Scotland at the World Cup – 1954

Back in 1954 owning a television set was a luxury very few could afford.   For those homes lucky enough to have one programme schedules were heavily regulated with only Band 1 (or BBC1) available and radio being the popular mode of entertainment.    

On 16th June 1954 the Scottish Mens National team played its first ever football match at a World Cup Finals.  The venue was the Sportsplatz Hardturm in Zurich and the kick off 6pm.  But the  BBC Radio Times of the day tells a story that coverage of Scotland v Austria was nowhere to be seen.   Instead the sole TV listing of the day states:

17.55: From Switzerland: World Cup Football Match: France v Yugoslavia

from La Pontaise Football Stadium, Lausanne.  Presented by the Swiss Television Service

Commentator (in Lausanne): Kenneth Wolstenholme

Today elite football and television is a natural partnership. But in 1954 media coverage of the Scottish national football team was vague.  As our national team played on the biggest stage many football fans would have had to wait hours for the actual result to be known with the following days newspaper and radio news carrying the story.

This then is that story – the tale of Scotland’s first appearance at a FIFA World Cup finals tournament.

Zurich 1954 – Scotland’s First World Cup Finals Match

It may come as a surprise to you that Scotland did qualify for the 1950 edition of the World Cup in Brazil.

However, George Graham, the secretary of the Scottish Football Association until 1957, declared that Scotland would only accept the FIFA invite if they could go as British home international champions.   Accordingly, with England winning the home internationals tournament a decision was made not to travel.

Part of the reason for the non appearance stemmed from the SFA of the day and the committee driven decision making dynamics.  Despite international friendly matches being the norm, decisions on the participation in organized global or European events were often based on director decisions rather than qualification group merit.

In 1950 there was also no Scotland football manager per se to demand participation at the Finals.   Instead the SFA international selection committee had the power to choose the team with the decisions made alongside the national team captain and senior club officials.

Another reason for Scotland not featuring in 1950 was that the World Cup finals back then were not the global media event that they are now.  FIFA themselves only managed to get 13 countries to come to Brazil, instead of the 16 it had originally sought.

Alongside the Scots, France declined an invitation because of the distance they would have to travel by air as did Portugal and Ireland.  Moreover, Austria pulled out because they said their team was too young, and India qualified but refused to travel.  The Argentina FA meanwhile had fallen out with the Brazilian FA and so decided to boycott the finals tournament as did Peru.

If 1950 was a missed opportunity then 1954 was a milestone.  The dynamics at the SFA had changed had changed slightly and European club football was on the verge of a new era of competition.  UEFA had been established in June 1954 and Scotland became a member.

Society was also changing in a year that had already seen Marilyn Munroe marry baseball player Joe Di Maggio and Roger Bannister run the first sub 4 minute mile.   This was a decade when rock and roll was invented by Billy Haley and McCarthyism impacted across the Atlantic.

Scotland had qualified for Switzerland via British Home international Championships, which doubled that year as it did in 1950 as the qualification tourney.  On the 3rd of October 1953 the Irish were defeated in Belfast thanks to two goals from ‘Cannonball’ Charlie Fleming of Sunderland.

By November of that year the Welsh came to Hampden with a forward line of John Charles and Ivor Allchurch.  But the Scots (featuring two of Hibs Famous Five in Johnstone and Reilly) were held to a 3-3 draw despite a 3-1 lead with 15 minutes left.  The draw though secured a crucial point that ultimatly saw a path to the finals gained alongside England.

This time second place was to be enough for the team to travel and participate at the 1954 World Cup.

If qualification for the World Cup was ground breaking so too was a decision to appoint Scotland’s first manager in Andy Beattie during February 1954.

In the early 1950’s Huddersfield Town under Beattie had been performing strongly in the top two divisions of English football.   A one time player with PNE Beattie had gained Huddersfield promotion from Division Two at the culmination of season 1952–53.

Back in Division One, Beattie’s team won praise and his team eventually finished in a very creditable third place at the end of season 1953-1954.   They were just six behind champions Wolverhampton Wanderers and the SFA had taken note of the success. Beattie was asked to pick the team while also fulfilling his Huddersfield Town duties.

Beattie would have just four matches to prepare the Scotland side for the first world cup group match v Austria.

First up in April 1954 came the last game of the Home International championship with England winning 4-2 at Hampden Park.

With the domestic season ending only a few weeks earlier a challenge match was then set up in early May against Norway in Glasgow with players from Aberdeen and not champions Celtic dominating the side chosen by Beattie.  Tellingly also drafted in were two players from Beattie’s former club Preston North End – Willie Cunningham and Tommy Docherty.

