Tom Cairney was enthralled by his Scotland international debut last month – describing his first appearance against Canada as an ‘exciting experience’ and the Fulham midfielder is now targeting a regular place in Gordon Strachan’s side.
The 26 year-old, who became the first Championship player to reach a total of ten league goals and league assists in Fulham’s 3-1 win at Norwich City on Good Friday, was finally called up to a Scotland squad by Strachan in March after an excellent season at Craven Cottage. The former Hull and Blackburn playmaker relished his new surroundings and described his first taste of international football as a week to remember.
Speaking to the Scottish Mail on Sunday, Cairney said:
I didn’t know what to expect but it was a week to remember. It was great to get my first cap and, although I didn’t get on against Slovenia, it was great just to be involved, even better that Chrissy [Martin] should get the winner for us.
I did feel there was a bit of tension all week. Even in team meetings there was an edge. You don’t normally get players and the manager coming out and continuously saying this is a must-win game but that was the message all week. I haven’t experienced anything quite like that before. For it to be that way in my first week was actually quite excited.
Cairney freely admits that he was baffled by the Tartan Army’s booing of his Fulham team-mate Chris Martin’s arrival as a late substitute and was delighted to see the striker score the crucial goal that extended Scotland’s slim qualifying hopes.
When Chrissy came on, I wondered what was going on. Were the fans really booing him and why? I just didn’t understand it. But it was funny because a few of the lads on the bench said right away that it was a stick-on he would score the winner.
He is my roomie at Fulham, so I was especially delighted for him. He’s like my dad in that he’s the sensible one, with the kids at home and all that. He’s quite quiet and reserved and just has an older head on his shoulders. He was buzzing when he came in afterwards and every player went up to congratulate him.
I know Chris is there to score goals but he does a lot more work than people realise. He has a very clever brain. It doesn’t sound much but his hold-up work, bringing the rest of us into play, is top-notch. Whenever, I lift my head he is there. He is a big strong man and it’s easy to hit his feet or his chest. He’s a great target man. Yes, he will be judged on goals but international football is the to level and that’s not easy.
His international debut was a proud moment for Cairney, who had a large collection of his family in attendance at Easter Road.
I had the family there for both games, I’d say 12 to 15 of them. I think Easter Road was quite an emotional night for my dad. I’ve always wanted to see if I could play at international level. I’ve now got that under my belt but I’d like to get a few caps if I can.
Gordon Strachan spoke to me one-on-one, he just wanted to know about my background and then told me to go out and do exactly what I’d been doing for Fulham. I knew I needed to get on the ball and play passes but it’s always that little bit harder when you’re laying in a new team.
I think I held my own in training and felt comfortable alongside guys like Darren Fletcher and Robert Snodgrass against Canada, even if the pitch wasn’t great – I haven’t played in conditions like that for a long time. But I managed to show glimpses of what I’ve been doing for Fulham. I just wish Chrissy had helped me out by sticking away his chance when I put him through. Clearly, I was just warming him up for the Sunday!
Cairney remains confident that Fulham can conclude an exciting season by making the Championship play-offs.
That’s the aim. We keep hopping in and out of the top six but that’s just the way this league goes. It’s heart attack material. All being well, we’ll make the play-offs and I’ll be up to speed when the next Scotland squad is announced.
Fulham’s creative hub hasn’t even considered a break at the end of the season – with mouthwatering prospect of a Scotland-England clash at Hampden Park on the horizon.
I’ve not even thought about holidays. Who wouldn’t want to be involved in Scotland v England? Hopefully, I’ve done enough to suggest I can be around the squad but the manager didn’t give me any indication of that. The Slovenia game was everything and the overwhelming feeling was one of relief. It wasn’t the time to be asking about myself.
People had been asking me about Scotland for the last for few seasons and I got a bit tired answering the quest. When it finally game, it was a great feeling. I’m hungry for more. Being on the bench for a qualifier at Hampden was quite an experience. Stuart Armstrong had a great debut and set up the goal, so I’ve no complaints about not playing’.