How to Score (On and Off the Pitch)

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Chapter 42

JULY 2018

The mood amongst the Scotland squad was one of high excitement as they waited at Glasgow airport for their flight to New York’s JFK airport where they would be based for the next couple of weeks. Many of the squad had never played in a World Cup so there was also an air of nervousness about them.

Their first game was only a week away against Argentina who were one of the tournament favourites due to the high number of world class players they had at their disposal. It would be the defining match of their group as both Scotland and Argentina were expected to beat Serbia and Japan who made up Group B. Knowing it was going to be a tough game, Jimmy Anderson did his best not to put too much pressure on the young squad and keep things as relaxed as possible.

Until the game kicked off, they were taken on a tour of New York City in between training sessions which helped take the pressure off of them. There were loads of interviews to be done as well, Bradley receiving more attention than most of the players which suited them. Back home, there was high expectation of this team, despite their age.

Eventually, the big day had arrived as they lined up against Argentina in the MetLife stadium in East Rutherford New Jersey, home to both of the New York American Football teams, the Giants and the Jets. A capacity crowd of over 80,000 had turned out to watch the game of the group with many locally based Argentinians and second generation Scots who were singing loudly about their homeland.

It turned out to be a cracker of a game for the neutral with the half time score of 2-2 with Bradley scoring one and creating the other with his mazy runs at their opponents’ defence. By the time there was only ten minutes left on the clock, the score stood at 3-3 and there was little to separate the two teams. The game was being played in the evening fortunately as it had been a very hot day in New Jersey, but the Scottish team were starting to flag as their stamina was running out allowing Argentina to press them more and more.

Following yet another Argentinian attack which culminated in the ball hitting the bar, Scotland found themselves in possession of the ball with only Bradley left up front. An inch perfect pass found their number 10 who took on the two defenders who stood between him and the goal. The crowd were on their feet as Bradley was viciously kicked up in the air inside the area. Penalty to Scotland with two minutes left on the clock!

The Argentinian defender was shown the red card for his cynical tackle which had meant that Bradley wasn’t fit enough to take it and was substituted to prevent further damage. So, it was left to their centre forward, Scott McEwen to secure three points for the Scots.

He took a short run-up to the spot and sent the keeper the wrong way to make it 4-3 to Scotland sending the Tartan Army into raptures. Not only had it been a fantastic game, they had beaten one of the best teams in the world.

The players trudged off the pitch to exuberant cheering from the Scottish contingent as well as the huge number of neutral locals who had got tickets. Argentina’s players stormed off the pitch without shaking the hands of their opponents for which they would be fined by FIFA for unsporting behaviour. Nobody in dark blue was bothered by their actions, they had caused their own downfall and it served them right. No neutral liked the ‘Cheating Argies’ as they were referred to in the press the next day.

Brian had watched the game on TV with Lucy down a pub in Canary Wharf which was packed with ex-pat Scots working in the area. He always loved it when he overheard complete strangers waxing lyrical about how wonderful his son was, and today was no different. He felt like standing up and telling everyone that he was Bradley’s dad and the drinks were on him, but he managed to resist the urge to make a fool of himself.

He was concerned when his son got kicked near the end but hoped it wasn’t serious enough for him to miss their next game against Serbia. As they watched the post-match analysis from the BBC pundits, it became apparent that it was indeed only a minor injury and he would be fit to face Serbia in four days’ time. He ordered another bottle of wine for him and Lucy to celebrate, keeping one eye on the screen for any updates.

It was the perfect lift for Brian; he had heard from his lawyer that his former employer was going to make a fight of his dismissal and apparently they had good grounds, which wasn’t what Brian had been led to believe. This had depressed him even more as his lawyer had suggested dropping the case otherwise it would cost him a lot of money in fees chasing something that only had a 50:50 chance of success.

His life had evolved into a spiral of self-pity and anger which was only softened with a couple of bottles of wine every day. Lucy liked a drink as well, so they were well suited to each other. Bradley was just giving them another good excuse to open another bottle, although he wasn’t aware of the effect he was having on his dad.

Scotland’s remaining Group B games weren’t as exciting as the Argentina game, but just as crucial. They dispatched Serbia 3-0 and walloped Japan 5-0 to ensure they won the group and faced a runner-up in the first knockout round. Bradley had recovered from his minor injury and had a part in most of the eight goals they scored in these games, including scoring four of them himself. The Golden Boot award for the top scorer was almost certainly heading for North London soon.

When they found out their next opponent was going to be a weak England team, the team whooped with delight. There was nothing better than stuffing their nearest neighbours, especially in a major tournament. They recalled the 3-0 drubbing they gave England in the last Euros and knew that the England team wouldn’t fancy playing them right now. Confidence was high and Jimmy Anderson intended to keep it that way.

England were, once again, a weak opponent for Scotland who beat them comfortably 2-0. It was normal for England to fall over early in these major competitions but nobody could pinpoint why this happened. In the past, it had been penalty shoot-outs that had let them down. Now, they were just outplayed by lesser ranked countries. Not for the first time, the British press would be full of ridicule for England whilst praising the exploits of ‘little’ Scotland.

Their neighbours weren’t the only ‘big’ team to fall at the first knockout round as Spain were surprisingly beaten by Chile 2-1 which took some of the bad press away from England. They were now in the quarter finals and heading for another tough game against the host nation, USA who had done well so far with wins against Belgium, Algeria and South Korea under their belts. The game was to be played at the other end of the country in the 94,000 capacity Rose Bowl in Pasadena California in front of a partisan crowd of locals.

Scotland’s confidence was still riding high after their exploits so far and with nobody expecting them to beat the USA the pressure was off of them as they walked onto the pitch on a hot and steamy afternoon. They had a full squad to pick from with thankfully no injuries or suspensions so far which would help. There was nothing better than a settled team without having to shuffle things around.

Against the run of play, Scotland had gone 1-0 up after only ten minutes to silence the crowd. When Bradley made it 2-0 just before half-time the crowd grew restless. Americans don’t like to finish second especially against a far smaller opponent.

They came back at Scotland in the second half and pulled a goal back after some good work. The final fifteen minutes were likened to the Siege of the Alamo as the US piled into Scotland looking for the equaliser that they probably deserved. It wasn’t to be and when the final whistle blew the US team collapsed on the pitch. They couldn’t believe they had lost the game after the effort they had put in. At least they were more magnanimous in defeat than Argentina were, with every US player congratulating their opponents with hugs and handshakes. Even the home crowd were applauding them politely as they left the pitch. It was hard for it all to sink in, but Scotland were now in the semi-finals of the World Cup for the first time. They were the talk of the world’s sporting press and everybody wanted to know all about this team of kids from a small country not known for it’s sporting prowess.

Somehow, they had found themselves in the same company as Italy, Germany and Brazil in the last four. The odds were stacked against them at 25/1 with the bookies to win the tournament. Surely their luck would run out and normal service would be resumed with the expected victors being one of the established big boys. Being drawn against Germany in the semis would help the bookies justify their long odds. Nobody gave them a hope, but even if they did lose they could go home as heroes for taking on and beating some of the biggest countries in the game in Argentina and England.

In the other semi-final Brazil overcame Italy 2-1 in extra time which would help their opponents in the final as they would still be tired from their exertions. It was widely expected to be Germany who were tournament favourites and looked well-drilled and disciplined. It wasn’t to be their day as their tactics fell apart and Scotland scored a remarkable 1-0 win against the favourites who like the USA before them, peppered the Scotland goal relentlessly. The neutral supporters all love an underdog and Scotland were the best underdog in the world right now.

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