Broken lace made a Scottish star

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The Independent Online
There will not be many with Anglo-Scottish identity crises at Wembley this afternoon, but one of the players in the historic European Championship encounter between the two home countries knows all about split loyalties.

Stuart McCall, who marked his 32nd birthday on Monday with a stirring display for Scotland against the Netherlands, has red hair, stocky stature and a spiky style that mark him out as Scottish. Yet he was born and bred in Leeds. He has the accent and cricketing allegiance to prove it. And he would have been forever English in the eyes of the football authorities but for a "lucky escape" 12 years ago.

McCall's parents hail from Hamilton. His father played for Blackpool before settling in Yorkshire. Stuart grew up supporting Leeds United and played for the city boys' teams, but he always "felt Scottish".

One day in 1984 he was in the bath after training when the club secretary came in. "He said: `Good news - Alex Ferguson's picked you for Scotland Under-21s.' I was so proud. But a few minutes later the secretary was back saying: `Even better news! Dave Sexton's chosen you for the England Under-21s'."

McCall was pressed for an instant decision. Trevor Cherry, his manager at Bradford and a former England player, nudged him towards England.

"So I picked England. Yet as I went home I thought: `How can I possibly play for them against Scotland?' ... But I thought it would be too awkward to change my mind so I went to Turkey with them."

Late in the game, watching from the bench, he heard the words he had begun to dread: "You're going on." Had he played, he would never have been able to wear the Scottish shirt. McCall asked how much time was left. "Three minutes."

"That was what got me. England didn't want me because they thought I could affect the game, but as an insurance policy. If I came good later they could claim me as theirs."

Desperate, he drifted off behind the goal, warming up. The bench screamed. He pretended not to hear. Bobby Mimms, another substitute, was dispatched to bring him back to the dug-out.

There he snapped a tie-up, lost a shin-pad. "They were saying: `Quick, let's get you on' and I edged to the touchline. Just then the ref blew for time. I breathed a massive sigh of relief."

McCall rose to play for Glasgow Rangers, where he is currently the team mate of Paul Gascoigne. But, McCall said: "It's the biggest international I'm ever going to play in, so friendship goes out of the window until quarter to five. Then me and Gazza will go back to being pals." And, he hopes, to being on the winning side, thanks to a last-minute change of identity and a broken lace.

Sport, pages 27, 28