The Herald on Sunday
TAM and Linda Hanley have clocked up countless miles over the years supporting their son Grant in his football career.
Whenever the Dumfries-born defender has played, for Crewe or Rangers as a kid or for Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle United or Norwich as a man, they have always made a special effort to be there to cheer him on.
So it was no great surprise that his father made the journey to London along with thousands of his compatriots for the Scotland match against England at Wembley on Friday night.
Yet, the centre-half, who has always been grateful for the presence of his parents in the stands and their encouragement as he has made his way in the game, was especially pleased his dad was in north London for the Euro 2020 encounter.
He felt that seeing him involved in such an occasion – during which he marked Harry Kane out of the game, made the tackle of the night when Marcus Rashford was poised to score late on and helped his country keep a clean sheet and earn a precious point that resurrected their hopes of reaching the last 16 – repaid him for everything he had done.
“It’s only after the game you think about it in that way, about how big and important a night it was,” he said from the national squad’s training base in the north east of England yesterday as he looked back on the 0-0 draw. “For the team, first of all, but then what it means to your family as well.
“We approached the game with the mindset of keeping our dream alive and that’s what we’ve done. So I’m pleased about that. Before the game it was important not to build the game up too much. But we had to be present in it, turn up and play, and we did that.
“My dad managed to make the game, as did my auntie and uncle. It was a proud moment having my dad there. He barely misses a game, to be fair to him. He’s done a few miles – and a few cars in – over the years.
“He did everything for me as a kid, he was a big influence on me. As well as my mum, I don’t want to miss her out. I’m really fortunate and grateful because I know some boys who don’t get that support.
“But I owe them everything. I didn’t get to see my dad, but I saw him in the crowd so I gave him a wee wave. I spoke to him on Saturday, but I didn’t get too much out of him on my performance. When he doesn’t say much, I know I’ve done alright. Otherwise, he’ll just tell me I was rubbish!
“Seriously, though, my whole family are patriotic Scots, just like the rest of us. They were all proud on Friday night. But it was important to get something out of it. That made it even more special.”
Few members of the Tartan
Army gave their heroes much of a chance going into the game on Friday night. They had lost their opening Group D match against the Czech Republic 2-0 at Hampden on Monday. Their opponents had been impressive in their 1-0 win over Croatia on Sunday.
But Hanley, like every player to don a dark blue jersey, was immense. He nullified the threat that Kane, who is expected to leave Spurs for a transfer fee approaching £100m this summer, posed in the final third. Typically, the 35-times capped 29-year-old paid tribute to his team mates for their success at the back.
“Because he was playing centre-forward and I was middle of our back three, that was always going to be the match-up,” he said. “But overall, as a team, we made it really difficult for them. We nullified the amount of chances they had.
“That was the game plan. And the biggest positive was that we actually played football as well. There were periods of the game where we controlled it. And we had to do that because if we’d have sat in and tried to defend our goal – we’d have been under pressure all night.
“We know we’ve got quality in the team and everyone stepped up on Friday night. We performed well and to get a point against one of the favourites was great.”
Hanley continued: “I was pleased with how I played. When you play at the top level, first of all, everyone’s an athlete. If they’re not quicker than you, they’re stronger than you. So you need to make sure you’re in the right position at all times.
“And a big part of that is concentration. Mentally, you need to be so switched on for the full 95 minutes because if you give players like that a sniff, more often than not it’s a goal. That’s a big part of going up against the best players in the world.”
Billy Gilmour, the 20-yearold who picked up the Man of the Match award after making his first Scotland start against England, may only stand 5ft 7in in his stocking feet. But his composure in possession helped the national team to control long spells of the encounter. Hanley believes he is among the best footballers he has played with and thinks his potential is enormous.
“Everyone knows Billy’s quality if you’ve seen him play,” he said. “From the day he met up with us and started training, you could see it straight away.
“The most impressive thing about him for me is that as a
young player, he’s got such a good temperament, to be so calm in big games. You saw that Wembley, the way he performed. He was so calm and composed throughout. He put in a top class performance and he deserves all the credit he gets.
“Billy’s up there with the most talented young players I’ve seen in my career, without a doubt. It’s difficult to compare boys at that age. But he’s definitely up there. That temperament is his biggest quality and he’s such a good lad as well, great to have around the place.
“It looks like he’s really enjoying himself now and I don’t think I’ll be wrong to say he’s going to go and have a very good career.”
Having spent several years out of the Scotland set-up before being recalled for the Qatar 2022 qualifiers in March, Hanley can expect to be involved for some time to come too after his showing against England.