IF the Tartan Army were casting around for a team to support in the World Cup next year, Friday night’s draw made their job a little easier when Trinidad & Tobago were put in the same group as England.
With Marvin Andrews (Rangers), Russell Latapy (Falkirk), Kelvin Jack (Dundee), Collin Samuel (Dundee United) and Jason Scotland of St Johnstone likely to be facing England in the second group game a sprinkling of Saltires are almost guaranteed in the stadium.
Yet the support of the Scots for the Soca Warriors, as they have styled themselves, should come with no little embarrassment for officialdom. With Scotland failing to qualify for the competition it will not have gone unnoticed that this summer a Home Office-appointed panel that included a number of respected footballing figures from the Scottish game turned down a work permit for Jason Scotland to continue his career with Dundee United.
Scotland, they considered, could not offer the SPL any level of quality that they did not already have. The panel came to this conclusion despite the fact that Scotland had scored the winning goal to see United through to the Scottish Cup Final.
There was an incredulous response to the Home Office decision from United, naturally enough, and even more ire was forthcoming when Scotland was allowed to sign for St Johnstone. Apparently, his skill level was such that he would prove an asset to a First Division side, and therefore could receive his permit.
The situation was farcical enough without Trinidad & Tobago becoming the smallest nation ever to seal a place in the World Cup finals when they defeated Bahrain 1-0 in a play-off second leg encounter.
“Things have not gone well for Scotland,” said Jason somewhat dryly. “Of course I might not get to the World Cup myself yet, but at least I am in with a chance. This is a dream come true for myself, all the players and the supporters. We have a good bunch of players and we always thought we could do it.”
Scotland also insists T&T will not be there merely making up the numbers, and said: “We are not going to Germany to party and relax. We will be training hard and aiming to do well. All eyes will be on us in the World Cup. We will put our best foot forward and show them that we are here, we are a small country, but a big footballing nation.”
Scotland the player can afford to smile at the situation now, but there is still a bit of hurt lingering. He was not an instant hit at Dundee United, having to work hard to win over the manager and the fans, some of whom saw him as a luxury player. Yet he achieved that and could have considered himself in a good position to be a regular starter in the SPL for season 2005/6.
“It was very frustrating not being able to return to the play in the SPL,” he added. “I have proved I can play well in the top flight, so now it is a case of having to take a step back to go forward. We are playing well at St Johnstone, so hopefully we can get promotion.”
If that happens there is little chance the Home Office will once again object to Scotland’s playing in the SPL this time round. There is every chance that other Scottish clubs will be seeking to sign players from the Caribbean.
Dundee goalkeeper Jack found his way to Scotland via Reading and Oldham and has no doubt other members of his national team could play in Scotland. “The situation with Jason was a mess,” he said. “The board said he was not of a high enough standard for the SPL, but with no disrespect he scored in a semi-final of the Scottish Cup. He is going to the World Cup and that says it all. It still baffles me.”
Jack will be the last line of defence against the likes of Wayne Rooney, but he says he will be ready for whatever England can throw at him .
“The Scottish First Division may not be of such a high standard, but it is a matter of having good habits and making sure you are switched on, to keep a high standard for yourself,” he added. “If you do that you will be sharp enough to face international strikers. I will probably be a busy man, but our other players will rise to the occasion and I think we could surprise a few people.”
If they do surprise England, there is no doubt they will cause much joy north of the Border. The chances are Scotland will partner Dwight Yorke up front, whilst Andrews will be employed to protect Jack at the back.
If there is an upset and Scotland scores, you can write the headlines yourself, but nobody at the Home Office will want to read the story.