Book Review – We Made Them Angry by Tom Brogan
“These supporters can win you the game. When I hear them, the hairs on my neck stand up. They must be the best in the world. It makes me want to finish my career back in Britain. But Scotland will have to play with the passion they showed against us in Mendoza four years ago.”
Jonny Rep, who scored against Scotland in the 1978 World Cup, putting us out of it, prior to the final game for Scotland against Russia in the 1982 World Cup.
When I went to university, my first encounter with my History Professor was just after he had published his new book on World War One. When asked about the reviews that he should expect he told us these mattered little as most of his contemporaries would not read the book, just look at the bibliography and sources he quoted. From there they should be able to work out what he thought and his opinion of the principal facts; all of which were not in doubt.
At the time, it appeared odd.
Reading We Made Them Angry by Tom Brogan reminded me precisely of that discussion. Of all the books you will ever read, I would challenge you to find one that is as well researched and documented as this. There are not just references made to player’s biographies but also to obscure matchday programmes, interviews, many of which are long forgotten and a bibliography which includes periodicals, websites and scholarly tomes.
It is all in aid of telling a tale of World Cup redemption under the leadership of arguably the best manager Scotland ever produced, Jock Stein. It is of a campaign sunk in the midst of more noticeable and argued over World Cup Group failures – ’74 when we never lost, ‘78 when we lost our dignity, ’86 when we lost our leader, and ‘90 when we last graced the competition, and thus thereafter lost our place on its stage.
1982 was the year of two headlines – a toe poke and a collision. Both with connotations of violence which the Scottish Football Association were nervous about fans displaying under the Spanish sunshine whilst on the terraces, but we were undone by both, ironically, not in the stands but on the field of play.
Brogan has much to say about both, but to his credit they do not dominate the tale he tells. He begins at 7am on Wednesday the 14th of October 1981, in Belfast. It is the culmination of the campaign to get to the World Cup in Spain; we are one game away. It is symbolic. Not just that this was a game being played by the Scottish national team in Northern Ireland for the first time since 1972 but as a Scotland fan, it is always games close to the wire which hold significance. We are past masters at taking the entire process and holding it on a knife edge prior to destroying ourselves; at least that has been the majority of our experiences…. 1982 was little different.
To be reminded of the fact that we were in the midst of five World Cup Finals in a row, rather than it being a painful memory, stirs the blood and I have fond memories of the processes of getting to World Cups which, unlike now, were expected to be successful. I have not often agreed with Graeme Souness, but here I can wholeheartedly, insofar as these were our World Cups, the process of qualifying. Brogan is highly expansive in the build up and in the detail, he brings to the table.
But it is here where I began to struggle just a little.
Academic treatises tend to have their bibliographies and footnotes but keeping your reader onside needs the yarn told swiftly with pace and flair. The interruptions to tell of each significant player’s background, fascinating to start with, becomes slightly irritating as we progress. Turning some of the reference points into footnotes or refences would not have diminished the authority with which this story is told but enhance the structure with which it is enjoyed.
I don’t know if I really wanted to know as much about the Russian coach as I found out, that Alan Hansen was born in Sauchie or the tartan background of so many of the New Zealand team, but to be fair, it was interesting to read. But it took nothing away from the authenticity of the research. It felt authoritative. It was interesting to note that Alan Hansen turned down a trial with Hibs so he could play a golf tournament or that The Game (a fictional account but a very real emotional rollercoaster of Scottish fans going to Argentina in 1978) was broadcast on STV in opposition to the night of BBC Cup Final Sportscene’s highlights programme or of the machinations in government which could have seen the Scottish team being pulled out of the entire Finals due to the worsening military and political situation in the Southern Hemisphere, but they could have been crafted in a more integrated manner.
That political situation was the Falkland’s War and Brogan quotes from a number of sources over the possibility that the team would have to bow to pressure and not play in a contest where the possibility that they may meet on a field of play, a country fighting them on a field of battle, was very real. In the end opinion swayed all and Scotland went to the Finals. Brogan quotes widely from official documents released in 2012 as well as players like Danny McGrain who reflected that a poll in the Daily Record wanted them to play, Graeme Souness who responded to the news that the Task Force wanted them to play and Kenny Dalglish who seemed unaware of it all! In the end, the government wanted them to go, so go they went. It is interesting to note that this is the equivalent today of asking Ukraine the defenders to withdraw from sport rather than Russia, the aggressors.
The other political back drop of which I was unaware was the Home Internationals and how playing in Belfast had become such an issue. It clearly feels a far more violent time and Brogan does well to draw our attention to the historical detail which some may have called a more naïve period in our collective history but is in reality far more sensitive to the cause of offence than some would admit. Names of the past who had their teeth cut administratively within that context find a voice and Brogan tells it as it was, without much by way of criticism. It is a refreshing feeling that we, as a reader, are given the notion of being able to form our own views.
What I also enjoyed was the detail around how the authorities dealt with the preparations and the scandal of the tickets and Mundiespana, the post competition reflections from the likes of Jim McLean and where there was disappointment and dissension, it was noted and explained. These appealed, as much to my interest in the Scotland team as to my academic prejudices.
Perhaps my favourite part of the entire book, as a proud Scot, is the claim, borne out by Brogan’s meticulous evidence is that 1982 gave birth to a phenomenon which has endured – The Tartan Army. Rather than disgrace themselves in the sun, as some worried would happen, the Scottish supporters excelled. Warm, friendly and in some cases under extreme provocation, given that Argentina was a Spanish speaking country, they behaved and earned the highest of praise. I am sure that there were many who followed the competition who were disappointed that the Scots did not get through. The voices that Brogan brings of the fans who went and saw the glory of their country are very worthy of reading. Of the drinking competitions, the water polo playing by a guy from an estate in Dunfermline or the ways in which they travelled there and came back, derring-do is made de rigueur.
Of course, for Scottish fans two events defined the Finals.
Firstly, when Jimmy Hill called Dave Narey’s goal against Brazil, a toe poke, he meant it as a compliment. Most Scots did not take it as such, and Hill enjoyed notoriety in Scotland from that point onwards. It was not always good natured, however, but the goal led to an alleged conversation, not in the book, where one Scottish player was to say to another, I think we have annoyed them! On the terraces the quote became the title of the book – we made them angry. Having woken them up, the samba perfect Brazil went on to beat us 4-1 in an exhibition of football which was a privilege to watch, and according to the players, quoted in the book, with which it was a privilege to share a pitch.
Then came Willie Miller and Alan Hansen bumping into each other in an attempt for both to clear a Russian attack, which led to Russia scoring. It has become part of our folklore that this was blamed for putting us out of the competition. As Brogan makes very clear, it was a little more complex than that, but a draw was what finished us. The perspective of fans, the manager, pundits and both players add to the understanding Brogan brings to the debacle.
And as the final game drew its veil over our participation, it was indeed a draw, once again that did for us. We should have known. In ’74, all we did was draw, in ’78 the draw with Iran became the headline, ’82 was the draw with Russia, ’86 the draw with Uruguay and then in ’90 all we needed was … a draw. And guess what we did not get…
Despite it being very heavy on the evidence, this is a book which does great service to a World Cup Finals which drew us back into the realm of some dignity. 1978 was not just a tough watch but for someone like me, an Ayr United fan, a tough experience as our greatest ever manager was castigated for one of the greatest footballing disasters which befell any national team. Brogan has the material to dwell on what we were good at, because we were, and this lends authority to the memory of a time when we expected to be at the top table.
Donald C Stewart
(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. April 2022. Hardcover: 384 pages)
Buy the book here: We Made Them Angry