FOR a Glasgow lad growing up in Castlemilk, with Scotland international winger Arthur Graham as his upstairs neighbour, the inevitable boyhood dream was to play for Scotland and score in the World Cup.

"Yes, that's how it was when I grew up there, " agrees Ray Houghton, yet it didn't quite work out like that.

Houghton never did play for Scotland, but was capped 73 times by the Republic of Ireland, went further in the World Cup finals than any Scot has ever done, and now, with Scotland and Ireland out of this year's tournament, Houghton is nevertheless heading to work at the World Cup once again.

In the most surreal of international football careers the kid from a Glasgow scheme lived the dream, scoring against England and Italy, was cheered round the streets of Dublin by 600,000 people, and feted with his team-mates by Ireland's president and prime minister.

It might have been different had there had been a more welcoming atmosphere in the Scotland camp when he was a member of the under-18 squad under Andy Roxburgh. That was his verdict as the fouryearly anniversary of two of his finest moments came round again.

"I didn't really like the experience of being with the Scotland under-18s, " he recalled. "Guys like myself, who were playing for English clubs, were not treated all that well. The manager knew all the players from the Scottish league, but didn't seem to know much about those of us playing in England."

This was a disappointment to a lad who had always dreamed of Scottish glory. Brothers Frank and Eddie Gray were also Castlemilk kids who made it as local football role models in the dark blue. "Arthur Graham was really close to home, " said Houghton. "We lived on the ground floor and his family lived two floors up. My older brother was the same age as Arthur, and they kicked a ball around together."

In an era of rich midfield talent, there were plenty of Scottish midfielders to chose from. The Scotland squad which went to Mexico '86 included Graeme Souness, Gordon Strachan, Roy Aitken, Jim Bett and Paul McStay. "The manager obviously preferred them to me, " said Houghton.

So when he was offered a first Irish cap that year, he grabbed it. "My father came from Donegal. That's how I qualified."

Despite appearing in two World Cup finals, he reckons the seminal moment for Irish football was when Ireland beat England 1-0, and Houghton scored with a looping header. "They are the Auld Enemy in Ireland as well, and it was the shape of things to come for Ireland.

"Football attracted no great interest. There was a far bigger following for rugby and Gaelic sport - still is in many ways, but it changed after that, although we lost to Holland who went on to win the tournament."

He reckons it was the moment which lit the fuse of the Celtic Tiger. "It helped create a lot of hope for the future. Soccer took off and so did the economy. Ireland is awash with cash now."

That was the great moment for him, perhaps surprisingly given two glorious World Cup campaigns.

Houghton arrived at the 1990 finals with two league championship titles behind him with Liverpool. "Reaching the quarter-finals was the most amazing success for a nation of four million. Doing it at the first attempt was regarded as something really special, even though we got put out by the Italian hosts.

"When we got home, 600,000 people lined Dublin's streets as went drove through. In that way it was more spectacular than 1994."

Then, Houghton had measure of revenge, scoring the only goal in a group match against Italy (who had qualified at Scotland's expense) before they went out to Holland in round two.

"When we got home we were met by the president, Mary Robinson and premier Albert Reynolds. Then we were flown by helicopter to Phoenix Park where we were met by 100,000 people."

Houghton will be working with Johnny Giles and Trevor Stevens in Germany. And Souness hasn't made it to the World Cup again. He's also working for RTE, but he'll be at home, as studio summariser.