Football: Brown keeps his counsel on Hendry's role

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The Independent Online
HIS WORDS may have contained an element of bluff, even double or treble bluff, but Craig Brown gave a strong hint yesterday that he will not gamble on the fitness of Scotland's human claymore and captain, Colin Hendry, against England at Hampden Park tomorrow.

Hendry's talismanic status with the Scots, not to mention his leadership qualities, have led to Brown allowing him an opportunity to prove his recovery from a knee injury that ordinary mortals might have been denied. The Scotland manager has already decided whether the Derby-bound defender will face his former Blackburn colleague, Alan Shearer, yet he has no intention of availing Kevin Keegan of the information.

So it was left to the Troon army, the media swarm that descends daily on the squad's retreat on the Ayrshire coast, to pick their way through Brown's cagey comments in search of clues about Hendry. He admitted, for instance, that Scotland are preparing with different defensive formations. Perhaps more significantly, he restated the need to remember that there are two matches. If the second went to extra time, Hendry "might have to play for two hours at Wembley".

When it was put to him that the situation was becoming "farcical" - Hendry has started only once for Rangers this season - Brown bridled briefly but answered calmly. His job, he argued, was to weigh up which risk was the greater: to play Hendry or to leave him out. "If we win, people will say I got it right, whatever I do. But I won't be saying now what I've decided because it would be advantageous to England."

He was more forthcoming about the prospects for Gary McSwegan and Callum Davidson, who have both been struggling with hamstring problems. The Hearts striker is still doubtful for the first game but should be ready for the second, whereas Davidson should be fit for Hampden.

Brown welcomed the appointment of the Spanish referee, Manuel Diaz Vega, who is remembered in Glasgow for an imperious flourish of the red card that ended Paul Gascoigne's part in a European Cup match between Rangers and Borussia Dortmund. "They say he's strict and speaks good English," Brown said.

Scotland's English-born goalkeeper, Neil Sullivan, also cut a relaxed figure. He acknowledged that even former Scottish internationals, notably Graeme Souness, were predicting an England victory but pointed out that "the so-called experts" tipped Wimbledon to go down every year, and they were still thriving. "I'm used to going into every game as an underdog," he said, "but I always expect to win."

Brown, meanwhile, was reluctant to resurrect the David Johnson saga, despite reports that the Ipswich striker was, after all, eligible to represent Scotland. His understanding is that under Fifa regulations, Johnson's British passport means he can play for any of the UK nations. However, that rule is transcended by a written agreement between the four countries, signed in 1993, under which the Jamaican-born player can turn out only for England, his natural mother's birthplace.

To fuel the controversy further, there are claims that England unilaterally broke the pact by fielding Jamie McMaster, a Leeds United midfielder who was born in Australia of Scottish parents, in a Uefa Under-16 championship. "It would appear that England are unrepentant," Brown said. "But if we sign an agreement, we stick to it."

It was as close as the phlegmatic 59-year-old came to displaying any sign of tension. Pressed as to whether he had thought ahead to next Thursday, once it was all over, Brown said: "You won't find me hanging from the rafters or jumping from a bridge. I'll either be very happy or very disappointed, but if we play to our capabilities we'll be very hard to beat."