|Date: 14 June Venue: Hampden Park, Glasgow Kick off: 14:00 BSTCoverage: Live on BBC TV, BBC Radio, BBC iPlayer and the BBC Sport website and app. Click here for more details|
Sitting in a Scotland dressing room and looking around, you’d get nerves. I loved the nerves.
It wasn’t fear of making mistakes or not playing well, it was an intoxicating concoction of pure pride and unbridled excitement. No matter who it was or how many people were there… the more fans the better, the bigger the team the better.
There’s a wee flutter, it’s hard to describe but you’re just desperate for it to start. I was never calm, I always wanted to do well. Especially with Scotland.
I was living my dream, I just enjoyed playing for my country that much. I understood people expected magic or were looking for me to produce something. I relished that.
I went on to play 48 times for the country I love. But would I swap all those caps and all the goals I scored along the way to be sitting on that team bus, walking through the doors at Hampden and looking up at a dark blue strip with my name on the back on Monday?
You bet I would.
I’m jealous of the guys that are going, but they deserve to be there. I hope they enjoy it because it has been a long time coming, and I genuinely believe Scotland can create history and qualify out of the group.
We are not there to say this is great and get experience. We are there to cause an upset against teams. Steve Clarke has us set up for tournament football, we have a strong squad, we can flourish. We have already done what so many teams in the last two decades failed to do, and I should know.
Downing the Dutch & swearing in Paris
When I was doing well at Motherwell as a teenager and getting my first real run, I started scoring. I’d never played striker before but I just loved scoring goals. Then Berti Vogts came in and he wanted to find players for a futures squad, so I basically had a Scotland trial.
I came on for 20 minutes in my debut against South Africa when I was 19, I was delighted. I had it in my mind that I’d worked well to get on this tour and if I only ever get one cap then I’d still have been proud of what I had achieved.
The initial ones are always the most special. I remember thinking in the early games “This is amazing, I’ve scored”. No one can take that away from you.
The feeling was indescribable. I was only 20, I’d just moved to Everton, and I was playing against players I could never imagine playing against. Edwin van der Sar, Jaap Stam, Edgar Davids, Patrick Kluivert, Pierre van Hooijdonk. There were stars everywhere.
When we went in front, oh my. The feeling, the noise in Hampden, the camera shaking on TV, it was unbelievable. I couldn’t take in I’d just scored.
My recollection of the goal at the Parc des Princes is mixed, mainly because it’s shown so often on television. I can still vividly picture it like it was yesterday, though.
I can see the ball coming towards me, I can hear Barry Ferguson shouting on my left side “What the **** are you doing?” after he screamed for a pass, and then just the goalie making a meal of it.
He hit it on to the post but the nets were dark, I don’t remember seeing it going in. My first thought was “Is that a corner?”. And then you realise what’s just happened as pockets of fans erupt across the stadium and I’m rushed by the team.
We’d beaten France at home as well and that was a fantastic performance, but no one expected us to beat them away. Maybe that’s where I get my optimism from. Pulling on a jersey, the belief in your team-mates that we could go and frustrate France and do well against anyone.
Everyone speaks about my goal – and I’m delighted about that, don’t get me wrong – but it was a fantastic performance.
Scotland grasping their chance
At the same time, I look back and wish we could have won against Georgia or Italy in previous campaigns where we were within touching distance. Georgia away was poor, and Italy at home was a missed opportunity.
I would have loved to have lined up for Scotland at a major tournament but I’m not a player who looks back and says “You know what, all this and all that?”. I am extremely grateful for everything I got.
But this time its different. It hasn’t always been pretty, but Steve Clarke’s team have shown they can hold their nerve, edge out teams, carve out goals and grind out results.
As a result, they have ended all those years of near misses, false hopes and glorious failures. Our time is here. This is Scotland’s moment.
Everyone outside of the country expects us to go and mess it up. We have what it takes to prove them wrong. And I believe we will.
Just you wait and see.
James McFadden was speaking to BBC Scotland’s Scott Mullen.