The grey, relentless motorway is barely left behind before rolling hills give way to a descent into a Scottish town from central casting. It is the sort of Ayrshire retreat that the tourists will bypass, the salesman will drive through, where the only strangers on the streets are those who are lost or wilfully drifting.

This is a town of 6,500 souls. This is Stewarton. This is Naisyland.

Steven Naismith, at 28, is Scotland's best footballer. He is central to any hopes the national team has of breaking a drought of reaching a major finals that stretches back to 1998. He plays in Liverpool. He still lives in Stewarton.

In explaining this conundrum, one comes near to understanding an extraordinary character. Naismith is not just an unusual footballer. He is a singular human being.

Profoundly courteous off the field, he is fiercely combative on it. He is dyslexic but a dedicated reader. He is driven by doubt but sustained by Stewarton, or at least by the values that he has learned in a family with three siblings and from a mother and father whose example was and is to work hard. David, his dad, is a social worker who lives in the same cul-de-sac where Naismith was brought up. His mum, Rosie, lives down the road and continues to work in Sainsbury's.

Absurdly early on a Sunday morning, I venture into town on foot with Naismith for the full tour. He is greeted with nods, words and the continual beeping of car horns. His through-the-week house is in Cheshire. But this is home. This is where he has a fine house and is building another on a patch of land bought some years ago.

This, too, is where he leaves a mark that is comically physical. This town is populated by those who take their constitutional in Rangers and Everton apparel, two of the sides, of course, that have contained Naismith. There is an explanation beyond hero worship.

"At the end of every season, I gather up all the tops, trackies and whatever and give them to my mum. People come to her and ask if she has anything and she hands them out," says Naismith, whose present job at Everton was preceded by spells at Rangers and Kilmarnock.

More spectacularly, Naismith's clearing of the dressing-room has given Stewarton Athletic, the local amateur side, an unlikely dose of romanticism. "We have to change our boots at Everton every couple of months because our suppliers want us to wear the updated versions," says Naismith. "So when the boys throw their all their discarded boots into the corner, I collect them and bring them up for the amateurs."

So a Stewarton player is careering around in the boots worn by the £28 million Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku? "No," replies Naismith quickly. "He is a size 14." Stewarton Athletic are thus waiting for a Cinderella with big feet to wear these boots but squad members turn out in the footwear worn by internationalists such as Seamus Coleman, Ross Barkley, Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka and Aiden McGeady.

The local boys' club, Stewarton and Annick, wear shirts that are not discards but a kit in the wrapper bought and donated by Naismith, who skirts a Sunday morning training session for the youngsters to fixed stares. The gentle climb from the town centre takes us around to his primary school, Lainshaw, a place where his ability as a footballer was obvious but where he learned that life could be a struggle and that challenges had to be met with a quick-wittedness that has never deserted him, indeed buoyed him in testing moments.

"I am dyslexic," says Naismith. "It was not so bad for me because I had football and if you are at school and good at football there is a respect that comes with that. It is definitely harder for those who cannot find something to focus on when they are getting upset or annoyed at themselves. That is hard."

His condition has helped give Naismith a compassion he wears lightly. He is an ambassador for Dyslexia Scotland, has a busy charitable life, giving Everton tickets to Liverpool's unemployed or sponsoring Christmas dinners for the homeless or otherwise unfortunate.

He says of his schooldays: "I didn't think I was thick. I thought I was slow. I thought, 'How am I not getting this?' I could cover it well, though. I was only exposed in tests. I could deflect attention from my problem. I could get out of situations. I was always thinking, always looking at how to solve problems before they overwhelmed me."

This trait has undoubtedly helped his rise in football. "I would say I am sharp. In squad training, I would be the sharpest," he says. He points to a goal against Arsenal when he correctly divined the odds of Lukaku scoring, the possibilities offered by a save by the keeper and, computing a series of variables inside a fraction of a second, arrived to score what seemed a simple goal.

"That happens a lot. It is a 50-50 call and I have made the correct choice," he says. "That comes with experience. But it also comes from being the dyslexic boy in the class who has to predict just what page has to be read so he can prepare before it is his turn."

It is part of what has taken the player from Naisyland to the lush grazing grounds of the Barclays Premier League. So precisely where is Naismith and what took him there?

"I AM on holiday in Villamura in Portugal, very upmarket, very nice," says Naismith. "We are walking to dinner when I notice John Terry is limping ahead of me."

He knows the renowned Chelsea captain and tabloid staple has just had an operation. He knows, too, that he is about to catch up on him. "I am hesitant. Do I talk to him? I have played against him. But does he know me?"

Terry is Premier League aristocracy, albeit a king whose coat of arms is chequered. But he knows Naismith. He turns to the Scot, greets him warmly and asks him to wait so he can fetch his son. "You're his favourite player and he will want a photograph with you," says Terry. Naismith tells all this to illustrate how the jump to the most famous, richest league in the world may seem like a movie on occasion but it is grounded in an everyday reality.

