Football: Brown defends keeper's decision

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The Independent Online
CRAIG BROWN last night defended Andy Goram's sudden withdrawal from Scotland's World Cup squad as "an honourable decision" and refused to rule out picking him again - despite the troubled goalkeeper's declared retirement from international football.

The Scotland manager, who welcomed Celtic's Jonathan Gould to their New Jersey training camp as back-up to Jim Leighton and Neil Sullivan, praised Goram for his selflessness and the timing of his announcement.

The 34-year-old Rangers keeper, who is out of contract and may join Crystal Palace, informed Brown on Tuesday that he was leaving. He felt that tabloid allegations about his private life were affecting his own and the squad's preparations for France 98, which Scotland open against Brazil on 10 June.

Brown said: "If people think it's a dereliction of his country, when in fact Andy was trying to be fair to Scotland, they're wrong. This could have carried on past the date when we couldn't have brought in a replacement. So we have to give him credit for an early decision.

"He could have stayed with us, gone on picking up his money and bonuses, and put us right in the soup in France. The decision he's made is an honourable one."

Goram, who also withdrew from a squad during the qualifying for Euro 96 claiming he was "not mentally attuned", has joined Everton's Duncan Ferguson and Leeds' David Robertson in self-imposed exile from the national team. Brown, however, is neither so well off for specialist players nor churlish enough to write him off. "If Andy comes back to me and says his life is more settled, I'll consider him."

According to Brown, Goram's "brightness" in practice contrasted with his untypically downbeat demeanour off the pitch. Goram had been "bombarded" by calls from non-sports journalists about his private life and the pressure had begun to tell.

Brown's assistant, the Aberdeen manager Alex Miller, brought the Lancashire- born Goram to Scotland from Oldham when he was with Hibernian. Miller said: "I spoke to him privately and to me it wasn't the same Andy."

The latest twist in the soap opera that has run parallel to Goram's career of 43 caps began 24 hours earlier. He had asked to speak to Brown at breakfast, explaining that first he wanted him to read a letter.

After studying its contents, Brown went to Goram's room to find he had already packed to go home. "Andy said: `I have to go.' I told him he was being a wee bit hasty but he was adamant. His concern was for his team- mates and Scotland. He was very upset at having to give me that letter."

Some will see the Goram saga as part of Scotland's fabled capacity for self-destruction. Memories will be stirred of the Mo Johnston "birds 'n' booze" episode at Italia 90; of Willie Johnston being banished from Argentina in '78 after a positive drug test; and even of Jimmy Johnstone's tired- and-emotional night at sea in a rowing boat before the '74 finals.

The truth is that while Goram clearly has problems, they are of a highly personal nature. The rest of the Scottish party here are more likely to be found on a rowing machine in the hotel gym than in a rowing boat. Their dedication is epitomised by Leighton, who at nearly 40 now becomes the undisputed first-choice again. The Aberdeen keeper will gain his 86th cap against the United States in Washington DC on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the London-born Gould said: "I was surprised to hear I was in the squad in Andy's place because I believe someone of his ability should be on the World Cup stage. He's taken a very brave decision and I hope it works out for him. But I've been keeping fit and I'm ready for this."