Paul will be 39 on the 17th October. Paul gained his one and only Under-21 cap at the age of 19 in 1996 as a Millwall player having started out at Hamilton. Maybe he was the scapegoat that day as the Under 21s got beat 4-0 and it took a while for Paul to get back onto the International scene. Club stints at Raith, Hibs, St. Johnstone and even a loan spell at Morton would all happen before as a Hearts player, Paul was thrown quite literally into the arena as a Scotland player.
In his first game in charge in March 2005, Walter Smith surprisingly gave Paul his debut against Italy in Milan in a World Cup Qualifier. Paul would be the only uncapped player in Walter’s team that night. Scotland were to be undone by the magic of Andre Pirlo as he scored the only two goals in the game. Still, Paul had done enough to prove his worth and would be a big part of Scotland’s revival under Smith and then Alex McLeish.
Next up for Scotland and Paul was a two nil victory against Moldova at Hampden with Christian Dailly and James McFadden providing the goals in a 2-0 win. Paul would also play in the return game against Italy, which saw Scotland go into a 1-0 lead in the thirteenth minute with a Kenny Miller heading in from a perfectly flighted cross from Hartley. No doubt Italy had their chances to equalise but it was not until the 75th minute that Grosso was able to score.
Four days later Scotland would go to Norway and with Miller on fire would go into a two nil lead with Hartley again supplying a cross that would lead to Miller’s second goal. Kenny was injured in the 40th minute but anyone who saw that game will tell you had he not; he would have surely broken Scotland’s hat trick hoodoo that night, such was his finishing. Scotland held out for a 2-1 win.
A month later in what was to be Smith’s poorest game in charge of Scotland as we lost 1-0 to Belarus, Scotland’s chances of qualifying were gone but the damage had been done long before Smith and Hartley had been involved with the National team. A home draw against Slovenia followed by defeat at Hampden by Norway under Berti Vogts early in the campaign had been our undoing.
With this in mind, perhaps it was the freedom to play without any consequences that saw Scotland beat Slovenia 3-0 in Celje with all three goals being top quality with perhaps Hartley’s only Scotland goal being the best; a wonderful chip with the keeper stranded from the edge of the area was executed perfectly.
Hartley would play in the most important games of the 2008 Euro Qualifiers winning his tenth cap in the 1-0 win at Hampden with Gary Caldwell providing the great moment. Hartley’s 12th cap on 24th March, 2007 came with two major changes; at this point he was now a Celtic player and Alex McLeish was in charge of the national team. A nervy 2-1 win with a Craig Beattie winner in the 89th minute was enough to get McLeish off to a winning start.
It was back to Italy for Hartley and Scotland a few days later but poor defending was our undoing as Luca Toni gave Italy a 2-0 win.
However, happier times awaited Scotland on September 12th, 2007 as James McFadden provided that piece of magic in Paris that has gone down in Scotland folklore; football and otherwise. We all remember where we were that night when Scotland beat France 1-0; as for Paul Hartley I’m sure he remembers too as he was picking up cap 16.
Paul missed the next two games of the Euro campaign; a 3-1 win against Ukraine at Hampden followed by the misery of the 2-0 defeat in Tbilisi to Georgia.
November 17th, 2007 will long live in the memory as Scotland went 2-1 down to Italy at Hampden and there’s not a lot I can add to that except that was never a foul!
Next up a game a friendly against Croatia at Hampden that ended in a one all draw and another change of manager with George Burley now in the revolving chair.
Paul played in the first game of our 2010 World Cup campaign; a toothless one nil defeat to Macedonia in Skopje and was dropped for the game against Iceland in Reykjavik. Scotland would grind out a 2-1 win with goals from Kirk Broadfoot (!!) and James McFadden.
Hartley wouldn’t be involved in the next four games of the campaign but would return as a Bristol City player in September 2009 coming on as a sub against Macedonia for Scott Brown at Hampden. Brown had literally taken the game by the scruff of the neck and a few Macedonians too if truth be told and had opened the scoring in 56 minutes; 17 minutes later it was a case of replace him or have him sent off choice for Burley. Some of that fire seems to have gone out of Scott Brown if our latest failed campaign is anything to go by. A wonder goal by James McFadden would see out the game.
Paul started in the do or die game against Netherlands four days later where a Scotland win would see us get through to the play offs. Despite hitting the woodwork it was not to be and a David Weir mistake in 82nd minute gifted Netherlands the games’ only goal.
Another campaign and another failure but both Norway and Scotland had been poor in so many games with both ending up with ten points each, a full 14 behind the winners Netherlands.
Paul’s final and 25th cap came with another Manager in charge of his first game; Craig Levein. Paul came on as a sub at half time in a 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic with Scott Brown providing the winner.
So Happy Birthday Paul and all the best.