Jon McLaughlin feels his maiden Scotland call-up owes plenty to being in the right place at the right time.
The 30-year-old Hearts goalkeeper had performed consistently for Burton Albion in previous seasons without ever having his name mentioned in connection with international recognition. McLaughlin believes this was down do a combination of the form of Craig Gordon, Allan McGregor and David Marshall, who have dominated the No.1 jersey between them for the past decade, as well as the fact that hardly anybody in his homeland knew he was actually Scottish.
McLaughlin was born in Edinburgh to Scots parents but speaks with a strong Yorkshire accent after moving south as a child and spending most of his life in England. He senses that it is only in the past seven months, since moving to Hearts, that the Scottish public, and most importantly national team management, have become aware that he is both a bona fide Scot and a goalkeeper of substance. Crucially, his emergence as the standout custodian in the Scottish Premiership has coincided with an injury to Gordon and the fact Marshall is playing understudy to McGregor at Hull City at a time when new Scotland manager Alex McLeish has made a conscious effort to freshen the squad with new blood for this month’s friendly double-header against Costa Rica and Hungary .
In short, the stars have aligned perfectly for McLaughlin to earn his unexpected crack at international football. “There was never really any talk of me getting called up when I was in England,” he said. “If there is any talk you don’t hear it as much when you’re down there because you’re not on the radar as much. It sounds silly but maybe there were a lot of people who didn’t realise I was Scottish.
“That’s been one benefit of joining Hearts and being right up here in the centre of everything. It helps you get on the radar more. Last year in the Championship I was playing well. It’s a very difficult league and I was in a side who were down near the bottom so of course we weren’t doing as well. But the years before that we had won back-to-back promotions, we had done really well and personally I had played really well.”
McLaughlin explained how even Paul Gallacher, his goalkeeping coach at Hearts, wasn’t aware of the fact he is a fully-fledged Scot.
“Even some of the people at the club now were asking, Gall was saying: ‘What’s the connection?’ They hear the accent and because I’ve never been involved, but I’m 100 per cent Scottish, everyone in my family is from Edinburgh, I was born here and all the rest of my family are here but I just don’t have the accent. Hopefully this will convince everyone.”
McLaughlin knows that the form of Gordon, McGregor and Marshall has been a barrier to his involvement over the past decade. “It’s been a real position of strength for Scotland for a long time,” he said. “There’s some massive experience and perhaps I’ve been fortunate with Craig Gordon’s injury and you’ve got McGregor and Marshall, two good goalkeepers playing at the same club. McGregor is playing at the moment so things like this again possibly play into your hands. With Jordan Archer, McGregor and myself playing, it might have made their decision a bit easier.”
McLaughlin admits he didn’t think he’d ever get a Scotland call-up until the last few months when he started to earn widespread recognition for his part in Hearts’ run of clean sheets through the winter.
“It’s everyone’s dream to represent their country but I’ve come from non-league football and became a professional very late on - I was just about to turn 21 by the time I turned professional and started playing in the lower leagues. I’ve never been involved in any national side at any group so it’s not something you worry too much about.
“Speaking with my wife before the call-up, I said I had had a long career, I’m 30 years old and if I didn’t get called up that’s just the norm, it’s a continuation, nothing has changed. So, of course, when people start talking about it and it starts to look like a genuine possibility, you want it to happen more than anything. But if it hadn’t happened then nothing would have changed.
“And when you talk about international football, the reason you are so proud is because it’s a huge achievement. There’s no shame in not achieving it. But now I have it’s a big thing for myself and my family.”
McLaughlin has a new contract offer on the table from Hearts, but is openly weighing up his options for next season. He acknowledges that the fact he has earned a call-up so soon after moving to Tynecastle will play a part in his thinking.
“It’s another factor to weigh in, what is next for your career?” he said.
“You have to think long and hard about where the right places are to go. Last summer, I could have stayed in England and taken an easier option, but this was one that stood out because there was much more potential, and that’s ended up being true. Moving into the summer, these are things you need to factor in - if you move on somewhere else, what kind of impact is it going to have on your overall career.”