Another tradition, especially if you're English, is to remind those kindly Scottish folk that their national team are as likely to reach the Second Round of the World Cup as it is of winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. It's an old joke and getting more and more worn out with every passing year.
Yet a friend of The Football Attic, Andrew Rockall, seems to have come up with a valid reason why Scotland failed to progress beyond the group stage of at least one World Cup Finals. Andrew writes:
'Have you ever wondered how the 1982 World Cup would have played out if they'd used a different format - say the one used in 1986?'
If we're honest, we hadn't. Some of you will remember that the 1982 tournament employed a system whereby the winners and runners-up of the six First Round groups qualified for the Second Round, who in turn were distributed among four groups of three. After that, the winners of the Second Round groups went through to the Semi Finals and so on, thus:
For the 1986 World Cup, the format was tweaked... or 'made more complicated' as people usually remember it. In the First Round, the top two from each of the six groups progressed along with the four best teams that finished third in their groups. After that, a plain and simple knockout format was brought in, but it's that First Round change that prompted Andrew to wonder how things might have been if the 1986 format was applied to the 1982 competition:
"I have followed the logic of the draw from 1986 to get the four best 3rd-placed qualifiers from each of the original groups. I ranked them 1 to 4 by points and goal difference..."
The result is a knockout stage for the 1982 World Cup that looks very different from the one shown above:
Andrew speculates which teams would have won each of the matches from the Second Round onwards and estimates "a France-Italy final, with France winning. They'd played each other in February that year, with the French winning 2-0."
But wait a minute - what's that curious blue flag with a white 'X' on it? Yes folks, that's Scotland, and according to Andrew's calculations they'd have progressed from their First Round group in 1982 if the 1986 system had been in use. A meeting with West Germany may well have snuffed out any hopes they'd have had of winning the trophy, but even so... this could have been history being made right before our very eyes.
And so we thank Andrew Rockall for this precious glimpse at what might have been. Next week: The Football Attic looks at the effect of goal-line technology on England's victory over West Germany in the 1966 World Cup Final...