In the previous edition of the Football Special Report, we looked at a classic post-reunification East vs West German club clash that featured one of the greatest strikes of all time (of the hand-to-face variety rather than a football kick). Now we fast forward a few years to Estonia and one of the shortest matches of all time.
Back in Supporter Snap Back #2, we talked about the somewhat regular pairing of Scotland and Switzerland in the early 90s through both international and club competition. But the Scots’ true rivals of the decade have got to be Estonia, with no less than 6 meetings between the two nations in 7 years from 1993 to 1999.
Flags of Scotland and Estonia.
While Scotland had come off the back of World Cup 90 and Euro 92 participation when the sides originally met in World Cup 94 qualification Group 1, Estonia were participating in their debut campaign after independence from the Soviet Union and unsurprisingly it was the experienced Scots who won the first encounter 0-3 on front of 1800 fans in Tallinn in May 93. The tally was repeated in the return tie at Aberdeen’s Pittodrie less than a month later, but this time it would also be the scene of Estonia’s first ever goal in competitive football – their one and only goal in the group as it would turn out.
Estonia score their historic first competitive goal against Scotland in Aberdeen, World Cup qualifier, 02/06/1993.
Portugal, Italy and, of course, Switzerland all finished ahead of Scotland, meaning USA 94 would be the only major tournament of the 90s that they would miss out on. After their return to a finals at Euro 96, Estonia loomed once more in the Autumn as the pair would again be battling it out for World Cup qualification in a tough Group 4 also featuring Austria and Sweden (and Belarus and Latvia).
On August 31st, Scotland started their campaign with a satisfactory draw in Vienna against Austria before defeating Estonia’s southern neighbours Latvia 0-2 in early October. On the same day Estonia also picked up their first win of the group, with a 1-0 victory over Belarus after the reverse scoreline when the sides had already met in Minsk in August.
Next up, five days later on October 9th, Scotland were to play Estonia and the team made the short Baltic journey north from Riga – obviously the result of excellent fixture scheduling by the Scottish Football Association also employed by Ireland in Latvia and Lithuania in June 93. A huge away contingent of the Tartan Army had watched the Scots win in Latvia and doubtlessly many also followed the squad across the border for the second of the double header.
Scottish banners in Riga showing their fantastic away support, Latvia vs Scotland, 04/10/1996.
All was normal up to this point, but at the under-21’s match the night before the game the Scottish staff discovered partial temporary floodlights in Tallinn’s Kadriorg Stadium not fit for international football, at least in their opinion. After making a complaint to FIFA, the governing body’s executive committee in Zurich agreed to move kick-off forward on the morning of the match from the originally scheduled 18:45 to 15:00 local time, eliminating the need for the inadequate floodlights.
Temporary floodlights in Tallinn's Kadriorg Stadium, 08/10/1996.
The Estonians were horrified at this last minute change, both from a logistical and television rights point of view, and threatened not to show up. The rescheduling also negatively effected Scottish supporters at home, as a school shooting memorial on BBC Scotland meant the game could not be shown live.
An impressive 800 Scottish supporters are in attendance at the Kadriorg, giving the away fans an remarkable 80% share in the crowd of the reported 1000 in attendance:
It’s time for the teams to come out and Scotland emerge in their classic mid 90s baggy Umbro shirt that had been debuted since the Euros (much nicer than either the Euro kit or the following World Cup kit in our opinion):
But the Estonians have been true to their word and are not present, giving Scotland a 100% share of the sides involved in the match. Witty as ever, the Scottish supporters make the most of the situation with chants like “One team in Tallinn” and “We only play in the daylight”:
The accused floodlights sit sheepishly by, their once dim glow now a distant memory never to be seen again:
The team lines up for one national anthem…:
…beefore jovial captain John Collins of AS Monaco shakes hands with the Yugoslavian referee, clearly loving the novelty of the occasion:
Much like Chile’s non-encounter with the USSR in 1973 (check out Politics On The Pitch #5 for more info), the Scottish team prepare to start a match against no opposition:
The ref blows his whistle and the Scots kick-off. Unlike with Chile though, where the home side scored a goal before the farce was ended, the whistle blows again three seconds later, as – shockingly – there is no opponent present to contest the match:
The away side are delighted as it seems the three points are their’s without having to break a sweat. Heroic captain Collins, among other players, emotionally raises his arms in glorious victory, like a lion rampant:
As the players stroll off they applaud their support, who amazingly sang for 100% of the match:
Not everyone is enjoying themselves quite so much, as a stoned faced Andy Goram storms off with eyes facing the down:
Perhaps this is more in attempt to keep attention away from his mismatched salmon goalkeeper shirt with yellow shorts and socks:
The Scottish occupied main stand continue to sing and will enjoy the rest of their night in the Estonian capital, with one step closer to France 98 completed:
Or so they thought. As it turned out there would be another difference to the Chile-USSR affair, as in this instance FIFA did not award the game to the Scots with a 0-3 walkover as had originally be expected.
Following an executive committee meeting in November it was decided for the game to be replayed on neutral ground, much to the annoyance of the SFA. Accusations from some quarters were thrown at Swede Lennart Johansson, president of UEFA and chair of the committee, at attempting to give his native land an advantage in the group by forcing their rivals to replay the tie.
Funnily enough, at least one player would in fact be on home ground, as the Stade Louis II was chosen as the venue – stadium of John Collin’s Monaco. On February 11th, 1997, the game at last took place, with Johansson’s evil Swedish plan seemingly working as the Estonians were able to hold the Scots to a 0-0 draw (perhaps channeling Sweden’s period of rule over Estonia from 1558 and 1710).
Monaco hosts an international; is that a totenkopf in the middle of the Scottish flags? Estonia vs Scotland, World Cup qualifier, 11/02/1997.
Just over a month later, the sides would play again in Rugby Park, Kilmarnock, with a 2-0 victory for Scotland. But on April 30th, dastardly Sweden would again damage Scottish qualification hopes with a 2-1 defeat in Gothenburg.
With Sweden taking on Estonia on the last game of the group, it would be nice to conclude the story with the Baltic state redeeming themselves and throwing off their Scandinavian yoke once again to cause an upset allowing Scotland to qualify. It wasn’t to be, as the World Cup 94 3rd placed team won 1-0.
However Scotland’s win over Latvia at the same time, itself a former Swedish dominion, gave them 23 points anyway – two behind Austria but two ahead of Sweden. While the rest of the second place finishers entered play-offs against each other, this total made Scotland the best placed runners-up in qualifying which delivered an automatic qualification spot – much to the displeasure of a fuming Mr Johhansson no doubt.