Football: McAllister's rough ride hurts Brown

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GARY McALLISTER'S international career, which has brought him 57 caps and has seen him become Scotland's outstanding player of the 1990s, hangs in the balance today as Craig Brown considers his response to the home supporters' booing of his captain during Wednesday's 2-1 home defeat by the Czech Republic.

The setback at Celtic Park effectively ended the Scots' hopes of reaching Euro 2000 as winners of Group Nine. Qualification via the play-offs for second-placed sides now appears their most realistic route to the finals. But whatever twists remain in the campaign, the Scotland manager intimated yesterday that McAllister might not be around to influence events.

"Gary McAllister is not a quitter," Brown said, as perplexed by the treatment of the Coventry playmaker as he was angered and saddened. "However, he wouldn't be the first player to say: `Enough is enough'."

Brown continued: "I have to make a decision in terms of the team. The individual is important and I have always been loyal, but it is a team game, and I have to take hard decisions with that in mind.

"Out of respect, I would not make that decision without first consulting the player. People assume nowadays that footballers are just wealthy and big-headed, but they are ordinary people. I'm conscious of the fact Gary has family who will have been very hurt by the criticism."

Brown, who discovered McAllister had left the stadium by the time he finished his post-match press conference, plans to discuss the situation with him over the weekend. While Scotland have few enough players of his experience and quality, Brown may decide it would be in the interests of the individual and the team if he were no longer considered.

The jeering started around the hour mark after McAllister lost possession with the Czechs 2-0 up. The former Leeds player, making his comeback for his country after a 15-month absence during which he missed the World Cup finals due to a cruciate-ligament injury, looked shocked. He was soon substituted for what Brown termed "purely tactical reasons".

The abuse was all the more disappointing, said Brown, because McAllister invariably demonstrates leadership and commitment. Moreover, he does not hide when, as on Wednesday, he is below par. "Gary always wants the ball and tries to be creative. He never takes the soft option."

Before Scotland's next group fixtures, which include a visit to the Faroe Islands four days before the return with Poborsky, Berger and company in Prague on 9 June, they face Germany in a friendly in Bremen on 28 April. If McAllister is left out or even retires from international football - and at 34 he could not be expected to soldier on indefinitely - it would be a tawdry end to a nine-year tour of national duty.

He is not the first to be bear the brunt of the fans' frustrations; remarkable as it may now seem, Kenny Dalglish was once singled out. Nor, argue those who have not noticed that the era of Baxter, Bremner and Celtic's Lisbon Lions has long since ended, is he the most exciting, aggressive or typically "Scottish" of players.

Yet he has few equals in combining industry and invention - among his compatriots, only John Collins comes close technically - and it is difficult to know what he has done to offend people. Some suggest it was having a penalty saved by David Seaman against England at Euro 96. If so, his detractors have highly selective memories as well as petty minds. When Scotland next received a spot-kick, in Belarus, he had the "bottle" to score the only goal of a match critical to their prospects of going to France 98.

Gordon Strachan, his club manager, first noticed the vilification when Coventry played a friendly at Dunfermline. "What right do these people have to do that? What have they ever done for Scottish football? If you put them all together, their patriotism wouldn't equal Gary's," he said, revealing that McAllister often joined up with the Scotland squad carrying knocks that would prompt most players to drop out.

Brown, although justifiably consoled by the form of certain members of a new generation, notably Neil McCann and David Hopkin, would be advised not to bow to ignorance and intolerance by acting in haste over McAllister.