Scotland. Rural Scotland.
Scottish Cup, fourth round.
And wee little Auchinleck Talbot have just pulled off an unbelievable upset.
Semi-pro players just beat a team from the Scottish League’s second tier.
A group of guys with day jobs—from a village of just 3,500 people.
Soccer at its very best.
— William Hill Scottish Cup (@ScottishCup) January 19, 2019
The countryside. Houses around the field. A local crowd huddled up along the sides.
Like those great scenes in Chariots of Fire…
It just doesn’t get more heartwarming than this, in modern day soccer.
Just look at this, below—a player that isn’t known as a name, a number, a salary, but:
Mrs. Stewart’s son!
Mrs Stewart's son (Mark Shankland) plays for Auchinleck Talbot and took the free kick that set up the goal to win the match. We're delighted for her and all the fans of this wee East Ayrshire team!! 🥅⚽🏆 https://t.co/0o8ZfVIXXT
— Bellsbank Primary School (@BellsbankPS) January 20, 2019
Not that Ayr is that big of a town itself, but…
This is Auchinleck:
So it came with a bit of surprise that a team like this could pull this off.
But at least one guy did know what was about to happen:
Auchinleck Talbot fan on the tele there being asked by Steven Thompson what the result will be
“Talbot win & go to Ibrox in the next round to watch my other team”
— Mr M (@MBS1872) January 19, 2019
In the final moments of this game, he got his wish—the header from Craig McCracken and a winning score for Auchinleck Talbot, 1-0.
But the man of the hour, lest we forget:
Mark Shankland, the man who gave the assist.
— Craig (@craigw619) January 19, 2019
He came on in the 76th minute, played out the final minutes…
And a moment later, after just his second touch on the ball, the free kick was awarded.
He sets up behind the ball, eyeing the scrum of players in the box, waiting for the whistle to blow—and then curls a perfect ball onto the head of Craig McCracken.
Its the Talbot boys making all the noise everywhere we go
— Mark Shankland (@MarkShankland10) January 19, 2019
The guy has quite the story, by the way.
And so, too, does the entire game—a kind of strange serendipity all around…
Shankland began his career with Ayr United, the very team Auchinleck is playing.
He was the youngest (15) in their team history to make an appearance with the senior team, and had a trial for a time with Liverpool.
You check Twitter to look up a bit more, and you see something odd:
Would love Talbot to pull this off, Ayr have been rotten they are nothin without Shankland🙈
— kyle lochhead (@kylelochhead) January 19, 2019
“Ayr are nothing without Shankland.”
Dated January 19, 2019—not from a previous season.
Then you see this, too:
Watching this interesting cup tie between Talbot and Ayr in the car on the way to Perth.
It’s mental how bad Ayr are without Shankland ⚽️
— Ben (@ben_hafc18) January 19, 2019
“It’s mental how bad Ayr are without Shankland.”
Is Shankland not on Auchinleck now!!?
You start combing through every tweet you can find, to get to the bottom of this.
Mark Shankland. Auchinleck. Free kick. Winner. Shankland. Auchinleck. Against Ayr.
Yet—Ayr United are “nothing without him”?
You figure we must be dealing with a second Shankland. Two brothers from Ayrshire.
Or cousins. Something.
But if that were the case…
What are the odds that two tweets would both refer to a singular “Shankland”, when such a lack of specificity might go confusing people—on the very day that Shankland 1.0 is playing Shankland 2.0?
A third one:
No shankland for Ayr, Talbot 12/1, tempting
— BillMcD (@Billymcdougall1) January 19, 2019
You wonder, could the guy be splitting responsibility for both teams? Auchinleck is just 15 miles or so down the road from Ayr, and he has played for both. Might this be some strange contract deal whereby he plays for both concurrently—and in the rare event of a head-to-head matchup, he’s agreed to play for Auchinleck?
That would explain the upset, after all.
