CANADA have a former Tartan Army hero to thank for the fact that Fraser Aird will be lining up for them, rather than perhaps against them, at Easter Road on Wednesday night. Ian Durrant would have won far more than his 20 international caps for his country had injury not intervened and it was the voice of the Rangers Under-20 coach which came through loudest and clearest as Aird agonised over which side of the Atlantic he should play his international football.
Born in Toronto, to two Scottish parents - his father Bill tragically passed away after a long illness last month - Aird featured for the Canadian Under-15s, before representing Scotland at Under-17 and Under-19 level. So torn was he by the impending decision over his dual nationality that he took a step back altogether during 2013 to get his head straight, his mind wasn't entirely made up until Durrant told him to forget about trying to please everybody else and follow his heart. The rest is history and he is set to win his fifth cap for his country at Easter Road, against the nation where he has forged his career, on Wednesday night.
"Colin Miller called me and said he was going to put me in Canada's Gold Cup squad in 2013 when I was only 17," recalled Aird. "I’d played with Canada at under-15 before I moved to Scotland as well but I was in two minds, I didn't know whether I wanted to go or stay and play with Scotland. I was playing at my age group here but getting a call-up to play first team internationally was something I really had to think about.
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“At that time I said I would leave it because I wanted to concentrate on my club football but it was a tough decision for a 17-year-old to make," he added. "I spoke to my parents about it but it was hard to know what to do and I figured it was best to just stay away until I was 100 per cent certain about what I wanted to do.
“Ally McCoist was the Rangers manager at the time and I had a few conversations with him at the time. Obviously he played for Scotland so I think he was trying to lean me that way. But I was also close to Ian Durrant at the time and although he’d also played for Scotland and was a great servant, he was the one who said I had to make the right decision for myself, not for anyone else. He said I had to feel in my heart that I was happy to represent the country I was going to choose. That was one of the talks that swayed me towards Canada.
“I’m happy with my decision now. I feel Canadian, 100 per cent. I was born there, spent the first 16 years of my life there, and that’s where I felt I should be at the end of the day. I’m glad I took the time when I was younger to think about it and make my mind up."
Perhaps it helped make his mind up that the current Canada coach, Mike Findlay, was once in a similar predicament. "I’m sure his dad was Scottish and he spent a number of years here when he was younger," said Aird. "He has been great as the interim manager and was assistant to Benito [Floro] before that. He was the one to give me my first cap. He has faith in me and has picked me for this squad again. It will be weird but good [to play against Scotland in Scotland]. This is my second home now."
Aird played 85 games for Rangers - "I was grateful for that but I felt there were times I could have got a chance and didn't," he says - but after a loan spell at Vancouver Whitecaps, Falkirk pounced when Mark Warburton agreed to the mutual termination of his contract. Co-incidentally, he could spend much of Wednesday night in direct opposition with Lee Wallace, a mentor through their Rangers days. “I sent him [Wallace] a message congratulating him on his call-up, and hopefully we get a chance to play against each other down that side of the park," said Aird. “He’s a great player and a great pro on and off the park. He was one of the older ones when I first broke into the Rangers team and we were working our way through the division, and he was always there for support."
While Scotland could field an experimental line-up for a match just days before a crucial World Cup qualifying tie against Slovenia, Canada are building for this summer's Gold Coast, having seen back-to-back defeats to Mexico cost them the chance of qualifying for Russia. "Maybe our world ranking doesn’t show how good of a team we are," said Aird. "But I’d say definitely do not underestimate us come Wednesday."