Argentina, 1978, was wounding and stimulating at the same time. To watch a cheerful, personable, approachable guy undergoing an ordeal of which only a Torquemada would have approved was deeply unsettling. I had felt a personal stirring of unease, many months before, when I assisted him in a brewery-sponsored tour of the country to cities and towns, as he bathed in the glow of admiration which came from his ecstatic nation. I felt that if it didn't come off for him, the fall from grace would finish him. Failure, set against optimistic hysteria, could only mean a death warrant. When I watched him cuddle a dog on a hillside in Alta Gracia, the town we were all based in, after the defeat in the first game by Peru, 3-1, and heard him tell us that the animal was probably the only friend he had left in South America, you could tell he was slipping into self-perpetuating misery. After the game against Iran, who we assumed were the Glenbuck Cherrypickers of the tournament but which ended in a 1-1 draw, my colleagues in BBC television in London deliberately and maliciously edited pieces together with close-ups of Ally's contorted, tortured face on the bench which were the closest television has ever got to portraying Edvard Munch's The Scream, in a sporting setting, there really was no way back.
The win against the ultimate finalists, Holland, in Mendoza, 3-2, but which meant nothing in terms of qualification, was summed up beautifully from underneath a wide-brimmed hat in an airport lounge by a pissed-off looking Alan Sharp, the Scottish novelist, who had interrupted his screenwriting business in Hollywood to travel to the game, when he pronounced, 'We didn't win, we just discovered a new way of losing.'