Sport

How the Socceroos’ World Cup hopes are underpinned by ties with Scotland

Who says Scotland aren’t going to the World Cup? The country’s World Cup drought might have extended to 24 years when they failed to qualify for the 2022 edition, but that doesn’t mean Scotland isn’t being represented at football’s global showpiece in Qatar.

Instead of their navy blue, Scotland’s representation will come with a green and gold hue. The Socceroos’ current squad not only reflects the changing face of Australian society and more recent migration patterns through the likes of Thomas Deng, Garang Kuol, Awer Mabil and Keanu Baccus, it also strongly reflects those of a previous era with a more Anglo-Celtic persuasion.

In Scotland-born trio Harry Souttar, Martin Boyle and Jason Cummings – all eligible for the Socceroos through their parents – there are three players who are probably more Scottish than they are Australian. In fact, neither Souttar nor Boyle had stepped foot on Australian soil before pulling on a green and gold shirt.

There has always been a strong connection between the two countries, given the deep colonial roots of modern Australia, especially when it comes to football.

Poetically, as Australia’s celebrates the centenary of its national team, there were three Scotland-born players in Australia’s first ever national team squad in 1922 – William McBride and Dave and Jock Cumberford (although when you include Australia’s first captain, Alec Gibb, born in Ireland but Scottish, there were four).

A century later, as the Socceroos prepare for their sixth World Cup appearance, there is another strong Scottish presence in Graham Arnold’s 26-man squad. The more things change the more they stay the same.

Further, across the 100-year history of the Socceroos there have been 115 Scotland-born players out of 954 to have received a cap. That number becomes even more significant when you consider there have been 392 overseas-born Socceroos. Almost one-third of them are from Scotland.

Some of them are the nation’s most iconic football figures, such as Jimmy Mackay who scored the winning goal against South Korea in 1973 to send Australia to their first ever World Cup. There were three Scotland-born players in that 1974 World Cup squad, including legendary goalkeeper Jack Reilly.

Fast forward to 1985 and the two nations met in a World Cup playoff, with the Scotland team sheet featuring names such as Kenny Dalglish, Gordon Strachan, Alex McLeish, Graeme Souness and Steve Nicol, with Alex Ferguson as coach. Australia, meanwhile, had Scotland-born players in strikers David Mitchell and Kenny Murphy, defender Robbie Dunn and Hakoah midfielder Joe Watson. The Scots won to qualify for Mexico 1986 despite a 0-0 draw in Melbourne.

In fact, a year later in Watson’s final appearance for the Socceroos, he was replaced by a Ange Postecoglou, then just 20 years old.

Which brings us to the modern-day connection between the two nations at a professional level. Postecoglou is the most notable and high-profile example of the recent football exchange, even if he did land in Scotland via Japan.

Australian players have always plied their trade in Scotland – think of the likes of Craig Moore, Kevin Muscat, Scott McDonald and Tony Vidmar – but there has been a boom in the past 12 months with a growing number choosing Scotland as their entry point to European football.

Aside from Boyle, there are a further six in the World Cup squad who are currently playing in Scotland – Aziz Behich, Nathaniel Atkinson, Kye Rowles, Aaron Mooy, Keanu Baccus and Cameron Devlin.

Meanwhile Jackson Irvine and Jamie Maclaren have Scottish fathers and have both previously played professionally in Scotland. Maclaren even turned out for Scotland’s youth national teams before declaring his allegiance to Australia.

That is almost half of the 26-man squad with a Scottish connection. And there are more, such as Ryan Strain, Dylan McGowan, Phillip Cancar, Lewis Miller and Mark Birighitti who call the Scottish Premiership home.

It’s a trend that will only continue, according to one of the finest Socceroos to play in Scotland, former Rangers hero Craig Moore. “I’m reconnecting with a lot of clubs here,” Moore told the Keepup website earlier this year. “A lot of them now are starting to look at Australia again, which is fantastic to hear because I feel as if this is a really good platform for the Australian players.

“It’s a competitive league. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve got 5,000 or you got 60,000, there’s an atmosphere, you’re tested, there’s the pressure, the culture. For me, it is a really good platform to take your game to the next level.”

With Brexit forcing clubs to change the way they recruit, and with the success of the existing Scotland-based Socceroos doing wonders for the reputation of Australian players, the Scottish-Australian connection is expected to live long into the future.