Steven Porter’s work in progress, ‘Countries of the World’ , is part fiction and part memoir. Set in the fictional Scottish town of Breogan between 1975 and 1982, a young boy is obsessed by football and distant events. In this excerpt, he describes one of Scotland’s most glorious failures. After losing to Peru and drawing with Iran, Scotland need to beat Holland by three clear goals to qualify for the quarter finals of the 1978 World Cup.
A sunny June evening in Mendoza . The shadows of players become elongated giants. Alan Rough is in the dark, not for the first time this month. In keeping with the tournament so far the early signs are that it won’t be Scotland ’s night.
Rioch hits the junction with a header after 4 minutes. Then Dalglish has the ball in the net but the goal is mysteriously disallowed. Holland soon take advantage of a dodgy penalty decision and Rensenbrink scores.
Mam says, “So much has gone wrong, something must go right for us.”
Scotland remain patient and sure enough their creative build up play is rewarded just before half time. A Souness cross is headed down by Jordan and Dalgish strikes a shot high into the net. Early in the second half Souness is fouled in the area. Archie Gemmill keeps calm and sticks his penalty low to the goalkeeper’s right. 2-1. We pass round the box of Quality Street . I demolish the strawberry creams and toffee cups before dropping a block of Walls ice cream into my cola. Dalglish is dispossed on the right. Archie picks up the ball… The wee man weaves his way past several Dutchmen. “Great run by Gemmill… and a goal!” Archie punches the air as if to say, “We’re not shite. We can do this, you know”. Scotland are in dreamland. The miracle is beginning to happen. We are 3-1 up against the mighty Holland. We need one more goal. Suddenly, I feel sick with nerves.
“I’m going to bed,” I say.
“That’s not like you to miss the game,” Mam frowns.
Even Dad is showing an interest. “Come on Scotland. Another!”
Just one more and we’d be in the quarters. I climb the stairs with an ear on the commentary. I brush my teeth get into bed and fall asleep. I dream I’m falling off a cliff. I wake up to the sound of groaning from downstairs. The commentator’s tone has plummeted. I pull back the covers and go down. The replay shows Johnny Rep playing a one-two with Rudi Krol before ruining the night with a 30-yarder. Gemmill and Hartford look to the heavens but nothing can help us now. The dream lasted three minutes. Such a bittersweet dream. Football.