#Scotland50 - My Top 5
This week, the Scottish FA launched a search for the Tartan Army’s top 50 National Team players from the men and women’s sides.
You can vote for your top 5 using this link - scotfa.co/Scotland50 – by the closing date of Sunday 21 July at midnight.
The only criteria for selection is a minimum of 20 caps. Considering Scotland have been playing international football since 1872, the choice is vast!
Exercises like this are the very definition of subjective. Players, moments and memories all mean different things to different people. For my top five, I only considered players from my lifetime.
Without any further delay, I would make the case for the following:
Colin Hendry (51 caps, ’93 – ’01)
We might as well start at the very beginning. I was too young to fully internalise Euro ’96. By the time the World Cup rolled around in 1998 I had read all the newspaper pull-outs, had the game on the Playstation and was ready to cheer on the team.
Having run home from school in time for kick off, I was sat in front of our 12” living room TV to watch the teams emerge for the opening game of the World Cup. While the bronzed samba superstars walked out hand-in-hand, my eyes were drawn to the golden-haired behemoth leading out the Scots. Colin Hendry led the side out as Captain, looking like a cross between Flash Gordon and He-Man.
What followed was, predictably, a tough encounter with one of the best sides in the world. Hendry epitomised the Scots’ resistance, throwing himself into challenges, blocking shots and clearing crosses.
While the Scots left Paris defeated, I had been so impressed with the fighting spirit in the side.
Hendry received 51 caps in his career, despite not receiving his first cap until he was 27 years old and playing for Blackburn Rovers in the English Premier League. He won the title with Blackburn before heading north to join Rangers where he would win the treble of SPL, Scottish Cup and League Cup in 98-99.
Through my work I’ve been fortunate enough to meet several legends of the game, meeting Colin was a real honour.
Darren Fletcher (80 caps, ’03 – ’17)
I’ve written extensively in the past about my admiration for Darren Fletcher. In my opinion he’s the first true Scottish football legend of the 21st century.
The youngster from Dalkeith who joined one of the biggest clubs in the world aged 11 and became a key member of the first team under one of the greatest managers of all time, Sir Alex Ferguson.
While in red, Darren won it all – four English Premier League titles, the FA Cup, the League Cup, four Community Shields, the Club World Cup and the pinnacle of European domestic football, the UEFA Champions League.
For Scotland, Darren debuted aged 19 in a friendly in Oslo. He would burst into the consciousness of all Scotland fans on his home debut, replacing Colin Cameron in a must-win final qualifier against Lithuania.
It was only four minutes later that Darren’s dream would come true (to paraphrase Rob MacLean’s iconic commentary), meeting a half clearance on the volley to send Hampden wild and Scotland into the Playoffs.
Later that season, Darren would wear the captain’s armband for the first time aged only 20, becoming the youngest Scotland captain in 118 years. He wore the armband in 34 of his 80 caps.
My most cherished memory of Darren came in 2011, when he made his return to the Scotland side for a crucial Euro 2012 qualifier against the Czech Republic. A diagnosis of ulcerative colitis the season before meant an extended break from the game, missing the second half of the 2011-12 season. The illness would lead to further time away from the game, cruelly robbing Darren of much of his peak years.
He was typically excellent in midfield that day, capped by scoring a goal after a lung-bursting run from midfield to put Scotland ahead.
The celebrations inside Hampden befitting the importance of the goal and the love for the player.
James McFadden (48 caps, ’02 – ’10)
How could I not include the Cheeky Chappy himself, James McFadden?
This century, given the drought of major finals qualification, Scotland fans have been left to cherish moments. And my word, James has provided some moments!
As the saying goes, James wasn’t a great goalscorer but a scorer of great goals. While he enjoyed a productive career including spells in England’s top flight with Everton and Birmingham City, something special happened when James pulled on Scotland’s Dark Blue.
A creative, inventive, skillful player, James often provided a flash of inspiration to beat a man, create a chance or score a goal that could turn a match in Scotland’s favour.
