IT was put to Scott Brown the other day that his Scotland career gave the midfielder the chance to be beloved by a footballing nation that, outside of Celtic followers, at club level now treats him as the pantomime villain; a role the 29-year-old seems to enjoy hamming up.
“Oh no I don’t”, was the Scotland skipper’s witty retort. Only for him to acknowledge that it is something to have so many folk behind you!
The Tartan Army, with their riot of colour and comedic sing-a-longs, can sometimes appear to treat their adventures with the national team as occasions not to be taken entirely seriously. Brown, though, recognises that behind the japery there is a genuine passion coursing through these followers, hailing from Leith to Lerwick and all points in between, that forms a constant inspiration as Gordon Strachan’s side seek to end the country’s near two-decade exile from a major finals.
“All the Scotland fans are positive and that’s what makes them so special,” he said. “They go everywhere with us and there will be thousands in Dublin. I hope we can do them proud.”
Brown is in the zone for tonight’s Euro 2016 confrontation at the Aviva Stadium that will pit his team against a Republic side that trail them by two points in Group D, having been beaten in Glasgow last November. The mid-June timing of the fixture has been presented as awkward. Domestic seasons concluded weeks ago and holidays then taken by players before hooking up with the national side could be considered to have disrupted the build-up to a monumental encounter for Scotland. Brown would beg to differ. Even if future business and pleasure in the present became entwined owing to his being reminded of his date in Dublin even when relaxing in the Mediterranean.
“I don’t feel disrupted at all. I had a week off and it’s been enjoyable going away,” he said. “I’ll have another two weeks off and then I’ll go back in for pre-season but I won’t lose any fitness. That’s the main thing, especially for us with Champions League qualifiers early doors. It’s been good. The weather has been good in Scotland for a change and the lads have been working hard. Training has been exciting.
“Could I relax on my week off? Aye – I went on holiday with Charlie [Mulgrew] It was chilled out and it was good to recharge the batteries on that week off. You then come back into football and give that bit extra. We went to Spain and the game was always at the back of your mind and there were a few Scottish fans out there asking about it.
“But we tried not to think about it too much. You don’t want to start thinking about it and then by the time it comes, you say, ‘Here’s this big game’. You need to try and get away from it to be honest and chill out. When you meet the fans, you are aware of the responsibility on the squad.
“It’s been a long time since we have been to the Euros and everyone keeps reminding us of that. But every game for Scotland is big and that’s great for us.”
Brown’s desire to represent his country means he refuses to look upon recent previous qualifying campaigns as lesser to the current one even if they never really offered the possibility that Scotland could claim a finals place beyond the first couple of outings. Playing for Scotland has never been drudgery to Brown in any circumstances, in no small measure because of the support that drives him on.
“You always enjoy it because it doesn’t come along that often,” said the 44-times capped international. “You are proud to play for your country no matter who it is against – whether it is the world champions or the Faroes. People might think you just need to turn up and beat at team like the Faroes but you want to go and do your best for the fans who come and support you. It’s not a slog because you are always playing for your place. There is always someone doing well for their club who is ready to come in.”
Yet Brown is not oblivious to where Scotland stand as they prepare for the sixth of their ten Group D fixtures. He knows fine well that he is in new territory as captain for the fact that, at the halfway point of the qualifying campaign, Scotland’s prospects of progressing look better than six months previously.
“You always have to believe that you can make it,” Brown said. “Everyone in that dressing room really does believe that we can do it. That’s the main thing. If you go into a tournament thinking, ‘we’re out already’ there is no point in playing. We have a great bunch of lads and new players like Matt Ritchie have been outstanding since they came in. It’s great that we are finding guys with any sort of Scottish blood! Matt has been great about the place, in training and in games. We have a lot of people who can change games and Matt is one. But there is also Barry [Bannan], wee Shaun [Maloney] and James Forrest. James’s pace and the way he has been training have been exceptional.”
In Forrest and Maloney Scotland have Celtic wide attackers past and present. The Republic have one of those too in the shape of Aiden McGeady. Brown was three years at the Glasgow club with McGeady, the born and raised Scot who elected to play for the Republic of his grandparentage. That decision led to him being mercilessly barracked when the two countries met at Celtic Park in November. As with the majority of those in green that night, McGeady failed to hit the heights as his team lost out to a Maloney goal.
But Brown hasn’t much appetite for musing on this game being his friend and former team-mate’s chance for ‘revenge’.
“Aiden will want to win. It’s a big game for him and playing in front of his own fans will be a big occasion. But it’s not just about Aiden or anyone who played for Celtic. It’s going to be a big game for both nations. We need to be as positive as we can when we go onto that pitch and be as aggressive as we can be too.
If we can win it would be huge for us. It will be a good British-style game but we need to perform as well as we can to get anything out of it.”