When Gary Stempel returned to coach football in his native country in 2009 he could not have envisaged quite how far the journey would take him
“I thought: ‘Oh my God. Román Torres. Look where you are, mate. This is it.’” There were three minutes left in Panama’s final World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica when the centre-back went forward one last time. It was an emergency, a moment of desperation, and yet there was method in the madness. Sitting in sector 131 of the Estadio Rommel Fernández, one man probably knew that better than anybody, although he could never have imagined this.
When the ball dropped and Torres burst through to score, 32,000 Panamanians in the stadium erupted in unconfined joy. So did he – and he, like Panama’s opponents on Sunday, is English. For Gary Stempel, there from the very beginning, this was the culmination of a long journey for all of them.