Football: Brown finds Johnson is ineligible

Euro 2000 Play-Offs: Surprises on both sides as Cole is picked despite Shearer jibes while Scotland hopes for Ipswich striker are crushed
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The Independent Online
CRAIG BROWN got a taste of how the operators who manned Hampden's ticket hotline felt last week when he announced his squad for the European Championship play-off with England yesterday and omitted the name David Johnson: like many of the tickets, the much-touted Ipswich striker disappeared into thin air.

Scotland's national coach did not have enough breath to deal with the deluge of questions which followed that, although, unlike the BT ticket hotline, at least Brown did not crash under the weight of questions.

It was, however, an embarrassing situation which his critics loved - many had questioned the pursuit of Johnson - and Brown was grilled uncomfortably, just a few paces away from the kitchen in the top Glasgow hotel where he unveiled his 24-man squad for the Hampden and Wembley double-header.

Johnson's recruitment two week ago was done in such a high-profile way, with a breakfast press conference at Prestwick airport, that Brown was on a hiding-to-nothing in announcing the player's ineligibility. The Jamaican-born forward has a British passport, making him, it was thought, eligible to play for either England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales under Fifa rules. However, the Scottish Football Association's background checks uncovered "documentary evidence "that Johnson's natural mother - he was adopted - came from Birmingham, not the Caribbean.

Indeed, it later emerged that a much sadder tale had unfolded in the routine to process Johnson's football citizenship: the player never knew his natural mother and it was her death certificate - he was unaware of that, too - which provided proof of her birthplace.

"I don't see it as an embarrassment," a beleaguered Brown tried to declare above the volley of questions. "In fact, I see it as a compliment to the rigorous procedure that the SFA has. No one knew of this. Not the player, his agent or his manager at Ipswich, George Burley, who first put me on to Johnson."

Johnson had flirted with other countries before pledging his future to Scotland, playing for England B and Jamaica in friendlies before dropping out of a Wales squad in September much to the annoyance of their manager, Mark Hughes. Wales, with hindsight, were spared a potentially costly mistake. Had they used him in their European Championship tie and his English lineage been discovered later, Uefa and Fifa would have taken a dim view.

When Brown could finally address the 24 players he did name, there were few surprises. David Hopkin and Scot Gemmill have been left out from the last squad because of a surfeit of midfielders (eight), but Colin Hendry's fitness and current situation at Rangers did not preclude against his involvement.

"He is training twice a day," said Brown of his captain, who sustained a knee injury against Bosnia last month and has started only once for Rangers this season because he is not rated by Dick Advocaat. "It is not an ideal situation, but we will assess Colin next week," he added.


(for the Euro 2000 play-offs against England on 13 and 17 November):

Douglas (Dundee)

Gould (Celtic)

Main (St Johnstone)

Sullivan (Wimbledon)

Calderwood (Aston Villa)

Dailly (Blackburn)

Hendry (Rangers)

McNamara (Celtic)

O'Neil (Wolfsburg)

Ritchie (Hearts)

Weir (Everton)

Burley (Celtic)

Cameron (Hearts)

Collins (Everton)

Davidson (Blackburn)

Durrant (Kilmarnock)

Ferguson (Rangers)

Hutchison (Everton)

Lambert (Celtic)

Burchill (Celtic)

Dodds (Dundee Utd)

Gallacher (Newcastle)

McCann (Rangers)

McSwegan (Hearts)