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Why Scotland rejected the chance to play at the 1950 Brazilian World Cup

Scotland qualified for the World Cup the last time it was in Brazil. They didn't play. Stuart Kenny finds out why.

World Cup 1950 logo

Picture the scene: Scotland have just finished second in Group A in the qualification process for the 2014 World Cup. We’re heading to the play-offs, and if we win there then it’s off to Brazil.

The supporters and players are geared up for the big match, but just as they begin to build their hopes they’re told the prospect is over before the play-off has even begun.

It has been decided that it would only have been honourable to compete in Brazil had the country won their qualification group. Nothing other than first place will suffice, the nation must withdraw. And just like that, the dream is gone.

It seems completely unfathomable, but that is what happened to the Scotland international team last time the World Cup was held in Brazil in 1950.

To fully understand what went on, we need to make a couple of quick pit stops in 1920 and at the end of the Second World War in 1945, when FIFA was looking to get the World Cup back on track after a seven year hiatus. Get your DeLoreans at the ready.

When the World Cup first started, none of the Home Nations were involved due to a falling out with FIFA back in the 1920s. FIFA wanted to embrace professionalism, but Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland all felt that payment of players was not in the spirit of the game. After WW2, FIFA were keen to make amends, and were prepared to go to some lengths to get the countries involved in their next global contest.

What was agreed upon was that a member of the SFA would be given the vice presidency of FIFA, and that when Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales held the 1950 British International Championships, whichever two teams finished in the top two places would automatically be granted a spot in the following World Cup finals in Brazil. It might be an idea to ring Sepp Blatter and see if he would reinstall these terms for 2018.

What would happen next was the kind of move that would spark angry mobs with flaming torches and an implosion of Twitter if it occurred in modern day football. The SFA secretary, and chief exec at the time, George Graham proclaimed that Scotland would only accept their place at the finals if they won the British Championship, second place simply would not do. Anyone with a sense of Scottish fatalism will be able to guess what happened next.

It must be remembered that this was in an era when the British Championships were the real focal point of international football for Scotland, with the World Cup proving merely an upcoming side-project that had shown no real historical draw. For the SFA, organising a trip to Brazil could incur a long list of bills that they could do without paying, and the Scottish chiefs were struggling to see what they would get in return.

Nevertheless, it looked like Graham’s comments would prove irrelevant. An 8-2 defeat of Northern Ireland and a 2-0 defeat of Wales meant that Scotland needed only to draw with English at Hampden to be declared ‘joint victors’ of the tournament in an time when goal difference wasn’t accounted for.

Of course, with at least second place guaranteed at this point, England had already accepted their invite from FIFA, so the pressure was all on Scotland, and a turnout of 134,000 at Hampden meant the players couldn’t forget it.

Needless to say, England won 1-0, with Scotland hitting the bar but failing to find the net. The country weren’t going to the World Cup, even though they had earned the right to do so.The begging of a nation began. Led by Scotland captain George Young and backed up by England skipper Billy Wright, the country pleaded with the SFA to overturn their decision and accept the invitation. Whether it was stubbornness, the tightening of purse-strings or a combination of the above, Graham kept his word, and there would be no Brazilian carnival.

Some consolation of sorts could be taken for the Scots as they watched England crumble on their Brazilian crusades, falling out early at the hands of an American side managed by a Scot, and captained by by Greenock native Ed McIlvenny. Ultimately, the decision that was made meant that the nation was not to be involved in the first World Cup to welcome an attendance of well over one million – a tally not to be equalled again till that relatively insignificant contest of 1966.

It would not be until the 1954 tournament in Switzerland, four years later that, Scotland would finally get their first taste of World Cup action. How did they qualify for the tournament that time around?

They finished second in the British Championships of course.

You can follow Stuart Kenny on Twitter

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