Scott Brown happy to watch Scotland success from sidelines as he laughs off coming out of retirement for Euros
Along with the rest of the country last Thursday night, Scott Brown sat on the edge of his seat as Scotland booked their place at next summer’s Euro 2020 finals.
Joy, ecstasy, relief. It all flooded through him as he watched his former international teammate David Marshall beat Serbia striker Aleksandar Mitrovic’s penalty away. For so long the heartbeat of the side, Brown, who last played for Scotland against Malta two years ago, was reduced to a watching brief.
Everyone’s reactions differed slightly. Everyone had their own personal tales bound up in the wider story of Scotland’s success. Brown is no different. He wouldn’t be human if he didn’t feel a little tinge of envy as he watched the scenes of celebration on the pitch and then in the dressing-room afterwards.
After all, he’d been there on many occasions when the feeling was less joyous. He sat there wiping the mud off his boots 13 years ago last week on the last occasion Scotland had the chance to qualify in a last-game scenario, eventually coming up just short against Italy
He had endured the let-downs which meant last week felt like such a red-letter day in the life of a nation. He had even performed a retirement about-turn to try and help Gordon Strachan out of a bind and re-ignite a stuttering qualifying campaign. He later walked away again after Strachan’s reign was unable to survive another failure to reach a major finals. In total, Brown earned 55 caps over 12 years and enjoyed many great moments too, such as when Scotland twice beat France on the way to that Italian denouement.
So surely, after all this, after all the miles he’s covered, many while wearing the skipper’s armband, he will be sticking his hand up again to tell Steve Clarke: ‘I’m available’.
Brown laughs. He turns 36 three days after Scotland play their last group game, against Croatia. He’s content to let others enjoy the fruits of their success, particularly old colleagues like Marshall and Craig Gordon, as well as newer ones such as skipper Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney, another ex-club teammate. As with the likes of Darren Fletcher, James McFadden and Barry Ferguson, Brown has to accept his international career, while containing many memorable moments, had the ill-fortune to fall at a time when the major finals dream felt always just out of reach.
“I’ve done my time,” said Brown yesterday. “It’s the other lads’ time now. They got there and were the ones that worked so hard over the past couple of years to make sure that they qualified, and they did it really well. Fair play to them.
“I’m just pleased for the boys as well as the whole country and all the fans. I hope the whole vaccine thing comes through in time so all the fans can go down to Wembley, enjoy the game and get into the whole culture of the Euros.
“It’s been a long time,” he added. “I remember France ’98 well – everyone sitting around the house watching the games. I know how much it means to the nation. I’d faith in Marsh at the penalties. He’s been fantastic for Scotland and at all the clubs he’s been at.”
The connection between Celtic and Scotland remains a strong one. While Brown is no longer involved, Ryan Christie is proving as indispensable for the international side as he has become for the champions, for whom he has scored seven times already this season to cement his position as one of Neil Lennon’s first picks.
“He’s been unbelievable,” said Brown. “He went away on loan to Aberdeen, he’s worked extremely hard in the gym and built himself up a little bit. Everyone knows how hard he works, everyone knows how fit he is as well. He’s got that quality, as soon as he comes on to that left foot you know that five, six, seven or eight times out of 10 that it’s going in the back of the net.
“That’s what he brings. He brings that quality, he brings that willingness to run off the ball as well and work hard for the team.”
Brown agrees that Celtic’s performance in the 3-0 win over Hibs, their opponents at Easter Road this weekend, was one of their most complete so far this season. Two goals up at half-time, they managed to flush the disappointment of a Champions League qualifying exit against Ferencvaros a few days earlier from their system.
Hibs, too, have suffered off days this season, including the recent Scottish Cup semi-final defeat to Hearts and the 2-0 defeat to Aberdeen that followed it. Nevertheless, they are perfectly capable of gaining a result against Celtic, who they held 1-1 in their only league meeting at Easter Road last season.
“Jack’s done a great job there,” said Brown with reference to Hibs manager Jack Ross. “He’s built a really good squad. They have a great team spirit as well, as have we. It’ll be an open game because both teams like to play football. I was at Easter Road last weekend and the pitch is in great condition. But we need these three points. We need to concentrate on ourselves rather than worry about how Hibs or anyone else is going to play.”Time will tell whether the latest international break has disrupted Celtic’s momentum after a much needed 4-1 win over Motherwell two weekends ago or if it has helped them reset. Players with no international commitments such as Brown have been able to hone their fitness and consider tactics at Lennoxtown.
“It’s all about what we’ve been working on in the last couple of weeks while the other boys have been away on international duty,” said Brown. “We’ve done a lot on pressing, building from the back, our style of play and the shape we should be in...getting back to basics, with the manager and John Kennedy enforcing it.”
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