Any chance of a repeat of the remarkable occasion when six Dons played for Scotland
against Northern Ireland in Belfast in December 1983, effectively ended during the 1984 close season when Gordon Strachan, Mark McGhee and Doug Rougvie all left the club. Billy Stark, Frank McDougall and Tommy McQueen were the replacements for the international trio at club level, and all did well in place of their highly popular predecessors. Despite a successful 1984-85 campaign, however, it was evident that although Stark was an effective, free scoring midfielder he was not a playmaker in the Strachan mould.
In June 1985 manager Alex Ferguson found his new playmaker in Lokeren and former Rangers star Jim Bett. Bett was already an established international when he joined the Dons, with a total of 13 caps under his belt. In fact he played perhaps his most influential game for Scotland on the eve of signing for Aberdeen on 28th May 1985. Scotland were trailing in second place of World Cup qualifying group 7, while Spain with two remaining fixtures against Iceland, had virtually ensured qualification. The Scots' slender hopes rested on stealing second place in the group from Wales, and thus going on to a play-off with the Oceania group winners.
To set Scotland up for a showdown with the Welsh in Cardiff, Jock Stein's side first had to take full points from a visit to Reykjavik, where opponents Iceland proved to be no pushover. Indeed they should have taken a first half lead but Dons keeper Jim Leighton brought off a superb penalty save to keep the Scots in the contest. Time drifted away in the second half until it began to look like a certain draw, which would mean Scotland had to go to Wales and win to qualify. Then with only four minutes to go came the all-important breakthrough and a goal which had more than a hint of an Aberdeen flavour about it. Gordon Strachan skipped clear on the right, Steve Archibald stepped over the ball, and Jim Bett crashed it home. Jim officially signed for the Dons just days after that match.
His first game as a Dark Blue Don came on that fateful, bittersweet evening in Cardiff on 10th September 1985, when Scotland ensured a play-off against Australia thanks to a dramatic 1-1 draw but tragically manager Jock Stein suffered a fatal heart attack. Bett was on the bench for the first leg of the play-off against the Aussies at Hampden, but came on for Gordon Strachan inside the last 10 minutes with the Scots holding an important 2-0 lead. His impact was almost immediate and decisive as he engineered a gilt-edged chance for debutant Frank McAvennie, but the Celtic striker scorned the opportunity.
Scotland, minus the injured Bett, subsequently had a nervous time Down Under before finally sealing their place in the Mexico '86 World Cup finals. Jim remained part of interim Scotland manager Alex Ferguson's plans, playing in build-up friendlies against Israel and Holland, and he was included in the 22 named for the World Cup finals. However, Jazza's World Cup experience was primarily one of observer, and this seemed to set the tone for his future role under new Scotland coach Andy Roxburgh.
Over the following three seasons, Bett was named in many of Roxburgh's Scotland squads. His caps were limited to a European Championship qualifier against Belgium in April 1987, and a substitute appearance against Hungary at Hampden in October 1988. Whilst obviously disappointed at his continued exclusion, Jazza toughed it out. Showing superb club form, he finally looked to have won Roxburgh over in the run-up to Italia '90, although with Paul McStay a fixture in the side Bett was rarely afforded the privilege of playing in his most effective central midfield role.
After playing in qualifiers against France and Norway, Jim also featured in friendlies against Argentina, Egypt and Malta. He was named in Scotland's starting line-up for the Italia '90 World Cup opener against Costa Rica but Bett's, and all of Scotland's, dreams turned to dust as the Scots missed a hatful of chances and went down 1-0 in one of the great World Cup upsets.
Bett was among those dropped by Roxburgh for the subsequent matches against Sweden and Brazil, and as such became one of the scapegoats for the Costa Rica reverse. Early the following season, Jim became disillusioned with the way he was being treated at international level and publicly announced he no longer wished to be considered for the national side. In the end, Jim Bett gained 26 full caps, 13 as an Aberdeen player. One can't help feeling that Scotland should have got more out of a player of his calibre.
Jim's route to the top flight was very unusual in many ways for a Scottish footballer. Bett born in Hamilton, first came to prominence as a schoolboy international in the mid-1970s and was snapped up by Dundee on an "S" form. He moved on from Dens Park to Airdrie, but it seemed his youthful potential would not be realised when he signed for Icelandic side Valur in 1978. However, a spell away from the hurly burly of the Scottish game allowed him to develop as a midfield playmaker, and a further move to Lokeren in Belgium provided the perfect stage for his talents.
Jim was highly influential in the middle of the park. He did not have a sprinter's speed, but could be very direct with powerful runs through the middle. He could also sit back and make precise, probing long passes. He was strong in the tackle, rarely lost a challenge, and had the ability to consistently hit the target with his potent long range shooting. Of all his assets, perhaps the greatest was his knack of being able to quickly "switch" the play.
In June 1980 Rangers paid Lokeren £180,000 to bring Jim back to Scotland. Although he played in a struggling Ibrox side his abilities were immediately evident, and two Scottish caps followed. In three seasons with Rangers Jim won a Scottish Cup medal and League Cup medals, then in June 1983 he returned to Lokeren for a second spell for a reported fee of £280,000.
Belgian national team boss Guy Thuys always said it was a source of regret that Bett was not eligible to play for Belgium. After two seasons back in Belgian football (and a further 11 caps) another admirer Alex Ferguson moved to bring Jim to Scotland once again. This time the fee was £300,000. Jim's early career at Pittodrie was blighted by injury, but when he regained full fitness he became a very important player in the heart of the Dons midfield. He also increased his collection of medals and continued his international career. Bett was the driving force behind the Dons double-cup triumph during the 1989-90 season, and their gallant but ultimately unsuccessful late season surge for the title at the end of the 1990-91 league race.
Some 18 months later, Jim picked up a leg injury that looked to have all but ended his career at top level, although he did fight his way back to fitness before leaving to take up a coaching post in Iceland. After one season of summer soccer Jim surprised many people by signing for Hearts in October 1994, and he quickly showed he could do a useful job for the Jambos. He then moved on to Dundee United to be nearer his home in Aberdeen. Jim can still be seen in the press box at Pittodrie on Matchdays.