Tuesday, September 12, 2017

We'll always have Paris: that James McFadden goal, ten years on

Ten years ago today, James McFadden made himself a Scottish footballing legend.

Hyperbole?  I don't think so.

The first sixty-four minutes at the Parc Des Princes were a siege around Scotland's goal.  Not that the French had created much, but the 2006 World Cup finalists were absolutely dominant.  No doubt seeking revenge for a smash-and-grab defeat at Hampden a year earlier (Gary Caldwell!!!), it was only a matter of time until Ribery, Trezeguet, Anelka et al made the breakthrough.

Starting McFadden up front on his own had seemed an odd decision, one that might not have been made had Kenny Miller been available.  He was hardly going to hold the ball up, or run the channels.  Maybe Alex McLeish's logic was that Scotland would be devoid of possession anyway and it was worth shoehorning in the one player who could conjure something magic out of nothing.  Maybe it was just that the only other option was Garry O'Connor.  Maybe it was just a roll of the dice.

Regardless, a Craig Gordon goal kick cleared the midfield and McFadden dropped off the French defence to take the ball down, a good thirty-five yards out.  He turned and shifted the ball out of his feet.  Still thirty yards or more away from goal, no-one made much effort to close him down.  So he had a pop.  It was so ambitious that the xG rating was probably minus something.

The ball was hit well, with plenty of power and a decent amount of swerve, but it wasn't heading for the top corner.  The French goalkeeper, Mickael Landreau got into a decent position to turn it over the bar but his left hand inexplicably diverted the ball sideways instead of upwards, and into the back of his own net.

Cue pandemonium.

Keen to sell as many tickets as possible, and aware that the Tartan Army were hardly likely to cause trouble, the French had been extremely relaxed about segregation; this meant that, in addition to a huge contingent of Scots in the away end, large numbers were dotted around throughout the stadium.  Almost everywhere one looked, there were Scottish fans going mad.

On Sky Sports News, Gordon McQueen lost his s***, yelling "I don't believe it!  I don't believe it!  Jay-sus, what a goal fae Scotland!" on live telly.

And in my flat in Aberdeen, four of us went absolutely berserk, the euphoria enhanced by the complete lack of anticipation, the total shock.  We all just jumped around, screaming incomprehensibly.  My closest friend Iain let out what I assume is the closest thing going to a primal scream.  He then managed to kick the TV control and change the channel...putting celebrations on temporary hold as I fumbled to change it back.  Then we all kicked off again.

It's ten years, and yet I still remember it vividly.  I'm pretty certain every other Scottish football fan remembers exactly what they were doing, and what they did, when James McFadden scored that.

And of course that was the only goal of the game.  Scotland had beaten the French again, and on their own patch.  And stuff the dodgy keeper; it was an unbelievable goal.  I could barely sleep that night, high on ecstasy (no, not that sort!).  I found myself phoning my parents late at night to share the joy with them.  My mum answered the phone with "you'll have to wait a minute.  Your father's trying to find the expensive whisky."  My dad then came on the phone trying to sound indignant: "what on earth could you be calling about at this time?"  But there was so much happiness in his voice that it gave the game away.

On Sky Sports, they showed the highlights of the game first, before England's win over Russia.  That's how big a deal it was.  And the panel of Englishmen couldn't have been more chuffed for us.  When it comes to football, the England-Scotland rivalry really does only flow in one direction.

A friend of mine who was at the game reminisces of how the bars in the French capital stayed open for hours afterward; bar owners from former North African colonies were keen to celebrate along with the Tartan Army.

Of course, it can be argued that it was all for nowt in the end.  Scotland didn't get to Euro 2008, with McFadden of all people missing a glorious chance that might have beaten Italy.  And since then we've not got remotely close to qualifying for anything.  McFadden was only 24 when he scored that goal, but his career never quite hit the heights it once threatened to.  Within a couple of years, even a Scotland strip stopped having a Superman-like effect on him.  His last cap was in 2010.  Constantly dogged by injuries, he has just signed for Championship Queen of the South.  Given he is 34 and has played only rarely in the last two and a half years, it seems a lot to hope for that there are many glory days left.

But moments like that are what football fans live for.  The nil-nils in wintry weather, the disappointing defeats, the relegations, the anticlimaxes...the hope that another one of those moments might be around the corner is what keeps us all going.  And when it happens, we treasure it forever.  Just writing this gives me goosebumps.  There is a giant blowup photograph of the goal at the front door of the Scottish Football Museum; as if visitors need to be reminded!

People don't forget moments like that.  In 2013, I was fortunate enough to witness a virtuoso performance from McFadden in Inverness, where he scored twice for Motherwell in a 4-3 defeat.  Even in the home end, we were all chuffed to bits for him, and felt privileged to have got to see him put on a show like that.  For anyone else, we might not have been so magnanimous.  But James McFadden had built up an awful lot of credit.

He'll always have Paris.  And we'll always have Paris.  Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman?  The romance between James McFadden and Scotland is greater even than that.

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

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