins," explained Brown of the Monaco midfielder.

    "I said to him, 'Can you give me some French for my interviews?' and he gave me a phrase that startled the French journalists. It was 'victoire ou défaite, importe c'est la fete' which translates to 'victory or defeat, the most important thing is the fun'."

    The fun was just about to begin.

    Kilts, flannels & stopping Ronaldo

    Scotland players in kiltsScotland's players take to the field wearing kilts prior to the World Cup opening game

    The stage was set for the main event, but first, the dress rehearsal.

    Brown, ever a stickler for making sure his players were neat and tidy, led his team off the bus on 10 June 1998 in St Denis wearing full kilts.

    "It was a big hit," says Brown, whose side were visited the night before by Prime Minister Tony Blair. "The SFA had given everyone a blazer and flannels but I knew if I'd asked Jim Farry [SFA chief executive] for kilts he'd have said no, so the players were told to keep it quiet."

    An even more difficult task was at hand for Brown and his team – stopping the best striker in the word. Brazil were star studded, but none shone brighter than Inter Milan's Ronaldo. But the Scotland manager had a plan.

    "I spoke to Bobby Robson, who had Ronaldo at PSV," he explains. "I asked how we stop him, and he said 'you don't, just don't let him get the ball'. Most of his passes came from Cafu at right-back, so I told Christian Dailly, 'If Cafu crosses the halfway line and passes to Ronaldo, you'll be sitting beside me on the bench'."

    While Ronaldo was kept on a leash, Scotland were powerless to stop Cesar Sampaio crashing in a front-post header after five minutes. Brown curses the curtailed preparations due to the "pageantry" of the opening ceremony, but his side would soon warm up.

    By half-time, Collins had levelled from the penalty spot before a gut-wrenching Tom Boyd own goal 16 minutes from time gave a relieved Brazil victory. "They did everything asked of them," said Brown. "It gave us belief for what lay ahead."

    Covert training & intelligence

    Norway, who drew with Morocco 2-2 in their opener, were next. Scotland dominated in Bordeaux but went in goalless at half-time.

    Ever one for details, Brown insists every Scotland player was in the dressing room by the time the first Norwegian had left the pitch – a regular instruction. But within a minute of the restart, loose defending allowed Havard Flo to nod in at Jim Leighton's back post.

    Scotland continued to pour forward and, with 25 minutes to go, Davie Weir released Craig Burley, who lobbed in the leveller. "It was a pass from intelligence," says Brown of Weir's flighted ball. "Being a bright guy, Davie played it as instructed between Stig Bjornebye and Henning Berg. It was perfect."

    As fine a goal as it was, it would only secure a point for the Scots, who would now have to beat Morocco to stand a chance of progressing.

    Scotland score against NorwayDavie Weir, right, celebrates after Craig Burley scores from his long pass

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    'We were condemned'

    "We hadn't ever lost three goals in a game other than a Netherlands friendly, and that was a scratch team. To lose three against Morocco, we were condemned," recalls Brown ruefully.

    Scotland's campaign came to its end in St Etienne. Salaheddine Bassir's goal midway through the first half was the first hammer blow for Brown's dominant side.

    A minute into the second half, Abdeljalil Hadda doubled the lead and the Scots' fate was sealed soon after as "big daft Burley" – with a new striking bleached haircut – was shown a red card for a reckless challenge.

    "Nobody could say we were humiliated. Every stat apart from goals, was in our favour," said Brown, whose side had more shots on goal, more corners and more possession. "We had 10 men, but we were still bombing forward."

    As it transpired, Norway stunned Brazil 2-1 to ensure their progression, rendering the outcome of Scotland's game moot.

    Regardless, Brown knew a backlash was coming even before receiving a call from the hotel manager saying photographers were on the way.

    "He said they didn't want the team, they just wanted to take pictures," Brown recalls. "I told him no as I knew what they were going to do. One of the papers did 'We gave them this' as a headline with photos of the plush hotel and then the other page said 'and they gave us this' with the three goals going in.

    "It was heart-breaking, particularly for the fans. To think some of them lost their jobs to go over and follow us. You are quite sad you've not given them more to enjoy but we gave it a right good go."

    Scotland squad
    Goalkeepers: Leighton (Aberdeen), Sullivan (Wimbledon), Gould (Celtic); Defenders: Boyd (Celtic), Calderwood (Tottenham), Hendry (Blackburn Rovers), McKinlay (Celtic), Weir (Hearts), Elliott (Leicester City), Whyte (Aberdeen), Dailly (Derby), McNamara (Celtic); Midfielders: Burley (Celtic), Collins (Monaco), Lambert (Celtic), Gemmill (Nottingham Forest), McKinlay (Blackburn Rovers); Forwards: Gallacher (Blackburn Rovers), Durie (Rangers), Jackson (Celtic), Donnelly (Celtic), Booth (Utrecth)


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