Football: McCoist looks forward to his action replay

From goggle box to penalty box, TV's latest celebrity is planning to hog the spotlight again in Vilnius
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The Independent Online
CRAIG BROWN should really have borrowed the title of Chris Evans' show Don't Forget Your Toothbrush when he told Ally McCoist that he would be needed in Vilnius this Saturday. The veteran goalscorer has had such a surprise return to international football that he could have been forgiven for rushing his packing.

McCoist was being measured up to be on the box, rather than in it, this season. His friendship with Evans has turned him into a regular guest of the carrot-headed celebrity. McCoist even had his own chat show in Scotland with comedian Fred MacAulay, as well as supplementing his CV for Equity membership with appearances as a football summariser.

Viewing figures rather than goal totals looked like becoming the stock in trade of the 35-year-old with the winning smile and the personality to match. Failure to make the World Cup finals in June seemed to indicate the final curtain on McCoist's career for Scotland, but if a week is a long time in politics, or even showbiz, then in football it can be another era away.

"I was supposed to be going to London this weekend to summarise on the game for Channel 5," said McCoist, almost unable to appreciate a storyline that even by his fairytale standards appeared to be stretching credibility. "I really can't believe I am here," he added, glancing at the Scotland squad going through a last workout on the Hampden pitch before flying out to Lithuania today for the European Championship qualifying tie.

Football really has been the last thing on the agenda of a man who, over the summer, has had more life-changes than most. Most importantly, his wife Allison gave birth to twin sons Mitchell and Argyle in June. Then came the discovery that Mitchell had a heart problem that had him on the critical list for a while and needed three operations to correct.

Finally, there was the job change. After 15 years as a Rangers player, McCoist had to learn to stop turning up at Ibrox every day. His contract expired in June and, although there were a number of clubs from Tampa Bay in America's Major League Soccer to Hibernian and Fulham in Britain desperate to offer him a new challenge, McCoist's appetite seemed lost.

Indeed, television loomed large on the horizon and when the striker had not found a club by the opening day of the league season it was assumed that he had reconciled himself to talking a good game rather than playing one.

However, his baby son's condition was unknown at that point and it emerged that McCoist was too wrapped up with hospital visits to seal a deal with the Kilmarnock manager Bobby Williamson, his erstwhile striking partner at Ibrox. Williamson's patience paid off, signing McCoist three weeks ago and trying to whip him into shape after a summer of neglect. In his opening appearance, a cameo as a substitute in the League Cup tie with Livingston, McCoist hit an extra-time winner then, last Sunday, he struck a hat-trick against the Premier League leaders Hearts, conveniently while Craig Brown watching in the stand.

The Scotland manager, given his paucity of resources in attack, which had worsened since France 98 by the injury to Gordon Durie, wasted no time in offering an instant recall to the player he had told just months earlier that he would not be going to the World Cup.

McCoist, though, insists there is no festering resentment with Brown, who is almost certain to give the Kilmarnock striker - that still seems a strange thing to write - his 60th cap on Saturday. "No, I am not angry with Craig," he declared. "It was disappointing and obviously I wanted to go to the World Cup. But I don't hold a grudge - I've proved that by the fact that I am here.

"The world would be a boring place if everyone agreed all the time and obviously Craig's view and mine differed. I still think I should have gone to France because I was scoring a lot of goals for Rangers towards the end of last season."

Brown insists that the difference between McCoist's goals now, in the blue and white stripes of Kilmarnock, compared to those scored in the blue of Rangers, is that they are scored by a fit man. "Ally was not fully fit at the time, he had a calf injury," Brown said.

"Walter Smith didn't pick him for the Scottish Cup final with Hearts, which tells its own story, and although Ally came on and scored as a substitute, he just didn't look up to the task. He is a lot sharper now, though, so maybe having a proper rest over the summer has helped."

As McCoist reflects on the issue he insists that he had never written himself off - a wise attitude for a man who has made a habit of spoiling other people's parties. "I never ruled myself out of international football," he said. "Deep down I wanted to get back in and obviously Craig has felt that getting a regular run for Kilmarnock and scoring goals would help my case."

Yet McCoist is also coming to terms that every game in the dark blue shirt now could be his last. As his 36th birthday looms, McCoist knows his goals might help his country reach another tournament that he does not figure in.

"Well, others have discovered that in the past," admits Brown. "John McGinlay scored a crucial goal against Sweden that helped us get to the World Cup finals and didn't make the squad, and Duncan Shearer did the same against Finland in the last European qualifiers and I could not take him to Euro 96. With Ally I will cross that bridge when we come to it."

McCoist is philosophical. "That does not worry me," he declared. "I cannot look any further forward than this game. Realistically, I don't think I will still be around if we do qualify. But, never say never..."

The man who won the Golden Boot as Europe's best goalscorer in 1992 has still got a few more goals in his locker. Lithuania should also take note that McCoist has a connection to part of the Vilnius stadium he will perform in. "The seats all came from Ibrox originally and were bought by the Lithuanian FA when Rangers revamped their ground," said Brown. "It will be just like Ibrox for Ally!"

ALLY McCOIST - THE RECORD

McCoist celebrates one of his 19 goals for Scotland

Born: 24 September 1962.

Scotland caps: 59.

Scotland goals: 19.

Rangers goals: 355 (Rangers' alltime record scorer).

League goals: 249.

League Cup goals: 54.

Scottish Cup goals: 27.

Europe goals: 18.

Rangers appearances: 573.

First Rangers goal: v Celtic (3 September 1983).

Last Rangers goal: v Hearts, Scottish Cup final (16 May 1998).

European Golden Boot: 1991-92.

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