The interview over, I followed her out of the room, asking as I went, “Is everyone in Edinburgh English?” “Yes,” she replied, “But it’s different in Glasgow.” A Central Belt of two halves, then, and the Kris Boyd affair is another that splits neatly down the middle.
Boyd’s always known his own mind. When he joined Rangers from Kilmarnock, he gave up half of his signing-on fee to the benefit of the Killie’s youth scheme that had brought him to prominence. At Rangers, he came out for Barry Ferguson against Paul Le Guen. There’s passionate feeling there, and loyalty, and not a little courage.
Talent, too: he has always scored goals, and he’s the first Scottish player to be top scorer for two clubs in the same season.
With all that in mind, it doesn’t take much to imagine his feelings on being overlooked in favour of Chris Iwelumo. Iwelumo played well enough, in my view, to justify his place on the Scotland bench, but international football is made for the preternaturally confident, the feisty sorts, and I’d have liked to see Boyd start up front next to James McFadden.
Boyd must surely wonder if it’s worth his while sitting on the bench and pretending, against his better nature, to agree with George Burley that that’s where he should be. But here’s the other side of the coin: George Burley, and no one could have watched his press conference yesterday without feeling a surge of pride:
There is no part of me that can understand his decision to quit international football. When you’re picked for a squad, it’s an honour. As a player, I went to World Cups and didn’t play a game. So you’re disappointed, but it’s your country we’re talking about. (..) When you’re born and bred in the country and you turn your back on it, it’s impossible to understand. (..) Kris Boyd wasn’t showing me enough to convince me that he should be on the field. I know he will have his supporters and that I won’t be everyone’s favourite, but I’m the one whose job it is to make judgments and stand by them. I’ve earned this job and I will make the decisions. (..) Reputations in the past don’t count. It’s not what you did three months or six months ago that count, but what you’re doing now. If past reputations counted, Kenny Dalglish would still be playing for Scotland. (..) I’ve been to see Rangers in big matches, such as Celtic and Hibs this season, the Uefa Cup final in May, and I haven’t seen Kris Boyd. Walter Smith at Rangers is, in my opinion, one of the best managers in Britain and over the past year or so, Boyd hasn’t been a regular. That tells you there’s maybe something that’s not right. There are things he has to work on, he has to get his act together and establish himself with Rangers. (..) Of course, it’s a loss, in the sense that you want him to push on with his club and with his country. You want him coming along and saying, ‘I’m going to be the main man, I’m going to do enough to show I should be the first pick’. (..) I think Scottish fans want people to show the character you need to play for Scotland, no matter what. I think he’s shown a lack of respect for this country and for myself. As I’ve said, it’s not about me or Kris Boyd or any individual, it’s about the country as a whole and trying to make sure you don’t let people down. I’ve also heard people say that Kris Boyd had nothing to prove. Hey, we all have something to prove.
There is here a trace of the Rangers v Scotland problem, largely a myth born of sectarianism..
But Burley’s right. Selection for your country is about more than your career and it’s about more than just sport. It’s about the honour of being chosen as a representative and ambassador for everyone you share your nationhood with, wherever they are in the world. It’s about taking pride in who your countrymen are and giving justice to that pride in your conduct of yourself.
Because of my birth, I could play for either England or Scotland. It won’t happen, of course. Like everyone else, as I grow older I move from identifying with the players to identifying with the managers. In time, I’ll have to start identifying with the owners. And later, with the touchline ashes and the flowers tied to the gates of the grounds.
If it did happen, I’d find at least a hundred ways to make a complete fool of myself, but I’d definitely do it. The idea of not turning up wouldn’t occur to me. I imagine it’s the same for most people reading this.
So where does Boyd stand in relation to the other refuseniks? What about Paul Scholes and Jamie Carragher?
It would be stupid and heartless to accuse either Scholes or Carragher of letting anyone down. Do many people think that they have? Carragher’s situation is more or less identical to Boyd’s: he has no desire to be a bit-part international, waiting forever for Terry, or Ferdinand, or Cole or the rest to break legs. At the time of Carragher’s decision, England were in their post-Ericksson death spiral, which is only beginning to flatten out now. In that context, perhaps refusal to play is the opposite of betraying or insulting the country: it’s patriotism through dissent.
Scholes felt that his body wasn’t up to both club and international football. In this sense, it’s probably significant that both he and Carragher were 29 when they made their decisions. 29 is far from over the hill, these days, but both had unfinished club business. Carragher still does, as witness his telling Gerrard that winning the title with Liverpool would mean a thousand times more to him than winning it with Chelsea.
Kris Boyd is 25 years and two months old. Patriotism through dissent? I think so. But the man he’s dissenting with is a true patriot. Both Boyd and Burley are saying, in their own way, that Scotland matters, to a degree that England fans might envy and wish to see in their own players. But this is where such patriotism can sometimes lead – to the palpable weakening of the Scotland squad at a crucial part of the qualifying campaign.
But surely, the lesson here can’t be that when the going gets tough, the rich primadonnas get going? Can it?