Friday – the weekend is just round the corner, the sun is shining, ladies up and down this fine land are stripping down to their skimpies and you can almost taste the first cold sip of lager! That’s unless you’re like me, stuck in Scottish Rugby Blog HQ waiting for something, anything, exciting to happen on the Scottish rugby front. Sure, we have a squad announced for the up coming tour of Argentina, and with 4 new caps, it’s almost raised me from a slumber. The news that Di ‘OhNo’ Rollo is making a reappearance on the international scene, albeit with the ‘A’ squad, would normally get my blood pressure rising… but today it hardly registered. Nothing, it seemed, was going to stir me from my general malaise and the only thing left to do was plug in the MP3 player and listen to the tunes and hope that they would help pass the long day…
Suddenly, as Al Green faded out, a distant orchestra could be heard through the headphones… I know that tune…damn, what is it?…where have I heard that before…?
Slowly, ever so slowly, it all becomes clearer and I can cast my mind back 6 months….
St Etienne, 28th September 2007
9am– Wake up with the most almighty hangover, not good…damn Le Glasgow for staying open so late, running out of the normal beer and only having the 8% skull-crusher left! Turn around to find Rory sharing the same bed… damn apartment organisers only providing 2 beds for 4 people! Everyone else is still asleep so I decide I’ll creep out the apartment and go and hunt down some food. The locals don’t seem too impressed with the bedraggled Scotsman who stumbles through some rudimentary French in order to get some munch. I apologise for my unkempt appearance and leave with a bag of assorted pastries and head for a park bench. Sun is just starting to break through the early morning clouds… today’s going to be a nice day.
12pm – Creep back into the apartment and people are just starting to come round. My hangover has largely gone and starting to get ready for another day of alcohol excess and, of course, the small matter of the Scotland qualification decider against the Italy. The others still have a hangover but seem to have enough energy to fill in the blanks from the previous night…damn them and damn the Italians that kept buying me beer at 4am. Still, only 9 hours till the big kick-off and no sign of nerves, got to be a good sign!
4pm – Hangover totally gone and a good wee crowd starting to gather in one of St Etienne’s town squares. Kilted, booted and starting to get excited. Only thing missing is a beer. My companions are drinking hot chocolate, water and cola – no sign of alcohol….this is not good.
4.15pm – Success!!!! Convince the folks that the best cure for their hangovers is to start on the lager. The first round in and the days excitement can begin. Get the first butterfly in the stomach, its either nerves or the jambon cru sarnie for lunch was a bad idea.
6pm – Town square is really busy. A good mix of Italians, Scots and plenty of locals. The Italians are in good voice, lots of singing and the wearing of blue colanders upon heads. The Scots are noticeably subdued, there are either all still nursing the effects f le Glasgow’s finest or the nerves are kicking in. The sun has disappeared behind a flurry of big grey clouds and the chance of rain increases – that’ll suit us though….surely!
7.30pm – Big Gavin Hasting hits the stage and mumbles something in French before trying to rouse the Scots in the crowd into action. Still subdued, nerves are now starting to take hold. Rory and I have a panicked conversation about what to do for the next 10 days if Scotland get knocked out of the World Cup! We never considered that possibility and now it is a looming consideration. Anyway, no time for such defeatist talk. Just time to down the beer and join the mass march, led by Big Gav, thats making its way out to the Stadium. Did I just feel some rain?
8pm – Nearing the stadium now, and the damn rain is on. Seems to be getting ever heavier. Good craic on the march out to the stadium and finally some renditions of Flower of Scotland are started up. The locals are hanging out of the tower blocs, waving to the fans, taking photos and one smart cookie has a lion rampant flag hanging from his balcony – good man! Round a corner and there is the Stadium, floodlights on and its looks like a good place for a battle.
8.45pm – find out seats, we are in a corner behind the posts and the stadium us functional but basic. The atmosphere is cracking, the Italians are out singing the Scots and making a heck of a racket. Amazing atmosphere and nerves are only just in control. Good news is that most of the folk around us are also Scottish with a few locals and only a couple of Italians spotted about to make up the numbers.
8.55pm– A tune comes over the stereo, not sure what it is but boy does it get the blood pumping! The rain is thumping down now, puddles are forming round the side of the pitch and its so wet I have to put on my wee red berets has been put on to try keep the rain off! Rory informs me that the music is a guy called Jean Michelle Jarre and the tune is Industrial Revolution (Part III). Need to remember to try get a copy and put on my MP3 player.
