When Scott Bain steps on to the Dens Park pitch this lunchtime for his first competitive game at the ground since his acrimonious parting of the ways with Dundee, the 27-year-old would be entitled to ruminate on the wacky world of football.
Following his last appearance on Tayside on 28 October, 2017 Bain became Public Enemy No.1 for his then manager Neil McCann following a spat between the pair over a 3-1 loss to Hamilton Accies that led to his banishment from the Dundee senior set-up. Just 17 months on, Bain is now No.1 for both a treble-chasing Celtic and his nation, with Scotland manager Alex McLeish presenting him as the anointed one to fill the vacancy created by Allan McGregor’s international retirement last week,
It is debatable whether there has been such a swift upturn in fortunes in the career of a Scottish footballer in recent times. Bain, though, refuses to see it as such, which speaks of the equilibrium that has allowed him to remain at ease with his meteoric rise.
He never felt his career had gone to the dogs when McCann barked at him that he was finished at a club to which he gave four good years.
“It was such a short time,” Bain says. “I always felt that come the January window I would get a move somewhere and go on from there. You don’t expect it to go as well as it has and to come to Celtic and be playing at this moment. You can never say you expected this but I expected to get out and play because I knew I had the qualities and ability that a team would want to take.”
Bain thought he had got out to play when Neil Lennon took him to Hibernian on loan in January 2018, only for Brendan Rodgers to then sign him for Celtic on the final day of that window without the keeper having played for the Easter Road side. It was a further two months – and a dramatic 3-2 derby win at Ibrox – before he would make his Celtic debut following an injury to established No.1 Craig Gordon. Now, he is considered by McLeish as the man to form Scotland’s defensive bedrock for the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign that will begin with a double-header comprising away games against Kazakhstan on Thursday and San Marino three days later.
Bain is reluctant to take for granted that, with Sunderland’s Jon McLaughlin and Millwall’s Jordan Archer also in the squad, he will be given the nod for the two games and so add to the cap he earned against Mexico in Scotland’s summer tour of the Americas last June.
“It’ll ultimately be down to the manager,” he said. “It is an opportunity for the three of us and we will all be going in there champing at the bit to be the No.1 and play. Since I have come to Celtic, I have just seen everything as opportunities to play. This is another opportunity that I hope I can take if I am called upon.”
Despite the opportunity presented to him, Bain says he was left disappointed by McGregor’s decision to step away from international football.
“It’s a massive blow for the country because he’s a top goalkeeper who’s been a great servant for the nation. He’ll be a big miss,” said Bain, who was first called into a Scotland squad by Gordon Strachan as the result of McGregor withdrawing through injury before the country was scheduled to play a friendly with Qatar and a Euro 2016 encounter away to Republic of Ireland in June 2015.
“Every time I was away I was impressed with how good he was – his speed across the goal and determination not to lose goals. His shot-stopping ability was second to none, really. It was great to work and push yourself to be at that level as well.”
Bain has been pushed by huge goalkeeping presences at both country and club level. He played second fiddle to Gordon at Celtic until Rodgers elected to install Bain as first pick only at the start of this year. The Dalkeith-born keeper is at pains to stress this switch has not caused animosity between the pair.
“We always think about each other. We always talk about games and nothing really changes whoever plays. We get on the same way and I still ask him for advice on situations in games. If I think there is something I should have done better or that I should have been in a different position, I will always ask him. He is always honest and it is a good relationship we have.
“It is the same talking about Greegsy [McGregor]. When you work with these players and goalkeepers that are at this standard, you need to raise your game just to be in the same line as them. I think it has put me in a place where I need to be at my very best every day and I am really enjoying working with Craigy and Woodsy [Celtic and Scotland goalkeeping coach Stevie Woods] and trying to be at that standard all the time.”
Bain’s enthusiasm for the game means he treats every game he plays with the same relish, which appears to translate into impressively nerveless displays. There is no sense that sentiment will come into play on his return to Dens Park for today’s game – which will be immediately followed by Bain and fellow club internationalists James Forrest, Callum McGregor, Kieran Tierney and Oliver Burke flying out with the Scotland squad to Kazakhstan.
“There’s still a few boys that were there when I was there,” Bain said. “Most of the boys I played with have moved on to different clubs. I’m really just treating it as any other game and will try and go up there and do what I’ve been doing for the club in recent games.
“I have enjoyed every game that I have played for this club and I think that has been the key for me, really. I am at a stage now where I am just trying to improve and I am not focused on anyone else.
“It is just a case of seeing how good I can be. How much can I improve and where can I improve? It has been really positive for me to be in that mindset. In terms of big games, I have always gone in thinking that this could be my last big game to play in and that I have to enjoy the occasion. I made my [Celtic] debut at Ibrox and really enjoyed the [Betfred] cup final against Aberdeen [in December]. Since coming in, every game has been a massive game for us and will continue to be until the end of the season.”
Another quirk of the season has been Bain finding himself being overseen by Lennon at Celtic following the departure of Rodgers to Leicester City. It was Lennon, then Hibs manager, who gave him the escape route from Dundee with a loan move to Easter Road that ended up seeing the pair actively work together there for little more than a week.
“When he [Lennon] got the [Celtic] job we had a meeting and he just said, ‘we got there eventually’,” Bain explains.
It could be a tagline for his circuitous route to the summit of his sport.