Scotland ’78: A Love Story

Archie Gemmill v Netherlands

Oh my, 40 years ago, the Scottish national football team was riding the crest of a wave. Packed with star players, Scotland was heading to Argentina as the only home nation to have qualified for the 1978 World Cup tournament.

Manager Ally MacLeod led from the front and his wise-cracking optimism personified the country’s mood. He wasn’t alone in believing this was the best squad Scotland had ever sent overseas – and that this could be the year.

But over eight days, the stellar squad stumbled from disappointment to calamity. Shortly after arriving to an enthusiastic welcome from the locals at the team’s base, the group was facing unexpected challenges on and off the pitch.

From poor results against so-called weaker teams, to a failed drugs test and a fans’ rebellion, the campaign has gone down in the annals as one of the most infamous. But four decades on, this compelling documentary takes a long hard look at Ally’s Army and asks whether the Summer of 78 was really so bad.

Using previously unseen footage, player recollections, and fans’ diaries and photos Scotland ’78: A Love Story charts the journey of the team and its followers on a remarkable footballing odyssey.

Former players such as Willie Johnston – who was in the eye of the storm – captain Bruce Rioch, Lou Macari, Derek Johnstone and Alan Rough give their insights from within the embattled camp as the problems mounted.

Members of the Tartan Army have been tracked down to tell the stories of the sacrifices they made to get to the finals. Another recalls the challenge a remote community faced to watch the tournament on television back home.

And members of Ally MacLeod’s family reflect on their feelings as a media storm engulfed the manager 7,000 miles away when the wheels started to come off the bandwagon.

The consequences of the failed campaign were felt beyond the stadiums in South America. To this day pub scholars wonder aloud if the poor performance on the pitches of Cordoba and Mendoza in 1978 resulted in a low turnout for the referendum the following year.

It’s a story that features wild optimism, farce, sadness, scandal and ultimately one of the most uplifting moments in Scotland’s footballing history.

Scotland ‘78: A Love Story – Tuesday 10.55pm on BBC One.