“It was late in the second half and I had been playing up front on my own. It was tiring and chances were few and far between. As the ball came to me, I was ready to turn on it and knew I was going to shoot if nobody was pressing me. I turned, took a touch, and then luckily for me I caught it perfectly.”
You don’t need to be a football anorak to tell which goal James McFadden is referring to. It is without a doubt the most iconic Scotland national team goal of the last decade. That night in Paris was the pinnacle of a career, which began taking shape nearly twenty years earlier.
“I first began playing organised football when I was about 7. I went along to Celtic North Boys Club, but they only had an Under 10s team. This meant I could only train, but I went along every week anyway. It did me good to play with lads a few years older than me.
“I progressed to playing with Celtic Boys Club and then went to Motherwell when I was around 12. At the time, you could play with your boys club at the weekend and with the pro club midweek. I kept playing with my boys club and moved onto West Park United.
“It was at West Park that I worked with one of my favourite coaches, Bert Rowan. Bert, who sadly passed away whilst I was still at the club, loved the Dutch ‘Total Football’. He worked you hard on the training ground, but it paid off. We were playing brilliant football, winning all sorts of competitions and enjoying ourselves.
“I was also playing for the Glasgow Schools select squad. Chris Burke was in the team and I remember being impressed by his talent. Even then, you could tell he had a great chance of making it at the highest level.
McFadden was given the opportunity to move to Hearts and he grasped it, signing schoolboy forms with the Edinburgh club. However, Hearts required him to give up boys club football – something the hungry young winger wasn’t prepared to do, so he returned to his boys club and to Motherwell. A few years later he broke through to the Well first team and the rest is history.
James went onto a successful and exciting, at both club and international level. However, McFadden still places one moment from his youth career alongside any moment of glory from his professional years.
“I was playing for West Park and it was a league deciding game against one of our rivals. We had been working on a short corner routine at training all season. Although it was a big match, we gave it a shot. A couple of passes and the ball was worked to me on the angle of the area. I had a shot and it went in, which gave us the league title.”
When asked if it was anything like his winning goal against Holland in 2003, McFadden modestly shrugs, “aye, now you mention it, I suppose it was similar.”
Before bringing the interview to a close, we couldn’t resist asking one last time about THAT goal.
“We had been training in the stadium the night before and, at international level, you play with the chosen footballs of the home team. The balls the French had selected were moving everywhere. I thought to myself – ‘if I get the chance to shoot tomorrow, I’m going for it’.
“It was a tough game and France were coming on strong as they pushed for the winner. I’d been putting in a fair shift up front by myself and was beginning to tire. I knew if a chance for a shot came along, I was going to have a hit. The goal kick was a lengthy one and the French player misjudged it.
“My first touch was decent, it killed the ball and allowed me to swivel. I took a touch out in front and it looked like the centre half was going to charge, but he backed off. Then I hit it.”
And in one strike of a football a nation erupted with joy and a generation of young Scottish players started to dream.