Because if Shankland is so great, it would make sense, then, that Ayr fans would be fearing a loss in his absence.
And it would make sense, too, that with the services of Mark Shankland on their side, this little Auchinleck Talbot team could pull off the win.
So then, you type in: “Shankland Ayr” for more info and the confusion thickens.
There’s an entire account, created in early January, called:
“Is Shankland still an Ayr player?”
Speak of the devil—that’s the exact question at hand, here.
And once again, no hint as to which Shankland we’re dealing with, or whether the Two Shanklands Theory even has any wings.
But, according to said account, “Shankland” is indeed an Ayr player. Still.
Okay. So Shankland was an Ayr player. Now he’s an Auchinleck player. Beating Ayr, in the biggest upset in Scottish soccer in a long time.
Yet, according to this account, whose entire raison d’être is to clarify whether “Shankland” is “still an Ayr player”, well:
Yes, he still is.
The dictionary definition of a catch-22.
We’re entering cinematic territory here, and not just for the miracle upset.
Remember The Prestige?
Where the Christian Bale character finally susses out the Hugh Jackman character’s magic trick—discovering that the giant Tesla machine is actually producing a literal clone each time it runs its operation.
Are we dealing with soccer clones here??
Yes. Yes. Yes.
— Is Shankland still an Ayr player? (@IsShankland) January 21, 2019
You know, when there’s an entire account dedicated to a player’s whereabouts, referring to said player only as “Shankland”, you might reasonably presume that (A) the name is relatively uncommon, and (B) the individual in question is so renowned that to simply refer to a “Shankland” would clearly refer to the Shankland to everyone around.
But yet, it’s only the singular Shankland—and the mystery persists.
Meanwhile, in the middle of all this, things got even more spooky:
— The 42 SPFL Tour 🏴 (@42_tour) January 19, 2019
A ghost on the screen?
What the f*** is going on, here!?
An imaginary Shankland, an apparition on the TV, a semi-pro team knocking out Ayr United…
Shankland needs to come on and score the winner! Come on Talbot💛🖤
— Laura Fitzsimmons (@LauraF1972) January 19, 2019
Then, one more search around for things, and you’ve got your answer:
The Two Shanklands Theory is correct after all.
Hidden in a sea of singular Shankland tweets, you see a mention of a Lawrence.
And then another.
Injured for the match today but the star of the Ayr United roster.
And so, they do have a Shankland. Lawrence.
And Auchinleck have their own, today’s assist man. Mark.
Both 23 years old, born a month apart but unrelated.
Fair play to Auchinleck Talbot, unbelievable win against a full time 1st division side. But make no mistakes, Ayr, minus Lawrence Shankland, are a rubbish side. He’ll be sold and they’ll be luck to make the play offs – no chance of promotion at all
— DTH (@weehindu) January 19, 2019
So the mystery has been solved.
But, as for how this little Auchinleck Talbot team could pull off the win?
Maybe luck, maybe some competitive edge.
Or maybe the famed curse of the Shanklands:
In Alba, arose a man of Shankland clan
Joined to the Ayr, then leaveth from there
When a second Shankland cometh around,
Ayrshire saw great confusion abound
For whom shall reign, Shankland first or the second?
And at that ripe moment, a soothsayer beckoned:
“Come one, come all; and all ye listen:
An upset will happen, for all your wishing
You never would guess, but it’s Auchinleck,
Beating Ayr one to nil, to win by a neck!”
Auchinleck Talbot 1-0 Ayr Utd!!! Got to love a cup upset! pic.twitter.com/t9MybNGhd9
— Calum MacColl (@Caluminonimbus) January 19, 2019
Should’ve consulted those lines, Ayr United—it’s a famous bit of verse, you know.
If only they’d known, but they didn’t.
And now, instead, we have something great:
Shankland. To McCracken. This winner in the 78th minute.
A burst of soccer joy, in the Scottish countryside.