Jon McLaughlin can remember the summer of 1998. That was the year his family moved home. It was also the last time Scotland qualified for a major championship.
“I was living in Saudi Arabia in ’98. That was the summer that we moved back from Saudi to England,” said the Hearts goalkeeper. “I remember the group stages. We were still over there. Then I remember watching the final in Harrogate when we had moved over. I do remember the game against Brazil, being in the car with my dad, listening to it and hearing the result. That shows you how long ago it was. A lot has changed, but it would be great to see them back in a major competition.”
A bright-eyed ten-year-old back then, like every other football-daft kid, his dream was to represent his country at a major finals and, having been named by Alex McLeish (above) in his squad for this month’s friendlies against Costa Rica and Hungary, he is hoping he can do enough to hang on to his place and eventually realise that ambition.
Growing up abroad and down south, the Edinburgh-born keeper had little opportunity to get to Hampden games – “I used to follow them on the telly all the time with my dad and the family, and supported them all through childhood” – and a career spent in non-league football until he was 21, combined with a wealth of Scottish goalkeeping talent and an accent that disguised his real roots, meant he was never in the reckoning until he moved to Hearts last summer and produced a string of eye-catching and consistent performances.
“I’m glad I didn’t have to start putting on the fake accent to get people convinced!” said the keeper who will be hoping to help Hearts keep Partick Thistle at bay this afternoon. “Even some of the people at the club were asking: ‘What’s the connection?’ Because they hear the accent and I’ve never been involved [at age group level]. But I’m 100 per cent Scottish, everyone in my family is from Edinburgh, I was born here and all the rest of my family are here but I just don’t have the accent.”
It was his family who broke the good news to him on Monday, getting in from training to see a message from his proud dad Paul.
“I had had no official word at that stage, it had been announced when we were out on the training pitch. So my dad, uncle and wife knew before I did!”
It provoked feelings of relief as well as joy. “I was starting to get a bit nervous about it,” he said. “When people start talking about it and it starts to look like a genuine possibility, you want it to happen more than anything. The reason you are so proud is because it’s a huge achievement. Now I have an opportunity to work with the national set-up and see where we go from there.”