While most will reminisce about James’ wonder-strike in Paris or his winning goal against the Netherlands in the Euro 2004 Playoff, I watched both those goals in pubs (the latter through a window owing to being underage).
My most cherished memories of James come from the Euro 2008 campaign, the first I attended as a fan. The goal he scored against Lithuania at Hampden was vintage ‘Faddy’ – cutting off the right wing on to his favoured left foot and sending a perfect shot, arcing into the top left corner.
His 15th and final goal for Scotland came against Macedonia at Hampden, a typically spectacular finish including a run from inside his own half, three defenders left in his wake and a drop of the shoulder to drop the goalkeeper on his backside.
I was in Canada at the time on a University Exchange program, watching the game on an *ahem* internet stream that froze as James bore down on the keeper, leaving me half on, half off my chair. When the stream burst back into life James was being enveloped by his team-mates and I was left to run celebrating from the house, past baffled Canadians.
Hampden hasn’t seen the like since.
Shaun Maloney (47 caps ’05 – ’16)
Like James McFadden, Shaun Maloney brought Scotland something few others did. Short in stature and fleet of foot, Maloney was a cultured, intelligent part of Scotland’s midfield.
Handed his debut by Walter Smith in 2005, it was only under Craig Levein and then Gordon Strachan that Maloney would become a mainstay of the side.
He enjoyed an incredible run of form in Scotland’s quest to qualify for Euro 2008. He played minutes in all ten qualifiers, scoring five (it would have been 7 but two of his efforts went down as own goals) and providing two more assists.
In this campaign I attended every game (except to long trip to Georgia) so was able to enjoy Maloney’s play firsthand.
A personal favourite was the goal he scored in Poland’s futuristic Stadion Narodowy.
Trailing from a Krzysztof Mączyński goal, Scotland ran one of the plays they would become known for under Gordon Strachan. Alan Hutton carried the ball out of defence before playing a pass through the lines to Steven Fletcher who was running away from goal. As he picked up the ball, Scotland’s attacking midfield trident of Ikechi Anya, Shaun Maloney and Steven Naismith overlapped, running upfield.
An excellent cross-field pass from Fletcher found Ikechi Anya in space on the left. After bringing the ball down, he laid the ball across the box for Maloney to score and celebrate underneath the Tartan Army up in the gods.
Andy Robertson (34 caps, ’14 – Present)
One of my favourite aspects of being a Scotland supporter is the pride in seeing our players succeed on the world stage. Over the years the Tartan Army have enjoyed seeing Darren Fletcher go toe-to-toe with the best in Europe at Manchester United and celebrated each goal James McFadden scored for Everton.
That brings us to Andy Robertson. It has been an absolute pleasure to watch Andy’s career blossom since he moved to Anfield in 2017. Under the tutelage of Jurgen Klopp he has become one of the most fearsome full backs in Europe.
He has benefitted from a system that places incredible onus on the full backs to provide width and attacking threat with their crossing. Andy and his fellow full back Trent Alexander-Arnold have an incredible record of 49 combined assists in the last three seasons.
Andy’s delivery from wide positions has developed to the point where he can regularly put the ball into a place that only his team-mate can reach. Below is a perfect example:
Andy has just become the first Scot to win the English Premier League title since Darren Fletcher in 2013, helping end Liverpool’s 30 year wait to reclaim England’s highest crown. It’s another trophy for his collection, added to the Champions League, Super Cup and Club World Cup he has won with Liverpool.
For Scotland, Andy has been a regular since he was handed his debut by Gordon Strachan in a 2014 friendly in Poland. Made captain by Alex McLeish on his return to the job, he has continued in the role under Steve Clarke. He has 34 caps to date and at 26 years old there is no upper limit to how many he could gain.
For Scotland he only shown flashes of his attacking threat he has shown for Liverpool. The onus will be on Steve Clarke going forward to develop a system that helps Andy play to his incredible strengths.
He has three goals for Scotland to date, with the pick of the bunch being the goal he scored in Lithuania, collecting the ball just outside the box and sending it curling into the top left hand corner.
So, those are my five nominees for my favourite five Scotland players of my lifetime.
Who makes your top 5?
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