Edinburgh boy Gordon Strachan has admitted that bringing Scotland to Easter Road for next month’s friendly against Qatar will fill him with pride, insisting: “This is where my football started.”
The national team boss was at the Hibs ground to unveil his squad for the visit of the 2022 World Cup hosts and the crunch Euro qualifier against the Republic of Ireland eight days later, the Scots along with Germany trailing Group D leaders Poland by just a point with the Irish two behind.
But while the clash with Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland is obviously of paramount importance, Strachan believes a first ever match against oil-rich Qatar in which the countries will play for the Qatar Airways Cup, will provide an ideal warm-up game for his side which hasn’t played since hammering Group D minnows Gibraltar 6-1.
However, the evening of Friday, June 5, will also be a somewhat nostalgic affair for him, Easter Road is the ground where he watched his first football match with his father James, who died in 2011.
And with relatives in Sleigh Drive and Iona Street at the time, he recalled: “This is where my football started, it’s been a big part of my life, coming to see some of my heroes although the ground has changed a bit.
“I came to my first game with my dad. I can’t remember what age I was but it was against Aberdeen in one of those special summer friendlies they’d have. The last game I took my dad to was also here, a derby, so it’s a big place for us. This is my area, Leith.”
Indicating the photographs adorning the Easter Road lounge in which he was sitting and with his mother Catherine watching on, he said: “I’d come to se Pat Stanton, Peter Marinello, Jimmy O’Rourke, Alex Cropley, Joe Davis, the left back and Eric Stevenson the left winger. I remember all these guys.
“Colin Stein was a big hero of mine. I saw him about a year ago and I grabbed him and gave him a big hug. He must have thought I was taking the mick. I gave him a big, huge hug. Weird.”
Strachan also remembers being sent flying onto the Easter Road track after just two minutes as Manchester United provided the opposition for Hibs skipper Gordon Rae’s Testimonial Match, the victim of a challenge by Joe Tortolana who was sent off.
Tortolano actually became a “team-mate” for the night a few years later as Strachan returned to the ground to pull on a Hibs shirt for the first time as Coventry City where the opposition in Gordon Hunter’s Testimonial, the Scotland boss reputedly sticking his head round the dressing-room door to remind the defender they were now on the same side before entering.
“I still didn’t like him – only joking,” he said. “I actually scored that night. Big Ron [Atkinson] didn’t speak to me for two days having scored against Coventry where I was assistant manager.”
But to matters present, and Strachan believes playing Qatar, who have won their last two matches against Algeria and Slovenia, will prove to be worthwhile, bearing in mind victory at the Aviva Stadium is of vital importance to Scotland’s hopes of ending an 18-year wait to make the finals of a major tournament.
And to that end he’s been encouraged by the willingness of his players to take part in both internationals at the end of a demanding season, revealing he’d initially thought he would be naming an 18-man squad for the first of those games only to end up listing 26 as they indicated their desire to be involved rather than enjoy a few days off.
He did, however, indicate a number of them will be rested against Qatar with the likes of Bournemouth’s Matt Ritchie and the Derby County pair of Craig Forsyth and Johnny Russell, who by then won’t have played for a month, under consideration along with Charlie Mulgrew, the Celtic midfielder having just returned to action after almost five months injured.
Stoke midfielder Charlie Adam and Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths, pictured, have also found themselves back in the squad while Blackburn Rovers striker Jordan Rhodes dropped out despite taking his tally for the season to 21 by scoring in each Rovers’ last three games.
But Strachan’s core of the squad remains the same. “If I want it to be more like a club side it has to be a more consistent group of players that I bring in all the time rather than chopping and changing.
“Usually we have about 20 players and change two or three and that’s what we have done again. You have to give up your ego or whatever when you come here like the guys have been doing for the last two years. It has to be team first. There will always be a few disappointed bodies.”