Wales vs. Scotland: Remembering the Genius of Jock Stein

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Wales vs. Scotland: Remembering the Genius of Jock Stein
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
A banner tribute to Jock Stein by Celtic fans. Accompanying the banner were the words "You are immortal!"

The latest round of World Cup qualifiers includes a game between Wales and Scotland, probably a clash between two nations which will fail to qualify for the tournament. However, past games between the two nations have thrown a lot of drama, and some good football, too. (The Guardian is carrying a great piece about the best games between the two.) However, the clash will forever be synonymous with the death of Jock Stein, one of the greatest managers football has ever seen.

Achievements with Celtic

Jock Stein began his football career playing part-time for Albion Rovers. The best spell of his playing career came at Celtic, where he won the Coronation Cup in 1953 followed by a League and Cup double in 1954. However, persistent injury to his ankle led to Stein's retirement at the age of 35 in 1957.

It was as manager at Celtic though that Stein made his mark on football. In March 1965, he became the Glasgow club's first Protestant manager and the fourth manager in the history of the club. Over the next 13 years that he managed Celtic, he won the Scottish League ten times, the Scottish Cup eight times and the Scottish League Cup six times. His greatest achievement came in 1967 when Celtic won an unprecedented (and since unequaled) quadruple. In addition to the domestic treble, Celtic also became the first British side to win the European Cup. And the most amazing fact was that Stein achieved all this with a team whose players all came from within a 30 mile radius of Glasgow.

Along with Sir Matt Busby and Bill Shankly, Stein was a part of a triumvirate of inspirational Scottish managers who lifted their respective clubs from relative anonymity to an almost mythical status. His achievement in making Celtic the pre-eminent club in Scotland alone elevated Stein to the pantheon of managerial greats.

Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
A monument to Stein outside Celtic Park

 

Death by the Side of the Pitch

Stein became the manager of Scotland on his 56th birthday, only a few weeks after he began his job as the manager of Leeds United. During Stein's tenure, Scotland wasn't the anemic football nation with few world-class players that it is now. Stein's tenure as Scotland manager also saw the golden generation of Scottish footballers playing for their country, including Kenny Dalglish, Alan Hansen, Jim Leighton, Alex McLeish, Willie Miller and Graeme Souness.

Following a disappointing qualifying campaign for the European Championships in 1980, Stein led Scotland to the World Cup in Italy in 1982. Scotland beat New Zealand, lost to Brazil and drew to the Soviet Union in their games at the World Cup. They were eventually edged out in the group stage on goal difference by the Soviet Union. 

Stein appointed a young Alex Ferguson, then working his magic at Aberdeen, as his assistant during the qualifying campaign for the 1986 World Cup. In a campaign with its ups and downs, Scotland played Wales at Ninian Park in Cardiff in the final group game, needing to win in order to qualify for a playoff tie against Australia. What happened next has been widely chronicled and written about. At the end of a game where Scotland came back from a goal down to secure a draw and a place in the playoffs, Stein collapsed due to a heart attack at the side of the pitch at the final whistle. He died shortly afterwards in the stadium's medical room, even as doctors and paramedics tried desperately to revive him. Stein was only 62 at the time of his death.

A Lasting Influence

BBC Radio recently broadcast a beautiful tribute to the late Scottish manager, in which ex-Chelsea, Everton and Scotland winger Pat Nevin calls Stein the most influential manager in the history of football in Britain. Certainly, his influence on managers like Alex Ferguson, Walter Smith, Craig Brown and Jim McLean was immense. In a sense, Stein was the managerial godfather before Alex Ferguson assumed that position. There is a huge list of players who played under Stein and then went on to become successful managers, including Kenny Dalglish, Billy McNeill, Alex McLeish, Graeme Souness and Gordon Strachan.

On the occasion of the most recent match between Wales and Scotland, it is difficult not to cast one's mind back in time and remember Jock Stein and his achievements. One remembers the success he achieved and the tenets of control and man management he preached as a manager. One remembers the influence he still has on people who run the game today. And one remembers the poetic denouement to a life dedicated to football—the end of which came on the edge of the very pitch Stein prowled so fearlessly through his life.

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