Football: Captain Braveheart proud to be a fan on and off the pitch

In 1982, Colin Hendry was in Torremolinos on tour with the Tartan Army. Today, he leads the Scots against Brazil. By Phil Shaw
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The Independent Online
EVERY PICTURE tells a story, Scotland's most famous celebrity supporter once sang, and it is certainly true of Colin Hendry's holiday snapshots from the World Cup summer of 1982.

There he is, a fair-skinned magnet to the Spanish sunshine, with a sombrero covering his distinctive blond locks, a stuffed donkey under his arm and a tartan scarf that revealed the real purpose of his visit.

Many a contemporary would be embarrassed to admit having been a starry- eyed kid who sang, chanted and worshipped the ground his predecessors played on, but then Hendry has always been his own man.

"I was a Scotland fan then, I'm a fan now who happens to play for the team and I'll be a fan long after I've finished," the 32-year-old Highlander asserts with a firmness that brooks no argument and typifies both the person and the player.

Hendry is both the captain and the most striking symbol of a Scottish team who, despite the lack of obvious "stars", have reached the finals of successive major tournaments under Craig Brown. He is a powerful and passionate man, "a bit of a Braveheart figure" according to the manager, who believes he would throw himself in front of a 10-ton truck if it meant protecting Scotland's goal.

There was a time when Hendry's game arguably contained too much Bannockburn bravado for Blackburn's good. He was the warrior centre-back who took it as a personal affront if his side fell behind and would go marauding upfield to rectify the situation.

Hendry still tackles with a claymore's incisiveness and lends his aerial ability at attacking set-pieces. But he also shows a greater sense of responsibility and awareness of his true value to both club and country. When Brown lost the unlucky Gary McAllister, he was the obvious candidate to lead the Scots in France, even though Tim Sherwood wears the armband at Ewood Park.

"It's something I revel in rather than being overawed by," Hendry explains. "I've always done a lot of shouting on the park, but you also need authority in the way you play to do the job. I think central defenders are ideally qualified. After all, we pit ourselves against the so-called stars of the opposing team - the strikers."

Talking of which, he will be up against the most expensive and effective in the world today when Scotland take on Brazil. If he had a fiver for everyone who has asked him about facing Ronaldo he would be Jack Walker, but Hendry insists that the Premiership has prepared him well.

"In the last month of the season alone I played against Shearer, Dublin and Huckerby, Vialli, Flo and Hughes, Hasselbaink, plus Bergkamp and Anelka. They'd walk into most World Cup squads. And anyway, Ronaldo's only human."

They may prove to be famous last words, yet Hendry has no time for negative thoughts. "I'm up for it," he says. "I'm in there with the jersey, in my corner with the boxing gloves on. If there's ever a good time to play Brazil, it's in the opening game. Having said that, every Scotland player will have to perform to his full potential and give a bit extra on top."

Like any self-respecting Tartan Army veteran, he is steeped in the competition's lore. The chronology of the 1974 finals, when Billy Bremner came within a ginger hair's breadth of beating Brazil and putting Scotland in the second round, is burned into his mind. Images of 1978 - Peru and Iran, Archie Gemmill and Ally MacLeod - remain "vivid", and four years on he actually made it to Spain.

"Me and my mum and dad stayed near Torremolinos. I remember meeting Alex McLeish [Scotland's centre-half] before the New Zealand match, and him saying: `Hello, wee man.' I was 15 and already quite tall, but to him I was still `a wee boy fae Keith'."

Hendry's birthplace, a "hard-working town" where many people are employed on the oil rigs or in the whisky industry, has been important in shaping his affable, uncomplicated personality. He grew up following his local Highland League club and goes home to see his parents whenever possible. With a chuckle that is affectionate rather than patronising, he tells me many in Keith expected him to spend a few weeks there before flying out to France.

Astonishingly for a player who, to borrow Irn-Bru's slogan, might have been "made in Scotland from girders", there were some at his first club, Dundee, who thought him a malingerer. Even those who knew of his problems with injury and illness never saw him as a future international.

"I remember about five us [players] sitting round at our digs talking about what might happen to us. The consensus was that one lad had a great chance of playing for Scotland, which he never did, and another could well reach the top, which he hasn't. I never got mentioned. I just faded into the background."

He did win a B cap in 1990, three years after he first joined Blackburn, but admits he may have been over-eager. It took a 5-0 rout in Portugal and the falling out with Richard Gough to persuade Andy Roxburgh to take a chance on Hendry, who by then had become Kenny Dalglish's first major buy for Blackburn after a sabbatical at Manchester City.

When Brown took over, he recognised that Hendry's ability, properly channelled, could be an asset. He now has 32 caps and forms, with Colin Calderwood and Tom Boyd, the unit largely responsible for Scotland's fine record in competitive fixtures.

They have conceded only eight goals in 24 games, and no one has scored more than twice against them in Brown's four and a half years. Much as it hurt Hendry's patriotic pride that England should have been one of the few to take two goals off them - at Wembley during Euro 96 - he is philosophical about the endless action replays of Paul Gascoigne beating him before scoring.

"Rod Stewart told me he'd asked him about that goal and that Gazza reckoned he got a helping hand from above because I lost my footing. But I've never made any excuse about slipping and it's never worried me because it was a great occasion to be involved in and we played well."

Besides, there have been plenty of brighter moments in the dark blue. Hendry nominates a 0-0 draw in sub-zero temperatures in Moscow as especially gratifying. Beating Sweden after surviving "a pummelling" also rates highly, along with subduing Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Kluivert against the Dutch at Villa Park.

Such results, allied to the recent draw with Colombia, give Hendry hope against Brazil where many see none. The role of underdogs suits the Scottish psyche, and he is keen to claim it against Norway and Morocco, too, on the basis that both are above them in Fifa's world rankings.

The history of what Hendry calls "the greatest tournament" has Scotland typecast as gallant failures, a tag he despises. "It's terrible," he says. "So it would mean everything to me to be in the team that finally reached the second round. And to be captain... I'd be so proud."