Euro 2024: Nostalgia and bittersweet memories as Tartan Army return to where it all began fifty years ago - where Leeds United's contingent led Scotland's bid for Germany glory

HALF a century ago, a cultural footballing phenomenon began one summer in Germany - and the beautiful game was all the better for it.

Those old-time foot-soldiers from Scotland - nascent members of the Tartan Army during their first odyssey at the 1974 World Cup - are entitled to be a touch nostalgic should they happen to be back in the Fatherland for tonight’s opening to the latest football festival there.

A huge 100,000-plus Scottish following will descend upon Germany for the next few weeks at least, with Scotland’s first overseas tournament since 1998 getting under way in Munich, where they face the hosts in a delicious Euro 2024 opener that Uefa could not have scripted any better. Fittingly, it arrives on the fiftieth anniversary of Scotland’s first game in ‘74.

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Fifty years back, the arrival of Scottish visitors to Germany was painted in rather more apocalyptic terms. German police had been warned to be wary, with one infamous radio report from London conveying a sense of unease - less than two years on from the terrorist attacks at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

The Scottish team before beating Zaire 2-0 in the group two World Cup match at Dortmund's Westfalen Stadium on June 14, 1974 - including four starters from Leeds United. Back row - from left; David Harvey, Jim Holton, Joe Jordan, Danny McGrain and John Blackley. Front row - from left; Kenny Dalglish, Sandy Jardine, Peter Lorimer, Billy Bremner, David Hay and Denis Law.The Scottish team before beating Zaire 2-0 in the group two World Cup match at Dortmund's Westfalen Stadium on June 14, 1974 - including four starters from Leeds United. Back row - from left; David Harvey, Jim Holton, Joe Jordan, Danny McGrain and John Blackley. Front row - from left; Kenny Dalglish, Sandy Jardine, Peter Lorimer, Billy Bremner, David Hay and Denis Law.
The Scottish team before beating Zaire 2-0 in the group two World Cup match at Dortmund's Westfalen Stadium on June 14, 1974 - including four starters from Leeds United. Back row - from left; David Harvey, Jim Holton, Joe Jordan, Danny McGrain and John Blackley. Front row - from left; Kenny Dalglish, Sandy Jardine, Peter Lorimer, Billy Bremner, David Hay and Denis Law.

Trouble could come not just from the ‘Arabs’ or ‘the Baader Meinhoff anarchists’, but also ‘the invading hordes of Scots fans’, the reporter claimed, somewhat erroneously and condescendingly.

Certainly when it comes to the Scottish, Germany need not have worried then and shouldn’t do so now.

The Tartan Army have long since entered folklore and won countless global friends along the way from Mendoza to Malaga and Gothenburg to Genoa with their party vibes and generosity of spirit. It’s good to have them back.

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At the 1992 European Championships in Sweden, they received a Uefa Fair Play award for fans conduct. Another accolade followed at the 1998 World Cup.

Their benevolence has extended beyond football. Ahead of a game in Bosnia in 1999 - a country still bearing the scars of warfare - fans brought shoeboxes full of items for orphaned children. The Tartan Army Sunshine Appeal, a charity which donates money to children’s causes were Scotland play, was subsequently established.

Back in 74, there was not much on-pitch sunshine for Scotland at their first tournament finals since 1958, in truth. It was a case of ‘if only’.

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They were the only unbeaten side at that World Cup, but still knocked out in the group stages.

A squad which contained five players from the all-conquering Leeds United side who sauntered to the Division One title in 1973-74 is widely recognised to have been the best ever to represent Scotland in a major finals. Captain Billy Bremner, Peter Lorimer, Joe Jordan, David Harvey and Gordon McQueen made up the Leeds contingent in a squad, which also featured Denis Law, Kenny Dalglish and Jimmy Johnstone, among others.

The pre-tournament squad belief that Scotland could - and should - go very far in the competition was not a far-fetched one - and the passage of time since has only added to that conviction.

For the record, they went out on goal difference with an inability to rack up the goals in their opener with the African minnows of Zaire widely cited as the reason for their demise. In mitigation, Zaire were an unknown quantity, tactically. Although they had an off-the-wall goalkeeper in Kazadi Mwamba who made maverick Polish custodian Jan Tomaszewski look conventional.

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Mwamba produced a howler to enable Jordan to score Scotland’s second - after club-mate Lorimer opened the scoring with a typically venomous shot - but just two goals in a game when Willie Ormond’s side were too risk-averse came back to haunt them.

Group rivals Yugoslavia and Brazil could effectively control their own destiny versus Zaire after drawing their first game, the result Scotland did not want.

In game two, Scotland decamped from Dortmund to Frankfurt and played out a 0-0 draw with reigning champions Brazil in a game best remembered for Bremner going agonisingly close to a winner for the Scots after Jordan’s header was saved. His aghast expression took the story for a nation.

That was compounded by Yugoslavia putting nine unanswered goals past Zaire, who brought a 5ft 4in replacement to replace Mwamba early on. There have been claims the Africans had threatened to strike beforehand over missing payments, while boss Miljan Miljanic had been a Yugoslav international.

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Victory in their final game with Yugoslavia would have still put Scotland in the last eight. A draw may have been enough in the unlikely event of Brazil not beating Zaire by three clear goals. Brazil won 3-0.

Trailing 1-0, Scotland levelled late on through Jordan, but bowed out. They conceded one goal in three matches.