Five men from Edinburgh are jetting off to the Italian city of San Benedetto del Tronto to take on football’s premier talent – in the 2015 Subbuteo World Cup.
In what could be table football’s answer to Hibs’ legendary Famous Five forward line, Mike Burns, Malcolm Lees, Dave Skinner, Dave Allen and Dave Baxter will travel to the Adriatic coast next Thursday in an attempt to triumph over the world’s best miniature soccer players.
The dramatic bid will be the first time Scotland has been represented in the annual tournament since the 2012 World Cup in Manchester – and only the third time since 2002.
And with teams coming from as far afield as Brazil, Japan and America, the friends admit they face “a challenge” ahead – but insist they are determined to do one better than the real Scotland team by at least clearing the group stage.
Level-headed Burns, from South Queensferry, said he was keeping his hopes “realistic” in the run-up to the big event.
The competition will be the veteran’s second stab at glory after he was part of the Scottish side that was thwarted by England in the 2002 group stages – a result he’s determined not to repeat.
The 33-year-old said: “Being realistic, I don’t think we can win overall, but I think we have a good chance of doing better than we ever have before. It’s the strongest team we have sent to one of these events since I’ve been playing, anyway.
“It’s the biggest Subbuteo event in the world. There will probably be about 300 players that go along – which is huge for Subbuteo. It’s not a big sport, as you might imagine.
“But it will be like a proper sporting event in an indoor arena that can hold up to 50 tables. It’s not just a handful of guys going down somebody’s living room or to a sports hall.”
The Scotland squad’s five members boast a deep well of talent between them, with Baxter and Lees both nine times Scottish Subbuteo champions and Baxter – dubbed the “Pint sized Pele of the Plastic Pitch” by his team mates for his small stature – a previous world number one.
Burns, meanwhile, is currently signed to top Italian Subbuteo club ACS Perugia.
But even with their range of experience, the friends have some tough matches ahead. Italy, who are among the favourites to triumph overall, have been reigning champions in the team category 13 times since the early 1990s.
Team captain Allen said: “Mike played the 2014-15 season mainly in Italy so knows the venue and more importantly the standard of player we will be up against – so using that knowledge will be crucial.
“It’s going to be extremely tough to even score a goal so we all need to be at the top of our game.
“That sounds crazy for Subbuteo, but the standard is so high you can play a whole a weekend without scoring. We have been putting in extra training sessions and I think we’ll be ready to do some damage.”