In his final preparations for Switzerland Beattie took his team on a mini tour of Scandinavia.  A re-match was organised against the Norwegians in Oslo on 19th May which ended in a draw.  Just six days later on 25th May 1954 the Scots took on Finland in Helsinki winning 2-1 thanks to goals from two of the Famous Five – Johnstone and Ormond.

If one man in Andy Beattie was now in control of picking the squad and the team the weeks leading up to the team travelling were far from cordial.

FIFA had stipulated that each nation could take a squad of 18 players to the tournament but when the flight came to be boarded the SFA stipulated that only 13 playing Scots would travel.  Amongst others, left behind were the likes of George Farm of Blackpool, Paddy Buckley of Aberdeen and Hibs forwards Bobby Johnstone, Reilly and Gordon Smith.

Rangers meanwhile had no travelling squad members being on a club tour in the US and Canada while the tournament was being played.  This meant that captain George Young and his vice captain Samuel Cox did not travel.

In place of the Rangers pair, Beattie chose two players from his former club side as captain and vice captain – Willie Cunningham and Tommy Docherty.

Despite having some of the best football resources at their disposal amongst all of European football’s entrants, of the 13 playing Scots who did travel only Evans and Brown had more than 10 caps going into the World Cup Finals.  ‘Gentleman’ George Hamilton of Aberdeen meanwhile (Bobby Johnstone’s replacement) was by then a veteran of 36 years of age and had amassed only 3 previous international caps.

Wednesday 16th June 1954 was the historic day against Austria.

While these days we are more used to the opening fixture of a World Cup finals being a single showcase event the opening day of the 1954 World Cup saw four group matches take place with all the matches kicking off at the same time – 6pm.

Despite overcoming the fractious abolition of its Federation as a result of World War I the Austrians had a fine footballing tradition of International football.  Its wunderteam had finished 4th in 1934 and despite withdrawing from the 1950 event Scotland’s opponents Austria were a star studded and hugely experienced side.

The two dominant sides from that seasons Austrian Staatsliga A – champions Rapid Vienna and Austria Vienna – dominated the squad composition with the traditional First Vienna also reinforcing further class.

Amonsgt the Austrian team were two men who went onto attain notoriety in other theatres of football.  Ernst Happel of Rapid Vienna would go on to become a famous coach and have the Vienna national stadium named in his honour.  His team mate Gerhard Hanappi meanwhile would design Weststadion a stadium later to become the home of Rapid Vienna otherwise known as the ‘Gerhard Hanappi Stadion’.

Other noteable players of the Austrian side included Ernst Ocwirk and Eric Probst the latter finishing the tournament as one of the top scorers.

The Hardturm Stadion was home to the Grasshopper club and located in North West Zurich. Named after a nearby tower trams shuttled by the nearby stadium as the 6pm kick off approached with facinated locals flocking to see the tournament occuring on its doorstep.

By the time of the 1954 World Cup finals the Hardturm was able to offer seating in the Treml Stand which was perched on stilts behind the west terracing.  By 1954 the ground held 35,000 but had only 5,600 seats and no floodlights.

As the Austrian Captain Ocwirk and Willie Cunningham walked out onto the field they were met by a crowd of almost 25,000.  At the line up the Austrians stood in excited anticipation kicking their boots out in anticipation pumped with nervous energy.  The body language of the Scots was through very different.   Looking along the Scots lined up in blue shirts, white shorts and white socks the tension was visible with captain Willie Cunningham standing with his arms folded almost unsure of the protocol.

Still the Scots had the tallest man on the field – goalkeeper Fred Martin of Aberdeen who towered over everyone else.

While it is a mandatory requirement today the Scots also had no SFA pennant to swap unlike the Austrian skipper who handed over an OFB pennant.

The blazered 49 year old Belgian referee Laurent Franken tossed his coin and Ocwirk win the toss electing to swap ends with the Scots kicking off.

Very quickly Gerhard Hanappi and Allan Brown of Blackpool were waging battles all over the field of play.  Both sides with skillful players fought the tricky underfoot conditions offering balance and attacking wing play in either half.   The pitch quickly began cutting up this tellingly staining the white gloves of Fred Martin the Scottish goalkeeper.

An early chance for Austrians came to nothing as Probst lost control near the penalty spot but on 33 minutes the opening goal arrived.

From out wide on the Austrian Alfred Korner played a cross into the edge of the 6 yard box.   With Martin advancing the predator Probst controlled the ball with his right foot and smashed home at an angled shot with his left foot.

