On 10th September 1985, Jock Stein died from a heart attack at the end of the 1-1 draw with Wales at Ninian Park in Cardiff.
On 10th September 1985, Jock Stein died from a heart attack at the end of the 1-1 draw with Wales at Ninian Park in Cardiff. He was 62 years old.
His Scotland side had just drawn 1-1 with Wales to assure themselves of a play-off with Australia - one they would negotiate successfully - for a place at the World Cup in Mexico the following summer.
But what should have been a heady occasion for Stein and his players became a harrowing one with the news that the manager's life had ended in his, and their, moment of triumph.
We'd last seen him at the end of a drama-laden match being assisted from the bench.
A million or so television viewers back home had witnessed the same distressing image. Even so, none of us could have imagined this legendary character was in his death throes; soon to be the subject of obituaries appearing around the world.
The immediate reaction to his passing was one of shock coupled with incomprehension. What ... the most imposing figure in Scottish football no longer is of this world? Please, someone, say it isn't so.
Then a feeling of profound sadness for him and his family set in. It has lingered all the way through to the present, with today (Friday) marking the 25th anniversary of the great man's demise at the age of just 62.
Tuesday's European Championship tie against Liechtenstein at Hampden - we won't linger here on how wretchedly Scotland were to perform before winning 2-1 - was preceded by a minute's rousing round of applause for Stein.
Parkhead fans, who still live in awe of his unparalleled achievements while manager of Celtic, will accord him the same again before tomorrow's home game with Hearts.
Rarely can that sorrowful, and somewhat trite, sentiment applied to the deceased - 'gone but not forgotten' - have carried greater resonance than in his case.
Stein, big and burly, dominated the Scottish game for a generation. He imbued it with pride when Celtic won the European Cup in 1967.
He offered it wise counsel. Be sure he would have much to say if he could see the state the game is in at the moment.
The national team had qualified for the World Cup Finals of 1974 and 1978 when, after his brief sojourn with Leeds United, he took charge of them in succession to Ally MacLeod.
He duly prolonged the sequence by taking Scotland to Spain in 1982 and was bent on stretching it still further when the omens began to gang up on him and them.
Scotland 0, Wales 1. That unforeseen setback at Hampden in March, 1985, looked as if it could undermine their chance of qualifying for Mexico. It also took its toll of Stein.
He became unwell, with hindsight suggesting he might have suffered a mild heart attack in the aftermath. But when, in May, Scotland won 1-0 in Iceland, with a Jim Bett goal, he and they recovered a sense of optimism.
The return match with the Welsh at Ninian Park four months later was to be crucial. If Scotland won, they would progress to the Finals; if they drew, they would line themselves up for a play-off.
Not since they'd faced the same opponents in a climactic World Cup qualifier eight years earlier - one which Wales, in their questionable wisdom, shifted to Anfield - had such tension gripped the nation.
Stein was relaxed enough in the immediate build-up; at least he contrived to give that impression. Yet some of those close to him thought they sensed something eerily strange in his demeanour.
The night before the game, for example, he called his assistant, Alex Ferguson, and coach Andy Roxburgh to his room for a blether.
Now, he wasn't a man given to talking about himself. Yet, for once, he did; running through the whole gamut of his career in football.
His two aides, when they left him, looked at one another in bemusement, saying: 'What was that all about?'
This pair, in time, may have found themselves wondering if Stein's life had passed before his very eyes that evening. Had he had a premonition of what was to befall him some 24 hours later?
It was odd, too, that the manager had discouraged any of his family from going to Ninian Park.
His son, George, was set to travel all the way from Switzerland, where he lived, only to be dissuaded from doing so.
But to the match itself; one in which Scotland could well have done without being deprived of their suspended captain, Souness, for whom a seat in the stand was set aside.
Stein's team assuredly would have been the stronger, too, had not Kenny Dalglish, Alan Hansen and Mo Johnston all been rendered unavailable because of injury.
But to lament their absences in public was to run the risk of allowing negativity to intrude upon the Scots' best-laid plans. Hence, the manager's every utterance beforehand was positive.
Wales, in the event, looked the better side for most of the 90 nerve-shredding minutes, taking the lead early on through Mark Hughes when he beat Jim Leighton with a solid shot from just inside the penalty box. Could Scotland possibly find a way back?
Stein, perceived as supreme among strategists, would plot one, surely. Yet, in the half-time dressing room, he seemed strangely reticent and detached.
He could only have been further disoriented by the fact Leighton had lost one of his contact lenses. So Alan Rough was pressed into service as a substitute and, with the second half yielding no early promise of an equaliser, the talismanic Davie Cooper came on, also.
This latter switch proved to be crucial when, in the 80th minute, the Scots were awarded a dubious penalty. Cooper, his courage somehow withstanding the intense pressure upon him, despatched the kick past Neville Southall's grasping hands.
Scottish fans comprising roughly half of the 44,000 crowd were uplifted in that moment. So, too, were those occupying the Scottish bench.
'Keep your dignity,' Stein kept cautioning them in anticipation of his team hanging on for a draw.
Photographers crowded in on the dugout, hoping to get the picture which may betray the manager's innermost emotions.
He shooed them away but one wouldn't budge, angering Stein who motioned to push him aside.
Then, with the final whistle about to blow, he seemed to slump and required to be helped down the tunnel. What ailed him? Scotland's celebrations became muted as that question awaited an answer.
SFA secretary, Ernie Walker, had left his seat in the directors' box shortly after Cooper's equaliser. He couldn't bear to watch the remainder of the game.
Nor could Souness. The pair met within the bowels of the stadium and retreated to a hospitality area to steady their nerves. Then they became aware of the unfolding drama involving Stein, who had been rushed to a medical room.
Walker hastened to the stricken manager's side, in time to hear him say something like: 'It's all right.'
But, with Scotland's doctor, Stewart Hillis, having administered what treatment he could, Stein's pulse stopped.
Only much later did it emerge that the manager, victim of a cardiac scare in the early 1970s, hadn't taken his diuretic pills that day. He had succumbed to a build-up of fluid in his lungs, rather than a heart attack.
Scotland 's dressing room was desolate, its occupants numbed by what they'd heard from along the corridor.
None could bring themselves to speak for about 20 minutes. Then a clearly-distressed Souness appeared where the Press were gathered to utter those unforgettably moving words which none of us was quite ready to take in.
'He's gone,' the captain muttered. We'd almost interpreted as much from the grave look on the face of SFA president, David Will, who'd passed by moments earlier, despite our reluctance to believe it.
Even the stars above couldn't brighten Scotland's charter flight back to Edinburgh.
Doc Hillis came to the rear of the plane to brief the Press on Stein's final minutes. Virtual silence prevailed otherwise, save for the wails let out by a close friend of the Stein family who was beside himself with grief.
We reporters sat with sunken heads, scribbling our final testaments for the night to a famous life lost.
Then, having filed them from a bank of telephones at Edinburgh Airport, and as we headed past the luggage carousel towards the exit, a baggage handler held up a shoulder bag asking if it belonged to any of us.
'No,' we said, 'but if you would allow us to look inside, we might be able to identify whose it is.'
Several of the contents, including a book and a bottle of pills, could have belonged to anyone.
But what's this? A letter addressed to Mr. J. Stein: a most poignant reminder that the bag's owner hadn't come home.
Posted by voc1967 on Tuesday 10 September 2019 - 14:53:32 | Comments (2) |
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