The Scotland team had a good pre-tournament series of friendlies clocking up respectable wins against Northern Ireland, Iceland and Lithuania which had prepared them for their first group game against Switzerland on the 11th. They had the youngest average age amongst all the other competing teams in the tournament at 23 years, but they had a passion and a belief that would carry them through. They weren’t expecting to win it which took the pressure off of the players, but they were expected to show the nation that there was some promise of success to come in the future.
They arrived at their base outside Paris a week later and got down to training. Switzerland were going to be a tough team to beat and they had some useful players with English Premier League experience. Jimmy Anderson and his team of coaches spent hours going through the way their opponents played with the players, where their weaknesses were and how to exploit them. The boys couldn’t wait to get started and as their first game was to be played in Lille, they wouldn’t have to far to travel.
On the morning of the game, they travelled by coach to Lille Metropole to prepare for the match. There were already thousands of Scottish supporters in town who had taken over a number of bars in this picturesque city. They cheered loudly when the Scotland team bus drove through town, waving through the blacked out windows at their heroes. Bradley loved this part of the job and it inspired him to not let the supporters down. They had spent a lot of money getting there and the least they could do was put on a show for them.
Lille’s Stade Pierre Mauroy held 50,000 and Bradley estimated there were probably 20,000 Scots in the crowd, all singing lustily and cheering enthusiastically when the players’ names were announced over the tannoy. It was the second match of the tournament, the opening game being between the hosts France and Romania in the Stade Saint Denis on the outskirts of Paris, which France won easily 3-0. They were favourites to win the cup as they had good pedigree in this competition and on paper, one of the best squads. Now it was the turn of Scotland and Switzerland to put on a show.
After twenty minutes, the game was still scoreless although the Swiss had hit the post early on. Slowly, Scotland got more into the game and when their captain Dougie Brown headed the ball in from a corner the crowd went wild. Their confidence growing all the time, and the Swiss getting panicky, Bradley weaved past two defenders to fire the ball into the Swiss goal with two minutes until half time. 2-0 Scotland!
Their half time talk went understandably well. Jimmy Anderson was obviously delighted at their performance and asked them to keep it up, but be ready for a Swiss revival in the second half. They would come out all guns blazing and they needed to keep their composure at least for the next twenty minutes when the Swiss would grow even more frustrated which will lead them to make mistakes. Mistakes they could capitalise on.
Sure enough, the boss was right. When the whistle went for the start of the second half, Switzerland were all over Scotland looking for a goal that would get them back in the game. After seventy minutes had passed it was still 2-0 to Scotland and again, they were starting to push back at the Swiss. Apart from his earlier goal, Bradley hadn’t been much involved in the second half apart from defending Swiss corners but now they were getting chances again. It wasn’t long before the Swiss started making mistakes and when Bradley was brought down in the box, a penalty was awarded to Scotland. This could be the goal that finally killed off their chances of getting back into the game. Dougie Brown stepped up to take it with confidence firing it into the top corner to make it 3-0!! Game over!
However happy the Scots fans were earlier, they were double that now and a long night of partying was on offer for them. They would be drinking Lille dry as soon as the match was over.
The final whistle went and the Swiss players, to their credit, immediately congratulated Scotland on completely outplaying them and wished them luck in their other games. They also promised they would make up for their performance by beating England for them, knowing how much Scotland disliked their neighbours.
Bradley was in seventh heaven; he had scored one and got the penalty that sealed the game which had drawn the attention of the European sports press after the game. Every one of them wanted an interview with this seventeen year old prodigy who had inspired the win against a decent team. Scotland were quoted at 100/1 to win the competition. After this result, the price came in to 50/1 and back in the BBC and ITV studios, the pundits were treating them as a serious threat, not just to England, but also the likes of Germany and the defending champions Spain.
The team had no time for celebrating; they climbed back on their team bus with a spring in their step contemplating the fact that a 3-0 win was probably enough to guarantee them a place in the knock out round, a stage where Scotland had never been before.
When they followed up five days later with a convincing 2-0 win over Ukraine, everybody was sitting up and taking notice of Scotland who now topped the group and only had to avoid defeat against England to ensure they won the group, which meant they wouldn’t be facing another group winner in the next round.
Brian had got two tickets for the England game and arrived a day earlier with Sam ready to cheer Bradley, and Scotland, on. In England’s other group games, they had struggled to a 1-1 draw with Switzerland and beat Ukraine 1-0 so they were going into this game as second favourites against a rampant Scottish team. Much was made in the press build up about Bradley’s English roots and how England had let a real talent slip through their fingers just when they needed players like Bradley to re-invigorate their faltering national team.
It was a warm evening in Marseilles when they kicked off and straight away, Bradley knew this game was going to be different as he was targeted by England’s experienced defenders and getting kicked up in the air at every opportunity, resulting in a few bookings for their opponents. He could out-fox them most of the time but a 0-0 scoreline at half time didn’t reflect Scotland’s superiority against an aging England.
Jimmy Anderson’s half time talk took on different tones this time. While a draw would be enough to see them through, there was much more than that at stake so he went into a long and drawn out epitaph about the Auld Enemy and invoked long forgotten battles between the two countries. This inspired the team to push even harder at their opponents in the second half. England were getting tired and were there for the taking, Jimmy stressed.
Sure enough, ten minutes into the second half Bradley worked his way around the centre halves and tapped in a simple goal to make it 1-0. Five minutes later, he again weaved his way through the England defence and crossed the ball for the centre forward to nod home. 2-0. Then, with only two minutes remaining, Bradley hit a long, speculative shot from outside the area which bent away from the keeper and into the net. 3-0, final score. They had played three, won all of them scoring eight goals and conceding none in the process. The odds were coming down even quicker now. England still managed to qualify from their group as runners-up on goal difference but the press back home were lambasting their pitiful performances and calling for the manager’s head as soon as they got home.
Brian had mixed emotions watching the game, at least until he witnessed the England defence kicking his son which made him realise he couldn’t support his home country any more. He stopped short of buying a kilt and wearing the obligatory See You Jimmy hat, but his allegiances had now been switched. He and Sam headed back to their hotel to celebrate Scotland’s latest win with the other members of the Tartan Army. He just had to keep his accent away from them.
Easier said than done.