From Fad to immortal fame

FOR a supposedly emotionally repressed nation, the eruption of sheer unbridled joy across Scotland on Wednesday night was truly a phenomenon. It guaranteed that one name was on everybody's lips the following morning.

About the only disagreement in the days since that extraordinary victory by Scotland over World Cup finalists France has been whether to call James McFadden either Faddy or Fad. Otherwise, there has been no argument about his new status as an instant, full-blown Scottish hero, especially as he had smashed home another spectacular goal against Lithuania four days earlier.

Given the outlandish nature of events in Paris, it would have been only slightly surprising if the ghost of Bill Shankly had walked into the Scottish dressing room, just as he did in the flesh to Jock Stein in Lisbon 40 years ago, and said: "James, you're immortal." For, in this football-besotted country, McFadden has earned the kind of fame that will endure for ever.

Possibly the coolest Scotsman around after the match was McFadden himself. He emphasised that the job was only half done and that qualification for next year's European Championship finals would be the real occasion for celebration. But that didn't stop the tabloid newspapers, and not a few more sober broadsheets and broadcasters, going overboard about his goal and its significance. Some even suggested a rise in Scotland's Gross Domestic Product as a result.

McFadden has every right to be wary of adulation from the tabloids because he has felt the rougher edge of their attentions. On the morning after his first cap for Scotland at the age of 19, he went AWOL in Hong Kong, drink having been taken, and missed his flight home. That scrape also earned him the soubriquet 'Cheeky Boy' from the then manager Berti Vogts, and while the German's tenure of office at Hampden was ultimately doomed to failure, the Tartan Army should at least acknowledge that it was Vogts who made McFadden a full international while still a teenager.

Never mind being cheeky, by the time of that international debut, McFadden had already acquired a reputation as something of bad boy. He'd already been passed over as a teenage "tearaway" by Hearts, when he landed at his first club, Motherwell. There, he managed to run up an astonishing 24 yellow and one red cards during two seasons. That he also scored 19 goals in 34 matches and won the Scottish Young Player of the Year Award for 2002- 03 was not ignored in the fuss over his obviously mercurial temperament.

The Hong Kong adventure at the end of that season seemed to confirm that McFadden was just another Scottish boy from the back streets replete with talent and waywardness in equal measures, destined to blow fantastic opportunities and burn himself out, young and wasted.

McFadden's precocious skills were obvious from his early days in Springburn in Glasgow where he was a regular in the school team at Turnbull High. Although bright, his mind was on football rather than books, and it was no surprise when he left school at 16 to join Motherwell's highly respected youth academy.

By the age of 17, he was in the first team and soon became its biggest star, lashing in goal after goal. His passion for the game was obvious and struck a chord with the Motherwell fans, who still recall him with fondness. But so, too, was his lack of discipline, and referees soon became the bane of his life.

At the end of his last season there, Motherwell were relegated and McFadden wept openly on the pitch before the club was reprieved by Falkirk's failure to build a suitable stadium in time to enter the SPL. Over that summer, speculation surrounded McFadden, and, as is usual with any young Scottish star, the Old Firm were favourites to sign him. Indeed, it was stated as a certainty that he would sign for Celtic, the club he had supported as a boy. Perhaps it was his temperamental nature and the red streak dyed into his spiky hair that put Martin O'Neill and Celtic off, but the cash-strapped Fir Park club could not refuse a 1.25 million offer from Everton.

He had few problems settling in on his first extended time away from Glasgow, as his mother Anne-Marie, father James senior and brother Michael all went south to join him. There was already a clan McFadden in Liverpool - Alec McFadden, a relative on his father's side, is president of Merseyside TUC.

At Everton, manager David Moyes and his new signing disagreed about his best position. Moyes tended to play him as a left-sided midfielder; McFadden had to go along with that but himself feels he is best as a striker. He has had mixed fortunes with the club, though once again the fans there love his passionate style.

McFadden's best piece of luck seems to have been when he met Gillian Hunter from Hamilton. Beautiful and brainy, she mixed her studies in social sciences at Glasgow Caledonian University with trips to Liverpool, and family and friends were delighted when they eventually became engaged in February 2005. She is credited with helping McFadden mature, and the player became a doting dad when their son James junior was born early last year.

The baby was five weeks premature and required constant round-the-clock care at Wishaw General Hospital.

That traumatic experience seemed to complete the maturation process, and McFadden has become noticeably more articulate and confident. He signed a new and presumably lucrative four-year contract with Everton last August - he bought his parents a chip shop in Glasgow afterwards - but his wife was anxious to point out that they were no Posh and Becks. In one respect, however, McFadden did end up like David Beckham, as he broke a metatarsal bone in his foot in January. This put him out of football for three months and he has since struggled to dislodge multimillion-pound signings Yakubu and Andy Johnson from the first team.

When he and Gillian were married in Hamilton this summer, McFadden showed another sign that his feet are firmly on the ground: instead of wedding gifts, they asked for donations to Wishaw General Maternity Unit; handing over 6,000.

Recently, he and all the other Everton players were involved in the public mourning for 11-year-old Rhys Jones, the young fan of the club who was shot dead. McFadden spoke most movingly about his emotions as a young father having to confront such evil.

Such sober reflections and his dignified demeanour in the wake of Wednesday's heroics suggest that McFadden has grown up well.

For all his experience - he has 34 caps and 12 goals - McFadden is still only 24. The Scottish fans love him for his undoubted commitment to the jersey. They will be hoping that he is no passing fad.

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• McFadden's mother Anne Marie revealed that when her boy returned from Paris he turned up his nose at champagne to tuck into a roll with Lorne sausage and a cup of tea.

• "I don't feel as if I need to be a role model. I've had a few mishaps, but that is called growing up. I just think there are role models in everyday life; you don't need to be in the public eye. When I was younger I looked up to my big brother Michael."

• On getting a move to England's lucrative Premiership: "It means I can look after my family. I can do everything I've ever wanted to do and it's amazing when you think about that: a boy from Springburn brought up on a council estate."

• McFadden denied calling referee Graham Poll, left, a "cheat" when he sent him off against Arsenal in the Carling Cup defeat. The striker said he'd been dismissed after querying a penalty decision.

• On fan adulation: "You can't sit there and tell yourself 'I must be the saviour of Scottish football because people are saying so'."