A grandparent might seem a tenuous link when it comes to playing international football, particularly when the player involved had never visited the country prior to pulling on a Scotland shirt – as was the case with Sheffield Wednesday’s Liam Palmer.
But the bond with Jean, his Carluke-born grandmother, was undeniably strong. It broke his heart when she passed away several years ago and he promises to dedicate his first full cap to her if he should make his debut against Kazakhstan in Scotland’s opening Euro 2020 qualifier tomorrow night.
Palmer, who also qualifies for Jamaica as well as England, has already won several caps for the Scotland Under-19s and Under-21s. He understandably became less confident about adding to these in the seven years that have passed since he last represented the country. “I always watch the games, especially when the lads I know are playing,” said Palmer, now 27. “I’ve been itching to come away (again).”
Worksop-born and bred, he is cagey when asked if the length of time between his last under-21 cap and his recent call-up has weakened his connection to Scotland. For example, how did he feel when his oldunder-21 team-mate Leigh Griffiths scored those quick-fire free-kicks against England at Hampden?
“I was delighted for him!” he said. “I remember watching it and thinking ‘he surely can’t do it again on the second one’ but he put it in a carbon copy. They got the late equaliser obviously. It was a fair result in the end I’d say.”
It’s pleasing he is now part of the group again because it means he can put to bed in person some confusion about his background. A Scottish granny is all well and good and clearly verified given Fifa long ago ratified his eligibility for Scotland. But what about those claims, also reinforced for a long time by his Wikipedia entry, that ex-England international Carlton Palmer is his father?
He has already been forced to deny this on Twitter, as has Carlton Palmer. Helping the falsehood take root is the fact Carlton is a Sheffield Wednesday legend. Liam, meanwhile, has spent his entire career at Hillsborough bar a spell on loan Tranmere Rovers in the 2012-13 season. So little was known about Palmer north of the Border that the story was believed until very recently.
It’s a nice story. Just completely inaccurate.
“My dad’s a painter and decorator!” said Palmer. “If I had a pound for every time someone’s asked me that question I’d be doing all right. I think the obvious connection is his link with Sheffield Wednesday and the surname.
“It’s an easy assumption to make,” he added. “I’ve seen him over the few years at a few games. Sometimes I still turn up to games and someone says: ‘how’s your dad getting on?’. I say: ‘he’s fine! He’s standing over there! My dad’s Terry.’
“I’m not bothered,” he added. “People put all sorts on there it doesn’t bother me at all, I know who my dad is.”
He also knows who to thank for him sitting here in Astana: his Scottish grandmother, on his mother’s side. “She was a massive part of my life,” he said. “The school I went to as a little boy, she lived on the road opposite so every day after school I went there until my mum finished work.” Alex McLeish has reason to feel grateful too because Scotland could do with a right-back, which is where Palmer has settled after playing in the centre of midfield in his debut season with Wednesday. Both the manager and academy manager at the time were Scottish, Alan Irvine and Sean McAulay respectively.
“One day Sean just pulled me into the office and said: ‘you can’t play for Scotland can you?’,” explained Palmer. “I said: ‘I can actually!’ From then he got in touch with (then under -19 manager) Billy Stark and I got called up at the last minute, playing centre midfield back in those days.”
Scotland’s need for a right back has become increasingly urgent in recent times. Palmer has the chance to become an ever more familiar sight in a Scotland shirt.
“Alan Hutton was obviously a regular,” he said. “It’s one of them: they’ve got the shirt and they’re the ones who get called up. At the back of your mind it’s there but you just concentrate on club form and hopefully it can go hand in hand with a call-up.”