Willie Ormond

Willie Ormond
Willie Ormond

Only one team finished the 1974 World Cup undefeated. It wasn’t the “total football” Dutch side that boasted Cruyff, Neeskens and van Hanegem in its ranks. It wasn’t even the eventual champions, West Germany, who lifted the trophy on home soil but lost a group match against their East German neighbours.

As every football fan knows, Scotland were the only side to fly home from Germany without tasting defeat, exiting on goal difference in the group stage. The man who led the team to their best ever showing at a finals tournament was Willie Ormond.

Ormond was already a well known name before entering management. As an outside-left he had been part of Hibernian’s celebrated “Famous Five” front line and was a prolific goalscorer who earned six Scotland caps.

As a player, Ormond was picked to travel to the World Cup of 1954 but his first experience of the finals was not a happy one. Ormond played in the 1-0 defeat to Austria and a crushing 7-0 loss to Uruguay. It would be 20 years before he would get another crack at the World Cup and this tie from the manager’s dugout.

When his playing career finished at Falkirk in 1962, the forward took on the assistant manager’s role at the club but became a manager in his own right in 1967 when he took the reins at St Johnstone. The move proved a resounding success, with Ormond leading the club to third place in the top division on two occasions, still their highest ever league placing.

Name Teams Managed Honours
Willie Ormond St Johnstone, Scotland, Hearts, Hibernian Only Scotland manager to go unbeaten at a World Cup finals

There was cup success as well, with Saints reaching the League Cup final in 1969 and qualifying for Europe for the first time in their history. Ormond masterminded wins over Hamburg and Vassar but were knocked out in the Third Round by Željezniar. When St Johnstone moved to McDiarmid Park in 1989, the ground’s South Stand was named in his honour.

Having shown what he could do with a club outside the established power base in the Premier League, Ormond was named as successor to Tommy Docherty as national team boss in 1973. He secured qualification for the 1974 finals with a win over Czechoslovakia and prepared for the tournament with a decent showing in the home internationals, making up for a loss to Northern Ireland with wins over Wales and England.

It wasn’t all plain sailing though, as Ormond was the man in charge of one of the wilder Scottish international squads. Just a month before the finals, Ormond and his squad were preparing at Largs when the infamous Jimmy Johnstone rowing boat incident took place. After a drunken night out, the Celtic winger found himself in a row boat drifting out to sea. Despite two team-mates trying to come to his rescue in a dinghy with a hole in it, local fisherman had to come to his rescue and Ormond became one of many Scotland managers dealing with a disciplinary incident in the full glare of the media spotlight.

Speaking about his unruly players, Ormond made it clear that there was to be no repeat. “The next one to step out of line knows it’s bingo, pack the bags and go home,” he said before softening the hard line stance by looking on the only possible bright side. “It’s better that it should happen here than a month later in Germany,” he added.

A month later in Germany, Ormond went closer than any other manager to taking Scotland past the first round of a finals tournament. A routine 2-0 win over Zaire got things off to an encouraging start and a goalless draw with Brazil had the Scots on the brink of making history.

A 1-1 draw with Yugoslavia, with a late Joe Jordan goal preserving the unbeaten run, would have been enough to send Scotland through in any other group but with Brazil beating Zaire 3-0 in the other group match, results conspired against the Scots and saw them edged out.

Those results alone make Ormond a memorable Scotland boss and though he continued as boss until 1977, further indiscipline by the players meant he never got a chance to better his record. He returned to club management, surprisingly with Hearts, arch-rivals of his old side Hibs and then crossed the divide again to manage the Easter Road side very briefly before poor health forced him to retire. Ormond died in 1984, aged 57.

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