IN THE seconds leading up to the teams taking the pitch at the Aviva Stadium this evening, the television audience will be treated to the obligatory live feed from the mouth of the tunnel. The camera placed there will catch Scotland and Republic of Ireland players smiling nervously as they break from their line-ups to press the flesh and politely offer best wishes. Front and centre of shot will be Scott Brown, expressionless and eyes fixed towards some indeterminate point in the distance as he produces The Stare.
Bonhomie has to be bagged when about to go into battle for Broonie. It isn’t an attempt to grandstand that the Scotland captain puts on such a game-face, but rather a manifestation of the, at times almost crazed, commitment that has forever characterised his football. Just don’t ask him what is going through his head as he waits to enter the arena.
“It’s a lot easier than going about talking to guys I’ve played with in the past and shaking hands”Scott Brown
“Do you really want to know what’s going through my head? I don’t know,” he laughed when asked yesterday about the pre-match ritual that will be witnessed by the armchair viewers for the pivotal Euro 2016 qualifier. “I’m just concentrating on the game. I always try to get focused early on. If I can get in the zone, I can concentrate more. I can block out the fans and the other players and concentrate on playing football.
“Is it sending out a message? No, it’s just the way I go into a game. If I blank everybody else and play for my team and team-mates it’s a lot easier than going about talking to guys I’ve played with in the past and shaking hands, and picking them up when they are lying on the pitch. If I can concentrate on my game and do well it’s a positive for me and for Scotland.”
Brown doesn’t lose himself in the moment to the extent that he becomes oblivious to all around him. He simply chooses to leave the niceties to the moment he feels is more appropriate. “You’re aware of everyone when you go out there,” he said. “You just try to switch off to anybody. After the game you go and shake their hand, and whatever happens on the pitch, stays on the pitch. You shake hands with all the lads, that is the way it should be. I’ve always done this ever since I was a young kid. It is probably the only way I know how to, so I will continue doing that. It is each to their own. Some are more chilled out, relaxed and want a wee chat before the game and I can understand that as well.”
As opposed to taking umbrage at Brown’s tunnel vision – which many might choose to construe as deliberately disrespecting opponents – one individual in the home ranks this evening is guaranteed to judge the Celtic captain’s approach as the only way
Brown, though, maintains his brooding pre-match disposition isn’t in any way modelled on Ireland assistant Roy Keane’s infamous mauler mein. There is a much more straightforward explanation for it, the Scotland midfielder offered up with tongue in cheek. “He [Keane] was going to kill people,” he said. “I looked around and saw guys like Bobo Balde and thought ‘I’m going to get killed here’ so I turned round and looked straight ahead.”
Brown the battler isn’t Brown the bawler when it comes to rallying team-mates, which many armband wearers seem to believe goes with the territory. If introspection is your thing to get in the right place mentally for taking the field, then that doesn’t leave room for, what can sometimes seem naff rabble rousing. Brown might like to give the impression of being a devil-may-care-sort, but patently there is a depth to how he treats his professional duties.
He might indulge in some frippery about the music that is played in the Scotland dressing room – Darren Fletcher’s seems to meet general approval, with Brown “quite chilled” in these moments – but he knows what should be highest on the agenda as a team prepares for any international.
“Everyone round about the dressing room is very good and can chat to each other. [But] it is not all ‘come on, we can do this, we can do that’. It is more about going out on the pitch working with your team-mates and understanding your role, what we have been working on all week with the gaffer. That is what we talk about more than anything else.”
Brown and the rest of the Scotland squad don’t like to talk about the potential ramifications of tonight’s result for the final standings in Group D. A Scotland victory would leave the Republic five points adrift of Gordon Strachan’s side and toiling in fourth place. Were Brown to help his team to a win in Dublin the result could, allowing for a number of favourable outcomes in other sections, leave Scotland within one victory of heading to next summer’s European Championship finals in France.
“We will just take it as it comes. It is going to be a hard game for us. I think at the end of the day it is not exactly do-or-die with both teams just now but it would be nice to get the points on the board.” Brown, by his actions, is becoming adept at getting his points across.