Almanac Soccer: Best Scotland line-up of the last 30 (ish) years – Your thoughts?

Scotland opened their UEFA Nations League campaign with a 2-0 win against Albania at Hampden Park on Monday night (Tuesday morning in Melbourne). In the afterglow of the win and with Scotland’s next match about a month away, it is an opportune time to reflect on Scotland’s best players, both in the modern era and all-time.

Footy Almanac contributor James Grapsas is the author of the new eBook A Modern History of Scotland International Football Matches, which was profiled in these pages last week. He wonders who Almanackers would select in their best modern Scotland line-up, using the last 30 years as the frame of reference.

Here is an extract from James’ eBook that sets out his best modern Scotland line-up and rationale. Please feel free to offer your observations, ideas, counter-arguments and so on.

Spoiler alert for a winger position in the all-time team.


Best Modern Scotland Line-Up


This selection is based on performances in Scotland internationals from this book’s starting point of July 1987. The team is based on a 4-4-2 formation.

Andy Goram


Christian Dailly, Richard Gough, Alex McLeish, Tom Boyd


Stuart McCall, John Collins, Paul McStay, Gary McAllister (captain)


Ally McCoist, Mo Johnston

Substitutes: Jim Leighton, Maurice Malpas, Colin Hendry, Roy Aitken, Darren Fletcher, Paul Lambert, James McFadden, Kenny Miller.


Manager: Craig Brown.

This was a tricky team to pick and several players were unlucky to miss out from the starting combination. For the goalkeeper position, better consistency of performance and an edge in shot-stopping quality tilted the scales in favour of Goram ahead of Leighton. With 41 clean sheets for Scotland, Leighton is an impressive reserve. Excellence in linking defence and attack and increased versatility led to Boyd shading Malpas for a full-back position. Despite tensions with Andy Roxburgh, Gough’s quality earned him a place in central defence alongside the reliable McLeish. The quality and durability of Dailly was rewarded with a spot in the back four. Although deployed more for Scotland as a centre-back than a full-back, Dailly has the capacity to prosper away from central defence. His ability to play in a variety of positions is an asset.

The midfield is packed with skill and talent. The main question mark is width. Davie Cooper was selected as a winger in the All-Time Team, but he played only two internationals from July 1987. Gordon Strachan was considered, but most of his matches pre-dated the period under consideration. Pat Nevin was very good in a wide role, but not quite at the level to warrant selection. McAllister will have dead ball duties with strong support from Collins. A little over half of Roy Aitken’s appearances (30 out of 57 caps) were made pre-July 1987. His great leadership qualities and steel were compelling arguments for selection. In a difficult choice, he was left out of the starting team in favour of players with a fraction more class, but less grunt. Collins’ scoring output was vital to his case for selection, while creativity, vision and scoring output are strong suits of McStay. Continued excellence in the dark shirt earned places for McCall and McAllister in the engine room. While the respective merits of Aitken and McAllister are open to debate, I opted to give the armband to McAllister. Honourable mentions for midfield berths go to Paul Lambert and Darren Fletcher.

The predatory brilliance of McCoist makes him a clear choice to lead the attack. Johnston was preferred to McFadden to complete the attacking firepower. With 15 goals from 48 appearances, McFadden had a good case for selection. However, Johnston has a superior strike rake (14 goals from 38 matches) and tended to score his goals against better quality opposition than McFadden. Yes, McFadden’s goal against the Netherlands in the 2003 play-off and his wonder strike against France in September 2007 have not been forgotten. Johnston deserves a lot of credit for his brilliance in the qualifiers for the 1990 World Cup, in which his six goals were instrumental to Scotland reaching the finals. In contrast, McFadden did not excel in his two World Cup qualification campaigns, the 2006 World Cup qualifiers and 2010 World Cup qualifiers. Kenny Miller was also in the reckoning for a striker’s spot and will join McFadden on the bench.

Craig Brown will be at the helm of this side. The last manager to steer Scotland to the World Cup finals and the finals of the European Championships. Brown’s calm authority and teaching approach will gel effectively with the august group of modern day stars at his disposal.


Please feel free to check out the eBook for the all-time best Scotland combination:


For more of James’ Almanac contributions, CLICK HERE:

Do you love the Almanac concept?
And want to ensure it continues in its current form, and better? To help keep things ticking over please consider making your own contribution.

One off financial contribution – CLICK HERE
Regular financial contribution (monthly EFT) – CLICK HERE
Become an Almanac (annual) member – CLICK HERE


  1. Albion Rover says

    A very difficult task you’ve set yourself, James. My team would be:

    Andy Goram

    Stewart McKimmie
    Colin Hendry
    David Weir
    Tom Boyd

    Craig Burley
    Paul Lambert
    John Collins
    Gary McAllister

    Maurice Johnston
    James McFadden

    Jim Leighton
    Christian Dailly
    Darren Fletcher
    Paul McStay
    Ally McCoist

    Perhaps the memory of Scotland’s most recent World Cup finals goal swayed me to select Burley ahead of other worthy candidates in the midfield. Up front I preferred McFadden because, compared to McCoist, he had a more influential role in teams with less overall quality. I wanted to find a place for Pat Nevin somewhere but like several other prominent Scottish footballers since 1987 his impact was significantly stronger at club level.

Leave a Comment