Scotland boss Alex McLeish wants to get the country excited about supporting the national team again.
A crowd of between 20,000 and 25,000 is expected at Hampden Park tonight for the friendly with Costa Rica and Big Eck, who is starting his second spell in charge of the national team, intends to give the supporters a reason to keep coming back.
Twenty years without qualifying for a major international tournament has led to some disinterest in the fortunes of the national team. But McLeish’s experiences with the Tartan Army have shown him plenty of people still care about Scotland and he wants that feeling to spread.
He said: “They are still passionate about Scotland and we have to change the perception people don’t care. We are the ones who can change things. I’m not a player – but I can help to change the perception as well.
“It’s about getting people excited and it’s about winning as well. We had a good unbeaten run under Gordon Strachan and he just missed out on the play-offs. We have to find a way to win consistently. Not just good performances, a winning mentality.
“We are aware it is our duty to try and restore that fervour. Winning helps that obviously but we need to give a good performance level. We want to give the fans who come to the game something back. We thank them for coming, we know that it’s Friday night and Costa Rica are not the number one team in the world. But it’s a team that has qualified for the World Cup finals.”
Generating the same excitement from his previous tenure is a target, when Scotland were a game away from qualifying for Euro 2008 before a 2-1 defeat by Italy, sealed by Christian Panucci’s 91st-minute winner, cruelly denied them.
McLeish said: “It was a massive game. In the week leading up to it, you guys in the press built it up superbly. You knew it was one of the biggest games of your life. At 1-1 my career flashed before my eyes as James McFadden came in at the back stick for a ball across the face of the goal from Kenny and could just not connect with it.
“We bombarded the Italians in the second half and Barry Ferguson pounded Pirlo, and I thought: ‘That Pirlo guy must be ready to retire’. I didn’t know what age he was at the time. I think he played for about another 10 years to an even better level.
“That’s the type of team we were at the time. Not just a swashbuckling happy-go-lucky side, we were organised at the back, with big David Weir marshalling the troops, as we expect Charlie (Mulgrew) to.”
Captain Mulgrew, Pages 58, 59