Steve Clarke insists that you only need to look at rising Hampden attendances to see that the Tartan Army have fallen back in love with the national team.

The Scotland manager’s first game in charge – a 2-1 win over Cyprus in Mount Florida – was played against the backdrop of a half-empty national stadium as supporters’ enthusiasm for international football waned.

But when the Scots kick off their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign at home to Cyprus on Saturday, they will do so in front of a capacity crowd in Glasgow – something that Clarke takes almost as much pride in as the team’s progress on the park.

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“It was nice to start with a win,” Clarke recalled. “I remember 25,000 at Hampden. It wasn’t the most enthusiastic crowd that we have ever played in front of. The crowd were like ‘go on then, entertain us!’

“And we struggled. Cyprus were good, they kept a low block, we couldn’t break them down and it took a last-minute goal. It was great to start that way. The next few games showed me exactly where we were as a national team.

“The good thing is this time there will be 50,000 people in the stadium. I think that’s a measure of how much the squad and the team have improved – and how much the Scottish public now believe in this team. For me that’s a good thing.

“I think it proves you are doing the right thing and things are moving in the right way. Obviously we reached the Euro 2020 finals. We had a good World Cup qualifying campaign, no matter what anybody says. It was disappointing to lose the play-off game and then we got promotion to Nations League A.


“So there has been a gradual movement forward. Hopefully we can continue that in the next campaign and get what we want which is qualification for another major tournament.”

A few eyebrows were raised in the wake of the most recent squad announcement when it transpired that only four members of the 23-strong team – Liam Kelly, Zander Clark, Ryan Jack and Callum McGregor – ply their trade in Scotland.

Clarke, however, isn’t reading too much into that particular statistic as he believes there are plenty of Premiership-based players on the cusp of international selection – as well as players based down south, such as Blackburn Rovers defender Dominic Hyam.

“These things go in cycles,” he said. “With one or two injuries that can change like that. So I wouldn’t read too much into it. The squads I have picked previously have had seven or eight from the Scottish leagues.

“At the moment there are not too many playing, certainly at Celtic and Rangers, in their starting line-ups. I’m sure that will change again in the next six months and you will be asking me why I am picking so many Scottish-based boys and not enough Anglos!”

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Clarke added: “Dominic has done well. Murray Wallace has done well at Millwall, Liam Lindsay at Preston. There’s a lot of boys doing well.

“Lawrence Shankland can consider himself a little bit unfortunate. Kevin Nisbet came back from his first injury and was on fire. Unfortunately he has picked up another injury and that seems to have held him back a little bit. Tony Ralston played for Celtic the other day.

“So there are loads of people round the periphery who don’t get selected. The good thing for me is I know they all want to be selected and they are all fighting to be in that squad. We might pick up another couple of knocks or injuries and there will be space in the squad.”