Many questioned whether Craig Gordon would ever play football again, never mind grace the international stage once again.
The former Hearts goalkeeper would admit that, in his darkest hours, he probably shared that fear.
Crippled by a knee injury, Gordon spent two years without a club, his 40th cap won in a 3-0 win over the Faroe Islands at Pittodrie in November 2010 looking increasingly as if it would be his last.
The 31-year-old, however, refused to accept it was all over, and he revealed today that his determination to once again play for Scotland was the driving force behind the moment which he described as meaning as much as any other in his career – “100 per cent, absolutely”.
It perhaps came 45 minutes later than anticipated. Gordon had been tipped to take over in goal from David Marshall to face England at Celtic Park only to find himself on the bench as the Cardiff City star kept his place in the Scots starting X1.
But having waited so long, Gordon today insisted he was just delighted to make that belated entrance, even if things didn’t pan out quite as he might have wished. His first touch was to pick the ball from his net after Wayne Rooney had added to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s first-half opener, the England captain going on to claim a second to underline his side’s superiority on the night.
“It wasn’t exactly how I planned it,” Gordon admitted, “The result hurts, but once I analyse things I think I’ll be happy just to be back in international football. There were times I thought it was never going to happen, but I had worked so much harder for this cap than I probably had for any of the 40 that had gone before.
“It’s been a long, hard road, but hopefully that’s a start and I can go on to get a few more. This was the thing that drove me to get back – it was a goal of mine to try to get back here.”
Having been released from his contract at Sunderland, the club which had paid Hearts £9 million for his signature as he became the most expensive goalkeeper in Britain, Gordon revealed he had contemplated dropping down a level in a bid to find a club, at one time helping out Dumbarton boss Ian Murray as a goalkeeping coach.
Training with Rangers followed before he joined their Old Firm rivals Celtic in the summer, initially as deputy to Fraser Foster and then becoming the Hoops’ No.1 when the big Englishman moved to Southampton, only for their paths to cross again in Tuesday night’s “friendly”. Gordon joked that his predecessor had enjoyed a “usual Celtic Park outing” in that he didn’t have a great deal to do.
He said: “I didn’t know what my road was going to be, but the thought of playing for Scotland again kept me going. The media had me starting against England, but the manager hadn’t said anything to me and the team wasn’t named until the morning of the game. I was hoping that would be the case, but I was still happy to be able to play the second half.
“It was standing at the side of the pitch waiting to go on. I knew it was going to happen, I looked round and saw my family in the stand. It means as much to me as any other moment in football, 100 per cent, absolutely. I worked hard to come through as a youngster, but to have that taken away and then having to work so much harder makes it more special.
“It’s been a long way back, but hopefully that’s been put to bed and I can continue with the rest of my career.”
Despite the trials and tribulations he has gone through, Gordon remains philosophical about his four years out of international football, saying: “That’s football, you never know what is round the corner. You take it for granted once you are in that environment and when it’s not there you start to worry when the next one is coming from. It’s been a long time, but definitely worth it.”
Gordon knows he faces stiff competition for the Scotland jersey from Marshall and Hull City No.1 Allan McGregor, currently out injured himself, but, he disclosed, he hopes to use the period before the next Euro qualifier against Gibraltar in March to continue renewing his credentials.
He said: “We have a few months now before we meet up again so I need to get back to Celtic where we have Europa League games coming up, where we hope to establish ourselves at the top of the league, to go on and do well there and to push for a starting place [with Scotland].
“You never know what can happen, injuries or loss of form. I know to my cost what can happen, but if I can knuckle down and do well with Celtic hopefully I’ll give myself the opportunity to play again.
“Whether we have a recognised No.1 or the shirt is up for grabs will depend on which one of us you are talking to. I believe if I keep working hard, doing the things I have been doing then I still have a chance to play in the qualifying games. You never know what is going to happen to the other two so I just have to concentrate on myself as they will be on themselves.”