Charlie Nicholas will be 54 on December 30th. It’s fair to say that Charlie had a great start to his Scotland career with that wonder strike against Switzerland but sadly it could be argued that was the pinnacle of his time in the dark blue of Scotland.
It had all started so well that night on 30th March, 1983 in a European Championship Qualifier against Switzerland at Hampden. Charlie’s form for Celtic that season had merited him starting upfront in his first International alongside Kenny Dalglish.
Scotland’s qualifying campaign had already faltered despite an opening win against East Germany at Hampden; two successive defeats in Belgium and Switzerland had Scotland already looking as though we were on our way out of the competition.
Also, making his debut that night was Richard Gough, then of Dundee United.
Scotland did not get off to a great start that evening as the Swiss went in to an early lead and had doubled it in 57 minutes. John Wark scored for Scotland in the 70th minute following a great through ball by Paul McStay. Six minutes later and a flick with his right foot and a volley on his left saw Charlie set Hampden alight. A star was born or so we thought.
Charlie started in two of the following Home International games a nil nil draw with Northern Ireland and a two nil defeat to England at Wembley. Scotland had beaten Wales two nil at Ninian Park in between with goals from Alan Brazil and Andy Gray.
A tour of Canada saw Scotland play the hosts three times in quick succession; Charlie would start in all three games scoring in the second match as Scotland ran out 3-0 winners.
October 1983 saw Charlie start against Belgium in our penultimate qualifier. Belgium had already qualified and it was no surprise when they took the lead in the 30th minute. However, the Scots pulled one back as Charlie scored following a great flick on from Kenny Dalglish. This would be Charlie’s first cap as an Arsenal player. There’s been thousands of words said about Charlie’s wisdom in picking Arsenal and the lights of London over a host of other teams to join, suffice to say I’m not going to add to it.
Charlie would miss quite a few games over the next few months and now found himself down the pecking order with Mo Johnston then of Watford, having come into the team. Charlie came on as a sub in a 2-0 away defeat to France in a friendly in June 1984 and a few months later would do so again in that astonishing 6-1 thrashing of Yugoslavia at Hampden with Nicholas completing the rout with the last goal.
In October, Charlie scored his fifth Scotland goal in only his tenth international, once more coming on as a sub at Hampden in a World Cup Qualifier against Iceland. Scotland won 3-0 with a first half double from Paul McStay starting the scoring. This would be Charlie’s final Scotland goal as he failed to find the net in his last ten games for the national side.
Another subs appearance in February 1985 against Spain in a World Cup Qualifier coming on in the last six minutes for Steve Archibald in Seville. Scotland lost one nil but had already produced a great performance against Spain in the previous November, winning 3-1 with Maurice Johnston scoring a double.
Next up was a poor team performance against Wales at Hampden which saw Ian Rush score the only goal in a vital qualifier. Charlie once more was only given a brief appearance coming on in the 75th minute for Paul McStay as Scotland desperately sought that equaliser.
It would be Alex Ferguson who would give Charlie his next cap; having exiled Mo Johnston from the Scotland scene for disciplinary issues Fergie started with Charlie in a friendly against Israel in Tel Aviv on January 28th, 1986 as part of our preparation for the World Cup in Mexico. Scotland won 1-0 with Paul McStay scoring the goal.
A satisfying 3-0 defeat of Romania at Hampden was to follow in March with goals from with Gordon Strachan, Richard Gough and Roy Aitken proving the goals against a team that included Gheorghe Hagi. Charlie came on as a half time sub for Graeme Sharp. Kenny Dalglish won his 100th cap that night.
Charlie started in the Rous Cup match against England in April at Wembley with Scotland losing 2-1 with Graeme Souness scoring with a penalty for the Scots.
June 4th and Charlie was given a starting place against Denmark in our World Cup opener. This took place at Estadio Neza, Netzahualcoyotl in front of a crowd of 18,000; Elkjaer-Larsen scored the only goal of the game to give the Danes a victory.
Charlie was dropped in favour of Steve Archibald for the next game; a 2-1 defeat to West Germany and was then given the last twenty frustrating minutes against Uruguay as a toothless Scotland failed to score the goal that would have seen us go through to the next round.
With strikers such as Nicholas, Archibald, Sharp, McAvennie and Sturrock all having a chance to shine in Mexico and failing, it is perhaps all too easy to suggest that Mo Jo might have made a difference but he certainly couldn’t have done any worse.
Andy Roxburgh in his first game in charge would bring Maurice Johnston back in and would also play Charlie up alongside him. However, Scotland would fail to score in a 0-0 game with Bulgaria in a Euro Qualifier at Hampden.
Charlie would make his penultimate appearance for Scotland coming on for Brian McClair against England in a Rous Cup match at Hampden in May 1987, again Scotland failed to score as they drew 0-0.
It would be almost two years later and as an Aberdeen player, where there was a resurgence in his career, that Charlie would gain his final cap coming on for Pat Nevin for the final sixteen minutes against Cyprus. Mo Johnston and Ally McCoist had already put Scotland into a 2-1 lead and that was the final score as Scotland inched closer to a qualifying for Italia ’90.
So that was it for Charlie, if only if only but that is the story for many a Scotland striker. Overall, Charlie’s time as a Scotland player wasn’t the success that we all had hoped and I suppose sometimes that’s why it can be particularly irksome to hear him criticise the national team on Sky Sports but still there’s always the Swiss goal to remember him by.
So Charlie, Happy Birthday and all the best and maybe have a wee drink to celebrate. Mebbe no champagne tho’, eh?