AS they lined up for East Stirlingshire and Queens Park in League Two, David Bates and Andy Robertson could hardly have dreamt of one day pulling on the dark blue of Scotland.
Robertson, now at Liverpool via Dundee United and Hull City, has of course been made captain of his country, the 24-year-old now with 26 caps to his name and with plenty more to come.
And on Saturday, Bates, now at German outfit SV Hamburg by way of Raith Rovers and Rangers, hopes to win his first cap in a crucial UEFA Nations League clash against Albania in Shkoder.
Injuries to key defenders have, he accepts, opened up the door, but the flame-haired player is more than ready to play his part. “I wouldn’t have thought about it,” claimed Bates, dubbed the ‘Ginger Ramos’, when asked if in those days with East Stirling he would have contemplated being where he is today.
“I have always just got on with what was in hand. I never really thought about the future, that big jump. I would never have thought when I was younger that I would be in Germany playing football.
“I don’t get carried away. I always think what I could have done better, look at my clips and see what I could do better rather than what I did well. I’ve been at Raith Rovers a few years ago, on loan in League Two and League One, then went to Rangers. So it has gone quick.
“East Stirling was my first professional club and you learn a lot down there, all the cute stuff, how to protect yourself when jumping for headers, stuff you probably wouldn’t get away with in Germany.
“I think with Andy and I it just shows that if you work hard, put the effort in and keep plugging away that sometimes it can work out. You will get that move or you will play at bigger clubs.”
Bates raised more than a few eyebrows when he turned his back on Rangers in favour of playing in the second tier in Germany but, he insisted, it was the best move he could have made. He has no regrets at leaving just as Steven Gerrard arrived to take charge of the Ibrox club. “Rangers were always a big club and they were always going to get a good manager in and eventually get back to playing and doing well in Europe. I have watched most of their European games this year and they have done very well.
“I am a Rangers fan and I think it’s great what they are doing. I’m always there supporting them but obviously I am in Hamburg now and have my own career and need to focus on being in Germany and playing my football.
“I think everyone respected that I wanted to go down a different route. I never had many comments saying things like ‘Oh, why are you doing that?’ Maybe some people did, but I never really read or heard them.
“All the ones I saw were about how brave I was and how good it was that I was going out there and trying something different. For me, it’s the best decision I’ve made.
“It’s been brilliant. I’m playing at the highest level, week in, week out. The football is very technical and I’m learning a different side of the game. It was definitely the right decision.
“For me the Bundesliga Two is a better league than Scotland. Every team is competitive and you go away to grounds and it’s a sell-out. You’re up against different types of players and all teams are tactically switched on. I feel like I’m learning so much.
“I’ve learned a different style of play. Everybody does the technical stuff. In training you always practise with the ball. Also the training sessions are a lot longer, you put in the hours and the work.
“The language is obviously different so you probably need to tune in more, listen and pick out what you can. Football has its own language, though, so you always know what you have to do in training, for example.”
And Bates insisted playing for Hamburg was similar to being under the microscope of playing for Rangers.
He said: “I liked the Old Firm goldfish bowl because I got to play at the top level. Hamburg is the same.
“It is similar to Glasgow, with the media and the fans. You need to win every game. Our manager [Christian Titz] got sacked after eight games and we were sitting third in the league so that just shows you how much they want to win.
“They want to win the league and now we are sitting top by three points. I think the size of the club means we should be up there, also the quality of players, fanbase, everything about it.”
If there are no longer any games with Celtic to look forward to, there is a Hamburg derby, Hamburg having drawn 0-0 with their big rivals St Pauli earlier in the season. Bates said: “It was great.
“The day before at training we had 2000 fans there –all the ultras. They make the atmosphere very good although there weren’t many chances in the game so maybe the atmosphere didn’t reach the level it could have done.
“They have quite a tight stadium, so I’ve heard, maybe a bit like Tynecastle so it should be good when we go there.”
Astonishingly, Bates won the first of his two Under-21 caps only a couple of months ago and, even as late as Sunday, he claims he didn’t have an inkling that he would be called into the full squad for the double header against Albania and Israel.
He said: “I follow it on Twitter and the call-offs were tweeted but I never really thought about it until I got the call to come here. It was good to meet all the boys, training was at a good level, just the usual training, small boxes, no real tactical stuff.”
McLeish, of course, has yet to name his side to face the Albanians but, when asked what he might say to the national coach if he is told he is playing, Bates replied: “Err, thanks very much.
“Seriously, I feel totally ready.
“I have been playing every game for Hamburg except a couple and I feel I have come on a lot as a player. So I definitely feel ready.”
And as for his nickname, accorded him in due deference to Real Madrid and Spain defender Sergio Ramos, Bates said: “I was at Rangers when that happened.
“All the fans used to say it and it was a good laugh. It just stuck. Even a couple of the lads would say it to me in training and now a few boys in Germany say it for a wee joke. It’s just a laugh.”