Earlston-based football veteran Ali McCulloch has returned triumphant, and more than a little humbled, from the Seniors Football World Cup.
The 50-year-old competed as part of Alan McTurk’s 22-man Scotland squad who won the third-place trophy, having come seventh and fifth in 2011 and 2012 respectively, in the main 11-aside event as well as winning the preceding five-a-side 50 and Over Masters title.
The event was started to help support the Thai people who were so badly devastated by the 2004 tsunami and has become a symbol of how football can bring joy, happiness and much-needed business revenue to the local area. Ali described his trip as truly memorable with many emotions, from humility to the satisfaction of representing Scotland and winning the masters event as well as capturing third spot in the Seniors World Cup.
“It was a truly amazing experience and one which will stay in my memory for a very long time,” he told TheSouthern.
“The Thai people have a genuine sense of friendship which they offer out to anyone and everyone.
“The football was brilliant and it made me fall back in love with playing which, as you move into coaching and managing, can be lost as you become immersed in delivering training and tactics, or teaching technical stuff.
“I prefer playing and hope I can continue to play as long as possible.
“Well done to all of the boys, including the physios and doctors, who kept us going during the 10-day trip.”
Also as part of the visit Ali and the team carried out coaching sessions for local schoolchildren, handing out gear which was donated to the team before they embarked on the trip.
Scottish coaches Alan McTurk and Paul Donnelly used the Masters event to acclimatise the players in preparation for the main tournament.
Scotland put a 40+ and 50+ team into the competition, with the younger side being narrowly beaten in the final by Australian team Bondi.
Ali and the 50+ side, however, managed to triumph in their event for the first time by overcoming the Bondi 50s team in an extremely hard-fought final.
The Seniors World Cup event proved to be a very arduous journey for the squad, with qualification through the group stages coming at a high price after five players were ruled out through injury.
With only two qualifying spots available, the Scotland players found themselves in what had become known as the group of death, along with New Zealand, the much-fancied Australians and title defenders Iran. The opening game against Australia proved pivotal with a hard-earned, no-scoring draw.
Next was Iran who demonstrated why they were the pre-tournament favourites by beating Scotland 2-1 in a very close match. The last qualifying matches saw Scotland needing to beat New Zealand, and Australia having to dump Iran by a lesser margin to qualify.
Scotland won 3-1 with Stevie Tosh scoring a hat-trick before Australia turned the form book on its head by defeating a much-weakened Iran. But Australia could only win 2-1 which meant Scotland made the knock-out stages for the first time since taking part in the competition three years ago.
The semi-finals saw Scotland pitted against the host nation Thailand who had come out as group winners. The Scots played incredibly well and took the lead through Barry Wilson but the agile Thailand team pulled one back before half-time.
The temperature and conditions were taking their toll and the hosts, who were not suffering as much, scored on 83 minutes to put the tie beyond the Scots, leaving them to face Taiwan in the play-off where goals from Charlie Brown and Davy Scott helped secure third place. Iran beat Thailand in the final 2-1 to regain the trophy.
Scotland Seniors squad: James Kellacher, Ian McCaldon, Ali McCulloch, Graham Buckley, Davy Scott, Stevie Tosh, Graeme Robertson, Colin Wallace, Davy Sneddon, Grant Fairley, Stevie McIlhone, Billy McPhee, Gordon Connolly, Barry Wilson, Charlie Brown, Charlie Christie, Jason Dair, Stevie McMahon, Stevie Marlow, Gary Clark, Ian Weir, Ian Heddle, Scott Lumsdaine, Martin Tierney, Tommy Lowrie, Alex Cunningham, Alan McTurk (player/co-manager), Paul Donnelly (co-manager), Ian Dutia (physiotherapist).