Monday 11 October 2021

Faroes Flashback: When Scotland Suffered What Some Called Their Worst Result Since 1872

Tomorrow night Scotland travel to the Faroe Islands for what should seemingly be a routine World Cup qualifying victory, but just over 19 years ago things weren't so simple. In September 2002 Scotland went to the Faroes to face the side considered one of Europe's minnows and left very much with egg on their faces. Here is the story.

‘Faroe misery for Scots’ was the headline on the BBC website when Scotland drew 1-1 away against one of the minnows of European football in 1999. But that was nothing compared to the uproar after the pair met again three years later when Scotland headed back to the Faroe Islands for what was an even more lacklustre performance. Once again it would be a case of two points dropped for the visitors but if it were not for a second-half fightback it would have been so much worse.

Whilst Scotland participated in the very first international football match against England almost 150 years ago, the Faroe Islands are relative newcomers to the international scene. Having not joined FIFA until 1988, when they faced Scotland at home in a Euro 2004 qualifier on 7 September 2002 it was just ten years since they’d played their first ever competitive match.

The Faroes had stunned the footballing world when they defeated Austria 1-0 in that first ever game in 1992. But for those living on this small rocky outcrop of Islands about 450 miles north of the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, it would be 21 defeats and one draw before they next won a meaningful contest. Even then it was only against the tiny enclave of San Marino, at the time ranked second worst in all of Europe just above Liechtenstein. The Faroes would win just five more times in their first ten years of competitive action, once more against San Marino and twice against both of Luxembourg and Malta, two also very lowly ranked sides. This was a team of part-timers who lost to everyone bar the few most woeful of sides and they went into the Scotland game ranked as low as 123rd in the world.

Scotland had narrowly missed out on a play-off place in World Cup 2002 qualifying and, under the guise of German manager Berti Vogts installed at the beginning of the year, the Faroe Islands match was the first game of what they hoped would be a promising Euro 2004 qualifying campaign. All expectations of a solid start in that opening group match were soon quashed, however, when in front of about 4,000 hardy spectators, Scotland found themselves two down after just 12 minutes thanks to a brace from the Faroes' Jon Petersen. The home fans were left in dreamland as they wildly waved their flags for each goal.

Albeit all friendlies, Vogts had lost four of his first five games in charge and such a disastrous start against the Faroes did nothing to ease the pressure already slowly starting to mount on him. Vogts hadn't done himself any favours in the build up to the game by criticising the choice of venue from the hosts in what some might have considered getting his excuses in early. But surely even he can't have expected such a horrendous beginning from his side. 

Now reachable via a seven mile car tunnel, at the time getting to the host venue of Toftir would have involved a ferry ride from the Faroe Islands' main city of Torshavn to what some might have considered barely more than a hamlet. Whilst consolidating his thoughts on that journey, however, one can't imagine Scotland's main man in the dugout thought anything less than a win was possible. 

2-0 would end up being the half-time scoreline in what was turning out to be one of Scotland's most embarrassing shows. The BBC website stated in their match report that the Faroes had 'looked superior for long periods' in that opening 45 minutes and they weren't wrong. The Independent even went as far as to say it was 'the most ignominious first half in Scotland's history.'

No matter what happened in the second-half nothing would be able to hide what had happened in the first but in the end, Scotland were at least able to save face a little. First, a Paul Lambert strike on 62 minutes gave the visitors hope and then with seven to play Barry Ferguson saved Scotland's blushes by grabbing an equaliser. The captains of Scotland's two Old Firm giants Celtic and Rangers had both united for the cause with the goals that turned a catastrophe into a slightly less disastrous bad day at the office. 

It was still a terrible result, bad enough for Rob McLean on commentary duty for BBC Scotland television to describe it as 'Inept, woeful, pitiful', but it had come very close to being even worse. Nonetheless, it was still, according to The Scotsman at least, 'Scotland’s worst result since 1872.' 

Bert Vogts meanwhile was seemingly perplexed as to how his side had been so abjectly poor. "I can't understand what happened," he exclaimed before agreeing that the performance was "Not good enough for international football."

In a post match poll, conducted by the BBC, 64% of fans said Vogts should lose his job and although he ended up hanging around for another two years before his eventual resignation in 2004 they were not very happy ones. By the end of his tenure Scotland had failed to qualify for the European Championships, only picked up two points from their opening three qualifying matches for the 2006 World Cup, all against lesser opposition, and dropped to a record low of 77 in the FIFA world rankings. His final match in charge was a 1-1 draw in qualifying against Moldova who would end up finishing bottom of the World Cup qualifying group with seven defeats from their 10 games.

Scotland defeated the Faroes 3-1 in the return match and a further three matches against the same opposition in the years since have seen Scotland score a total of 11 goals without reply. Neither side will forget that September 2002 clash, however, and especially not Scotland. For the Scots, the match would come to epitomise probably more than any other what ended up being easily the most impoverished period in their footballing history. Part of an almost 22 year period where, after the 1998 World Cup, they missed out on qualification for no fewer than ten major tournaments, that afternoon in Toftir was arguably the lowest moment of it all.

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