Hectic. Crazy. Nuts. These are the words that QPR striker Lyndon Dykes consistently returns to in summing up a year that, for so many, has been monotonous at the very best.
Dial back 12 months and it’s easy to see why. As Scotland were rounding off their disastrous Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with a tepid win over Kazakhstan last November, Dykes was enduring an injury-hit start to the season with Livingston, yet to truly display the goalscoring talents that would soon attract the attention of both QPR and the national setup.
Few watching Steve Clarke’s struggling side then could have had any faith that they would go on to take advantage of their backdoor into the tournament, and Dykes could certainly have had little inkling that he would be part of it - least of all because he might still have chosen to play for Australia, the country where he was born and raised, rather than the nation of his parents.
“It’s been mental, to be honest,” the 25-year-old tells Standard Sport. “The international thing kind of came up just before the first lockdown and even then I was still trying to decide. There was a long process of thinking what was the best option and in the end I just went with my gut feeling.”
By the time Scotland returned to action against Israel in September, Dykes was making his debut, having just completed a £2million switch to the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium. Five games later, he was entrusted with leading the line in the country’s biggest game in a generation - the Euro 2020 play-off clash with Serbia in Belgrade, which ultimately ended in an heroic penalty shootout victory.
“It was nuts,” he says. “I'd only been there for a short amount of time, but it was probably the most intense time for the country, trying to get to the Euros.
“Just to be involved in that Serbia game was amazing. It was a massive game for myself as well because I want to be playing on that stage, everyone watching. So to lead from the front for the boys and get that win was amazing.”
Quite the party ensued, with congas into the night, as goalkeeper David Marshall was worshipped like a god for his decisive penalty save, while Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney dictated affairs on the DJ decks (“lots of dance tunes”).
Though Dykes may not have been burdened by the experience of past failures like some of his team-mates, nor had to witness them from within the epicentres of despair, as a native Glaswegian or Edinburger, the feelings of relief and euphoria at having finally ended the nation’s 23-year wait for a major tournament appearance were genuine.
“It was a great night,” he says. “It's been so long since we've been at a major tournament. And as well for all the players that have been involved for a number of years and have always had a negative backlash for not making major tournaments.”
Questions of international allegiance aside, Dykes’ path did not always seem set to lead here. The journey from Australia to London is a lengthy one whichever way you go about it, but it’s fair to say that he has taken the scenic route.
During his childhood, in Canberra, he played a whole host of sports, most seriously rugby league, until he moved to the Gold Coast, where his uncle - a former professional with South African outfit Orlando Pirates - convinced him to make the switch.
Looking back, he says the game “came naturally” to him, blessed with that all important “sport gene” - his sister, Hollie, won two gymnastics gold medals for Australia at the 2006 Commonwealth Games - but in his adolescence there was little motivation to turn his talent into a living.
“There was a stage where I probably didn't put 100 per cent into it as much as I should have,” he says. “I just kind of played Saturday league and had a job on the side and carried on having fun with my mates.
“I was playing kind of pub league, non-league, and got a bit lucky really.”
A trip to the UK with Australia Schoolboys led to a brief and successful stint with Queen of the South’s Under-20s, but after returning to Oz (a decision he says was “not a good one”), Dykes worked in a factory for sports manufacturer BLK, and it was here, amidst the hours of heat sealing, that the penny finally dropped.
“[I was] working in a factory bloody 8am to 5pm and then going to play football at night just for a bit of fun,” he says. “It kind of just clicked in my head when I got the opportunity to go back to Scotland, it was time to put my head down, work hard and not let anything distract me.”
Little sums up Dykes’ rise since returning to the UK in 2016 as succinctly as the profile of his team-mates; where not long ago you might have read ‘tradesman’ or ‘factory worker’, these days it’s ‘Champions League winner’.
“It's crazy when we're talking about me playing back in Australia, playing with people that have full-time jobs,” he says. “Now I play with players like Andy Robertson! It's nuts, it's surreal.”
Dykes has made an encouraging start to life in the Championship, scoring five times in his 13 appearances for QPR this season. And though Mark Warburton’s side are languishing in 18th, the forward is confident a play-off push is still within their capabilities.
Regardless of the Rs’ success in that endeavour, his own season now seems certain to extend beyond the end of the league campaign and into the rescheduled European Championship.
Unsurprisingly for a man with loyalties to both Scotland and Australia, there is one fixture which Dykes already has his eye on: the group stage meeting with England at Wembley.
“These are games that a lot of people will be watching, a lot of coverage all over the world and if you do well in games like that you go down in the history books,” he adds.
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