Monday 30 May 2022, 09:00

The Aussie ace spearheading Scotland’s World Cup push

  • Australia-born Lyndon Dykes chose Scotland over the Socceroos

  • He is now looking forward to a FIFA World Cup™ play-off semi-final against Ukraine

  • Dykes tells FIFA about the moments that led him to Scotland and away from a career in rugby league

Scotland had a problem.

When Steve Clarke took charge in 2019, he saw immediately that - in some positions at least - he was dealing with an embarrassment of riches. Central midfield was brimming with desire and dynamism, while at left back - in Andrew Robertson and Kieran Tierney - he boasted two of the world’s best.

But it didn’t take Clarke’s decades of experience to identify the glaringly obvious gap in the Scots’ armour. “We’d nothing up front. Or nothing great,” he acknowledged recently at a live event in Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall.

Plunging into the transfer market, the default option for any club coach, was naturally out of the question. But ingenuity was required all the same. “I needed to find a striker,” said Clarke. “Fortunately, I found an Australian one.”

Lydon Dykes was the Aussie in question. Yet when Scotland found themselves in a tug-of-war with the Socceroos over his allegiances, the striker’s background suggested there would be only one winner.

Dykes, after all, looked to be the quintessential Queenslander. Laid-back and bleach-blond, he’d been born and brought up on the Gold Coast, dabbled in rugby league and Aussie rules and, at the age of 20, was still working in a local factory and playing for Surfers Paradise Apollo. His older sister - a gymnast - had even won gold for Australia at the Commonwealth Games.

But when Dykes steps out in the FIFA World Cup™ play-offs this week, it will not be in the green-and-gold of his native country. The choice to don the dark blue of Scotland instead came more easily than might have been expected, and it began with a fateful chat with the striker-seeking Clarke.

“It was a good conversation,” Dykes recalled. “I made it clear that international football was a big thing to me. I was so grateful to even have that opportunity, never mind have the choice of playing for both Scotland and Australia.

“Steve just told me it straight, and that’s what I liked about him. There weren’t too many words but he got right to the point. But he also left it very much as my decision and, in the end, I just followed my gut, my heart and my head.

“Australia were amazing through it all too. But to be honest, I wanted to play for Scotland from the start. And it's been the best decision I’ve ever made.”

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 30: Lyndon Dykes of Scotland poses during the official UEFA Euro 2020 media access day on May 30, 2021 in Alicante, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

It was a decision that undoubtedly surprised and disappointed many Down Under. But it wasn’t just the experience of forging his professional career in Scotland - first with Queen of the South, then Livingston – that led to Dykes answering Clarke’s call.

“Obviously I can’t hide the Aussie accent,” he said, laughing. “But when people ask me, ‘How are you Scottish?’, I always tell them I have Scottish blood.

“All my family is Scottish. My parents, my wife and my son are Scottish. I even did one of those ancestry tests and it came back 99 per cent Scottish! You can’t ask for much more than that (laughs).”

Picking Scotland over Australia wasn’t the first ‘Sliding Doors moment’ in Dykes’ life. Even more significant was the point at which his uncle – a former footballer, and another Scot – ignored and overruled Lyndon’s sporting desires.

“I loved playing rugby league growing up – that was my sport really,” Dykes told FIFA. “It was my uncle who signed me up for a football team and got me into the game without me having much of a say (laughs). I’m just really glad I went with it.

“I still love rugby league and feel I could jump out there and play it right now, no worries. I was a decent player to be fair (laughs). I like to think I would have been successful in that sport too. But football’s brought me so much. Sitting here, speaking as an international player and with all the rest, I definitely have no regrets.”

Scotland fans, and their national coach, are just as indebted to that pushy uncle. Dykes has proven, after all, to be an instant success on the international scene, starring as the team qualified for their first major tournament in 23 years, then becoming the first Scot since 1969 to score in four consecutive matches.

“It’s weird. Although international football was a big step up, I felt really confident with Scotland from day one,” the striker explained. “I just felt like it suited me, that the team suited my attributes. It felt like I’d been playing with these boys for years.

“It was good to get off the mark early and ever since then I’ve never looked back. The goals started coming thick and fast, and they were crucial goals too, which made me happier than anything.

“This is exactly where I wanted to be all those years ago when I came over from Australia to try to make a career football. I’m playing for a great club in QPR and the Scotland thing has been amazing. The squad’s great, we’ve been winning games, the fans are right behind us and it’s been incredible to involved with that and have it in my career.

“But I want to achieve even more. Although I’m proud of how far I’ve come, there’s so much more I want to do.”

Like playing at a World Cup, for example?

“Absolutely. When I joined up with Scotland, playing at those tournaments was one of my big goals. And so far, so good – we got to the Euros in my first qualifying campaign, which was amazing after so many years of Scotland being away.

“Going through tournaments like that makes you a better player, and the World Cup would be massive for the whole country and for me personally.”

BELGRADE, SERBIA - NOVEMBER 12: Lyndon Dykes of Scotland celebrates during the UEFA EURO 2020 Play-Off Final between Serbia and Scotland at Rajko Mitic Stadium on November 12, 2020 in Belgrade, Serbia.

Just two more wins – against Ukraine on Wednesday, then Wales on Sunday - would take Scotland back to that exalted stage for the first time since France ‘98. And while the war in the former nation led to a late rescheduling of the play-off semi-final, understanding and adapting to such uncertainty was never likely to prove problematic.

“As players, I think COVID prepared us for this kind of thing. Through all that, there were games off, the schedule kept on changing, and you just had to learn to roll with it,” he explained.

“We obviously see what’s happening in Ukraine and how tough it is there. We just need to focus and look to get the job done. And I think we have the team to do that.

“Some of the players we have could walk into any national team in the world. I also think we’ve changed that mentality of Scotland always being looked on as the underdogs, and thinking of ourselves that way. We now have a mindset where we expect results.

“With that mentality, and with the amazing squad we have, it’s really exciting. I’m sure there are good times ahead for us. I’m just so happy to be a part of it all.”

Scotland's Lyndon Dykes at Full Time during a Euro 2020 match between England and Scotland.