THEY say you should never meet your heroes, but for Jim McCalliog, the experience has been rather rewarding.
The first time he was introduced to his childhood idol Denis Law was when he joined the Scotland squad ahead of their home international match against England at Wembley in 1967.
He had cheered on the Manchester United striker from the terraces as a schoolboy and found the meeting nerve-racking.
“I was more afraid of meeting Denis than playing against England,” McCalliog told Hampden yesterday as he launched his autobiography, Wembley Wins Wembley Woes. “Honestly, I swear it. It was the most frightening. He was my hero.
Taking on Sir Alf Ramsey’s all-star team, who had won the World Cup the previous year, in front of a crowd of 99,063 was a walk in the park after that.
The 20-year-old debutant scored what turned out to be the winning goal in a famous 3-2 triumph that has since entered Scottish football folklore with three minutes remaining.
“The first person to come to congratulate me was my hero,” said McCalliog. “It’s not getting much better. It was definitely the peak of my career. ”
But Law, who had been named European Footballer of the Year three years earlier, was by no means the only superstar in Bobby Brown’s squad that afternoon.
“In the locker room before playing against England I looked around and I was like, ‘Why are England so big favorites?’ Said McCalliog.
“We had four guys who were going to win the European Cup (Celtic players Ronnie Simpson, Tommy Gemmell, Bobby Lennox and Willie Wallace) and two guys who were going to win the European Cup Winners’ Cup (Rangers players John Greig and Ronnie McKinnon).
“Then we had the Anglos, Jim Baxter, Eddie McCreadie and Billy Bremner. Don’t forget Billy. He was a great player with Leeds and Scotland. So there were heroes in there.
McCalliog, who himself has played for Chelsea, Sheffield Wednesday, Wolves, Manchester United and Southampton, believes having a number of players plying their trade in the English top flight has been important to the resurgence of the current Scottish team.
“You can tell a lot about the players who come into the team through their body language,” he said. “When they play in the English Prime Minister they pull the chest out and have a little more boast. Players who may not be part of such a great team may be more timid. It gives everyone confidence and you can feel it on them.
No individual McCalliog has ever been on a team with more self-confidence than Baxter. The great Ranger, who was then in the south with Sunderland, played the role of goalkeeper towards the end of the victory against England. But he was liquidating his teammates long before kick-off.
“Baxter would strut,” he said. “He was the most confident player I have ever seen. We had finished training one day and he was sitting on the bus. He had a pen and a piece of paper. I said, ‘What are you doing? Are you a print journalist now? He said, ‘No, I pick the lousy team. You are fine, sit down.
The 75-year-old believes the emergence of a few new icons has helped Scotland put decades of disappointment and failure behind them.
“What makes the difference now is that the Scottish support has heroes,” he said. “Andy Robertson, Kieran Tierney, Scott McTominay, John McGinn and Billy Gilmour. Every nation needs heroes. Looking back, we had heroes in abundance.
“If we had a striker who was scoring goals more regularly it would make all the difference. But everywhere else on the pitch we are much better and defensively we are much better. Steve Clarke was a great date, he’s down to earth and a great guy with a great CV.
“It’s a tough game on Saturday. We look like we’ve been drawn against Israel so many times. It’s a good team. But if we get the result – which I think we’ll do on Saturday – that would be wonderful for the nation. ”
McCalliog was overcome with emotion when Law, the footballer he loved growing up and had the chance to play alongside Scotland, agreed to write the forward for his autobiography.
“I called him and when he said ‘yes’ I broke down in tears,” he said. “It’s horrible news about Denis (he was diagnosed with dementia). He is not only one of the best players Scotland has ever had, he is also a great human being.
Wembley Wins Wembley Woes by Jim McCalliog with a Preface by Denis Law is available for purchase now.