Hall of Fame comfort for ex-Pools star John McGovern after Scotland cap snub

John McGovern. Picture by Frank Reid
John McGovern. Picture by Frank Reid

Former Nottingham Forest captain John McGovern has revealed he “detested” being ignored by Scotland when midfield contemporaries like Ray Wilkins were racking up the caps.

The Hartlepool-raised midfielder skippered Forest to two European Cup final wins and won the English First Division title under Brian Clough with both Forest and Derby.

However, despite featuring for the Scotland Under-23 side, he never was capped at senior level during a career which spanned the 1960s, ‘70s and early ‘80s.

McGovern, 67, was inducted into the Scottish Football Hall of Fame last weekend, but the omission from his trophy cabinet of a Scotland cap still rankles, especially when he reflects on rivals such as former Manchester United midfielder Wilkins, who became a mainstay with England.

“It was something that bitterly disappointed me during my playing career when at times I was playing against and beating the best in Europe,” he said.

“I would have walked up the M74 with bare feet over broken glass to play for Scotland, I was that proud to be a Scotsman.

“I suppose that I had a slight deformity, a bent left shoulder, my style of running was poor and I was the slowest player I played with or against.

“But if someone calls Clough says I am in his side, it’s not luck or favouritism, it’s because I know how to play football.

“There were times when I was playing against some of the top players in Europe and they don’t know how to get round me and I could out-pass them.

“I looked at players like Ray Wilkins playing for England and thought, ‘He can’t out-run me, he is as slow as I am. And he can’t out-tackle me and can’t out-head me and he can’t out-pass me but he has 70 caps and more for England’.

“So there is something not quite right there, there is an inequality there that I definitely detested for a long time.

“I started at 15 at Hartlepool and played for Cloughie there as well, and he taught me how to play the game.

“I thought somewhere along the line I would be given a chance to show what I could do.

“I gritted my teeth but I was bitterly disappointed.”

McGovern, born in Montrose, moved to Hartlepool with his family as a child and made his debut under Clough at Pools as a Henry Smith School pupil.

He left the town when he joined Derby but still has friends in the district.