18 months ago I was privileged to enjoy an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life… I have not blogged on it until now, as it took place during one of the most challenging periods of my life.
At a time that my wife was waiting for her diagnosis for breast cancer to be confirmed, I won an online competition with Vauxhall to represent my country (Wales) in a penalty kick shoot-out against Scotland at half-time during a football FIFA World Cup Qualifier between the same nations.
The weather was pretty rough before and during the game, but fortunately it was OK at half-time… although the lush grass at the Cardiff City Stadium was rather moist, and we were not allowed to wear boots on the pitch.
Wales were trailing 1-0 at half-time to a James Morrison strike just before the half hour mark, so the Welsh penalty takers amongst us were aware that it was down to us to lift the spirits of the home supporters by delivering with our spot kicks. This was not going to be made any easier by the rowdy, enthusiastic, and slightly inebriated tartan army that always passionately follow their team through thick and thin.
As we geared ourselves towards the big event, our preparations were disrupted by a mischievous Scotland and Stoke City player, Charlie Adam, who was warming up during the half time interval; and decided to prematurely start the proceedings by firing a spot kick in the nets that were purposely setup on the halfway line.
Adam’s antics was (unfortunately) not enough to put off Gordon Sheach, who was first up for the Scottish contingent, and expertly dispatched their first penalty. His celebration of a simultaneous jump and air punch was enthusiastically welcomed by the Scots in the crowd; and the fact that his kilt decided to safely react to the earth gravitational pull was welcomed by the vast majority of the Cardiff City Stadium.
Wales’ first penalty taker suffered a miss-kick and was easily saved by the guest goalkeeper who was drafted in from the Wales youth setup. This meant that after the first round Wales were trailing 1-0.
Scotland’s second penalty was confidently put away to make the score 2-0.
Then it was my turn to either bask in glory or crumble in humiliation. It was my intention, that if I scored my celebration would consist of putting my finger to my lips in the direction of the tartan army to quieten our noisy visitors…. but in a rush of blood, I did this before taking the penalty… which just added further pressure to the spot kick. I picked the direction to which I was going to place the kick and was grateful that the keeper went the other way.
So I was the first Welshman on the night to score against the Scots to make it 2-1, and I hoped that would spur on the professionals to step up a gear after the break.
The Welsh could only hope that the Scots were unsuccessful with their last attempt to give us the opportunity to draw the competition.
Our hopes were realised as the third Scottish pen was saved.
Then the last spot kick of the competition was scored, despite the keeper getting fingertips to the strike, and it ended 2-2.
I have to thank Vauxhall for that opportunity. The prize included watching the team train at The Vale of Glamorgan Hotel and Resort, which acted as the FAW training camp; Vauxhall goodies, tickets to the game, the penalty kick experience; a Wales training top; and a signed Wales shirt (which I have had framed).
What was even better, was 2 goals from the remarkable Gareth Bale in the last 10 minutes to win the game for Wales. The first being a penalty, and the second a wonder-strike that will be remembered by everyone who had the privilege to see it.
I was able to record the action on my BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, which I have been able to edit and upload to YouTube. The footage is a little shaky, partly down to nerves and partly down to the sharing of the tablet between us Welsh representatives.
I’ve decided to post this now as my wife’s cancer treatment has now successfully ended and is in remission, and this will allow me to document the events for future posterity.