Remembering my international heyday
Hi, hope you are all well.
The present spate of internationals has rekindled memories of my own brief stint on the national team stage.
My international honours came in the form of eight under-21 caps for Scotland. Some might say they are not proper caps but they certainly feel proper to me and I regard them as among my greatest achievements. So much so that I have had one of my Scotland shirts framed and it takes pride of place in my house.
My initial call up to the under-21 side came in the midst of a purple patch in my career at Coventry, after I had made the breakthrough into the first team there.
The call-up was made even sweeter for me because I had attended the Scotland under-17 trials a couple of years earlier but failed to make the squad - quite rightly so because at that stage, I was simply not good enough.
The fact that I was more successful at under-21 level is further evidence of the need to keep working at your game in order to achieve your goals. In an ideal world, it would have been great for me to have made the progression to full international level, even if just for one minute of one match, but it was not to be.
Nobody should underestimate the differences between British club and international football. From a midfielder's perspective, you get a lot more time on the ball in international football but trying to pick out a pass is much more difficult as the opposition, even the strikers, drop behind the ball far more quickly than they do in our domestic game. In addition, the pace of the game is much slower and as a result it can be quite hard to build momentum.
In my opinion (for what it is worth!) two of the main ingredients for any successful international team is the ability to retain possession of the ball and remain patient. Many would argue that these attributes are not in abundance in our domestic leagues, which is why British players possibly have to make a bigger adjustment when they are in their national teams than those from other countries.
I think it also worth mentioning that in a lot of games I have watched and taken part in, especially in the lower leagues there can be a lack of patience on the behalf of some supporters. We all like the theory of having a passing team who like to knock it around but in practice supporters can get very frustrated if the ball does not go forward at the earliest opportunity.
As for my own international career, I am more than happy to have got as far as I did.
While standards tend to differ from country to country, the gap between international under-21 and senior levels can be huge and, indeed, there are plenty of players who have failed to bridge it. Much in the same way that some top schoolboy players who seem destined for greatness struggle to make it in the world of full-time football.
You can look upon some under-21 players as certainties to make a successful transition to full international football. While this was the case with my Scotland under-21 team mates such as Barry Ferguson, Russell Anderson, Gary Naysmith, Scott Severin and Lee McCulloch, there were many others - including myself - who were realistically no more than outsiders to do so. Indeed, a large number of the players in the squads I was involved with ended up leaving professional football within a few years for various reasons. A good friend of mine Andy Jordan (formerly of Cardiff and Hartlepool United) and Alex Notman (Manchester United), being prime examples of this.
My first appearance for the Scotland under-21 side was a home game at Stirling Albion against Denmark back in 1998. Believe it or not, one of the things that bothered me before the kick-off was what to do during the national anthem arguably the biggest dilemma for any new international player!. Do you sing the national anthem or not? Do you go for the serious focused look or do you wink at the camera as it goes along the line?. The obvious answer is yes, you belt it out - but what if you get the words wrong?! That has to be worse than not singing at all!
In my own case, I opted for safety. I sang the anthem but at a level where any mistakes would not be noticed! In all seriousness that feeling when the anthems are being sung is incredible and I feel very honoured to have experienced it.
Because of the time that has elapsed, most of my memories regarding my time in the under-21s are fairly hazy. However there are one or two instances which I remember all too vividly.
One of the away fixtures we had to fulfil was away against Bosnia. I was only 19 then, and have to admit I was fairly uneducated as to what had been going on in and around that part of the world at that time. It was quite an eye opener to see the buildings in Sarajevo riddled with bullet holes, and being escorted by the police everywhere so we did not stray on to routes which were known to have land mines.
These sort of experiences certainly give you a different perspective on football and life in general.
For obvious reasons, it is quite rare to come across an international player at League One and Two levels, but there are some with this distinction. Off the top of my head, there is Scunthorpe's Grant McCann, who is a regular for Northern Ireland.
There is also my former Peterborough United team-mate Craig Morgan who has been in the Wales set-up. McCann is one player on the lower league circuit I have never played against but I know Morgan very well from my days at Peterborough. In terms of technical ability he is one of the best defenders I have played with and has been one of the most valuable players in the recent successes of Peterborough United.
Who are the lower league internationals - past and present - who have stood out to you?
Away from football, the highlight of my week has been passing my 60 words per minute shorthand exam which is one of the modules that needs to be completed for my journalism degree. Rather than take all the credit myself.- which is highly tempting - I have to say a big thanks to our teacher Sue Gamberton who has worked miracles not just with me but the other lads who have passed this test as well.
Many was the session over the past year that we sat there moaning (as footballers do!) that learning shorthand was impossible but she kept encouraging us and we got there in the end.
Anyway that's enough sucking up to the teacher for one week!.