'Even after nearly 50 years I can still picture it hitting the post'

Today's game at Hampden has revived memories of John Hewie's penalty miss against France in the World Cup, writes Nick Harris

Thursday 22 September 2011 04:35

Rarely a week goes by that John Hewie does not think about - and wince at - the penalty he took for Scotland against France at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden.

The "Auld Alliance" nations have met seven times in the last 50 years and will make it eight at Hampden this afternoon in Euro 2008 qualifying. For sheer magnitude, the 1958 game in Orebro - the only time the Scots have faced Les Bleus in any tournament finals - was the biggest of all, with a place in the World Cup quarter-finals at stake.

While the pioneering career of Hewie - a defender born and raised in South Africa - has provided an abundance of positive memories, his 48 years of hurt over his major missed opportunity are still evident.

"It was a stressful moment, obviously too stressful for me," Hewie, now 78, said yesterday. The penalty was awarded in the first half with the scores standing at 1-0 to France, who had Real Madrid's Raymond Kopa and the Morocco-born genius Just Fontaine in their ranks.

"I didn't just boot it anywhere, I was very deliberate," Hewie said. "I belted it towards a chosen spot, the left-hand side. I can still picture it hitting the post. It had some force to it, and it bounced straight back out, over my head. I'll never forget it."

He only took it by default, a fact he attributes to Tommy Docherty, a squad member who knew all about his versatility. Docherty was a Preston player, while Hewie had been with Charlton since 1949, one of dozens of South Africans imported by English clubs in the post-war years.

"We had a team meeting before the match. This was in the days before substitutes, so first we discussed who'd go in goal if Bill Brown got injured," Hewie said. "Tommy said, 'Hewie can do it, he stands in at Charlton'." (Hewie played four of his 500-plus Charlton games in goal, and Charlton lost none of them).

"Then we had to decide who'd take a penalty if we got one. Tommy said, 'Hewie can do it, he does for Charlton.' And that was that. When we got the kick, I took it. I'd scored a penalty for Scotland before but this time it just wasn't to be.

"My immediate reaction was, 'Sod that, let's just get on with the game'.

"Maybe my team-mates were thinking 'silly bugger', but none of them ever gave me a word of criticism. It's not as if any of them had volunteered, and I was just told to do it. Only later did it sink in. I do still wonder what might have happened had it gone in."

What actually happened was Fontaine scored on the cusp of half-time to make it 2-0 and though Scotland pulled a goal back after an hour, they lost 2-1.

France went on to the semi-finals, where they lost 5-2 to the eventual champions, Pele's Brazil. Fontaine scored 13 in the tournament, still a record. So much for the pre-match assertions of the Daily Record's star writer, Willie Gallagher, who had opined: "It is generally assumed that France are a poor team and that their only watchable player is Kopa. It is also said that France, apart from a lack of skill, are soft."

"We flew back, dispersed at the airport and that was it," Hewie said. "I got a train back to London, and saw my eldest daughter, Alison, for the first time. [She was born while Hewie was in Sweden, where his team-mates chipped in for a baby frock, a gift his family still has.] "And my wife, Rachel, told me how embarrassed she'd been that I'd missed. We'd just got a new television and all the neighbours had been round to watch the France game."

Hewie was capped 19 times between 1956 and 1960 but only set foot in Scotland for the first time to play for them. He might actually have featured for England. Walter Winterbottom, the England manager, had played him in three Football Association representative games before the Charlton doctor, a Scot called Dr Montgomery, realised Hewie's father had been born in Scotland.

"I'm not sure who he told, the Scottish FA or a Scotland selector, but I was delighted to play for the land of my father, it was always an honour.

"When all the Scottish guys got together, having a laugh, their accents got broader to the point I didn't actually know what they were saying. People would be making jokes and I'd be laughing in all the wrong places. But I never had a problem fitting in."

Hewie, who now lives in Lincolnshire, has watched for every Scotland result since he hung up his boots. He will be tuning in today in the belief that good times are ahead. "I think the current Scotland team are the best for probably 20 years," he said. "I hope they make the most of their chances. That's all you can do."

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments