The rumours had been flying about amongst the Tartan Army, the name given to the supporters of the Scottish national football team, since the evening before, while they were out soaking up the atmosphere and the alcohol around the centre of Talinn. Now, as the referee led the team out onto the pitch in the surrounds of the three-quarters empty Kadrioru Stadium, it was confirmed. In good spirits as always, no matter what the circumstances, someone began the chant: ‘One team in Talinn, There’s Only One Team in Talinn.’

The fiasco had started the evening before. Scotland had been allowed to train at the Kadrioru Stadium, where the World Cup qualifying match against Estonia was due to take place the following evening. During the training the team manager, Craig Brown and his senior staff and players became concerned that the floodlighting was inadequate to light the pitch properly. Subsequently they made an official complaint to the FIFA match delegate. FIFA in turn agreed to move the match the following day from an evening kick-off time to an earlier afternoon start, meaning the game could be played in daylight, without the need for the ineffective floodlights.

Estonia, the home team, were not happy. The floodlights had been used before without complaint. The early afternoon kick off time meant a loss in television revenue and logistical expenditure and re-planning. They refused to change their plans, while Scotland proceeded to work towards the amended schedule.

Sandy and Jimmy watched as referee Miroslav Radoman led out the Scotland team and lined up on the halfway line of the pitch. Where the Estonia team should have lined up alongside them there was only an empty space. Where the Estonian supporters should have been gathered in the stadium there were only empty seats.

‘I’ve never seen anything like it,’ said Sandy to Jimmy, ‘Thirty years of watching football.’

The charade continued as the stadium announcer introduced the national anthem of Scotland, the familiar strains of ‘O’ Flower Of Scotland’ began to ring from the speakers. Sandy and Jimmy stood, arms folded across their chests, hands on hearts, and belted out the opening lines. Then the Estonian anthem was played and met with complete silence, apart from the well-oiled voice of the Tartan Army providing their own commentary on the surreal spectacle.

‘What now?,’ Jimmy asked as they watched on. The Scotland players broke away and did final warm ups as they took their positions on the field, facing an invisible opposition.

‘They’re acting as though this is normal,’ Sandy was bemused as Scotland captain John Collins met the referee in the centre circle and they went through the protocol of the coin toss. Being the only captain there, Collins won the toss and elected to kick-off the game.

‘If it wasn’t a lunchtime kick-off I’d swear I’d had too much to drink.’ Jimmy said.

The referee gave the ball to Collins, who placed it on the centre spot. Radoman checked his watch, blew his whistle and the game began. Forward Billy Dodds passed the ball to Collins, who took one touch before Radoman blew his whistle again to signal the end of the game. It had lasted three seconds.

Collins picked up the ball and handed it back to the referee. The players saluted the loyal fans and made their way off the pitch.

‘Does this mean we’ve won?’ Sandy asked Jimmy, who could only shrug in reply.

‘We’ll have a drink to celebrate anyway.’ And they headed back with the thousand or so other Scottish supporters to take advantage of the Estonian hospitality.

Written as part of The A to Z Challenge 2018. Click HERE for more details of the challenge.


Each day in April we will visit a different town or city in the European Union, whose name will begin with the letter of the day – today it’s Talinn in Estonia for a memorable football match for my home country Scotland – for a story based on a theme also corresponding to the same letter.

Over the course of the month and 26 stories, we will visit all 28 member countries to complete a farewell tour before Britain leaves the political union next year, touching on the history, politics, culture and people at the heart of Europe.

For a full list of stories and places visited, visit here: THE A TO Z CHALLENGE 2018.

To read more about this infamous, and rather amusing real-life story of the One Team in Talinn, click here:Β Wikipedia.

64 responses to “T IS FOR TALINN, ESTONIA”

  1. Haha! I’ve read about this match before. I think it was referenced in one of Mart Poom’s interviews when he was playing for Sunderland. Thanks for reminding this, Iain. Fun take,

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reminds me of an eerier situation in 1973 when Chile “played” a World Cup qualifier match against Soviet Union, who had boycotted visiting Chile to play. The Salvador Allende regime made a big show of playing the match and scoring one goal in the stadium that they had until recently been using to detain and torture dissidents.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That has more serious political undertones – I wonder if anything like that will be repeated this summer in the World Cup in Russia if things keep going the way they are at the moment.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m not sure who the bad guy is here. Were the floodlights too dim? Or were they complaining over something that didn’t need it? Interesting story. Did one of the teams end up forfeiting?

    Liked by 1 person

    • In the end they were forced to play the match again a few weeks later, and it ended in a boring goalless draw, so ironically they could’ve not bothered with the whole thing really!


  4. Haha I remember this. Didn’t it end up having to be replayed at a neutral ground. I’m an FC United fan, we love a good boycott!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m not in to sports but that was probably very weird to watch. They should have put that revenue towards better lighting but then the complaint would have been “it’s too bright!”. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That was indeed a spectacular end! The match getting over in three minutes. I was wondering all along about how it was going to end with one team not taking the field. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Yes! Finally, somebody that calls Football to the real football, here in Canada they call it soccer and I can’t stand that. BTW, I didn’t know about this and it’s a funny story!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. So enjoyable. Really enjoyed Sandy and Jimmy’s slightly bemused conversation. It’s odd how sometimes fact is stranger that fiction. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I was there in 1996.
    A totally surreal experience. I remember the cold, the hot sausages on sale on the concourse round to the 1 and only stand.
    The fun pitch invasion for a kick about before being usherd off with police and alsation dogs.
    “The Nimetta Bar” ( bar with no name ) – met Chick Young and some drunk MP he was with.
    They must have imported the good looking barmaids specially for the game.
    Went to the replayed game in Monaco – what a weird contrast that was – with all the millionaire yachts.

    Liked by 1 person

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