HELENSBURGH man Gordon Howat found himself thrust into the national media spotlight last week – thanks to being the only Tartan Army footsoldier present for Scotland’s famous win over Serbia.

Gordon, and a handful of journalists, were the only ones cheering on the Scots at the Rajko Mitic Stadium at the Euro 2020 play-off last Thursday night.

And after BBC man Chris McLaughlin posted a picture on social media of Gordon and his saltire flag just a stone’s throw from the press box, the former pupil of John Logie Baird Primary and Hermitage Academy found his phone red-hot.

Newspapers, radio stations and websites demanded to find out just what it was like being the only Scotland fan watching on in person as Steve Clarke’s men secured a place in next summer’s finals, after a dramatic penalty shoot-out.

Gordon was able to be sure of his place thanks to his day job as a pitch consultant with STRI Group, whose clients include the stadium’s owners, Red Star Belgrade – or Crvena Zvezda, as they’re known in their homeland.

And he admitted it was no coincidence that his work diary included a visit to check over the stadium’s turf on the day of the crunch tie.

“I pay them regular visits to give them advice on helping their pitch cope with Serbia’s hot summers and cold and wet winters,” Gordon told the Advertiser.

“I told them well in advance that we would need to do a visit on November 12 – they were genuinely due a visit from us, but this was Scotland’s biggest game in a generation, so there was only one date when it was ever going to happen!”

Gordon’s professional duties, though, meant that he wasn’t solely focused on the Scots’ performance – and the end result.

“Red Star don’t have a lot of money,” he continued, “and their pitch wasn’t in perfect condition – and on the day of the game it was pouring down from the heavens.

“I was just desperately hoping nobody would slip, especially when it got to the shoot-out – well, nobody Scottish anyway!”

Gordon’s work isn’t restricted to football pitches either – the STRI Group’s client list also includes the Longchamps racecourse in Paris, home of the famous Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, and Royal Troon Golf Club, where he was to be found on Monday after the media scrum around his Belgrade visit had begun to die down.

But his CV includes plenty of work very close to home, too.

“We do a lot of work with UEFA, and we worked on the 2018 World Cup in Russia as well,” he said.

“But it’s not all international stuff - I did a feasibility study for Helensburgh Rugby Club in the past, and I’ve done something similar for the East King Street public pitches in the town as well.”

Gordon’s work also meant he was given official dispensation from the UK Government not to quarantine for two weeks on his return home from Serbia.

He’s now thoroughly enjoying being back home with Mary Louise and the couple’s daughters, Lottie and Susa - whose names were on Gordon’s flag in Belgrade, and who travelled with him to Russia for the World Cup two years ago.

Lottie and Susa are well on the way to being fully signed-up members of the Tartan Army, having also been in the stands for the start of Steve Clarke’s reign as manager against Cyprus in June 2019.

And Gordon’s thoughts are already turning, as a Scotland fan if not a pitch consultant, to those big games with the Czech Republic, England and Croatia next summer.

“Now I’m planning to be the Scotland mascot!” he joked.

“Just like everybody else, now I’m hoping it all goes ahead next summer and that fans will be able to attend – and I’ve a feeling it will - and I think it will.

“I had faith on Thursday. We’ve not been that far off qualifying on a few occasions, and by the law of averages it was sure to happen eventually.

“It was certainly a better story than being the only Scotland fan in the ground to see us lose five-nil!”