A “dream” was realised for Stuart Findlay in making a scoring debut for Scotland in the 6-0 thrashing of San Marino on Sunday night. Yet, the Kilmarnock defender is unlikely to appreciate just how fantastical his reality was the other night.
It would have been enough for the 24-year-old to become the first player to net on his debut for the country since Ikechi Anya six years ago. However, on top of that, he also became the first Kilmarnock player to claim a goal for Scotland since Tommy McLean in 1969. Eclipsing both those achievements, though, is the fact that he now stands as the first Killie player in history to score for Scotland at Hampden.
The unbridled joy that flowed from Findlay after he powered in a header from a Ryan Christie for Scotland’s fifth demonstrated just how much the moment meant to him. And for all that the encounter was a largely irrelevant Euro 2020 tie between the most lowly football nation on the planet and a host out of contention for group qualification, it was refreshing to see Scotland players both appreciating the experience and enjoying themselves.
In common with John McGinn, scorer of Scotland’s first first-half hat-trick in a competitive game since 1952 and Lawrence Shankland, who became the first Scottish lower-league player to net a competitive goal for Scotland since 1957, Findlay certainly made his mark in a manner he simply could not have envisaged.
“I had no idea I was the first Killie player to score for Scotland for 50 years,” he said. “The goal was a bonus. The fact that I was in the team meant that I had done enough in training to earn my place. That’s the proudest thing for me – to show that I can be in contention at this level and hopefully I’ll do that by putting in good performances.
“It was what everyone dreams about to score at Hampden Park and was a really, really special moment for me. Some people hope to score a special goal – an overhead kick or a free-kick or something – but if the ball had fallen to me a yard out and I had toe-poked it in I would have been just as happy.
“Obviously I’m delighted – and also from a team point of view because hopefully we can move on from the Russia disappointment.”
Scotland cannot move on from their disappointments across a desperate Euro 2020 group campaign – of which the 4-0 humbling in Moscow last Thursday wasn’t even in the top two let-downs – unless they make it to next year’s tournament through the Nations League play-offs; with these semi-finals and finals to be held at the end of March. “[Our last two group games next month against] Cyprus and Kazakhstan will probably be more to the level of what the players and teams are going to be like [in the play-off], so if we get six points from those games and take that into the play-offs, there is no reason why we can’t make the Euros,” said Findlay.
He has complete faith in Steve Clarke’s ability to effect the dramatic turnaround that is required to achieve that. Little wonder, when the player considers himself a living example of the renowned coach’s powers. Findlay had never established a real foothold in the game by the time that Clarke pitched up at Rugby Park in October 2017. The defender was then on loan from Newcastle United, having failed to settle in England, on the back of loan spells at Kilmarnock, Dumbarton and Morton as he proved unable to make the breakthrough at Celtic.
“My relationship with him is key. Thankfully he put his trust in me,” Findlay said. “I know people will say it’s San Marino but you have to go out and put in a professional performance and hopefully I’ve done that.
“I basically owe my career to Steve Clarke over the past couple of years. From being in and out of a struggling Kilmarnock side to being one of the main players in a team which comes third in the league, there is only one guy I can thank for that.
“He put his trust in me, gave me the deal that I got at Kilmarnock and now he’s brought me into the Scotland squad. I owe him a lot and, hopefully, I have repaid him.”