THEY say that you should never meet your heroes, but for Jim McCalliog the experience proved rather rewarding. 

The first time that he was introduced to his boyhood idol Denis Law was when he joined the Scotland squad before 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 encounter nerve-wracking.

“I was more apprehensive about meeting Denis than playing against England,” said McCalliog at Hampden yesterday as he launched his autobiography, Wembley Wins Wembley Woes. “Honestly, I swear. That was the scariest. He was my hero.”

Taking on Sir Alf Ramsey’s star-studded side, who had won the World Cup the year before, in front of a crowd of 99,063 was a walk in the park after that.

The 20-year-old debutant scored what proved 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 over to congratulate me was my hero,” said McCalliog. “It doesn’t get much better. It was definitely the pinnacle of my career.”

But Law, who had been named the European Footballer of the Year award three years earlier, was by no means the only superstar in Bobby Brown’s team that afternoon.

“In the dressing room before we played England I was looking around and thinking: ‘Why are England such big favourites?’” 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 tremendous player with Leeds and Scotland. So there were some heroes in there.”

McCalliog, who himself played for Chelsea, Sheffield Wednesday, Wolves, Manchester United and Southampton, believes that having a number of players who ply their trade in the English top flight has been important to the current Scotland team’s resurgence.

“You can tell a lot about players coming in to the team by their body language,” he said. “When they are playing in the English Premier they stick their chest out and have a bit more of a swagger. Players who are maybe not at as big a team are maybe shyer. It gives confidence to everyone and you can feel it off them.”

No individual who McCalliog was ever in a team with exuded more self-belief than Baxter. The Rangers great, who was down south with Sunderland by then, famously played keepie-uppie towards the end of the win over England. But he was winding up his team mates long before kick-off. 

“Baxter would strut about,” he said. “He was the most confident player I ever saw. We had finished training one day and he was sat on the bus. He had a pen and a bit of paper. I said to him: ‘What are you doing? Are you a paper reporter now?’ He said: ‘No, I’m picking the ugly team. You’re alright, sit down’.”

The 75-year-old believes the emergence of a few new icons has enabled Scotland to put decades of disappointment and failure behind them. 

“What makes the difference is now the Scotland support have some 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 scoring goals more regularly, that would make all the difference. But everywhere else on the pitch we’re a lot better and defensively we’re a lot better. Steve Clarke was a great appointment, he’s down to earth and a proper guy with a great CV. 

"It's a tough game on Saturday. We seem to have been drawn against Israel so many times. They are a good team. But if we get the result - which I think we will do on Saturday - that would be marvellous for the nation.”

McCalliog was overcome by emotion when Law, the footballer he had worshipped growing up and was fortunate enough to play alongside with Scotland, agreed to write the forward for his autobiography.

“I rang him up and when he said ‘yes’ I just burst into tears,” he said. “It’s horrendous, the news about Denis (he has been diagnosed with dementia). He’s not only one of the best players Scotland’s ever had, he’s also a great human being.”

 

Wembley Wins Wembley Woes by Jim McCalliog with a foreword by Denis Law is available to buy now.