Scotland’s 31-time ranking event winner and Tartan Army supporter John Higgins believes that a new swathe of exciting young talent can lead his country to success at the delayed Euro 2020, which gets underway this evening.
Higgins was in Paris to see Scotland face Brazil in the opening game of the 1998 World Cup, the last time they qualified for a major tournament.
The Glaswegian can’t wait to see his country step out on the big stage once more, where they will face the Czech Republic, England and Croatia.
We caught up with Higgins to find out who he would pick in his starting XI for the opener against the Czech Republic and hear about his experience at France 98…
John, how do you feel about Steve Clarke’s 26-man squad for the Euros as a whole?
“I’m really happy with the squad. It’s given everybody a wee boost having the young lads David Turnbull, Nathan Patterson and Billy Gilmour coming through. I don’t know if any of them will be in the first XI, but I think if you asked any Scotland fan about them playing they wouldn’t have a problem with it. They are three very exciting talents.
“I have a really good feeling about the team. They have shown camaraderie, togetherness and are all around about a similar age. It’s only really the goalkeepers that are over 30. The young guys will have come across each other in junior teams and things. I cannot wait for it to come and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Who would you like to see in goals and defence?
“I don’t think you can drop David Marshall in goal. He’s got us there, so he has to start.
“I’m sure Scott McTominay will play in midfield, but I personally would have liked to have seen him in the back three, as I thought we looked very good when he was there.
“It will obviously be Andy Robertson at left back and I think it will turn out to be Stephen O’Donnell at right back. However, I would throw young Nathan Patterson in there. I’d say on you go and show us what you’ve got. He’s only 19, but if you are good enough, then you are old enough as far as I’m concerned.
“I think Grant Hanley will definitely play in the middle with Kieran Tierney on the left and I would go with Declan Gallagher alongside them. That is going to be hardest decision, the back three.”
Who would you play in midfield and up top?
“You have to put McTominay in there alongside John McGinn and I wouldn’t mind putting wee Gilmour in there. He will be on a high from winning the Champions League, even though he didn’t play in the final. I think the English guys will know about him and respect him as a good player. It will probably be Callum McGregor, but did he have a great season for Celtic? Not for me. I would go for Gilmour.
“I think England will look at those three and think we are up against three class guys. We would be a team that could play and hold the ball. It is all about putting a bit of doubt in their mind and the minds of the Czechs and the Croatians as well.
“I’d have thought Che Adams is a guaranteed starter up front. Would you put Ryan Christie off him, James Forrest or Ryan Fraser? I’m not sure how that will go. It is very difficult, there are a lot of options in the squad. Lyndon Dykes has never let Scotland down, has played brilliantly whenever he has come in and has been a revelation for Scotland. I think despite the fact all of those guys could have an argument for starting, I would go for Stuart Armstrong.”
John Higgins’ Scotland Starting XI
What is the atmosphere like surrounding the build up to the tournament in Glasgow?
“I don’t know if it is the excitement that we are coming out of this pandemic or that there is light at the end of the tunnel. But everyone is getting up for this. I think everybody up here is buzzing. We can go into this tournament with a degree of confidence. We maybe are making up the numbers a touch but playing two matches at Hampden is massive and the boys will have a lot of backing. It is all go!”
What do you think the banter will be like at the next event between the Scottish and English players in the aftermath of their group clash?
“That is going to be very interesting. I can remember when we played in the playoffs for Euro 2000 and the second leg was while a tournament was going on in Bournemouth. We were losing 2-0 after the first leg, but we took over a big room in the hotel and all the players watched it together. The English boys had half of the room and the Scottish boys had the other. The atmosphere was incredible. We managed to win 1-0 and had chances to win 2-0 and have the opportunity of going through. There was a lot of vicious banter flying around but it was all good fun. There is no tournament on this time, but there will be a lot of chat about it at the next event. Hopefully we can get a result and shut some of the English boys up.”
Who would you most like to wind up if Scotland win?
“I think Joe Perry. I’d love to see him if we beat England. Joe knows his football so I would have a massive smile when I see him next if we manage to get the win!”
How did you come about deciding to go to France in 1998 and watch Scotland face Brazil?
“I was sitting in the pub with some of my friends talking about it and we just said why don’t we go? One of our friends had a sister that lived just outside Paris, so he phoned her and sorted for us to stay there. We went home, packed our bags, jumped on a train and that was us three or four hours later in the middle of Paris celebrating with the rest of the Scotland fans. It was just after I’d won my first World Championship and a few people came up and said they could get me a ticket, but I wasn’t going to go all the way over there and leave my mates. I ended up watching it in a fountain in the middle of one of the fan zones, drinking a few beers. I was trying to cool down a little bit as it was a roasting hot day so it was the fountain for me.
“I don’t think you take in things like that at the time. It is only now looking back that you realise how amazing it was. Those were two great days in Paris supporting Scotland against Brazil. It doesn’t get any better than that.”