Standard practice when being called up to a play for a country other than your birth is to stress your heritage, your love of your adopted land and how its blood courses through your veins and its culture through your mind, despite the terrible luck that saw you exit the womb elsewhere.
Such a stance is a little tenuous from Bournemouth winger Matt Ritchie, though, as Scotland’s latest call-up has admitted that he has never actually been to Scotland. Edinburgh Castle, Loch Ness, the Ibrox derby, the rugged beauty of the Highlands: seeing them on TV’s about as good as it’s gotten for the 25-year-old.
In his defense, Ritchie was born, and plays his soccer, on England’s south coast, some 450 miles from the Scottish capital. Working against him: Britain’s extensive road, rail and air transportation network and soccer players’ generous summer vacation allowance.
“I’ve still got relatives in Scotland but my aunties and uncles always seem to come down here to see my nan and granddad so I haven’t actually been to Scotland. But I’ve got family there and I’m sure they will come to the games if I’m involved,” he said, according to the Daily Mail.
Ritchie qualifies through his Scotland-born father and is presumably ordering kilts and haggis online at this very moment in order to boost his McCredentials. He said that when he was contacted by Scotland manager Gordon Strachan, it “was a massive surprise and at first I thought it was a prank call.”
Now he’s on the roster for matches this month against Northern Ireland and Gibraltar, so will get to visit his adopted homeland, since the Northern Ireland game is in Glasgow. He might want to take a camera and a Lonely Planet guide.
The Scottish press put a more Tartan-positive spin on his call-up, recounting how Strachan was fully convinced that Ritchie “feels Scottish” when they spoke on the phone.
Still, Ritchie’s perfectly entitled to play for Scotland under the rules, and if the team’s doing well, no one much seems bothered where the players come from. Jurgen Klinsmann’s penchant for German-Americans aside, among the most famous exploiters of citizenship regulations is former Ireland manager, and England 1966 World Cup winner, Jack Charlton, who built a team dubbed the “Plastic Paddies” by some in the British press.
It’s possible to become an Irish citizen through descent from a grandparent, and only four of the starting XI as Ireland lost 1-0 to Italy in the 1990 World Cup quarter-finals were born in Ireland.
In a famous, though factually-disputed, story, one of the substitutes that day, England-born striker Tony Cascarino, managed to amass a then-record 88 caps for the country despite later claiming in his autobiography that he was never eligible and that he carried on playing for them even after being turned down for a passport when he’d only made three appearances.