Football: Starkly different, the new Hutchison

Phil Gordon finds an old head on Scotland's latest recruit
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The Independent Online
DON HUTCHISON is not the sort of person who lives up to the description on the label. He is the so-called striker who freely admits goals are not his game, and the Scot who confesses never even to kicking a ball in his own country.

The Everton player knows what it is like to be pigeon-holed, but the older, more mature version is at present displaying there is much more to a man dogged by the notoriety of one indiscreetly placed Budweiser label.

No one appreciates that more than Craig Brown. The Scotland coach is relieved by Hutchison's refusal to conform to a name-tag, and could well award the Geordie his first cap for his father's country in Saturday's key European Championship qualifier with Bosnia at Ibrox.

While everyone has been telling Brown that the last thing his goal-rationed side needs is a midfielder press-ganged into being a forward by the FA Carling Premiership's lowest scorers, the manager is ignoring the writing on the tabloid walls. "Don provides goals for others," Brown declares, "and that is an important right now."

Right now, Scotland could not be more handicapped. All three of the strikers used in the World Cup finals - Kevin Gallacher, Gordon Durie and Darren Jackson - have had their seasons ended by injury. Dundee United's Billy Dodds, who netted three times in two games against Estonia and the Faroe Islands last October, is suspended for the Bosnia match, the first half of a Glasgow double-header which sees Group Nine leaders, the Czech Republic, come to Celtic Park a week on Wednesday.

Hutchison admits he will never have a better time to pull on his adopted country's shirt. "I suppose injuries and suspensions have helped me," Hutchison reflects, "but I don't care. I am ambitious and I want to play international football. It's good to be included, but I want to make my Scotland debut now."

Hutchison could have embraced that dream a few years ago. He played for Scotland in a B match with Wales at Wrexham in 1994, but if the setting of the Racecourse Ground did not help his international status to flourish, then what happened a few months later in the heat of Cyprus almost made his entire career wilt.

A picture snapped on a night out on holiday with his then Liverpool team-mates, Jamie Redknapp and Michael Thomas, in which Hutchison showed what even adopted Scotsmen wear under their kilt, was spread across a Sunday newspaper.

The mud stuck better than the beer bottle label and within months, Hutchison was offloaded to West Ham, before Howard Kendall revived the natural midfielder's career at Sheffield United and then brought him to Goodison.

Now 27, the Geordie admits his notoriety was more a case of being Newcastle green than Brown. "When you look at what happened to me, and other youngsters then, it's no wonder that clubs like Liverpool have protected Michael Owen now the way Manchester United have done in recent years. They don't want that sort of stuff to happen any more."

Anfield should have been Hutchison's stage too, but it has taken five years and a long short cut to the other side of Stanley Park to provide him with the chance to prove it. "I loved the football side of things at Liverpool, it's just a pity I could not handle the other side of things," he says. "I got on well with Graeme Souness and I think he quite liked my style of play because I got stuck in."

The irony is that it is Souness's former right-hand man at Rangers, Walter Smith, who has been responsible for promoting the claims of Hutchison, whose father is from Nairn, to be a fully fledged Scot.

Unlike Ibrox, where the Friday training England v Scotland five-a-sides were legendary, there is none of that at Everton. Not enough Scots? "No," says Hutchison, "there are not enough English players."

"Walter has had faith in me," says Hutchison. "I was not in the side at the start of the season, and when we bought John Collins and Olivier Dacourt, I thought my chances of getting a game in midfield were even slimmer. But I knocked on the gaffer's door and asked for a chance and I've played 24 games on the trot, including as a striker when he asked me recently."

Hutchison's goal haul contains a solitary effort against Middlesbrough, but he is unperturbed. "I've never been a prolific scorer but, honestly, I get more joy making goals for other players."

Should his Scotland debut beckon at Ibrox, it will be a reward for Hutchison's perseverance. "That night at Wrexham was a bit of an anti-climax, but I never thought that was the end of it. In recent years, I have had too much on my plate with play-offs at Sheffield United and relegation battles at Everton to think about Scotland. But I am better equipped now as a player. It would have been nice to have been capped at that time, but I am older and wiser and I'll try doubly hard this time."

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