It is June 7, 1980 and he is lining up for the Scotland Schoolboys in a Victory Shield match against England, waiting for what seems like an eternity for the privilege of making the long trudge to the halfway line. Little did he know then that the match would end 5-4 to Scotland, and catapult him, and his team-mates Paul McStay, 
Ally Dick and John Robertson into every living room into the land.

“We had to stand in there for about 15 minutes waiting for the game to start,” Sludden recalls. “When you walked out everybody had a flag. There must have been about 70-75,000 people there. All our guys had their schools there to support. There were about four minibuses just from my school, St Mungo’s High School in Falkirk.”

Sludden scored two, McStay got another two, and Dick grabbed the other. England striker Paul Rideout scored a hat-trick but still ended up on the losing side. Sludden typically plays down his part in the proceedings but knew even then he was in the midst of something special.

“Even then Paul played the game like a man, his awareness was great, and he was so strong,” Sludden said. “Even at the age of 15 you could tell he had everything in his locker. Ally was a fantastic flair player, an 
old-fashioned winger, who just loved to take players on, he had great pace and a fantastic left-foot.

“I was just lucky enough to play with these guys, to have them creating chances for you. I was just the one lucky enough to put them away.”

Six months later, while Dick became the youngest first-team Spurs player in the club’s history, a record that stood for 27 years, Sludden and McStay signed for Celtic together in a blaze of publicity. It was a great moment, particularly for a man whose uncle was the legendary Celtic player and coach Neil Mochan.

McStay would go on to play for the club for 16 years and win upwards of 70 caps for his country. Sludden would go on to average a goal every two games in a 300-game career which took in St Johnstone, Ayr and Kilmarnock. But even he doesn’t seem too sure if things got any better from the day he put pen to paper at Parkhead.

“If you think about Celtic history my uncle Neilly was involved from the Coronation Cup to the 7-1 game to the European Cup final to the Centenary Cup double, so when you are talking about such a strong Celtic family it was obviously just a fantastic experience to sign for them at 16,” he said.

“It was a big highlight in my career. I think I probably lacked a wee bit of pace to play at the highest level. 
I don’t find it strange [that his and McStay’s careers went in different directions]. The Maestro even then was a fantastic player and he deserves everything he got. For years and years he was the top player in Scotland. 
I was just lucky to have played beside him and call him a friend.”

Fast forward to 2009, and Sludden’s career in football has come full circle. Again Scotland are meeting England in a televised Victory Shield decider – albeit Thursday night on Sky Sports at Tynecastle rather than primetime ITV – and again he has a massive stake in the outcome. This time he is a Celtic Under-15 coach who has helped provide no fewer than six players for Ross Mathie’s Under-16 national squad.

The headline act is 14-year-old striker Islam Feruz, but Sludden is equally proud of all of them. Goalkeeper James Wightman, defenders Joseph Chalmers, Marcus Fraser, Shane Rook and Mohammed Yaqub.

“It is great for the academy to have six in the squad,” said Sludden, who was brought back to the club almost a decade ago by Tommy Burns and whose own son Paul is on the books at Falkirk.

“It is a fantastic achievement for them first and foremost. Each and every one of them has had a fantastic attitude. Mo Yakub sums it up. He came into the boys’ club last season and just came in with the attitude that he would listen and learn and work hard. Six months later he gets his Scotland cap. It is on live TV and there will be a lot of people watching it. It will be a test of their character even at that age, 
to see how they handle it but I am sure they will all do very well if they get a chance to play in the game.”

All six have already played for the club’s Under-17 team, but Sludden knows more than most about how much can change on the journey from talented schoolboy to senior professional.

“I have been lucky enough to be involved with McStay and Ally Dick, and Islam is showing the same promise as them, but he is only 14 and there is a long, long way to go,” said Sludden, who retains a day job at Central Landscape Painting. “He needs to keep listening to the right people at Celtic and, if he has the right attitude, then hopefully he will continue to show the development he is doing at his moment. Even if you have success at schoolboy level, there is a long road ahead.”

He is right. Win or lose, it would be wrong to read too much into tonight’s game. But a new generation of Scottish schoolboys to inspire the nation is long overdue.