Ian Black spent the majority of his career suspecting an international call-up would be beyond him. His imagination did not stretch to thinking that not only would he one day play for Scotland but that he'd make a debut like no-one else in history. The dry analysis shows that he got the last three minutes, took a few touches, did nothing special, and then the final whistle went. If only that was the full story of his night.
The loud and frequent booing of Black by large sections of the Scotland support at Easter Road was startling. When it happened at first, when he came to the touchline to replace Gary Caldwell and his name was announced over the public address system, it seemed almost knockabout, pantomime stuff. Then it became clear that this wasn't just some fans having fun at the end of an enjoyable, 3-1 Scotland win. Black was booed again when he took his first touch, and again at the next, and the next. The hostility and unrest was genuine. A point was being made, even if it's still unclear exactly what that was.
There was nothing groundbreaking in fans booing one of their own. It happens. Jimmy Johnstone, Roy Aitken, Darren Jackson, Brian McClair, Barry Ferguson and, most memorably, Gary McAllister got it in the neck to varying degrees at Hampden or elsewhere. Black suffered the most notable treatment of any Scotland internationalist since McAllister was jeered into premature retirement in 1999, the midfielder never entirely forgiven for failing to convert a penalty against England three years earlier.
The Celtic and Rangers managers now idolised by their supporters were both once booed by them, Neil Lennon against Boavista in 2003, Ally McCoist in various matches at the start of what evolved into a legendary Ibrox career. When England drew 0-0 with Algeria at the last World Cup finals Wayne Rooney looked into a television camera and snapped: "Nice to see your home fans boo you . . . that's what loyal support is."
But Black's different to all of them. Scotland have been playing full internationals for 140 years and in all that time no-one has ever made his debut to a crescendo of jeers from his own supporters. Black might be seen by most as a tough, even dirty player, with plenty of devilment about him, but it still came as a shock to hear the level of abuse directed at him. He stuck out his chest and kept his chin up during interviews after the match but human nature dictates that it would have wounded him. It would have been mortifying for his family in the stand.
So why did it happen? There were a number of toxic factors. The venue and the Edinburgh context was relevant. Hibs fans are always going to be heard at an Easter Road fixture and Black wasn't a quiet, unobtrusive Hearts player like Andy Webster or Christophe Berra, whose ears weren't assaulted by boos on Wednesday. The last time Black was at Easter Road he hauled up his shirt to display the message "I'll paint this place maroon" – alluding to his part-time work as a decorator. Black can be a stirrer, and not only of paint.
But this was about Levein and about Rangers, too. An awful lot of Scotland supporters don't care for the manager and the latest thing that didn't impress them was calling up Black – never selected in over 250 appearances for Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Hearts – now that he's a Rangers player. They felt Levein contradicted himself by saying it would be hard for a third division player to adapt to international football and then calling up Black only days later. That tied into an enduring, traditional belief among supporters of most clubs that there is one law for Rangers (or Celtic) players and another for everyone else.
Black had been the story of the week, a running controversy, and his introduction at Easter Road provided a platform for fans to mouth off about it. And then there was the Rangers factor. There are plenty who still resent the club burning off nearly all of its debt and, even in the third division, offering higher wages than anyone except Celtic can afford in the top flight.
Black made his own reputation as a player with discipline issues but neither Levein's popularity nor Rangers' financial issues are anything to do with him. He didn't deserve what he got on Wednesday and it reflected poorly on the Scotland support, many of whom try to cultivate an image of being fair-minded. Black isn't some sort of panto villain: he's a Scot who pulled on dark blue for the first time, determined to do his best. He deserved support, or at least quiet acceptance.
This much can also be said about the whole episode: Levein could have avoided it. A positive, refreshing night for Scotland – a good win, several good individual displays, an exhilarating goal on his first start from Jordan Rhodes – would have been reflected in a glowing response from supporters and the media. All of that was wrenched away by the decision to make that substitution. Black could have been introduced in the lower-key context of November's friendly away to Luxembourg.
Maybe Levein saw Wednesday as an act of strong management, reminding everyone who was the boss and that he would not be cowed by either the media or supporters. The end result was Black being exposed to an ugly earful.