How to Score (On and Off the Pitch)

By Andrew Playle All Rights Reserved ©

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Chapter 63

SYDNEY JULY 2022

At last, the final had come around and Scotland were ready for it, fortunately with no major injuries to the players. The ultimate game was to be played at the ANZ Stadium in Sydney in front of 85,000 noisy supporters, mainly Scottish as usual. Most of the Scots either lived in Australia or had extended their stay in the hope that Scotland lived up to the hype and made it this far.

It was predicted to be a close game as although Scotland were the team to beat, Argentina themselves had a formidable team and had cruised through the previous rounds with a mixture of skill and physicality that had fans drooling at the prospect of these two teams meeting in the final. This promised to be the best World Cup Final ever.

Kick off was 7 p.m. Australian time which would be the last breakfast time game for Bistro Lucia thankfully, as by 6 a.m. the place was full of rowdy Scots locals dressed in kilts, tartan and See You Jimmy hats which Lucy found slightly amusing. Everything was set up for a Scottish victory with plenty of bottles of Champagne cooling in the industrial sized fridge next to the kitchen, and lots of square sausage which Diego still hadn’t managed to improve the look of. He would just sneer at it every time he saw it being devoured by the bucket load by all these heathen, noisy Scots in his restaurant.

What McNair would have done for a square sausage sandwich that morning. Instead, he put up with the Bar Asturias bacon roll with brown sauce and his first lager of the day. The barman seemed to be in a good mood that morning and he actually engaged in polite conversation with him. McNair realised that after all this time frequenting his bar, he still didn’t know him by any other name but the barman. Perhaps, if things went well on today’s bets, he might invite the barman to celebrate with him and get to know him better. He knew he could be a bit of an arse at times in his more drunker moments, so maybe he should show some sympathy towards him for once. Only if he won, mind.

Carlos and Martine had made up in the traditional way and they were now preparing breakfast together in the kitchen of Bradley’s house, chatting excitedly about the game, while Deepak and Archie laid the table and got the TV set up ready. At that moment, Deepak wished his grandad was able to join him in Spain to watch the final. Sometimes, they used to sit down together and watch a game if they could back in India and he loved listening to his grandad telling him where such and such player went wrong and what he would have done with the ball instead. He loved his grandad a lot and missed him at times like this. Hopefully, he would come and see him when the season started.

Tension was starting to build up in the Scotland dressing room where Rory MacMillan did his best to rouse his troops for one last game that would cement Scotland’s name in football history. There was no pressure on them to win it, Argentina were just as fancied and as long as it was a good game and everybody played to their strengths, nobody would criticise them. Just to emphasise his points, he pulled a curtain back to reveal a TV with a familiar face on the big screen. It was Jimmy Anderson dressed up in tartan and his face painted blue and white in the shape of a Saltire. He was obviously in some pain, but he had managed to force a smile and brought a round of applause from the team.

‘Boys. This is your destiny. You have all fought so hard and learned so much on this journey to Sydney. This is not the time to let yourselves and your country down. I know you are capable, the country knows you can beat the Argies, and I know you will give it everything to stake your place in history. Ten years ago, everybody would have laughed at the thought of little Scotland being in the World Cup Final, now it’s time for you to laugh. Enjoy the game, whether you win or not. You are playing in the biggest game in the world, and you’ve earned the right to enjoy it. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there today to see it, but you know I will be watching every move and I know I’m going to be proud of you, no matter what the score. So, do it for me, for yourselves, and for Scotland. Good luck, lads!’

There wasn’t a dry eye in the room as the whole team cheered Jimmy, their mentor, their father figure who had got them this far. No way were they going to let him down.

In the tunnel as the two teams waited to enter the arena, the Argentina full back Mendoza looked across at their opponents and couldn’t help noticing their puffy eyes and determined gait.

‘So, you boys have been crying already at the thought of what we are going to do to you?’ Mendoza sneered, raising a snigger from his team mates. Bradley squared up to him menacingly.

‘Fuck you, Mendoza. We are going to make you look fucking stupid today.’ Bradley snarled at him, taking him and the rest of the Argentina team by surprise. This was a side of Bradley Gardner that nobody had ever seen and it shook them. Two of the Argentina team played in the same team as him at Barcelona and they didn’t know what to think. They were good friends normally.

Five minutes before kick-off, the two teams that had made it through to the final walked on to the pitch to a rousing chorus of Scotland the Brave which made the young Scotland team bristle with determination.

It was ninety miles per hour football right from the start with both teams creating chances, and it was a surprise that at half time the score remained goalless, despite Bradley hitting the woodwork twice. Rory MacMillan gathered his team together for some tactical changes. There was nothing more that could be said except to keep going and hope the break comes.

Unfortunately, the second half didn’t get off to a good start for Scotland when their centre half, Duncan Andrews, headed into his own goal when trying to clear a corner making it 1-0 to Argentina after fifty-two minutes.

The Scotland team were distraught, but when they heard how their supporters reacted, it spurred them on and Bradley roused his team mates to do it for Jimmy. They were now even more determined to beat Argentina and went all out attacking, the plan paying dividends when Scott McEwan headed an equaliser from Bradley’s free kick with ten minutes left on the clock to make it 1-1 and everything to play for.

Despite the lack of goals, the game had lived up to all the hype and was developing into the best final ever, as predicted. Both sides were giving everything and most pundits were expecting extra time and probably penalties, which would be a pity as neither team deserved to lose that way.

