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Football: Gallacher rolls with it

THE SEARCH for Kevin Gallacher hardly began auspiciously. After dialling the mobile phone number, an unfamiliar voice was on the other end. "Kevin?" "No, mate," replied an exasperated voice, "you want the Blackburn Rovers player - this is Liam's phone!"

Whether I had been the victim of a wind-up or simply got lucky in tracking down the more notorious "Gallagher" boy remains a mystery, but, thankfully, two days later the real Kevin Gallacher revealed himself as he stepped on to the Hampden Park turf for a training session before Scotland departed for the Faroe Islands and then Prague.

This one didn't swear and, even though we were just 400 yards down the road from where Jim Kerr grew up, there was no sign of Patsy Kensit either. Yet Gallacher, the Scot that is, would be entitled to ask the Mancunian branch of the clan to dedicate one their best-known numbers to him. "Don't Look Back in Anger" might sum up how the 31-year-old striker views the last five rollercoaster years.

Football for Gallacher has been either feast or famine, but mostly frustration. A year ago, he and Blackburn could not put a foot wrong. The Scot's 21 goals had propelled his team into the Uefa Cup, and the World Cup finals beckoned too, largely thanks to his six goals in six qualifying games.

Gallacher's track record has never seen him count on the future, but even he must have thought the bad times - two broken legs which saw him miss out on Ewood Park's championship party of 1995 - were behind him. France 98, though, was the beginning of a miserable 12 months. He hardly got a sniff of a goal in the World Cup, then he broke his arm playing for Scotland against Estonia. Without him, Blackburn sank deeper than one of those Lancashire holes the Beatles immortalised.

The scars of relegation are still fresh, yet Gallacher admits that overtime with Scotland has allowed him to work out the frustrations being nursed by his Blackburn team-mates on beaches around the world.

"I'm in a totally different environment with different chat from the players," he said. "With Scotland, there's no relegation hangover and that takes my mind off things."

Gallacher only just regained his fitness after a troublesome calf injury before the denouement. He scored with a sublime lob against Nottingham Forest which briefly offered hope, but then missed a penalty which would have given Rovers the lead. "Scoring that goal was brilliant, but all I can think of now is the penalty. But we got what we deserved. We never thought about relegation until it happened."

Wednesday's game against the Czech Republic in Prague offers Gallacher the opportunity to check out of the depression zone. Scotland have badly missed the man whose eight goals in the run-up to the World Cup makes him Craig Brown's present top-scorer. "This is very similar to the World Cup qualifying campaign for me," he said. "I didn't play until about half-way through the group, then I came in for back-to-back games with Estonia and Austria and scored three times and went off on a run of goals."

When the Scots were beaten 2-1 by the Czechs in Glasgow three months ago, Brown bemoaned the lack of a natural predator. Cometh the hour, and the Scotland coach knows exactly who his man is. "Kevin is a natural goalscorer," Brown said. "Very few strikers can get more than 20 Premiership goals in a season, and he will be vital to us. I don't believe in going to Prague to defend. We could not survive that and we intend to use the counter-attack philosophy that got us a win in Germany recently."