GORDON Strachan believes ticket prices are too expensive to tell anyone attending next Friday’s clash between Scotland and Ireland what to say.
However, the Scotland manager has urged supporters to restrict their boos to the “pantomime” kind as Glasgow-born pair Aiden McGeady and James McCarthy prepare to line up for Republic of Ireland at Celtic Park.
Martin O’Neill has already broached the subject of the pair becoming targets for those Scottish supporters who judge their decision to play for Ireland as traitorous.
After naming his squad for the crucial Euro 2016 qualifying Group D fixture last week, the Ireland manager said he would speak to the players when they gather this weekend.
O’Neill, who gave McGeady his debut for Celtic in 2004, added that he did not expect the 28-year-old to be affected by any such “special” treatment. He also expressed the opinion that McCarthy, who is five years younger than his team-mate, “should be OK”.
“Do I expect stick? Yeah probably,” said McGeady himself in an interview last month. “It’s a shame but it’s too far down the line to change people’s opinion now. I’ve tried to tell people my story, how I ended up playing for Ireland, but that’s it.”
Strachan was firm on the subject of whether he felt it was necessary to appeal for home supporters to lay off McGeady and McCarthy and instead concentrate on supporting the Scotland team. With reference to the ticket price controversy, with seats costing as much as £60 for Category 1 areas, Strachan defended the right of the home fans to be as inhospitable as possible, so long as their contribution stays on the right side of what is acceptable.
“No, they can do what they want!” he said. “Are you going to ask them to pay 60 quid and then they cannae say something? As long as you don’t have that nastiness about it then that is fine.
“We have all been booed. I used to come here [Celtic Park] regularly and get booed, it didn’t bother me. And that was when I was the manager!”
Strachan was speaking after announcing the Scotland squad to play Ireland and England, with the latter friendly unusually overshadowed by a fixture against the Irish, where a precious three points are on offer. The Scotland manager selected 27 players, including 20-year-old Rangers midfielder Lewis Macleod. Phil Bardsley also makes a return to the Scotland squad as a replacement for injured full-back Alan Hutton. Stoke City defender Bardsley will hope to make his first international appearance since the friendly win over Poland in March.
On the subject of next Friday’s much-anticipated fixture against Ireland, Strachan said he did not expect anything other than a rancorous atmosphere. But he hoped the jeers would not be infused by such unappealing motivations as bigotry and hate.
He was confident that any targeting of the two players will have more to do with their ability than their background. They will, he argued, be jeered out of fear of what they might do, which is normally the case in football.
McCarthy and McGeady should treat a hot reception as a compliment, he added.
“It is part of football,” said Strachan. “It is like pantomime stuff. It’s pantomime humour. As long as it is pantomime humour then we don’t mind that. If it goes beyond that then that’s not fine.
“And do you know why they’ll get booed? It is because they are good players. If they were useless they would not boo at them.
“As long as you keep it to the boos and leave it like that, so it is pantomime booing, that is what I like. That is good fun. They are getting booed because they are terrific, terrific players.”
Asked whether he thought the treatment would affect McGeady, whom he managed at Celtic after succeeding O’Neill, Strachan said: “I have no idea what Aiden is thinking. I had five years with Aiden and I didn’t know what he was thinking.
“It will not bother him. He is a terrific player and works hard so it will not bother him, and it will not bother James McCarthy because he is a top, top player.”
Both players elected to play for Ireland in the days when Scotland were enduring a period of low self-esteem on the world stage. Strachan was unsure whether the improved fortunes of the international team means Scotland are a more appealing prospect.
He believes an emotional pull rather than pragmatic considerations lies at the root of the
decision of who to play for.
“Listen, you play for whatever country you feel you are,” he said. “If you feel Irish then you play for Ireland and if you feel you are Scottish then you play for Scotland. That’s the main thing.
“My boys are as Scottish as anyone but they have lived most of their time in England. Whatever you feel you are, wherever you feel you come from, where your family come from, you do that. I don’t have a problem with that.”