A Line in the Sand

As I sit on the 14:40 London Euston to Edinburgh I’m left to contemplate the night before, when a miracle came out of the dank, dreary, despairing night and then faded away into the gloom again like so many before it.

Resting my head on the window I seek out BBC Scotland’s response to yesterdays events. A short montage of Stuart McFarlane’s commentary starts to ring out with the odd blunt counterpoint of Peter Wright’s withering despair. It grows to a crescendo as McFarlane describes Sam Johnson being crowned an icon of his adopted country and as with so many moments before it you can hear Peter Wright off-mic in the background cheering and jumping up and down. ‘Go Go Go’ he screams with the abandon of a child lost in awe of what is being witnessed.

Last night at Twickenham it was disbelief, joy upon joy abound just for a few short minutes surrounded by dumbfounded Englishman who were almost pleased for those of the dark blue persuasion.

Today it is tears of pride as I listen back to the most amazing of Scottish glorious “failures” we’ve yet to witness. We’ve had to go some to beat the ones we’ve experienced in the previous decades across the sporting spectrum. Ireland in 2017 brought me to tears rather than unbridled joy as it wasn’t possible, it wasn’t on the cards before that moment. Neither was last night.

But is this the “best” worst nearly moment we’ve yet to take in?

We didn’t go from 0-0 to an improbable victory with a 40-yard wonder goal to beat the world champions, only to then lose out in qualification to the tournament proper in the dying minutes against Italy.

We didn’t hang on in there meeting blow with blow only for a last minute line-out to be botched up and the ref to decide on a marginal call that we must pay the ultimate penalty.

We didn’t even let Harry Kane score from an industrious long ball to break our hearts having came back from the dead with 3 mins left, nearly creating an Earthquake on the south side of Glasgow .

This is not to mention all the oh-so-nears with Mr Andy Murray where somehow despite getting close he didn’t get over the line and is left ruing the what ifs and maybes, just because he’s up against the three best players of all time.

This was more like falling into a deep ravine verge, climbing up it almost breathless, scaling the mountain before you too, battered and bruised reaching the summit only to slip and slide back down to the bottom of that ravine again, or at least to the edge.

This particular glorious failure moment will take some passing in the years to come.

This was improbable before it began, this was impossible at half-time. We had given ourselves a 31-0 deficit. We weren’t even close to even the glimmer that many of the more optimistic Scots hold onto in those dark moments in our sporting history.

But some how we did it, bit by bit, try by try.

First we watch McInally intervene with a charge down that not only brought hope but stopped a very probable England attack ending in them gaining an almost 40 point lead before half-time.

McInally somehow managed to defy the laws of physics by outpacing and avoiding both May and Farrell in a 60m dash that Usain Bolt in his pomp would have been proud of.

Then at half-time we have Laidlaw behind the scenes using his horse whisperer techniques to harness a fightback in amongst the reported verbal jousting between Master and Apprentice.

Darcy’s dancing feet and Price’s deft chip kick brings us close.

The Cavalry arrived when a lesser man would have thought: give it another ten minutes, we’re doing so well. That brave decision from The Master was closely followed by Russell’s second pass of the century which brings about a brace for Graham and then the Jester enjoys a juggle on centre stage as he flies under the English sticks to unbridled joy from the galleries.

It’s on, it’s definitely on.

Russell guides his minions around that arena with the wizardy of Harry Potter playing a grand final of Quidditch. And with Farrell exiting stage left after what was a rather impolite Glasgow Kiss on the Dancing Queen Of Hawick, Russell comes up with one more bit of genius.

Johnston does what Scottish centres like to do on an annual basis against Globogym. Swat them aside or drag them over the try line from twenty metres out. Johnston’s face went from disbelief to unbridled joy as it dawned on him what he had just done.

But yet.

We still manage to snatch the glorious draw from the jaws of victory which feels somewhere between the achievement of climbing Everest and your big brother stamping on your sandcastle. I counted five separate chances as the clock ticked down in the last three minutes to get out with the ultimate smash and grab, and yet we couldn’t execute.

Truck it up, hold onto possession, don’t fly up out the line to let them out of the 22 when you’ve got them where you want them, Put Jonny May into touch, don’t try to turnover a marginal ball, let them score in the corner. We just needed one – just one – of those to come off, but it wasn’t to be.

What do we take from this? How will we recover? Well despite the gloom the feeling today is not as desperate as it would have been had it been 80-0 at the end.

We’ve come home with the precious cup that is so often taken away from us in the Lion’s Den every odd year on the rugby calendar.

The Scots pouring out of Twickenham were off into the night with the skirl of the pipes and the anthems blaring out with pride and gusto. As the lone piper played there was none of the usual “You lost, go home!” nonsense that is so often scolded upon those who dare to defy our far superior masters.

There was a positive vibe in amongst the despair and the usual cheeky gallous Scottish attitude was summed up beautifully. A battalion of Scots had paraded into Twickenham bearing white T-shirts emblazoned on the chest “Calcutta Cup Champions 2018” Those courageous soldiers had probably taken them off at half-time. But come the final whistle and in amongst the ultimate of burst balloon moments these chaps had updated those T-shirts with a biro declaring that Alba were now 2019 champions as well.

Scotland’s attack is fearsome on song and even those that wear another famous dark coloured jersey may start to doubt should we meet them in a few months time. But only if we can keep the back door shut.

So here we are and this for the Rugby Union team at least seems that wee bit different from the past glories of “nearly” moments. We proved the more than impossible was possible, just to prove that we can then make it possible to mess up the impossible which is also quite a feat.

We do it so well.

From going out of World Cups without defeat and on goal difference, to watching a referee take the delight away from us on so many occasions, to enduring whatever we do to ourselves without anyone else’s help we know how to lose our wellie in the mud and then step right into the cowpat of despair.

But I think this day will endure and with the pain already fading, the realisation that we almost enjoy the misery and the hope that kills us brings us back once again towards the breach, looking forward to the next catastrophe. We’ll come back for more as all addicts do, to hope that the next magical moment may well actually yield us glory only and not a sausage of carnage to follow.

Flower of Scotland was belted out as the Tartan Army travelled north with hope and pride and it managed to drown out the one lonely cry of “You drew – go home!!!!”

2 comments on “A Line in the Sand

  1. JohnMc on

    Good piece, Referendum. Just back from overseas this morning and first chance to watch the BBC online highlights with Andrew Cotter commentary. I must confess, watching that comeback brought a lump to my throat. 40 or so minutes of the most stunning Test rugby I’ve ever seen any side play.
    I was in Paris in 99 and agree with others that the second half at Twickenham was similar to the first half in SdF. Similar, but better, as we came back from only 5-0 down, not 31-0 down, that day.
    Was also there in 2015 for that gutting QF defeat against Australia. I know we ‘only’ drew in the end this time, but it felt like a win all the same. This surely must give our side the confidence to overcome the hoodoo of 6N away games apart from those in Rome?
    And unless you’re Japanese, all games for everyone will be away in a sense this Sept/Oct.

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