IT WAS the morning after the night when Celtic showed they weren’t invincible after all and maybe the last thing Scott Brown wanted to be doing was turning up at a sports shop and being greeted by thumping dance music, a ball-juggler sat on the pavement despite the rain – and a bunch of journalists.
But the captain was on official Scotland duty yesterday, the launch of the new away kit, and he did everything with the smile you never see in the tunnel before games, or out there in the midfield mayhem. He modelled the pink, yellow and white colour scheme (“It’s lovely”). He posed with a bunch of models/whatevers, similarly attired (“I feel your pain, lads”). And he talked up every single aspect of playing for his country – the team, the fans, the manager, the draw for the Euros, his hopes and dreams.
There were groans when the hack-pack were told Brown wouldn’t be discussing Celtic’s 2-1 defeat at Aberdeen, ending the 26-game unbeaten run. The man from the SFA, understandably keen for the focus to be on Scotland, said Celtic were strict about players going off-message.
This left the journos with a problem: how was a new strip going to hold up their back pages when they couldn’t agree on how best to describe the colours? Was that pink actually crimson? Or cerise? “Que, cerise cerise,” said the man from the Sun, “there’s your headline right there. I won’t be able to use cerise in the Soaraway, but you quality papers can have it.” Thankfully the 36-times-capped Brown was on good form, passionate and funny.
Like when he was asked about Group D rivals Poland and how Robert Lewandowski was a dynamite striker of world renown. Yes, Brown had heard of him. And, referring to himself, he quipped: “In Poland they’re going: ‘Of course Scotland have got, er, whatsisname … the Crimewatch guy’!” Or when he was asked if Celtic team-mates past and present like Anthony Stokes, Aiden McGeady and Darren O’Dea would add extra vim to the Republic of Ireland ties: “Of course. There’s been banter already. I’ve been texting Daz.” What’s been in the messages? “I’m not telling you lot but no pictures of me naked. Dinnae mention that. It’s not a pretty sight.”
Did he think Scotland’s chances hinged on the Poland and Republic ties? “Not in the slightest. We could beat them and end up losing to all of the rest. It’s going to be a long, hard campaign and we need to try and get the squad coming to every single game, try to get the best out of them. I’m sure the gaffer will do that.”
In our ten minutes with Brown in a windowless backroom, he stressed more than once the importance of players answering the international call. “I think we’ve got a settled squad now,” he said, “and whereas before we were having to bring in three or four guys who’d not played too much international football, everyone’s turning up. They want to play for their country. That’s the thing.”
What about Germany, the group’s outstanding favourites? “It will be tough going there for the first game but anything can happen. If we can maybe get a point that would be huge.” And Gibraltar – could they be another of those remote, quirky outcrops that no one knew even played football until getting drawn against us? “They’ll be the underdogs but in the past we’ve struggled against the likes of the Faroes so you can’t think that’s six points guaranteed.”
Brown insisted much of the credit for the new positivity must go to Gordon Strachan, adding that if he himself seemed to be enjoying his football in the dark blue – and soon, the cerise – more than in the past, this was down to the national coach. Strachan is “a happy person to be around.” He makes training enjoyable. He wants Scotland to pass the ball. He’d still be playing if he could. “The more someone tells you you’re a world-beater, the more you’ll believe it.”
Scotland don’t have to beat the world, they just have to stand up to Lewandowski and Germany’s Toni Kroos, another daunting name thrown at Brown yesterday. Yes, fantastic players but Scotland needn’t be afraid of them, and the Celtic skipper’s famous dead-eye stare would surely tell you he’s not scared of many things. “We think we can match up well against anyone,” he said. “Football’s a team game and I think our team spirit is as good as anybody’s.”
The Tartan Army would play their part. “We sense their optimism and it transmits to the pitch when they turn up in their thousands and chant and sing. As a player it gives you an extra lift to make that tackle, follow that run.” Brown was an armchair fan back home in Hill of Beath for the 1998 World Cup in France. “My mum and dad wanted to put a Scotland flag up at the window. I thought that was going to be embarrassing but it was actually quite decent.” At every tournament since he’s regretted the non-involvement of the Tartan Army. And of course he’s dreamed of playing in one. Getting through Group D would be “the biggest … hopefully this will be our time.”
Then, job done, and before he was hustled away to resume lying in a darkened room post-Pittodrie or at least away from the searing store lights, Brown was sneaked a question about those smashed records. Of course he answered. “It was hard to take. Someone was probably always going to beat us, but this has still been a great season.” Encouraged by this, The Scotsman tried for a supplementary: did he get any sleep? “Only at half past flippin’ four! And then I had to come here and talk to you guys!”
Scott Brown was launching the new Scotland away kit at JD Sports, Buchanan Street, Glasgow.