NEXT summer, after a 23-year wait, Craig Brown will no longer be referred to as the last man to lead Scotland to a major championship. And he, for one, couldn’t be happier.

It isn’t only his status now as a fully paid-up member of the Tartan Army, or his admiration for Steve Clarke and the job he has done in his old gig at Hampden that has Brown beaming though. He is genuinely enthused about what being back among the big boys will do for Scottish football as a whole.

Seeing more kids wearing Scotland tops and getting excited about the national team once again is something that Brown is looking forward to, and he hopes that a renewed appetite for playing the game will flourish too on the back of Scotland’s success this week.

For Brown, it isn’t the think-tanks nor the expensive projects wheeled out by those in charge of the game that can have a transformative impact upon Scottish football, but the chance for youngsters to once again look up to those in dark blue as they strut their stuff on the biggest stages of all.

“You would never have thought it would be so long for us to qualify again back in 1998,” Brown said.

“I’m very excited about it. I can’t wait to see the games as a Scotland fan and as a Steve Clarke fan.

“Qualifying for Euro 2020 will have a huge impact on the country, and particularly on Scottish football.

“I listened to a lecture about 20 years ago given by Geoff Cooke, who was the manager of the English Rugby Union side and the British Lions. It was wonderful.

“He said a very significant thing that I always remembered, that the development of rugby in England depended more upon the success of the national team than any other initiative you could imagine.

“You could have the best coaching courses, the best development programme. If you relate it to football, you can have the Henry McLeish report, the Mark Wotte report, Project Brave and all the rest of it.

“What Geoff said is so true though in my opinion. The development of football and the promotion of the game is dependent upon the success of the national team.

“Women’s football has taken off for example, and the amount of girls now playing is remarkable. I think it really helped when Shelley Kerr got them to a finals.

“You don’t have to spend a fortune on all these projects and initiatives, you just have to have the national team – the flagship team – doing well. And that’s what is happening now.

“You don’t often see kids going about these days in a Scotland jersey, but when the Scotland team is in a finals as they are now, the strips will be flying off the shelves. It just gives everyone a boost, and I don’t think you can underestimate how important this is for football development in the country.”

Brown’s admiration for the man who has belatedly picked up the baton to lead Scotland to qualification is warm and genuine, and his admiration for Clarke’s team is surely born in the similar traits the Scots of today exhibit to the teams of Brown’s tenure.

They are organised, determined, gritty, and hard to beat. Clarke has settled upon a 3-5-2 system, Brown’s favoured formation. And there is the quality at the sharp end of the pitch to cause any team problems.

Above all that though, Brown is simply over the moon for a man whom he holds in the highest regard.

“I’m absolutely delighted for Steve,” he said. “He’s a football guy, a smashing guy.

“I remember when he was managing Kilmarnock and Auchinleck Talbot beat Ayr United in the Scottish Cup. He knew I had lived in Ayr for years and had a soft spot for them.

“When he was appointed Scotland manager I said to him; ‘Steve, what was it like being the manager of the second best team in Ayrshire?’, and straight away he said; ‘Are your mob not the third best? The Talbot beat you, did they not?’

“He has got a real dry sense of humour.

“Steve is steeped in football. Apparently his father is the same, and I know his brother Paul, who used to play for Kilmarnock, and he is steeped in the game too.

“Steve deserves every success that he gets. He’s transformed the attitude towards the national team and he has transformed the mental strength of the team too. The mental strength shown by that team on Thursday night, especially when Serbia equalised late on, spoke volumes. And it spoke volumes, I think, for the manager.

“When I speak to the guys in the squad they tell me the atmosphere is very good, and they respect the manager hugely.”

As pleased as Brown was for Clarke as he watched the celebrations from Belgrade on Thursday evening, that feeling was dwarfed by his delight for one of the long-standing unsung heroes of the Scotland set-up, a man he feels is owed a public showing of gratitude for the exemplary role he has played for the national side for longer than he cares to remember.

More than anything, that moment of Scottish success was for men like Dr John MacLean.

“I was delighted to see the players and the management team on the pitch at the end celebrating,” said Brown. “But I was particularly delighted to see one man who has seen more campaigns than any of them, and that’s John MacLean the doctor.

“He was walking about in his usual unassuming manner. Often the backroom staff are forgotten about on these occasions, but they play such an important role.

“He’s a great guy, and I’m sure he’ll have been to more campaigns than even I have.

“He’s so respected by the players and they hang on his every word. He’s been a great servant to Scotland and he deserved that moment just as much as anyone.”