Football: The final own goal in the tale of Goram

Scotland have long been used to the wild antics of their goalkeeper. But this week's revelations were enough to make even him walk away in disgust. Phil Gordon reports
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The Independent Online
THE only thing greater in Andy Goram's life than the love of a good time, is his love of cricket. So, perhaps Ian Botham, one of his sporting heroes, is best qualified to advise Scotland's errant goalkeeper on what to do next.

Goram's shock departure from the international scene just 14 days before the World Cup finals to avoid the glare of publicity that would make even Botham seem like a choirboy, is the final stroke in an eventful innings for the man who has represented his adopted country with both bat and big ball.

The Bury-born goalkeeper might have realised his cherished dream of representing Lancashire had football not taken over. Indeed, one of the first things Rangers had to do after paying Hibernian pounds 1m for him in 1991 was to ban him from playing cricket in case their new investment injured himself.

In hindsight, cricket might have offered a safer diversion for Goram than the host of other pursuits that he filled his free time with. Drink, gambling and women ate away at his ability and fitness, and, more crucially, his mind.

The 34-year-old's main reason for walking out on Scotland is that he believes the stress from recent revelations about his private life has wrecked his mental preparations for the World Cup. Craig Brown, who tried to dissuade Goram from ending his 43-cap career, has been here before, of course.

Three years ago, Goram surprised Scotland supporters when he withdrew on the eve of a crucial European Championship qualifier with Greece, saying he was not "mentally attuned" to do the job. That confession prompted terrace wits to later taunt the Rangers goalkeeper with chants of "There's only two Andy Gorams". But, indeed, the real one now appears to have stood up.

Goram does not cut an athletic figure, but even his stocky frame has been fuller of late after a season of injuries. Headlines on the front page have replaced those on the back page as the the goalkeeper's shock stock rose as his professional one plummeted. But Goram admits he largely has himself to blame.

In his autobiography, he hinted at my "knack of hitting the self-destruct button". Two failed marriages, both wives citing gambling and drinking problems, are the source of his downfall. His second wife, Tracy, a croupier whom he met, ironically, at an Edinburgh casino, served him with divorce papers as he filed off the team bus one day at Ibrox seeking pounds 250,000, compounding his already perilous financial state.

The tabloids had a field day when it emerged that the building society had repossessed his house, but not as much as they enjoyed when a series of girlfriends emerged in kiss-and-tell stories as the footloose keeper failed patently to keep his private life in shape. Yet even Goram's love life seemed to be slipping out of the top flight.

One of the first girls to "out" the goalkeeper told of sex sessions in a plush Glasgow hotel but by last year a 17-year-old teenager made lurid claims about cavorting with Goram in an old caravan. A further affair with a former porn actress last July dragged his reputation further into the mire.

Through it all, Walter Smith stood by Goram, but even the Ibrox manager's patience wore thin when, in 1994, Goram went walkabout and missed the Scottish Cup final with Dundee United. Smith had allowed his goalkeeper to go on a family holiday to regain his fitness after an injury but Goram missed the flight back and ended up stranded in a Mediterranean resort without clothes or passport. His team-mates slid to a 1-0 defeat.

Smith subsequently put Goram on the transfer list - an incident the keeper described as the "the most humiliating moment of my life".

Goram took the message to heart for a while and regained his fitness, and the Scotland goalkeeping place from Jim Leighton in time for Euro 96 where his inspirational presence underscored the meanest defence in Europe and was beaten only by the genius of Alan Shearer and Paul Gascoigne.

Colourful is one way of putting Goram's lifestyle. You certainly could not find a greater contrast to the bespectacled, family man Leighton, who will now wear the No 1 jersey against Brazil on 10 June in the opening game of the World Cup finals.

But that apparent blandness also makes Leighton something Goram, his long-time friend despite their rivalry, is not: reliable. Mr Undependable played in none of Scotland's last seven World Cup qualifying ties and it is doubtful if Brown would have chosen him over Leighton again when the big stage beckoned.

Once Goram's club form won him the nod over Leighton, but not even Rangers want him now. He conceded 41 goals in his 36 Rangers starts this season, missing 16 games, and when the incoming manager, Dick Advocaat, cast his eye over the Ibrox staff a few months ago, Goram's was not one of the names on the to-be-retained list.

The list of would-be suitors contained only Crystal Palace and Brescia and both of those clubs have now lost interest following their relegation from the Premiership and Serie A respectively.

More importantly, Goram had lost his suit of invincibility recently. A meagre total of eight shut-outs for Rangers last season did not do justice to the man whose performances against Celtic once prompted the former manager Tommy Burns to declare: "Put it on my tombstone: Andy Goram broke my heart."

But breaking hearts of another kind is what might have led the premature obituaries being written now for Goram's career. The claim in a tabloid newspaper that Goram got a former Celtic sales executive pregnant and encouraged her to have an abortion - and another revelation is in the pipeline - sparked his latest bout of troubled mind.

"Contentment is more important than controversy," he said to Craig Brown in his resignation letter. Once Goram was rated the best goalkeeper around in one-to-one situations, being able to psyche out any striker. Now he seems incapable of winning the mind games with himself, as the ramblings of his letter to Brown further indicated, stating: "Yes, you have got to me. But I won't let it upset Craig's plans."

But upset Brown's plans he has. The Scotland coach said: "We had the best goalkeeping team in Europe in Andy and Jim and now it has been reduced by half." However, it may be that one, focused Leighton will prove better to the Scots' cause against Brazil than "two Andy Gorams".