Falkirk and Liverpool legend Gary Gillespie recalls his taste of samba soccer

Gary in action for Scotland in 1990. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Gary in action for Scotland in 1990. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Heraldsport is running a series of features looking ahead to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. In this edition, former Scotland defender Gary Gillespie recalls meeting Brazil at Italia ‘90.

Gary Gillespie has experienced European Cup finals and national glory with an exceptional Liverpool team in the 1980s.

But his taste of the World Cup - and Brazil - is still a stand-out memory for the Bonnybridge-born defender.

As a 23-year-old he sat on the bench as Liverpool won the European Cup in 1984, and six years later he was again on the bench as Scotland took on Brazil in the last group game of Italia 90.

“I’d been injured prior to the World Cup and hadn’t played much - but it is an incredible honour to be selected for your county’s World Cup squad.

“When we played Brazil we had the chance to go through - and we held out for a long time, and we just fell a little bit short - the Costa Rica match cost us.

“I sat that one out, and Sweden next, but was on the bench for Brazil. There were mixed emotions about missing the games, but getting on to play in the World Cup - and against Brazil - it’s a great honour.

And after missing the opening two games - he almost missed the third, as he recalls the bizarre sequence of events that led to his one and only Finals appearance against the greatest footballing nation on earth.

“Andy Roxburgh was manager and Murdo McLeod was in the midfield - he had to come off. I remember the manager looking along the bench, then he said ‘Gary, go and get warmed up’.

“Gary McAllister was on the bench with me and being a midfielder we assumed it was him going on, so he got ready and did his sprints along the touchline - I went out with him too, expecting Gary to go on, not me, after a couple of stretches and runs - it was me who went on!

“We changed formation to three at the back and Mo Johnston had a great chance late on but didn’t take it and the Brazilians got one that knocked us out.”

Disappointment - and early exits from tournaments - was not something Gillespie was used to after seven years with a successful Liverpool side.

“I had mixed emotions because I’d played at the World Cup, and against Brazil, but we had been knocked out.

“It was quite strange for me in a way because I was fortunate to play with great players at the Liverpool team in the 1980s going through a really successful time and with Scotland we couldn’t progress by the first round - but now looking back we have to see qualifying back then was the achievement for Scotland.”

A World Cup appearance, albeit a defeat, stands out in Gillespie’s rich myriad of memories form his playing days - and he has the jersey to prove it.

“It was great though - it’s what you want to do when you’re a wee boy playing in the playground - you’re either at the World Cup with Scotland or you’re a Brazilian.

“There’s something about Brazil isn’t there - and the yellow shirt. I still have the world Cup jerseys - the Scotland ones with the squad numbers and Jorginho’s from the Brazil match - he was the right-back for Bayern Munich.

“Although it wasn’t a great Brazil team in terms of their history - it was still a good team to play against.

“I grew up during the 1970s when Brazil had a fantastic team - I was watching them in Mexico 1970 - everyone wanted to be Brazilian - they’re always featured and always regarded as the definitive World Cup team - with next year’s being in Brazil it will be even more special.”

Gillespie, like many other Scots will be watching on TV - and he’s a regular on the box in his role on Liverpool FC TV commentating on games.

“I still keep an eye on Falkirk’s results, though I’ve not been back up for a while. My big sister is still in Polmont and working at our old school - Graeme High.”