EVERY time the subject of Estonia comes up I can't help thinking about the time they stuck two fingers up at Fifa and the rest of the football world and almost stopped my international career before it got started.
The story of them failing to turn up for a World Cup qualifier in Tallinn in October 1996 is well known but it has a special relevance for me as it was the match where I was due to make my first start for my country. In fact, it was me who kicked off that day, in a game that lasted all of three seconds.I rolled the ball to Darren Jackson; he touched it back to John Collins; we all held our hands up as if we'd won; and the match was abandoned.
That Scotland weren't awarded a 3-0 default win and were instead forced replay the match in Monaco – it ended in a 0-0 draw – has to go down as one of the biggest football scandals of all time. Imagine it happening now: any country refusing to show up and play a game at the allotted time would be thrown out of the competition.
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I had come on as a substitute against Latvia the previous week and played well as we won 2-0, with Jackson and Collins scoring, so Craig Brown put me in for my first start. The drama all started the night before the match when the SFA said they weren't happy with the floodlights. Fifa insisted the kick-off be brought forward to 3pm but as soon as we got there we realised there were no Estonian staff or players there.
It was an utterly surreal. The ground was eerily empty and the songs the Scotland fans were singing have gone down in folklore: 'It's all gone quiet over there', 'There's only one team in Tallinn' and the like.
I remember Alex Miller telling everyone to try to prepare properly in case Estonia jumped off a bus at the last minute and caught us out. Some of the players were just looking at him and thinking, "aye, very good". I had been playing well at Aberdeen but Scotland had also been hit by a lot of injuries. This was my big chance and it was ripped away. A lot of the players were fit again by the time Monaco came around and I lost my place.
Scotland got to France 98 anyway and I got my own back on Estonia when we were drawn against them again in qualifying for Euro 2000. I came on for Ally McCoist in our home tie at Tynecastle in October 1998 when we were 1-0 down and scored two goals and set up the other as we won 3-2.
I started most games for my country after that. It is ironic that my big break came against the team who nearly finished my Scotland career.
Wednesday's friendly at Pittodrie will be the eighth time we have met Estonia in 10 years and, just as was the case for me, there is a chance for someone to make a name for himself. Chris Burke has played for Scotland twice and scored twice, and the fact he hasn't featured for seven years shows how easy it is to drift out of the picture.
But he didn't look out of place and neither has Lee Wallace in the games he has played. Although Wallace isn't playing at the right level just now, down in the Third Division with Rangers, he is still a very good player who shouldn't be ruled out. I have no problem with him being in the squad and obviously neither has Gordon Strachan.
PEOPLE seem to think the Dundee United job was a straight shoot-out between Jackie McNamara and Steven Pressley but I feel I might have been closer to getting it than has been suggested.
I am obviously disappointed with the outcome but I have to give credit to Dundee United for a thoroughly professional interview process, and in Jackie they have someone in charge who, although he is unproven at the top level, shows all the signs of being an excellent manager.
I was always quite close to Jackie when we were on Scotland duty – I remember him and Neil McCann picking up my bags from the airport as I rushed to attend the birth of my daughter – and I wish him every success.
I'm now being asked if I am interested in the Partick Thistle vacancy. Their interim manager, Alan Archibald, is someone I have a lot of respect for, but I live four miles away and my wee boy is a Thistle fan. Take out of that what you want.