Football: Rising sons of Tartan Army

Three of Scotland's bright young talents are preparing to don the national shirts also worn by their famous fathers. By Alan Nixon
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The Independent Online
IT WOULD be no surprise if the anthem struck up in the Vingis Stadium today for Scotland's Under-21 international with Lithuania was that dodgy Seventies refrain, "Son of my Father". Because the old Chicory Tip number certainly applies to the latest crop of recruits for the Tartan Army's feeder team as much as "Scotland the Brave".

By a quirk of genes and fortune, Paul Dalglish, Gavin Strachan and Jamie Buchan will follow the footsteps of their famous dads at the same time on the international stage. A generation game with a difference.

The emergence of Dalglish junior as the latest cub to sport the lion on his chest has had supporters and experts alike turning misty-eyed with memories of the halcyon days of their fathers.

It is a comparison that Dalglish in particular has had to suffer, but like young Strachan and Buchan he has inherited more than just the family name. The skills of the Newcastle United striker, like the Coventry midfielder Strachan and Aberdeen's Buchan, have come through.

Dalglish has been protected by his father, Kenny, from the glare of publicity, but his belief that his son would come good has been proved correct at a time when dad's own fortunes are at a low.

Kenny gave Paul his first outing in football when he was 16, Dalglish junior coming on as a substitute in Blackburn Rovers reserves' final game of the season at Wigan. Although the thin youngster trained with the team, mixing with senior players such as Alan Shearer, Dalglish felt it better that his son continued his football education away from possible accusations of nepotism.

Paul joined Newcastle United courtesy of Dalglish's friendship with Terry McDermott and was even put up in a hotel under his mother's maiden name in an attempt to stop the news leaking out. Dalglish then used his connections at Celtic to persuade them to give his son a chance. It was a regular occurrence for father to travel hundreds of miles to see his lad in action.

Some doubted Dalglish's ability to live up to his father's name, but shrewd judges felt it was only a matter of time before he came good. He has superior pace, but does not have the chunky backside that his father used to turn bemused markers. Like his father, he sees openings and has the touch and vision to link with team-mates.

Dalglish showed some promise in the reserves before being released. Again his father made the key call and his boy went to Liverpool, where he grew in strength and found the physique to go with his football brain.

A chip off the old block in looks too, Dalglish junior then joined Newcastle last season, but was immediately loaned to Bury, where he made a handful of first-team appearances. He mixed easily with their journeymen and his pleasing personality made him popular. Now he has developed enough to sit on the Newcastle bench - bizarrely, for the game after Kenny's departure.

His son's first international call-up to the Scotland Under-21 team cheered Dalglish - capped 102 times by Scotland - greatly on the day of his abrupt departure from St James' Park.

While Dalglish junior has the burden of being instantly likened to one so famous, Gavin Strachan has the advantage of being facially and physically dissimilar to his dad, Gordon. Even in their daily proximity at Coventry, it would surprise an outsider to know they are related.

Strachan junior shares the competitive edge of his father, but is taller and leaner. He has already strode the Premier League stage and Gary McAllister, the Scotland and Coventry midfielder, is impressed: "Gavin has looked at ease from a young age," he said. "It's obvious that he has been taken to games by his dad and watched carefully. He has a knowledge way beyond his years.

"The boss's other son, Craig, is also with us now, and they are both men in their own right. They certainly don't abuse the fact that their dad is manager. It goes without saying that they get no special favours, in fact possibly the opposite."

Jamie Buchan is the most established of the new generation. Like his father, Martin, who was captain of Aberdeen, Manchester United and Scotland, he has been able to handle the top level at a tender age.

Young Buchan has been at Aberdeen since he left school, a first-team squad man soon after and now an Under-21 regular. These days his father is a football promotions manager for Puma, based in England and travelling around the world. Buchan senior considers his son has attributes he lacked and said: "Jamie can do things with a ball that I never could. He is also more laid back than me. I was very intense as a youngster; maybe too serious about life as well as football. In that way Jamie is unlike me, as he is a freer spirit and expresses himself on the pitch."

It is 19 years since Buchan won the last of his 34 caps for Scotland - he went to the 1978 World Cup with Dalglish, during an era when the bloodline was obviously at its strongest among Scottish footballers. Archie Gemmill's son, Scot, is a full international; Bruce Rioch's son, Gregor, is now with Hull City; while Lou Macari's lads, Paul and Mike, and Frank Gray's son, Andy, have also made the grade at senior level.

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