THE first World Cup that sticks out in my memory is the one in 2002 in Japan and South Korea, and it was all because of Brazil.

Their team was filled with absolute megastars; Kaka, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho. But the best of the lot was Ronaldo. He had that trademark hairdo and the Nike Vapors on, and he was on a different level. I was absolutely obsessed with the guy.

He had a gold pair of Vapors that he wore and I was gutted because I had flat feet and I couldn’t wear them. I was raging! But I just couldn’t get the ball off the ground in them.

Apart from that though, all I wanted to do was be like him and follow in his footsteps. It was incredible when he won it.

Ronaldo had a pair of gold Vapors that he wore and I was gutted because I had flat feet and couldn't wear them. I was raging!

When I got a bit older I would be playing Pro Evolution on the PlayStation and Adriano was the man for the Brazil team in that with his shot power! I’ve never seen a player hit a shot like that. He probably didn’t have the career in the real world that he should have, but I then followed his path really closely and all I wanted to do was be like Adriano and Ronaldo.

So, for me, the World Cup was always about Brazil. I do remember Scotland playing against Brazil in ’98, and I will have to bring that up to John Collins next time I see him.

He’s an ambassador with Gala [Fairydean, Zander’s team], so he was there when we opened the new stand and played Rangers B team.

I scored two and got a big cuddle from him, so that was great. I’ve got a really great relationship with John and it’s some achievement to score against Brazil at a World Cup.

It just shows you anything can be done. When I was coming through at Motherwell, we all thought that. I was in the same year as Stevie Lawless, Bob McHugh, Paul Slane and all those guys, a talented group and a great bunch of boys.

It was around that time though that I noticed I was a bit different. It was nothing to do with the guys, boys will be boys and all that. But they would be talking about things like Nuts or Zoo magazine and I’d be going home wondering why those things weren’t doing anything for me.

When you know deep down that you are different to all of them, that starts to play havoc with you mentally. It slowly starts to get bigger and bigger.

HeraldScotland: John Collins celebrates after scoring against Brazil in 1998John Collins celebrates after scoring against Brazil in 1998 (Image: Getty)

I went to Airdrie up until I was about 18, but those sort of hormonal changes really started to affect me around that time. You try to fight it. You want to fit in as a football player.

I always said that the 90 minutes were my escape. But outwith the game, you had to almost create a character and be a different person. It definitely affected me.

That’s why I’m so vocal now. I looked at the whole landscape of Scottish football and I thought ‘you know what? I would love to help younger players who may now be going through what I was’.

It shouldn’t be about players having to make a big statement. It should really be as simple as them being asked what they are doing at the weekend maybe and not having to lie about it.

The only way to do that I feel is to help by being a role model and being a visible part of a community that I pretended not to be a part of for so long. It’s a cliché, but it’s a big weight off the shoulders, and it is showing on the pitch and making me a better player.

I’m not saying I would have made the World Cup if I hadn’t been hiding who I truly was, but I know I could have played at a higher level.

So, when I saw former Qatari international Khalid Salman describing gay people as having ‘damage in the mind’ the other day, it made me furious.
There is nothing anyone can do about being gay. You just are, and you just know it.

It took a lot of time and I had to overcome a lot of fear to come out, because it was exactly these attitudes that I was worried about.

It is completely unacceptable, and FIFA cannot allow the World Cup to go to a country where homosexuality is illegal ever again. If you are going as fans, some hotel chains will knock back same-sex couples that want a double bed, and you could even be arrested.

The progress we have made here in Scotland has hopefully made any younger people going through that struggle I went through realise that it’s not actually that big a deal, or anything to be ashamed about. I would hate to think that those comments, or the fact the World Cup is being held in Qatar, takes things backwards.

It took a lot of time and I had to overcome a lot of fear to come out, because it was exactly these attitudes that I was worried about

FIFA need more stringent measures when awarding a World Cup, and they have to realise that their decision will have an impact on young people.

I just hope that by the players protesting and visibly showing their support for gay rights throughout the tournament, the message gets through to those kids that they can still dream of playing at a World Cup, and have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. FIFA, on the other hand...


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