To be fair, Argentina had played with skill and panache and not the brute force many people were expecting. Maybe due in some part to the fright they got from Bradley before the game kicked off.

82nd MINUTE

Higuain, the Argentinian striker hits the post with a vicious left foot shot which eludes Scotland’s keeper.

84th MINUTE

Scott McEwen heads just wide from a corner

87th MINUTE

Both teams are showing signs of tiredness as Bradley brings out an excellent save from Argentina’s keeper

89th MINUTE

Scotland have a corner and have every player but the keeper in the box. The ball is played short to Sean McKinnon who launches a perfect cross into the Argentinian goalmouth, catching their defence out. Mendoza clears the ball off the line straight into the path of Bradley Gardner who side-foots the ball past the Argentina keeper. GOOOOOOAAAAALLLLL!!!!

The Scottish contingent in the stands went wild, hugging each other and crying. Could the unthinkable be about to happen? Argentina’s players were distraught; they had the game in the bag but had under-estimated Scotland’s resilience and determination. They blamed each other; they blamed themselves for not concentrating 100%. Mendoza could only look on as Bradley and his ecstatic team mates celebrated.

Rory MacMillan tried to calm them down by reminding them that the game wasn’t over yet; they had to see out the last few minutes and keep their opponents at bay.

‘Close them down at all times! Keep possession of the ball! Go down if any of them even breathes on you! Just don’t let them back into the game!’ Rory MacMillan screamed at his young heroes.

McNair was sweating profusely by now. He was seconds away from €100,000 and was screaming at the referee to blow the whistle.

Brian and Lucy watched on in disbelief surrounded by dozens of deliriously happy Scots in the restaurant. They could almost taste the Champagne that was about to be pulled out of the fridge.

Archie, Deepak, Martine, Carlos and Jessie were standing in the lounge holding each other tight. Every one of them had tears streaming down their cheeks. Could they hold on for the next couple of minutes?

Hamish Aitken was not happy. He was the dodgy bookie who had accepted McNair’s bet on this game. We stood to lose a lot of money if the score stayed the same. However, he had a plan. There was no way he was going to weigh out to that little wanker.

93rd MINUTE

With four minutes of stoppage time to get through, Scotland had been on the back foot as Argentina refused to give up and did whatever they could to equalise. Only a minute left on the clock and they had a free kick within scoring range. The stadium fell silent as Mendoza took three steps back and looked at where he was going to place the ball. Bradley walked past him and whispered slyly to Mendoza just as was lining it up.

‘Remember, you little shit. We’re going to fucking bury you.’ Bradley glared at the Argentinian player before retreating ten yards from the ball and joining the defensive wall that was being hastily set up in readiness for the free kick.

Twenty seconds left on the clock. Mendoza takes a run at the ball and curls it perfectly over the wall. The Scotland keeper sees it coming and tips the ball over the bar before being mobbed by his team mates.

‘Fucking told yer, Mendoza. We’re fucking burying you tonight!’ Bradley sneered as he passed Mendoza who was on his knees with his head buried in his hands.

PHEEEEEPPPP! There wasn’t time to take the resulting corner as the Italian referee had blown for full time, despite Argentina’s protests that they should be allowed time to take the corner.

The game was over. Scotland were champions of the world!

Rory MacMillan and his coaching team, the substitutes and medical staff ran on to the pitch to celebrate with the team who were utterly exhausted, with some of them just lying on the ground staring in disbelief. They couldn’t believe they had done it, and won it with style against one of the best teams in the world.

Back in Scotland, the pubs and clubs erupted with noise with Champagne corks popping and partying like never before. Parties were breaking out wherever there was a large Scottish community; USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and especially England, much to the annoyance of the locals.

In Bar Asturias, the barman had never seen McNair in such a happy mood. He was literally dancing around the bar offering to buy drinks for everyone else in the bar, which wasn’t that many, to be fair. He understood that McNair had just won a huge sum of money betting on the result, which would explain his happy demeanour.

The Gardner house was celebrating; not quite as exuberantly as McNair, but celebrating nonetheless. Archie’s phone was going mad as his friends were texting him to say how they were going to party, how they couldn’t believe it and to pass on their thanks to Bradley and the team.

Bistro Lucia was in uproar. Brian happily joined in with the ex-pat Scots in his restaurant celebrating winning the cup. The Champagne had been passed around the happy patrons singing Flower of Scotland in full voice. Luckily, Brian had learned the words so he could join in, even though it was essentially an anti-English song. Lucy kept a low profile and wondered how long it would be before the customers would decide to carry on their celebrations elsewhere.

Even in India, Deepak’s grandad had managed to find a TV station showing the game and he was to be seen dancing around their small house singing and crying, much to the annoyance of his wife.

Apart from McNair, many years ago, extolling the virtues of this squad of young Scots and insisting that they could achieve success in football like never before, nobody in their right minds would have given Scotland a hope in Hell of winning a major trophy.

He had been proved right and he was about to collect his winnings.

The Edinburgh number he rang within an hour of the final whistle went straight to voicemail.

‘Hey Hamish, its Kevin McNair! Hope you enjoyed watching that as much as I did.’ He laughed. ‘Call me back and I’ll give you my bank details so you can transfer the €100,000. Cheers!’

Hamish listened to the message and deleted it straight away. He couldn’t believe that little shit’s arrogance thinking that he would just transfer the money to his account. Did he think he was completely stupid? He had other ideas, but decided to let McNair sweat for a while as he put the plan together.

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