How to Score (On and Off the Pitch)

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Chapter 61

Lang Park Brisbane was to be the next venue for the Scotland team where they would face the Auld Enemy in the first knockout round. Even with an upgraded capacity of 60,000 there still weren’t enough tickets to satisfy demand for this game. As well as thousands of expat Scots, there were also at least five times as many ex pat English living in Australia, all clamouring to get tickets.

To try and satisfy the tens of thousands of disappointed supporters, the City of Brisbane had installed a number of big screens in the local parks which would be policed by local security teams who would mingle with the fans and the food stalls to make sure there wasn’t any trouble.

This fixture had a lot of history and the security staff had been told what to watch out for if they wanted the game to pass peacefully. The fact that it was an afternoon kick off meant that neither sides’ fans had enjoyed too long in the bars getting tanked up which would help.

By the time kick off came around, there was just singing and chanting going on and the mood seemed quite good natured with both sets of supporters tolerating each other and exchanging banter.

The game itself wasn’t a classic; neither side wanted to lose as there was too much pride at stake, but it was a knockout game so there had to be a result and England shocked Scotland with an early goal, much against the run of play. The Scots in the crowd fell silent as England’s supporters cheered excitedly, sensing a giant-killing. They willed their team on with their continual singing but their hopes were dashed when Bradley curled in a delightful free kick just before half time to level the scores and give Scotland hope once more.

In the second half it was a different story; Scotland were all out attack and scored two more goals to win the game 3-1 which sent the Scottish fans inside and outside the stadium into seventh heaven. Nothing quite matched the feeling of ecstasy than beating the Auld Enemy and sending them home early from a tournament. The bars of Brisbane were about to experience party time Scottish style whilst the England fans found a quiet pub away from the Scots where they could drown their sorrows. It wasn’t that England had played badly, in fact it was their best performance for many a game, but Scotland were just too good for them and they were now facing a long flight home.

McNair was watching the game at home as Bar Asturias refused to open at 3 a.m. just for him. Miserable bastards, he thought as he opened another tin of beer ready for kick off. His apartment was now looking quite clean and well maintained since he employed the cleaner to come in once a week to smarten the place up, and he hadn’t had any more trouble with vermin either since then. She did a good job and McNair was starting to fancy her, even though she was a plumpish married woman in her twenties and far too young for him. He was getting desperate, especially after his encounter with Conchita who had texted him a couple of times since their date which McNair ignored.

After ninety minutes, McNair was celebrating another winning bet which helped him forget about Conchita and he cracked open a bottle of wine to toast his boys. He hadn’t panicked when England went ahead, in fact he was quite pleased as this was exactly how he saw the game panning out when he had placed the bet on the 3-1 scoreline.

He thought about making himself some breakfast as it wasn’t worth going to bed and he had a few hours to kill before Bar Asturias would be open. The fridge revealed some bacon and eggs which would do nicely he thought as he took a frying pan out of the sink where it had been lying for days waiting to be cleaned and placed it on the cooker ring.

Without bothering to look at the use by dates on the packaging, he lit the cooker and started to fry the bacon in the fat that had remained from the last time it was used. After a few minutes he added a couple of eggs and cursed as the hot fat spat at him.

He took another swig of wine then dished up his impromptu breakfast and smothered it in tomato sauce before devouring it with glee and looking forward to the next game.

Scotland’s quarter-final game would be against the surprise package of the tournament, Mexico who had already knocked France out in the last round much to everyone’s surprise as the French were fancied to get to the semis at least. They had a few days off for light training and fixing wounded legs before they had to face Mexico, so there was a bit of time for relaxing on the beaches of Queensland in tropical sunshine. Bradley was missing Jessie terribly by this stage. Part of him wanted to get knocked out so he could get home to her, but he knew there was a bigger, more important job to finish before he could do that. Everything was going to plan so far and they had stayed relatively injury-free and confidence was at an all-time high. Jimmy Anderson had been on Face Time after the England game to congratulate his boys on their success and he looked quite well, considering. This had lifted the team’s morale once more and made them excited to meet Mexico in the next game.

On the other hand, despite the fact that they had already beaten France, Mexico were not looking forward to facing Scotland. Okay, they had exceeded expectations back home where they were only going to finish bottom of their group, so anything other than this was a big result.

Mexico’s misgivings were well and truly founded as they bottled it against Scotland losing 6-0 with the favourites not even getting out of second gear. They were now in the semis where they would face the mighty Spain. This was going to cause some friction in the Gardner house back in Mijas. Carlos was going to be wearing his Espana shirt and cheering his country on whilst Archie and Deepak were going to be rooting for Scotland. Barry would remain neutral, as were the ladies.

They had got over McNair’s visit now and were more relaxed about their game time rituals of football and breakfast. The England game had been interesting; Barry admitted grudgingly that Scotland fully deserved their win, but insisted England could have beaten them if they had played his way. It was all in good spirit and it hadn’t spoilt anyone’s day. Barry hadn’t expected England to get that far and when he saw they were drawn to face Scotland he had resigned himself to the fact that once again, England were going home early and two years’ worth of qualifying games and building up expectations were wasted once more. From now on, he would be backing Scotland or Spain, at least that was the plan until they got drawn against each other.

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