Bill Leckie: Scotland can hear ‘Chisinau’ without cringing after beating Moldova
THE spitting and the snarling, the fingers pointing in fury and the heads bowed in shame. Those of us who were here last time will never forget just how horrible a night it was, just how low our game had sunk.
Former Scotland star Steven Caldwell looks dejected after a draw with Moldova in 2004Credit: PA:Press Association
But finally, 17 years and one month on, Scotland can hear the word Chisinau without cringing. Because this time, the punters crowding round the team bus at time up were there to give their team a guard of honour, not make them run a gauntlet of hate.
This time, they were roaring for the manager to be knighted, not beheaded. This time, Scotland flew home as heroes. We’re into the World Cup play-offs with a game to spare – and you know what?
It somehow seems fitting that we got the job done in this city that has haunted us ever since that night in 2004 when a 1-1 draw with the Moldovans all but ended our hopes of going to the finals in Germany and the Tartan Army turned against the team like never before or since.
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It was a horrible occasion, the worst of the worst. I was on the official SFA flight back and the atmosphere was toxic, no one wanting to catch anyone else’s eye, no one daring to crack a smile.
This time? As Steve Clarke and his men went zooming down the runway, Austria and Israel were going at it in Klagenfurt – and no one gave the teeny-tiniest toss what the score was, because we’d rendered it irrelevant. We’d sealed second place with our fifth straight win and set up a wonderful, sold-out homecoming against Denmark on Monday night.
What a fantastic place for all of us to be; gaffer, players, coaches, Blazers, fans, the lot. Yes, we’ve a massive hurdle still to get over if we’re to be in Qatar next winter, but after 23 years of abject failure, getting this close is success in itself. Whoever it is, wherever it is, bring it on.
We’ve been to the Euros and the experience did us a mountain of good, we’ve grown as a team during this qualifying campaign, we have a settled system and way of playing and we’ve every right to be as excited as hell about what lies ahead come March. That excitement came pouring out of young Nathan Patterson when he smashed the goal that settled our nerves after 38 twitchy minutes when we could have been four up but might just as easily have been two down.
He raced away, arms aloft, like he might take off without the aid of a plane. As his mates dived all over him, he’ll have heard the din from our fans and felt like the king of the world.
But, of course, every celebration these days gets party-pooped by the dudes in the truck. So as he settled back in at right wing-back, a boy who was only three when we were last here had to stand and wait to find out if the biggest moment of his career so far would be taken away. Then the Serbian ref got the word in his ear, blew for the game to restart – and Patterson let out a huge roar of relief and happiness that pretty summed up how every one of us was feeling right then.
We were almost there. And then, when the Rangers rookie barrelled down the right and set up Che Adams for the second with 25 to go, we really WERE there. After all those let-downs, all those anti-climaxes, all those campaigns that were finished almost before they’d started, punters and players alike could take a breath and allow themselves a smile and start to think about what comes next.
And on this night when so many demons were exorcised, it was magnificent that just when things took a momentary wobble, the phenomenon who is Craig Gordon would settle us all down again by doing what he does best. It’s testament to the trust we have in the 38-year-old that no was the least bit surprised when he plunged to parry Vadim Rata’s 82nd minute VAR-awarded penalty. BETTING SPECIAL – BEST NEW CUSTOMER OFFERS AND FREE BETS
But it was also so, so fitting that he should have his say – because he’s the last man standing from that horror show in 2004, a national treasure who deserves more than most to do his stuff on the biggest stage of all next year. As he and Clarke and the rest went over to applaud the fans at time up, there was no dancing and singing, just quiet fist-pumps of satisfaction. Then off they trooped to get changed for that flight home and set their minds to beating those Danes.
Because if we do? We’d be looking at a one-off, home play-off and we really couldn’t have dreamed of anything more when this group kicked off. Scotland teams of the past who dropped points in their opening two fixtures the way this one did have folded.
It’s to the massive credit of the unit Clarke has forged that they’ve instead grown with every game, charging away from the Israelis and Austrians to get to where we stand this morning. There’s a real togetherness about them, a mental toughness to go with their undoubted individual and collective talent. Best of all, though, the bond with the Tartan Army that was smashed into a million pieces here in 2004 is stronger than ever.
Roll on Monday night.
Roll on the play-offs.
Life’s feeling good again.
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