FOOTBALLERS are not paid to be clued-up about the history of the game. So when Steven Fletcher said he was surprised to be told it is nearly half a century since a Scotland player scored a hat-trick, no-one had reason to disbelieve him.
The striker assumed that someone more recently, perhaps Kenny Dalglish, had managed the feat. But while Fletcher might have been unaware, those more studious types amongst the Tartan Army could have quickly told him that Colin Stein was the last player to hit three goals for Scotland. Indeed, the Rangers player claimed four goals when Scotland defeated Cyprus 8-0 in a World Cup qualifier in 1969.
So it is not very often that the Scottish Football Association have to write-off the cost of a football as it departs under a striker’s arm.
“I’ve been told it was 46 years since the last Scotland hat-trick and I was shocked,” said Fletcher, as he clutched the match ball after yesterday’s 6-1 victory over Gibraltar. “I thought Kenny might have managed so I am very happy and proud to be part of history. It means a lot. It will be one of the best achievements of my career.”
It took just a single evening’s work for Fletcher’s Scotland statistics to look so much healthier; one goal in 19 is now four goals in 20. His sole strike before last night’s glut was six years ago, against Iceland.
He was aware that people had begun to doubt him. It was telling that Gordon Strachan chose to defend the player following last Wednesday night’s 1-0 win over Northern Ireland, when the striker had again failed to score.
The manager referenced his other qualities, such as his hold-up play and “elegant” ball work. All this is well and good but when it comes to opponents like last night, Fletcher knew he really had to start doing what a striker should be doing – scoring.
It took him 29 minutes to score the first – an opportunistic header following a poor clearance from Gibraltar centre-half Ryan Casciaro. The next came with 11 minutes remaining when he scored Scotland’s fifth of the night with another header from Jordan Rhodes’ cross.
The history-making third strike arrived in the 90th minute and saw him strike with his trusty left foot. It was the first goal he had scored for his country that wasn’t a header.
“It’s been a while since I scored for Scotland, I was aware of that,” he said. “I get told every day. It’s good to get off the mark again, especially after being out for a long time. Was it getting to me? Not really. I was still confident going in to games.”
Okay, so it was only Gibraltar. But Fletcher can take the keys to his Lamborghini and whip up as much dust as he wants after making some history in a Scotland shirt. He was Twitter-shamed recently after a poor error of judgement where he was photographed posing next to his new super car a few days after club manager Gus Poyet’s sacking by Sunderland.
Fletcher received flak because, as many pointed out, he had only scored four times for the Premiership strugglers all season. Yet here he was, seemingly without a care in the world, next to a car so eye-wateringly expensive most would struggle to afford one of its hub cabs.
“Getting the hat-trick will definitely help my confidence going into the summer,” he said.
“I need to go back to Sunderland, work hard, but I am looking forward to the Ireland game too. Hopefully I have done enough to stay in the gaffer’s plans and I’m looking forward to it.”
And what of the match-ball, now signed by all of his team-mates? What will he do with it? “I’ll probably put it in a little glass cabinet,” he said, clearly thrilled by not only his first hat-trick for his country, but his first since he struck three times for Hibs in a 4-2 victory against Gretna at Easter Road in 2008. “I will put this ball next to that one,” he said.
Fletcher was not the only player with something to treasure last night. Lee Casciaro became the first Gilbraltarian to make an impact at Hampden since a pitch invader hailing from the peninsular ran on to the pitch wearing a kilt and a Real Madrid jersey during the 2002 Champions League final between the Spanish club and Bayer Leverkusen.
Casciaro smiled and said he was happy to make a more positive impact after scoring Gibraltar’s first ever competitive goal. He finished neatly below Scotland goalkeeper David Marshall in the 19th minute to stun Hampden into silence and level the scoreline at 1-1.
“It is a dream for anyone to score a goal, especially for a nation,” said Casciaro, who is a policeman for the Ministry of Defence. “It is really nice for anybody. It is not my goal. It is a whole team effort. It was the whole team that scored a goal for the first time.”
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