Well belated Happy Birthday to ex-Scotland defender Alan McLaren. Normally I don’t do belated but on Monday I got up knowing who and what I was going to write about but life had other plans as I was befelled by the dreaded lurgy. Yep. Man Flu hit the Stuart household as it always does at this time of year and strikes down, this normally fit and virile man in his prime. So it’s taken a while to get round to finishing it. Anyway, Alan I hope you had a great day on your 45th birthday on the 4th January.
Alan first featured, as a Hearts player for Scotland in our final three pre-tournament friendlies prior to the European Championship finals in Sweden. He started against the U.S. in the Mile High Stadium in Denver, USA that ended in a 1-0 victory for Scotland with Pat Nevin supplying the winner in the 7th minute. Duncan Ferguson would come on as a sub that night to make his debut also.
Both, McLaren and Ferguson would start the next game Toronto, Canada where the Scots recorded a 3-1 victory in the Varsity Stadium. Gary McAllister with two including a penalty and Ally McCoist hit the goals that night. Next stop Norway and a nil nil draw with the hosts in Oslo.
McLaren did make the squad for the Finals but did not get to make an appearance and would have to wait until November ’92 before being reinstated to the team. This was a World Cup Qualifier against Italy but by then Scotland had already lost to Switzerland in Berne at the wonderfully named Wankdorf Stadion and drawn nil nil at home to Portugal. The Swiss game was the one where Richard Gough was sent off for handball; that Andy Roxburgh later explained had been ‘instinctive’ after the ball hit off a sprinkler and went above his head. So instinctive and ingrained in the modern day footballer it is, that to this day players get sent off for this every other weekend. The Italy game was also to finish nil nil and Scotland were already playing catch up to qualify.
Scotland won their first qualifier in February ’93 when they defeated Malta 3-0 at Ibrox with two goals from Ally McCoist and one from Pat Nevin with a defence made up of Alan, Dave McPherson then of Rangers, Tom Boyd of Celtic and playing in his final game Alex McLeish.
Alan was to play in a one nil friendly defeat to Germany at Hampden a month later and was perhaps fortunate to miss the next qualifier as Scotland were truly humbled 5-0 to Portugal in Lisbon in April.
June ’93 he played in the 3-1 win over Estonia in September, missed a game against Switzerland but was returned to the fold by Craig Brown in October in his first game in charge and in fact he would play in 16 of Craig’s first 18 games. He would flit between full and centre back wherever Craig needed him and performed well.
Brown’s first two games were our away Qualifiers to Italy and Malta. Scotland lost the first one 3-1 and won the second 2-0. Friendlies then followed a 1-0 nil defeat to the Dutch at Hampden who also failed to reach USA ’94 in March, then a 2-1 victory over Austria in Vienna with John McGinlay and Billy McKinlay supplying the goals in April and a return game against the Dutch in Utrecht in May ’94, which we also lost 3-1.
Euro ’96 qualifying started with a good win in Helsinki, Finland with Duncan Shearer and John Collins scoring to give us a 2-0 win in September ’94. This was followed by a 5-1 whipping of the Faroe Islands at Hampden in October ’94 as our good start continued. This was Alan’s 14th Scotland cap and was to be his last as a Hearts player as he moved to Rangers prior to the next qualifier.
At this point we seemed to stutter a bit with a one all draw with Russia in November at Hampden and then in late December a narrow defeat to Greece in Athens followed in March ’95 with a credible blank score draw with Russia in Moscow to follow.
San Marino were beaten rather unconvincingly in Serraville in April ’95 2-0 with John Collins scoring a first half goal and Colin Calderwood completing the scoring in 85th minute.
May ’95 and it was Kirin Cup duty for the first time; Alan played in both games, the first a 0-0 draw with the hosts in Hiroshima, followed by a 2-1 win over Ecuador in Toyama. Our scorers that day were John Robertson of Hearts and Stevie Crawford, then of Raith Rovers on his Scotland debut.
For some further reading on this tour of Japan, can I suggest you read #2 of the Epistles magazine for Scott Kelly’s excellent “Japan Because You Can” article? Only £2 from eBay as usual.
Then it was back on Euro duty in June with a 2-0 win in the Faroes with two goals in four minutes from Billy McKinlay and John McGinlay midway through the first half once more seeing us through.
Alan would only miss one game in the whole qualifying campaign and it would perhaps be the most vital as Scotland through an Ally McCoist goal saw off Greece at Hampden. Russia had taken full points from Greece and with two teams qualifying it meant Scotland had two games to make sure of qualification. Unusually for Scotland, we never fell at the first hurdle and beat Finland in September ’95 to qualify for Euro ’96 in England. A Scott Booth goal in the first ten minutes was enough to see us through.
A friendly, a month later against Sweden in Stockholm, saw Scotland lose 2-0, which would be our only defeat in the calendar year of 1995 in 9 games.
November, ’95 and our last qualifier saw us in celebratory mood, pummel San Marino 5-0 with goals from Eoin Jess, Scott Booth, Ally McCoist, Pat Nevin and a Francini own goal in the 90th minute at Hampden.
However, for Alan McLaren and Scotland the tale ends there as injury would see him fail to make England ’96 and indeed he would never play again for the National side as knee injuries began to plague his career. Alan would retire from prematurely in his late twenties.
As you can see, Alan did make the sticker sets for Euro ’96 but I imagine it would be little consolation for Alan who with the right bit of luck may well have went on to win well over 50 caps for Scotland but we will never really know. All the best Alan.