How to Score (On and Off the Pitch)

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Chapter 56

SYDNEY – JUNE 2022

Although it was supposed to be the Southern Hemisphere’s winter, Sydney was pleasantly warm as the Scotland team disembarked from their chartered Airbus A-330 that had taken them from Kuala Lumpur in just over eight hours.

Another pleasant surprise was finding hundreds of ex-pat Scots waiting at Kingsford Smith airport for their arrival and they were loudly cheered and welcomed with saltires everywhere and blokes sporting See You Jimmy hats which had been adapted to Love You Jimmy in honour of their former manager. Not that they didn’t like the current one, it was because they wanted Jimmy Anderson to go with a satisfied smile on his face and a job well done. They even had a couple of bagpipe players who unfortunately were playing Scotland the Brave in different keys and causing headaches amongst the non-Scottish contingent in Arrivals.

It was chaos, and all shown on the local ABC news that evening. The tournament started in five days and for the most part, the team were over their jetlag after breaking up the journey in Malaysia.

Smiling for photos and signing autographs, the team eventually made it on to their bus which would take them to the team hotel on the outskirts of Sydney near Bondi Beach. The manager had arranged for a day trip the next day to see some of what Sydney offered and take the pressure off the team. This was a tactic employed by Jimmy Anderson wherever they played in the world, and had always had the desired effect. A relaxed and happy team is a successful team, he always said.

Sydney was fascinating. In many ways it reminded them of Britain with the architecture and people, but a much more modern version of it. They drove past the famous Opera House, over the Sydney Harbour Bridge and lunched at Circular Quay where the First Fleet landed in 1788.

The fresh fish was perfect and the team were reluctant to get back on board the bus as they were content just sitting in the sun with cool drinks and enjoying the views. By the time they had got back to the hotel, the team were well and truly bonded, relaxed and ready for their opening game.

They were scheduled to play on day three so they could do some light training and watch the games together, trying to work out tactics and see what the opposition was like. Although the opening games were usually cagey affairs where neither team wanted to lose, this time the first day’s games were open and attractive football. Hosts Australia opened proceedings with a 3-2 win over Paraguay which was followed by South Korea surprisingly beating Holland 2-0.

At the end of the first evening’s games, the lads were raring to go. Chile up first, and they had done their homework on the South Americans.

They knew what they had to do.

When the moment came, team boarded the bus to take them to the 44,000 seater Allianz Stadium which wasn’t that far from their hotel. The area around the stadium was awash with blue and white flags and Scotland shirts with very few Chileans in attendance. The majority of fans were Scots who had settled in Australia for a better life, but there were still quite a few who had made the long journey from the Motherland just to witness history being made so they could go home and say “I was there”.

When the kick off time approached, Rory MacMillan only had to remind them why they were there, and what was expected of each and every one of them. It was vitally important to win the opening game, nobody wanted to play catch-up and rely on other results to qualify for the next round, and they were in a group where everyone expected them to win all three games with ease.

The crowd roared loudly as the two teams walked on to the pitch and stood in silence for the national anthems. After warming up, Bradley roused his troops one last time. There was a job to be done.

Whilst everybody expected Scotland to win comfortably against the Chileans, nobody could have predicted the half time score which was 5-0 to Scotland. Bradley had already scored a hat trick and he hadn’t finished yet. The team were so revved up nobody could stop them as they played football reminiscent of the Brazil 1970 team which were widely acknowledged as the best team in football’s history.

The crowd were going mad and the reporters waxed lyrical about the spectacle they were witnessing. Surely they couldn’t keep this pace up for whole tournament? By full time, Scotland had eased off a bit and completed the rout by scoring another two goals making it a 7-0 victory to the Boys in Blue.

After the game, the bars around the stadium filled up with happy Scots celebrating their team’s success on the pitch with glee.

Next day’s press were all headlining the Scotland team’s performance and featured profiles of the whole team which showed that not many of them plied their trade in the Scottish Premier League any more. Most of them were in either the English, Spanish or German top leagues which showed how good they were. It had been a rarity to see a Scottish player in a non-UK league for decades; Denis Law, Graeme Souness and Steve Archibald were probably the most famous over the years.

Cameroon were up next in five days’ time and they would be a completely different team to Chile. They played a more robust style of football and it was likely to get a bit physical if their game against Russia was anything to go by with two players sent off for the Africans and six further yellow cards. At least their top striker was one of those red-carded meaning he would miss the Scotland game.

They now had a few days to prepare for them and they couldn’t wait.

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