The Scotland kit that adorned one of the finest ever sides to come out of Uist
As a twelve year old I remember sitting on the front steps of our house in the summer sunshine reading about the drug scandal that wrecked Scotland’s hopes of progressing to the knockout stages. Willie Johnston was the fall guy after the Rangers winger tested positive for a banned stimulant contained in Reactivan, a medication prescribed for the player’s hay fever.
Little did I know then that a story linking Johnston, Scotland and the 1978 Argentina World Cup would end up being a part of Uist and Barra football folklore. I don’t remember anything being reported about it at the time but shortly after that World Cup, Northend football club - at that point the pre-eminent side in Uist and arguably Western Isles football - came into possession of a new set of white strips courtesy of a contact within the Scottish Football Association.
I was reminded of this story a few years back when I recorded some interviews with Roddy MacLeod, Ruairidh a’ Mhuilich, one of Northend’s great midfielders from that golden era of Uist football. Roddy told me that his uncle Lachlan MacLeod who lived in Glasgow managed to get a set of strips from his brother-in-law who worked at the SFA. It turned out to be the away all-white kit Scotland had taken to Argentina, and while it was never worn in the games against Peru, Iran and Holland, it clearly had been used for training as it came to Northend unwashed and with blood stains on the number eleven shirt, presumably worn by Johnston.
Northend went on to use this strip for a couple of years and was the kit they wore when they won the Western Isles Cup for the first time against Ness in 1979. After a 1-1 draw at Goathill the replay was at Rangehead with Northend winning 2-0 to lift the trophy against a great Ness side that featured the likes of Corrie MacRitchie, Calum Finlay Morrison, James Thomson, John ‘Cloodie’ MacLeod and Pongo Munro.
The picture above this article shows Northend wearing that Scotland strip on the day of the replay. From left to right, back row, Seonaidh Beag MacLeod, Ewen Campbell, Alasdair (Garbh) MacDonald, Archie MacRury, Calum ‘Dolly’ MacDonald and John Angus MacDonald. Front row - Roddy MacLeod, Cailean MacRury, John Angus (Ucca) MacIntyre, Donald John MacDonald and Iain MacDonald.
Apart from the late Angus Peter MacLean, who for some reason wasn’t involved that day, this would have been Northend’s greatest ever side, something they proved the following year when they travelled to Fivepenny and somehow came away with a 5-1 win. I say ‘somehow’ as the players against the express wishes of their manager, Father Colin MacInnes, had broken a curfew the night before and sneaked out of the Cross Inn where they were staying to go to a local dance where Geordie Jack’s Colorado were playing.
Suffice to say they were the worse for wear and suffering the mother of all hangovers when they took to the field the next day. Leading 1-0 at half-time they collapsed in fits of laughter in the dressing room wondering how they could possibly be leading at home to Ness after the night out they had just enjoyed. Undeterred they went back out and scored another four to run out 5-1 winners.
In the immediate aftermath of that match Roddy remembers the players deciding it was a unique one-off occasion and resolving never to go out again the night before an important match. We both know that resolution didn’t last too long but Northend’s success story continued anyway with a three-year unbeaten run from 1978 to 1981, most of which coincided with them wearing that all-white Scotland kit which travelled all the way from Buenos Aires to Geirinis, South Uist.