Underlining just how long it has been since Scotland and England locked horns competitively, Callum Paterson has no memory of the last clash – a Euro 2000 play-off 17 years ago.
But, in the absence of the once annual fixture, he and his friends would replicate these great clashes on computer screens. “We’d play Scotland v England on the PlayStation,” the Hearts and Scotland full-back revealed yesterday. “Nobody wanted to go England!”
Despite such seeming antipathy, Paterson could have played for England, among other international sides. Friday’s crucial World Cup qualifier against the Auld Enemy at Wembley is additionally significant for Paterson. It means, in one sense, he is going home.
The defender was born in London 22 years ago, moving to Scotland when he was three years old. So he could, in theory, have played for England, as well as South Africa and Zimbabwe, birthplaces of his grandfather and mother respectively.
But he chose to throw in his lot with Scotland, where he grew up in South Queensferry. While it’s clear he feels Scottish, this has also been made to seem an opportunistic choice. Confirmation at the weekend that Alan Hutton has decided to retire from international duty means the right-back berth, where Paterson already looks comfortable, is now very much his to lose.
Unlike at left-back, there are not a number of alternatives for manager Gordon Strachan to consider. As of Sunday, following confirmation Hutton no longer wishes to be considered for selection, there is now one fewer.
Paterson expressed mainly disappointment over news that Hutton has cut short his international career. But he is aware it offers him a huge opportunity to establish himself for years to come as Scotland’s first-choice right-back. Before Paterson’s emergence in this current campaign, Hutton had made the position his own for fully a decade, amassing 50 caps. Paterson currently has four, with the promise of many more to come.
“It is a chance to establish myself,” he accepted, when asked about Hutton’s surprise decision. “But, on a personal level, I’m disappointed as he’s someone I could learn from in training. I’m disappointed he’s not here but I will try to grasp the opportunity with both hands.
“I was surprised, but it is obviously his choice, his personal decision. You can’t go against that. But, yes, I was surprised. I’m also thankful, as it has given me a bit of an opportunity. He was a player that I admired and would look at. He’s big, strong and fast. That’s what the modern game needs. He was the pinnacle of that for Scottish football. That’s what I want to aspire to be.”
In news which Hearts fans might not wish to hear, he wants to emulate the Aston Villa player in other ways than simply filling his boots at international level. Like Hutton, Paterson would like, at some point, to sample life south of the Border, the English Premier League ideally. Wigan Athletic have already had bids turned down by Hearts for the player, who is out of contract at the end of this season.
“He (Hutton) is one of the players who started off in Scotland and then did well down south,” said Paterson. “He has had a long international career and that’s also something I want to replicate.”
While he has never even been to Wembley, Paterson already has some experience of playing in England when Hearts were drawn with Liverpool in a Europa League qualifier four years ago. It was the chance to play against Raheem Sterling, whom he could be up against again at the end of the week.
“I was playing right midfield and he (Sterling) was left midfield,” recalled Paterson, with Hearts losing out 2-1 on aggregate. “Stewart Downing also played left-back, so it was an easy shift!
“I was young. I had just turned 17 at the time, so I was running about like a headless chicken without a care in the world.
“Now it is a bit more serious,” he added.
Paterson is also refreshingly matter of fact about comments by Kris Boyd, who perhaps allowed his loyalty to Hutton, his former Rangers team-mate, to spill over into bitterness when dissing Paterson in a tabloid column at the weekend.
Boyd wrote that Paterson “shouldn’t be anywhere near the Scotland team”. The observation proved ill-timed as much as anything else since Paterson had the previous day scored his fifth goal from right-back this season for Hearts, in the 2-2 draw with St Johnstone. Boyd, a striker, has himself scored only three goals this season for Kilmarnock.
“Somebody told me about it, although I didn’t really read it,” said Paterson. “I don’t really care what anybody else says about me. As long as I play well and feel good myself.
“If anything it will motivate me,” he added. “People who know me know that talking about me doesn’t wind me up. Instead it spurs me on. If that is what he is saying then so be it. I think I have improved defensively although I know there is still a long way to go.”