Veteran Weir still happy to travel to the long hard road to Minsk

Click to follow
The Independent Football

If it is June, it must be Minsk. That will be the thought running through David Weir's mind as he is driven through the Belarus capital tomorrow en route to the Scotland team's hotel.

If it is June, it must be Minsk. That will be the thought running through David Weir's mind as he is driven through the Belarus capital tomorrow en route to the Scotland team's hotel.

While most footballers are sunning themselves on beaches from St Barts to Sardinia, Weir finds himself again in a part of the world for which no brochure exists. He must have done something wrong in a past life. Actually, it is his past that is responsible for the Everton defender's presence in eastern Europe this week instead of the Mediterranean.

Weir has just turned 35 but such is his freshness and vigour that he is even more in demand now than he was when he last went to Minsk eight years ago. "I was just a substitute when we last went to Belarus," he recalled this week. That 1-0 victory in June 1997 brought a far more glamorous assignment. The following summer, Weir and his Scotland teammates were based in the south of France at the World Cup finals. If Walter Smith's side are to repeat that achievement to reach the 2006 finals, success in Minsk is a must.

Weir will earn his 40th cap there against Belarus in a Group Five qualifier on Wednesday. He returned to international football only after a three-year exile after falling out with Berti Vogts. The centre-back's form with Everton, helping the Merseyside club into the Champions' League, saw him rewarded with a new contract.

"I feel as good as I've ever felt," Weir insisted. "However, people feel that you are winding them up and telling lies. I only missed a couple of games in the League and I felt good throughout the season. Richard Gough played alongside me at Everton and he was still doing it in the Premiership at 40.

"I love playing. Being away in a hotel is hard and obviously you are away for a week to 10 days. It is just the price you have to pay. I can't remember very much about Minsk but I do remember that it wasn't the most glamorous place. It was a bit downtrodden and a bit dark, just what you would imagine from middle-Eastern Europe.

"However, that game in 1997 was probably the result that got us to the World Cup finals the last time. Gary McAllister scored the penalty, and it was a massive game. Probably a lot of players did not want to go, and they weren't too excited about going all the way to Belarus in the middle of the summer. But you have got to look at the prize that it earned us.

"Walter Smith and the coaching staff here have given us a rest as well as working us in training. So they have prepared us in the best way they can. At the end of the day, you are a professional footballer and you are playing for your country, so the chances don't come around very often." Weir will get more opportunities for travelling next season when Everton return to Europe after a decade's absence. That ensured the Scot resisted the lure of a move to Leeds United, who offered a longer contract.

"The length of the contract was never a problem," Weir stated. "The Champions' League is obviously a big incentive. There are not many players who want to leave Everton at any time. Just actually playing for a club like Everton is reward in itself." And Weir will not lose sleep over those other Reds when he is in the former Soviet republic. Liverpool's Champions' League quest is not up for debate. "If they can get in and defend their trophy good luck to them, but I just wouldn't like to see anyone else suffer by an oversight."

Comments