Lee McCulloch remembers his first taste of green tea. For Gary Caldwell, it was the hotel’s glass lift. Gary Teale recalls Tokyo being like a scene from Bladerunner. And Lee Miller is still bewildered by the heated toilets.
Chris Burke, meanwhile, fondly describes “a lovely vegetable curry” he enjoyed on the flight home.
The Scotland squad all have different memories from their 2006 trip to Japan for the Kirin Cup – a three-team friendly event. But each hold somewhat more sketchy recollections of the celebratory night out that followed the goalless draw with the hosts, a stalemate that meant they had won the tournament.
It started with crates of the sponsors’ beer in the changing room and continued with the blessing of manager Walter Smith, who told his group of young thrusters that they could have a night out in Tokyo so long as they all reported for the bus to the airport the next morning.
Most did not need a second invitation.
‘We went mad, to be honest’
In the 14 years that have passed, an omerta has settled over the squad about some of the details of what happened next, not least the rumour that one player ended up in police custody after dancing on the bonnet of a taxi and was only released after money changed hands. Some concede that it happened – they think – but none will name names.
Their memories are perhaps compromised by a haze of time and booze, but some fragments of the night remain vivid.
“It had been arranged we’d go to a bar to watch the FA Cup final – Liverpool v West Ham – and get some food and beers,” says Caldwell. “Then we went to an underground nightclub and it was absolutely mobbed.”
McCulloch remembers drinking with Scotland fans and things getting “a wee bit loud and boisterous”.
“We went mad, to be honest,” adds Miller. “It spilled outside eventually and we were singing and dancing all the way along the street.”
It was daylight by then, and some of the Scotland players – wary of Smith’s warning about the bus leaving at 08:00 – decided enough was enough. McCulloch set four or five alarms to ensure he didn’t sleep in, but Caldwell and brother Steven were a little less cautious.
“It was about 7am and we thought I’d get an hour or so,” he says. “But we were woken up at five past eight by bangs on the door and phone calls. I’ve never been so terrified as when I walked on to that bus and we just got the Walter stare…”
Teale – like several others – didn’t make it to bed at all, and was only in the hotel long enough to hurl the contents of some team-mates’ waiting suitcases all over the corridors.
That would not be the only prank the winger pulled either, joining Wigan team-mate McCulloch to convince team masseur Billy McCulloch to draw a penis on the forehead of “a burst” James McFadden, who had fallen asleep on the bus.
“When we got to the airport, he was signing things for fans with this thing on his head,” says forward McCulloch. “He checked in and everything. Then Walter saw him…”
Club sandwich with chips & thumping Bulgaria
Burke missed most of the hilarity, having opted out of the celebrations in favour of a “club sandwich and chips in bed”. Not only was the young winger terrified of doing the wrong thing on his first time away with Scotland, but he was exhausted thanks to a combination of jetlag and two games in three days.
Indeed, as he stood at the side of the pitch waiting to make his Scotland debut 75 minutes into the opening game against Bulgaria in Kobe, his main memory is being “absolutely shattered” having been “on the bench yawning”.
The Scots were 3-1 up at that stage, Kris Boyd having scored twice in his first 43 minutes of international football and McFadden adding a third. Despite his tiredness, it took Burke just two minutes to finish a composed move with a delightful lobbed volley – “I think that was my first touch’ – before he bundled in another late on.
The Bulgarians – like Scotland – had finished third in their World Cup qualification group, but McCulloch remembers “running all over the top of them” and thinks it is the best the side played in any of his 18 caps.
Teale says similar. “How we won the way we did, I’ll never know,” he adds. “It wasn’t just the result, but the performance given half the squad was made up of people with hardly any caps.”
‘It was like a scene from Bladerunner’
After the win in Kobe, the squad took the bullet train the 250-odd miles to Tokyo and checked in at their 43-floor Tokyo Dome Hotel, overlooking the cavernous baseball stadium.
“I’ve got a fear of lifts,” says Caldwell. “But this place had a glass one that shot right up the outside of the building, which was actually much better than I thought it would be when I was standing at the bottom.”
For Miller, the hotel stood out for the heated toilet seats – “jets of water to clean your backside!” – while McCulloch’s main memory is the green tea. “It was the first time I’d had it and I was battering right in; I even got some to bring home.”
Teale talks of the “cherry blossom trees in the middle of a metropolis” and downtown being “like a scene from Bladerunner, with lights and people everywhere”.
But, without fail, all the players rave about the warm welcome they received from the Japanese. “We had a wee fan club following us everywhere,” says Miller. “All these wee guys shouting ‘Mr Lee, Mr Lee’ and I’m thinking ‘I’m just the hamper boy. I don’t even get recognised at home’. We were treated like royalty.”
“It didn’t feel like you were a fitba player, it felt like you were a rockstar,” McCulloch adds. “It was as if they’d never seen footballers before and they all wanted stuff signed, foreheads, arms, the whole lot.”
Spaceships & savouring a Mickey Mouse cup
That fervour remained when Scotland faced the host nation.
Given that Bulgaria had beaten Japan in the opener, Smith’s side knew avoiding defeat would be enough to claim the trophy. But this was a side coached by Brazilian icon Zico and one who would play at the following month’s World Cup.
Teale remembers the Saitama Stadium looking “like a spaceship had been dropped from the sky” and being heaving with ultras two hours before kick-off. And Burke is still in thrall at the fans’ “regimented 90-minute chants” that made even fiesty European ties pale in comparison.
As for the game itself…
“We got battered 0-0 – it was a classic Walter Smith performance,” says Caldwell, who played in a back three with Russell Anderson and captain Davie Weir.
“Aye, we took a doing,” adds McCulloch of a game in front of almost 60,000 fans in which goalkeeper Neil Alexander pulled off several fine saves.
Miller remembers it as the first of his three caps, the striker replacing McCulloch for the final 20 minutes. “I can remember Walter just saying ‘go and enjoy it’,” says the Falkirk co-manager.
“I think I was chucked on as a thanks for going out there. I played wide midfield and basically had to just run about chasing boys, but I was happy to do that for Scotland. And to win a trophy at the end of it… I know people say it was a Mickey Mouse Cup, but even still.”
McCulloch concurs. “We’re still the only Scottish team to win an international tournament,” he says. “It doesn’t matter how big or small.”
|Neil Alexander, Graeme Smith, Iain Turner; Russell Anderson, Gary Caldwell, Steven Caldwell, David McNamee, Graeme Murty, Gary Naysmith, David Weir; Chris Burke, Darren Fletcher, Lee McCulloch, Ian Murray, Nigel Quashie, Gavin Rae, Scott Severin, Gary Teale; Kris Boyd, James McFadden, Lee Miller|