Liam Palmer on learning curve after difficult birth to Scotland career

Liam Palmer during a Scotland media session at the Oriam.Liam Palmer during a Scotland media session at the Oriam.
Liam Palmer during a Scotland media session at the Oriam.
Liam Palmer’s nascent international career has certainly proved eventful. No one could accuse him of passing unnoticed even if he might wish that had been the case.

A debutant in the 3-0 defeat to Kazakhstan that might stand as one of Scotland’s worst-ever results, Palmer feared his international days were over before they had barely started, especially since Alex McLeish, the manager who gave him his chance, left his post shortly afterwards.

It was a relief, then, to learn he had been included in Steve Clarke’s last squad for the double-header against Russia and Belgium.

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There was a complication, however. With his wife, Beth, about to give birth to their third child, Clarke gave Palmer permission to return home. It said everything about the right-back’s commitment levels that he was already on the way up from Sheffield to join the squad at their training base outside Edinburgh.

“The last trip was a bit hectic,” he recalled, having been called up again – he is in line to start against Russia in Moscow tomorrow. “I was on my way up when I took a call saying that my missus was about to drop so I couldn’t risk it. I called the gaffer and he insisted I had to go back, she’d have been cursing me otherwise.

“Even though it was only a five-hour drive away, I felt that – with it being our third child – it would be a case of her getting in the car, giving birth and then leaving the hospital on the same day!”

That didn’t prove the case, but he is proud to report all is well with Honor, who entered the world shortly after Scotland’s automatic qualification hopes for Euro 2020 were quashed.

“It turned out that Beth went into labour on the Friday while the boys were playing Russia,” he recalled. “She was eight days early and a bit apprehensive. I was trying to watch the game on my i-pad while she was sleeping but I couldn’t see too much of it because nurses were always coming in and out.”

It’s fair to say Palmer’s full international career has suffered a difficult birth. While he was no stranger to the Scotland set-up having played at Under-19 and Under-21 levels, his call-up to the A squad came out of the blue. It was a traumatic experience, however.

Although not implicated in the loss of any of the goals, he was part of a defence that conceded three to a team then ranked at No 117 in the world. Worse, he had to stew over such a deflating experience on the long flight to Italy. He watched from the bench a few days later against San Marino, McLeish’s last in charge.

“As far as the game went it was very disappointing, it was a bad result and a bad performance,” he reflected. “The whole trip was a big learning curve for me, the demands of international football. Dealing with the travel, the meetings, the time difference and all that.

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“All of those things play a part and, ultimately, we probably didn’t get them right, so you have to take that on board.

“Going away now I think we might do things a bit differently. The only positive way to look at Kazakhstan is to learn from it. What’s done is done and you look forward.”

He’s already discerned Clarke has his own way of doing things. “Everyone sits down to eat together and nobody leaves until you’re all finished,” he revealed.

“Everyone walks out to training together, nobody wears flip-flops round the table. All little things that probably don’t sound like much but they are the things that keep the standards up to a level.

“If people are coming in in dribs and drabs, it doesn’t look good. You have to have standards and have rules to adhere to.”

Asked if he was surprised this had not been the case with the last regime, he added: “It’s difficult because it was my first trip away with the team.

“Going back to club level, I’ve seen it done loads of different ways and especially when there’s a change in manager standards can get lost.

“It’s up to the new manager to say ‘right, this is what we’re doing’ and for me it’s a lot better now it’s more structured and boys have things they have to adhere to.”