Scotland only have memories of the World Cup which starts in Brazil in 175 days, and we’re again on the outside looking in - just as it was the last time it was held in the South American carnival city of Rio de Janeiro.
But one Scot - from Bainsford - had a front row position - right on the touchline in the 1950 showpiece final when the host country, Brazil was upset by Uruguay.
George Mitchell was one of Scotland’s foremost officials and ran the line at the Maracana on July 16, 1950 - making him the first Scot to take an active part in the World Cup final.
And just as the nation got by on memories of tournaments gone by since the last qualification in 1998, Mitchell has left a treasure trove of memories of his career in scrapbooks and assorted memorabilia.
“He was 6’2” - a big impressive guy,” says Norrie Thomson, his son-in-law and custodian of a treasure trove of 20th century football paraphernalia, “but he never really spoke of the World Cup final, nor his career very much.”
Being lost for words is particularly appropriate as, of what he did convey from the final was “you could hear a pin drop when Uruguay scored. It was the silence he remembered, quite something when you consider he said there were 198,000 in the Maracana - plenty more than the 173,000 officially recorded.”
But as privileged an honour it was of providing assistance to final referee George Reader, and opposite his fellow linesman - Arthur Ellis (of It’s a Knockout fame) - Mitchell’s other claim to fame seems to rank highly with his contemporaries and in his scrapbook - he was the last Scotsman to referee an Auld Enemy clash at Wembley.
“That was a big deal of the time, though he did receive several congratulatory messages for his place at the World Cup.” There are telegrams, one praising the career of “G. Mitchell, of Arbroath and Rio’ from George Burt. There’s also menus from the Hotel Serrador, airline tickets, match ticket stubs, an architect’s plan of the Maracana structure and postcards of the Copacabana.
“He and the other British referees would walk along the beach and he was amazed at the skills on show by the locals having a game there.”
It sounds idyllic and Mitchell - who was very proud of his Bainsford roots like his namesake cousin of Black and White minstrel fame - was offered the opportunity to remain in South America after the tournament to take on responsibilities in the local leagues. “He had a family though. At the time, £200 was a lot of money but he was put off because at the time, referees were being shot or killed in Brazil.”
An easy decision? Perhaps, but Mitchell, otherwise an office manager at Bisons, was only paid expenses for refereeing and assisting games on the greatest stage of all.
Proud of his Bainsford roots - and an ardent Shire supporter after growing up the son of ex-Shire and Falkirk player David in Phillip Street, Falkirk - he was a promising player, capped for Scotland schoolboys at Falkirk High before ‘going Junior’ with Strathallan Haws. Injury curtailed his exploits and he moved into officiating aged 25 and progressed to the very highest level, Grade One, in 1942.
During his time he encountered many famous players including one in a local match who stood out.
“I made a mental note after a match in Grangemouth about a young left-back - he turned out to be George Young,” Mitchell revealed in a newspaper interview.
Norrie added: “He referee’d Willie Woodburn - the Rangers player who was banned sine die - but he said he was never a problem and just spoke to players and talked them through the game.
“Usually it was a penny tossed at the start of the match, but he was renowned amongst the players for using half a crown.”
Once on the FIFA list, instead of being handed schedules or matches, Mitchell would write to associations offering his availability and for one, he had to pay five shillings to join the FA of Ireland - changed days from now.
He stepped down from the referees’ list in 1962, but remained involved as an assessor in the stand until stepping back completely with a resignation letter to famous SFA administrator Ernie Walker - that’s included in his cuttings.
Upon retirement, he was given a memento from the refereeing association - a silver Acme Thunderer whistle - and has a trophy for the local Stirlingshire Association named in his honour for the best local referee.
Asked in a Falkirk Herald interview in 1986 who his tip for that year’s World Cup was, of course, the answer was obvious. “I have a feeling that Brazil might just do it. They are playing in temperatures they are used to and this makes all the difference.”
George died in Bonnybridge in 1996, but given his reasoning, his tip might not be too far off the Maracana on July 13 next year - just short of 64 years to the day since the final and self-proclaimed ‘Bainsford boy’ was last on duty there.