9.05pm – Game has kicked off and Scotland start well. Parks has put a couple of spiralling kicks in that have pushed the Italians back and they have coughed up a penalty and gotten a man yellow carded. Maybe this isn’t going to be that close…
9.40pm – Half time and Scotland are struggling. They’ve lost a silly try, given away a penalty and Rory Lamont has been taken to hospital with an awful looking neck injury that came from reckless play by the Italians. Jonathon Kaplan is having a horror show as the referee and misses high tackles, late tackles and even diving from the Italians. Nerves are shot, I really want to go home! Never been so nervous at a sporting event in my life. Still the game is not away from us, we’ve scored penalties and surely we will push on in the second half and grab the win.
10.10pm – Thats better, 8 points in front and we aint going to throw it away now. Heart pressure is almost back to normal and even have a wee laugh with Rory about how we had worried about Scotland losing.
10.11pm – Arse, Italian penalty and gap down to 5. Still, we should get more penalties and don’t look like gifting any more tries.
10.18pm – Christ on a bike, another Italian penalty! Gap now down to 2 and the nerves are back withfull force. Rory looks a little sick. The Italian fans are getting very loud now, they can sense victory is close and that Scotland are crumbling. The Scottish fans are sitting quiet, fingernails are gone and all that is left is to sit, grim faced, in the rain and wait for the inevitablele.
10.23pm – 7 minutes to go….COME ON SCOTLAND!!!! Only 7 minutes to hold out and we are into the Quarter Finals. No silly mistakes….
10.24pm – A bloody silly mistake, an Italian penalty. Its out on the right but its kickable….he bloody kicked an identical kick in the first half. Look at Rory, he’s going even whiter than normal and looks to have aged several years. The Italians are on top of their seats, they know the game is theirs…they’ll play Argentina in the Quarter Finals and Scotland will return home ashamed. Rory and I know our 10 days left in France will be pointless, no team in the tournament no point in being there. Gutted.
10.25pm – The kick is lined up, taken bloody ages so it has. I grab Rory’s arm and hold on for all I’m worth. The Italian runs and gets a clean contact and the ball is on its way. The ball travels about 3 meters and Rory is on his feet “He’s missed!” he screams. No he bloody hasn’t I think to myself. Poor Rory has lost his mind and is seeing things. Sure enough the ball has started wide but its curling towards the near post. Scotland tournament, our holiday all lost on a single kick of a rugby ball…arse. Rory seeing that the ball is bound for the post starts to sit down, but hold….by god the ball has stopped coming in, either the wind has caught it or it didn’t have enough on it but its starting to fade…..everyone is starting to rise….did it go over, did it go wide? A cheer comes up from the far side, is it Scots, is it Italians? The line judge…. all eyes on the line judges….forever they bloody take…empires fall…alien civilisations land, build cities, die out and disappear….bloody line judges take ages. Flags stay down….NO CONVERSTION! Ya dancer! Need a seat now, my heart can’t take this…
10.30pm– Italian pressure, they have the ball looking for space or a last gasp penalty. Scotland ahead by 2…..2 little points…not enough. Rory looks sick again. I feel sick and think my heart is about to pack in. Scotland can’t get the ball, can’t get it into touch, can’t bloody finish the game off. Troncon gets it, Troncon kicks it aimlessly into Scottish possession……Parks, being top tonight so he has, has it, sorts himself and plants the ball far down into the Italian corner, picked up by an Italian but a Scot is on him. The Italian is bundled into touch……relief! Game over, stand of seats to celebrate but get dizzy and need to sit down. Rory hasn’t moved, its been too much for him. He looks like he’s just watched carnage, is so almost was. This stress is too much, the high too high to enjoy – never ever again will I put myself through that….well, until next week and the Quarter Final!
Industrial Revolution is a tune that whenever comes on my MP3 will forever remind me of St Etienne. Sitting in the stadium waiting for the game and the elation, or should that be relief, at the result. It is also a fair description of how Scotland played on the night….industrial, ugly but ultimately effective rugby. I’ve still never seen that game back on the telly, too scared to watch it in case that damn Italian penalty goes over – that single minute of rugby is the reason I have grey hairs!!