Brian McClair will be 52 on December 8th. Brian belongs to that great list of really good Scottish forwards who did well in England and eh, couldn’t find the back of the pokey on the International front. His club record stands at just over 500 League games with just over 200 goals in stints with Motherwell, Celtic and Manchester United before a final turn at Fir Park. If that ratio were applied to his International record he would have scored 12 goals instead of the two he did and even one of those was a deflected.
Brian was first capped by Andy Roxburgh in November 1986 against Luxembourg in a Euro Qualifier at Hampden. Although he was the only player making his debut that night, in the starting eleven Pat Nevin and Murdo MacLeod were both making only their third appearances. Ally McCoist would come on in the second half for Murdo for only his second cap.
Scotland won comfortably with two goals from Davie Cooper and a third by Mo Johnston.
Brian would be given a start in Scotland’s next game against the Republic of Ireland also at Hampden in February ‘87. However, that well known Irishman Mark Lawrenson scored the only goal to dent Scotland’s hopes of qualifying for the finals, having already drawn nil nil with both Bulgaria at Hampden and the Republic in Dublin.
Brian got lucky and missed the trip to feckin’ Belgium as the Scots were pounded 4-1.
However, he was back in the starting line-up for the Rous Cup in May which saw us draw nil nil once again with England at Hampden and two nil to Brazil a few days later, where Brian was on the subs bench replacing Jim McInally in the second half. This would be Brian’s last cap as a Celtic player as he signed for Manchester United in the summer of 1987 for £850,000. Brain would eventually play over 470 games for United, scoring 127 goals in total.
However, for Scotland nought; for a while anyway.
Cap 5 came against Bulgaria in our penultimate qualifier in Sofia which saw Gary MacKay score the goal that put the Republic through to their first Euro Finals. Once again, Brian was again fortunate to miss the embarrassing nothing each draw in Luxembourg a month later with Everton’s Graeme Sharp drawing another blank there.
A one all friendly in Malta in March ’88 saw Sharp break his duck and also play in his last Scotland game. Ho Hum.
McClair had come on as a sub in the second half for McCoist and would do so again a month later as Scotland ground out another blank draw, this time at the Bernabeu against Spain.
Brian had a great first season at Old Trafford and returned to the starting line-up for our first game of the 1990 World Cup Qualifying campaign in September 1988. Brian would play in the first few games of our qualifiers as Scotland beat Norway 2-1 in Bergen with goals from Paul McStay and Maurice Johnston. A one all draw with Yugoslavia at Hampden with Johnston again being the scorer followed in October.
An oddly timed trip to Perugia in December 22nd for a wee friendly. WTF? We lost two nil; not sure if we gifted the goals or not.
Back to World Cup action and that nerve sapping game in Cyprus where Richard Gough digs us out a hole with a goal, six minutes into injury time. Of course that was followed in March ’89 by the incredible night we defeated France two nil at Hampden with Mo Johnston providing the goals. McClair would come on for McCoist late in the second half for his 12th cap.
Six months later and Brian plays a bit part in our last qualifier a one all draw with Norway at Hampden in November ’89 coming on late in the game as he does in March ’90 in Scotland’s one nil defeat of Argentina at Hampden with Stewart McKimmie providing the Goalden moment.
Brian would not feature again until after Italia ’90 and despite playing in five of the qualifiers he never makes the final 22 for the World Cup with players like Gordon Durie, Robert Fleck and SuperDud Alan McInally getting the nod ahead of him.
Winter 1990 and McClair became involved in what was to be Scotland’s first successful Euro campaign as he started the second game in Sofia, Bulgaria once more as the Scots drew one each with Ally McCoist scoring early in the match.
March ’91 and it’s Bulgaria at home with the same score line as before with John Collins scoring late in the game (83rd minute) to put Scotland in the lead with Kostadinov spoiling a night of celebration with a goal in the 89th minute. Bummer.
We faced the might of San Marino next in Serraville but once more McClair failed to find the net although thankfully Gordon Strachan with a penalty and Gordon Durie both scored second half goals to save our blushes, however this was after McClair was replaced by Pat Nevin minutes beforehand.
A two each draw in Berne against Switzerland with goals from Durie and McCoist and McClair coming on as a sub once more late in the game followed in September ’91. McClair once more started as Scotland lost to Romania one nil in Bucharest in their penultimate qualifying game. Mike Galloway of Celtic was to make his one and only Scotland appearance in this game.
13th November, 1991 and a victory against San Marino would see us through to the Finals for the first time as one of only 8 (Yes . . . 8!) qualifiers. Unfortunately, for McClair he wasn’t involved but an early goal from Paul McStay settled Scottish nerves and two more strikes by Gordon Durie and Richard Gough before half time had us dancing in the aisles of Mount Flo. McCoist would add another after half time.
Then came those Finals Warm up friendlies with McClair playing in a home win against Northern Ireland and wins across the Atlantic as we beat USA and then Canada before a nil nil draw with Norway in Oslo.
McClair would not only get a place in the Squad this time round but would start in all three games of Euro ’92 in Sweden. Scotland gave a good account of themselves against both Netherlands and Germany but still lost the games, 1-0 and 2-0 respectively.
Game 26 and finally Brian hits the net in the last game of our maiden Euro Finals. Scotland were playing Russia, USSR or rather CIS as they were called for a week or two back then for third spot in our group. Once again it was Paul McStay that gave Scotland the early lead in six minutes and in a further ten minutes McClair plays a neat one two and then shoots, hitting a Russian defender square on the chest that spins off him and past the despairing arms of Dmitri Kharin in goals. A Gary McAllister penalty in 83rd gave Scotland a very credible 3-0 win.
World Cup Qualifiers followed but an opening defeat to Switzerland in Berne was a bad start with Scotland going down 3-1 with McCoist scoring for Scotland and Richard Gough being sent off for that “instinctive” handball late in the game. A substitute appearance followed in non-score draw at Ibrox against Portugal in October ’92.
Brian was left out of the team for a while but following a 5-0 defeat to Portugal in Lisbon, Roxburgh had a wee clear out of Rangers players; Goram, Gough, McPherson, McCall and McCoist were all left out (of course, McCoist’s broken leg might have had something to do with it) and so he was back in the fold starting in the three nil victory against Estonia with Kevin Gallacher, John Collins and Scott Booth all netting in Tallinn.
Brian’s last game would come in June 1993 up at Pittodrie and would also be against Estonia; it would also feature that collector’s item; a Brian McClair goal as he gave us the lead in 18 minutes followed by a double by Pat Nevin as the Scots won 3-1.
So that was it for Brian, although he would still feature for Manchester United for another five season, no more caps were forthcoming.
Recently he has returned to Scotland and is now SFA’s National Performance Director and hopefully he will aid us in turning out players as skilful and intelligent as he was on the pitch and hopefully with more goals for the national team.
Happy Birthday Brian.