A last despairing effort by the Scottish defense to keep the ball out proved fruitless.

With the Austrians celebrating captain Willie Cunningham gathered the ball from the back of the net and kicked it out back to the center spot.

Despite the attacking credentials of the Austrian side, attacker Allan Brown of Blackpool continued to prove his attacking worth in the match.   Scotland had one further chance as the half closed but offside was called by the Swiss linesman.

HT: 0-1

Scotland were still creating chances as the second half commenced into its early stages.  The Austrian keeper Schied saved well after an industrious run by Docherty.  Another effort by Willie Fernie of Celtic looped up into the air within the Austrian 18 yard box but was saved after a further deflection.  Ormond was proving dangerous but Hanappi continually showed his class.

Again chances came for the Scots, Neil Mochan of Celtic had an opportunity left footed from just inside the box which was saved on the line well by Schmied.

Then all of a sudden the game was over and Scotland had been defeated.  All that was left was the handshakes, recrimination and a 0-7 capitulation in the second game against Uruguay.

Andy Beattie appointed in the run up to the tournament felt he had no other option but to resign after the Austrian game blaming poor organisation and poor financial rewards for the players.  This left the SFA selection committee and a physio/coach in in charge of team affairs for the Uruguay match.

The players meanwhile had been complaining that the kit they were using was not fit for purpose and this in a World Cup where heatstroke would be a big issue.   While the conditions didn’t help the Scots it proved no hinderence to the Hungarians who defeated South Korea 9-0 at the Hardturm not 24 hrs after Scotland played.

Playing shirts were described as heavyweight cotton with long sleeves that had to be rolled up compared to the more leightweight sleeker short sleeved kit of the Austrian and Uruguayian sides.    There were also complaints that the boots Scotland wore were out of date design wise compared to those worn by the Austrians and South Americans.The second game came three days later in Basel and things went from bad to worse. Scotland promptly lost 7-0 to the talent of Juan Schiaffino, Miguez and Borges with the latter scoring a hat-trick in the second and final group match.

There exists an interesting side note to the disastrous 1954 World Cup campaign.   A certain other Scotsman by the name of Charlie Faultless from Glasgow travelled to the Swiss World Cup as a FIFA referee.

Austria 7, Switzerland 5 is still the highest score ever in a World Cup finals match and the referee was Charlie Faultless.

The Scots of 1954 it would appear travelled to a global tournament as participants rather than competitors.  Despite having talents that ranked amongst the best in Europe many of the key players failed to travel either through injury or club commitments.   The manager meanwhile appointed in an act of foresight had the red carpet pulled from underneath him before the tournament commenced

The Scots playing kit proved to be unfit for the warm conditions in Switzerland and the threadbare squad of 13 hinted at a domestic game that was falling behind others organisationally at both club and national association levels given the clash with Rangers club tournament.

Venue: Hardturm Zurich (Switzerland)

16th June 1954 – 18:00 Local time

Group Match – Group 3


Referee: Laurent Franken (Belgium) 49 years old, AR1: Mario Viana (Brazil) AR2: Josef Gulde (Sui)

Goals scored: Erich Probst (Austria, 33 mins)

Austria: Kurt Schmied (First Vienna), Gerhard Hanappi, Ernst Happel (Rapid), Leopold Barschandt (Wiener Sports Club), Ernst Ocwirk (Austria Vienna), Karl Koller (First Vienna), Robert Koerner (Rapid Vienna), Walter Schleger (Austria Wien), Erich Probst (Rapid Vienna), Alfred Koerner (Rapid), Robert Dienst (Rapid) Coach: Walter Nausch – former national team captain.

Scotland:  Fred Martin, Willie Cunningham, John Aird (Burnley), Tommy Docherty, Jimmy Davidson (Partick Thistle), Doug Cowie, John Mackenzie (Partick Thistle), Allan Brown, Neil Mochan, Willie Fernie, Willie Ormond (Hibs) Coach: Andy Beattie

Scotland’s 1954 Squad

Fred Martin (Aberdeen)
Willie Cunninghan (Preston North End)
Jock Aird (Burnley)
Bobby Evans (Celtic)
Tommy Docherty (Preston North End)
Jimmy Davidson (Partick Thistle)
Doug Cowie (Dundee)
John Mackenzie (Partick Thistle)
George Hamilton (Aberdeen)
Allan Brown (Blackpool)
Neil Mochan (Celtic)
Willie Fernie (Celtic)
Willie Ormond (Hibs)