Thursday, May 05, 2011

Forgotten Scotland Players: Stephen Glass

Pittodrie. A cold (I suspect it was cold, it usually is) October afternoon in 1998. Scotland are enduring one of their periodic clashes with the Faroe Islands.

A 2-0 lead, the goals from Craig Burley and Billy Dodds, had lasted from the cusp of half time until the 79th minute.

At that stage Craig Brown chose to introduce our latest forgotten Scotland player.

Before the final whistle our hero had missed a chance to wrap the game up, the Faroes had pulled a goal back through a penalty and another Scotland team had turned a meeting with minnows into something of a struggle.

It wasn’t an auspicious start to a Scotland career. For our fourth forgotten Scotland player it was to be both the beginning of his international life and the end of his international life.

Few youngsters, as they put down jumpers for goalposts and dream dreams of future greatness, can imagine their entire international career lasting a little over ten minutes.

Or that they’ll miss a golden chance to score. Or that they’ll watch on aghast as Scotland lose their 11 minutes of international fame by a goal to nil. Against the Faroe Islands.

You never read stuff like this in Roy of the Rovers.

But it’s doubtful if any of this really registered with Stephen Glass at the time.

He was a likely lad on the up, destined for great things.

It was fitting that he took his international bow in Aberdeen. It was there he’d made his name.

He was part of the last Dons side to hoist silverware aloft with a 1995 League Cup win.

That victory served notice of his talent. Glass created both goals in a 2-0 win over Dundee. And possibly cycled home to Aberdeen upon receipt of the mountain bike that was his man of the match award.

By 1998 the much admired midfielder had won himself a move to Newcastle.

It all started brightly enough. So brightly that even Craig Brown, who had little time for new blood in his Scotland teams, took notice and gave him that international debut.

Things then began to stutter. His first season at Newcastle gave a few hints of the injury problems to come although it culminated in an appearance at Wembley in the FA Cup final.

Over the next year or so the injury troubles got worse and Glass was unable to force himself into Bobby Robson’s plans when he was fit. Seen as no more than a squad player he was soon deemed surplus to requirements.

In 2001 he became a successful part of Gianluca Vialli’s unsuccessful stint at Watford. Outlasting the Italian, he played for the Championship side in an FA Cup semi final.

Watford’s finances meant there was to be no extension when his contract ended in the summer of 2003. A free agent, he returned to Scotland and signed for Hibs.

I remember at the time someone describing this as the “Best Signing Of A Scottish Player By A Team Outside The Old Firm For Years.” It wasn’t.

It hinted at Hibs being giving a glimpse of the astuteness for which Bobby Williamson was oft admired but that he too often seemed to mislay in Leith. It wasn’t.

Injury robbed Williamson of the chance to see Glass at his best. But even when fit he seemed unable to perform consistently.

When Tony Mowbray arrived at Easter Road he looked to have found a way of rejuvenating Glass, reinventing him as the experienced man in an inexperienced midfield.

Perhaps relieved to let other steal the headlines rather than labouring under that unwieldy “Best Signing Of A Scottish Player By A Team Outside The Old Firm For Years” moniker, Glass responded positively enough.

But not positively enough for Mowbray to make him an automatic starter the following season, although he did eventually feature more regularly and win a contract extension.

Maybe injuries had taken their toll, perhaps the experience of falling in and out of favour at Newcastle then falling foul of Watford’s finances had diminished his confidence. Whatever the reason, Glass seemed to struggle to provide the stability and influence a young Hibs team needed. He certainly never looked like adding to that solitary international cap.

His Hibs career simply drifted away under both Mowbray and John Collins.

He left memories of flashes of his talent (one particular volley against Aberdeen remains a favourite), a fair dollop of frustration and death by a hundred puns (“Glass in frame,” Glass shattered” and on and on.)

From Easter Road to East End Park. Joining Dunfermline on loan Glass won a permanent move and was captain before injury ruined his 2009/10 season and led to a parting of the ways.

Unable to find a club in Scotland willing to take him on full time, Glass trained with Hibs and considered his future:

"I did think about calling it a day. When people stop answering the phone to you and don't return your calls, you start to wonder. You aren't looking for favours, but you do expect a bit of courtesy.” (Edinburgh Evening News)

He blames this lack of interest on managers labouring under the misapprehension that he was injury prone. But, in many ways, it was because managers were labouring under the quite correct apprehension that Glass has been injury prone throughout his career.

The Carolina RailHawks offered a lifeline and earlier this year he joined up with an expanding Scottish colony at the North American Soccer League side.

Now in his mid 30s you would expect that to be the final act in his career.

It’s an odd story.

Aberdeen, Newcastle, Watford, Hibs, Dunfermline.

The initial trajectory couldn’t be matched. But this was a solid enough career. Fans at all those clubs should have at least a couple of happy Glass moments locked away in the memory banks.

Yet there is a frustration that he wasn’t the player he looked like he could have been.

Odd too that he only got one cap, his profile remained high enough to give the impression of a player more richly rewarded.

He can perhaps count himself unfortunate. Other countries would have given him a cap long before Craig Brown – whose relative success with Scotland carried it with it a hostility to youth - did. These days being a squad player in the Premiership or featuring in the Championship would probably be enough to get him at least a handful of caps.

But it wasn’t to be.

At Hibs his career continued but didn’t quite flourish in the way it could have. Somehow there always seemed to be something holding him back, even when he appeared 100 percent fit.

It’s another example of a talented young player failing to quite make the leap. Glass didn’t have a career that ended in failure. But nor did he have the career you feel he could have had.

Maybe that’s just bad luck. But it’s a bad luck story that seems to happen an awful lot in Scotland.

He got his cap though. A reminder of what might have been? Maybe. But also a reminder of the player he once was and of what the future once promised.

Forgotten Scotland Players Number 4: Stephen Glass, Newcastle United, 1 cap