Faroes 1 Orkneys 2; Almost 40 Years Ago, the Little Orkney Islands Sent a Team of Local Fishermen, Sailors and Tradesmen to Tackle the Faroe Islands. They Won 2-1 and Went on to Win the North Atlantic Cup . . . How Alex McLeish Would Settle for the Same Scoreline as Scotland Try to Bury the Ghosts of Past International Nightmares
Byline: STEPHEN MCGOWAN
THEY were the first Scottish team to triumph in the Faroe Islands. And some 40 years on, the veterans of the Orkney Islands still have the glittering prize to prove it.
Amidst the stone and bronze age exhibits of the Tankerness House Museum in Kirkwall stands the North Atlantic Cup.
A handsome trophy worth a princely [pounds sterling]150 was donated by a Faroese businessman to persuade the Orcadians to participate with the Shetlands in a round-robin tournament. Few of the players hastily assembled from the best of the islands' amateur teams believed they would win it.
Over a five-year timespan just 12 games were played. When this epic event finished, the Orkneys had emerged undefeated from the scene of two of the Scotland national team's greatest embarrassments.
On the same Torshavn pitch where bemused Italian superstars Rino Gattuso and Bayern-bound Luca Toni ploughed their way to a narrow Euro 2008 victory on Saturday, the part-time amateurs showed Alex McLeish's men the art of the possible.
Scotland's last two visits to world football's bleakest outpost brought humiliation. In the Kirkwall and Stromness bars, the dismal displays remain a source of mild bemusement.
'It was amazing the night they drew 2-2 with Scotland,' recalls ex-Orkney captain Eric Kemp, twice a visitor to the Faroes and twice undefeated. Now the owner of an outdoor pursuits and sports store in Kirkwall the 65-year-old admitted: 'We must have been the only folk in the country with a wry grin that night. But the Faroes were always forward-thinking in football terms.
They were always destined to improve.
'They had flown in a Norwegian coach and I remember speaking to him before the game we won in 1968. He was a bit patronising, saying we had a good team but wouldn't beat them. We said to ourselves before the game: "We'll show him".' Like an international friendly, the two sides lined up before the games to meet local dignitaries.
Embarrassment may now be a familiar sensation when Scots footballers visit the islands, but in those rather straitlaced days the shame was of a more innocuous nature.
' There's a picture where I'm standing as captain holding a bunch of flowers they insisted on handing out,' said Kemp. 'I've never lived it down.' Yet in a sporting and friendship sense, the two games in Torshavn were a personal highlight. A 2-1 triumph in July 1968 was played in a mudbath wholly suited to the combative Scots islanders.
Orkney footballing historian Jockie Wood recalls a 6-6 draw with Hamilton Academicals in 1958, followed by a respectable 2-0 defeat to Hearts in 1973.
This was, however, unchartered territory.
'I don't think Orkney were in any way intimidated or overawed by the prospect of playing the Faroes,' said Wood. 'After all, they regularly took on Highland League opposition and gave as good as they got.' Yet, the fact that the victory of '68 is still recalled so many years on is indicative of its importance to the islands. A similar result for the Scots would suffice.
'There was great camaraderie between the boys,' Kemp added.
'But we all played for different teams in Orkney and had only really been training for about four weeks before the game, running together and things.
'We played on a cinder pitch and that gave us the impetus to win. It really bucketed down with rain before the game and the ball bounced really slowly.
That suited us fine because it was like that in Orkney the whole time.
'That won the game for us because in Orkney we liked a slide tackle and in those conditions it was easier. …