He has no qualms about accepting the money. His latest, multimillion-pound, three-year deal further secures him and his family financially. "Football is like basketball, baseball. If you make it, great. But what if you don't? I am a lucky man but I made sacrifices and I took a gamble. Many players leave school with nothing, opting to go down a road with no guarantees. The failure rate is high. It is brutal. There are all those guys going back to college in their mid-twenties having been let go by clubs. It can be embarrassing. Your mates are out making money, moving into flats and you are back at college because you have failed at football and everyone knows it."

Naismith, a millionaire, has retained a value for money. "I will tell you my X5 story. I bought one when I was at Rangers," he says of the BMW. "But when I came to trade it in I lost thousands. I learned a lesson then. I will never throw away money like that again. I know of players who have dropped 30 grand on a car when trading it in. Not me. That's just daft."

There was another defining moment, one that occurred two decades ago. This has at its centre the boy who realised his dreams. "I remember I was a kid at a Killie-Rangers match and went to the players' door. Gordon Durie [Rangers player, now coach] came out and asked me what I was doing. I told him and he said I should just go into the dressing-room. I got a receipt out of my uncle's van and I got [Basile] Boli, [Brian] Laudrup and Stuart McCall to sign it." McCall, now Rangers manager, has coached Naismith at international level. Has Naismith reminded him of the incident? "Not yet, but I will now," he says with a smile.

SO how did the supplicant with a tattered receipt become the great footballing hope for Scotland?

"When I was growing up, my dad would tell me to Hoover the house or to clean my boots and he would always say: 'If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing right.' I took all that in. If I am doing a session in training, I do it right. Always. I put my best into it."

He adds: "I was never a standout like a Barkley." This is a reference to the English wunderkind who is his teammate at Everton. "I was always worried I would never make it. At every stage, I never saw myself as a certainty. On every step up, I have thought, 'This could be it. This could be the point when I stop.'" He struggled initially at Everton and wondered if he would have to see his contract out and go to another, lower level. He is not afraid to admit doubt; he merely has a resistance to succumbing to it. He persevered, triumphed and has recently been rewarded with his renewed contract, praise from his manager and a starting place in Gordon Strachan's national team.

"There is a part of me that is spurred on by the desire to keep doing the work but also by something else. I always think there are doubters out there who want you to fail and I want to prove them wrong."

This is said levelly but it gives an insight into the steel-hard interior that drives Naismith. He admits fear, he faces it and then he gives it what can only be called a Stewarton kiss in parting.

The journey, then, has been spectacular but he returns to Stewarton at every opportunity. His wife, Moya, also comes from the town. They have been together since they were 17 and have a daughter, Lacey. "She has made the sacrifices," says Naismith of his wife. "She left her family and friends to live down south and also has had to curtail her career.'' Moya is a dentist who will practise in Ayrshire when Naismith gives up football.

But what will he do? "I have become more interested in coaching,' he says. "But top-class football is brutal and the demands are huge. Who knows? I might want to do something else. I might want a wee break, play golf with my mates.''

These are mostly Stewarton boys who exult quietly and privately in his triumphs and slag him loudly over his failures. "They can slaughter me after a bad performance," he says with a grin.

The presence of his friends and their attitude helps him keep a fairyland world real. "I come back to Stewarton regularly - any time we can, basically," he says. "I know the Premier League is huge. I have had surreal experiences such as training in a gym in Dubai and seeing myself interviewed on screen, talking to my mate Phil Neville and realising he is a big friend of David Beckham; coming off a pitch and walking alongside a [Angel] De Maria or [Eden] Hazard or [Wayne] Rooney."

Does he feel he deserves to be there? "Yes," he says. "You do not play in the Premier League unless you are good enough. It is that simple. But I know I have to work at it.

"I was good as a kid but I wasn't better than some,'' he says when we reach the bottom of the cul de sac where he once lived and come to a patch of land where he played with mates after his paper round. "There were boys who didn't make it who were better than me. They got into drink, they got lazy, their attitude was wrong ..."

He speaks of his team mate, Seamus Coleman, who will likely be in the Republic of Ireland team Naismith plays against next Saturday. "I love him because he always tells the truth," says Naismith. "He always says he sits next to me so he can catch my positivity. I like it when he says that because I like facing an issue and sorting it. I am a doer.''

So how is the man, the father, the husband, the star, compared to the boy who grew up in Stewarton? "I am much more assured. I was once very shy, very keen to stay with people I knew. I have had to change,'' he says. But not too much, certainly not in attitude.

The walk around Stewarton leads us back to his home. He has three years, at least, at the very top of football but what lies beyond? "My mate is a joiner and if he wants a labourer then I will go out with him," he says. "I am a grafter, not a star.''

Republic of Ireland play Scotland at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin, next Saturday (kick-off 5pm).