When the final whistle sounded on Scott Brown’s 49th cap for Scotland last year, many observers questioned whether it would also prove to be his last.
No-one in the Scots camp appeared more distraught than Brown by the latest failure to reach a major tournament finals, prompting speculation the 30-year-old would decide the time was right to call time on his international career and concentrate on club matters.
But once manager Gordon Strachan had committed himself to staying on for the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, there was never any danger of Celtic captain Brown not following suit.
“I owe Gordon a lot and I would never turn my back on him,” said Brown as he prepared for his landmark 50th appearance for Scotland against Denmark at Hampden tonight.
“He brought me to Celtic from Hibs and then made me captain of Scotland. If he still wants me to come along to Scotland squads when I’m 40, I will still be turning up. Even if it’s only for banter.
“It’s good to work with Gordon and get fresh ideas. I enjoyed my time with him at Celtic, he made me a great player and got me the Player of the Year award as well.
“I enjoyed every single moment of it with him and I’m enjoying Scotland with him even more than I have in the past.”
Brown has come a long way since making his Scotland debut as a 73rd-minute substitute for Nigel Quashie in a Hampden friendly against USA back in 2005.
The then 20-year-old Hibs player was described as a “chirpy wee lad” by manager Walter Smith as he promoted him to the senior squad.
“What’s changed?,” said Brown with a laugh when reminded of Smith’s quote. “Walter was good for me. He gave me my first cap and first opportunity with the senior squad. You always remember managers who do that. It’s the same with Gordon Strachan now. He made me captain and I’ll always thank him for that.
“I could never have imagined back then that I would get to 50 caps. Everyone wants to get to that landmark, but with the injuries I’ve had in my career, you think it’s never going to come. But it has slowly crept up and I’m almost there now.
“My biggest memory of my debut was that I scored a worldie which should have been the winner but was wrongly called offside in my opinion.
“It was a great ball from James McFadden, I think, and I somehow managed to control it and outpace the centre half, which you don’t see me do much these days.
“I was warming up for a long time and thought I was going on. Walter shouted a few of the lads over, then eventually it was my turn.
“I played wide right but somehow I got in between their two centre-halves to put it in the back of the net beyond Kasey Keller. It was a poor offside decision and I was devastated not to get the goal on my debut. But it was still a great experience.
“I was a flying right winger that night. I’m certainly not that anymore. Injuries have hit and my pace has gone. But stamina, will to win and enjoying playing football are all still there. They will be until the day I finish.
“There have been a few highlights with Scotland since my debut and the main one was beating France in Paris with Faddy’s goal in 2007. We defended for 90 minutes and he hit a wonder strike from 35 yards. It is always going to stick in my mind.
“I was nowhere near Faddy when he scored – I was blowing out of my behind! I only had three touches in the whole game, I think.
“I remember Alan Hutton and myself were on the right, playing up against Florent Malouda and Nicolas Anelka. We were the young kids up against two of their most experienced players. We were up for the fight, we scrapped hard and that’s what got us there.
“I’ve been lucky to be on the pitch for Scotland against some great players and we have matched most of them. We seem to play better against the best teams. We matched two great teams in Poland and Germany during the last campaign.”
Brown does not have many tangible mementoes of his Scotland career so far and is a little scornful of players who build up a collection of souvenirs through shirt-swapping.
“I try and get off the park as quickly as possible,” he added. “I’ve got a few opposition shirts, but I’m not really too keen on running about and asking someone for their jersey after we’ve lost or even just drawn.
“It’s just not me. I just want to get away and focus on the next game. I won’t be running about looking for a shirt, just because it’s Andrea Pirlo or whoever. Some people might think that’s alright, but I don’t believe in it. I agree with what Alan Hutton said before winning his 50th cap in Prague last week, that he would trade a few of them in for an appearance in a major finals.
“I’d certainly give three or four of mine up to make sure we get to a tournament. It’s hard to take not getting there.
“Everyone is going to watch the Euros this summer in France and it’s going to be a disappointing feeling for all of us, knowing we were so close to getting there.
“But now we have a World Cup campaign to look forward to. It’s a strong group we are in, but we believe we are just as good as anyone on our day.”