GARY MCALLISTER knows the importance of the first few weeks of 2018 for Scottish football.
The SFA will make a decision on who will be the next national team manager, and also whether, or not, to stay at Hampden Park beyond 2020.
The former Scotland skipper and Hall of Fame member is as patriotic as they come.
He would love to see the Dark Blues playing every home game in Mount Florida, and also to have a new manager who will take us to the European Championship Finals.
That would be our first major tournament since France 98, which Gary missed due to a cruciate ligament injury.
McAllister – capped 59 times for his country – told The Sunday Post: “I’m a traditionalist, and believe we should play all of our competitive international games at Hampden Park.
“It is also where all our domestic Cup Finals should be played.
“For me, Hampden Park is the home of Scottish football, and we mustn’t lose sight of that fact.
“I honestly can’t imagine Scottish football without Hampden Park. It gives us a proper identity as a football nation.
“I’m not privy to all of the movement behind the scenes, and the pros and cons of staying there or moving elsewhere.
“I accept there is business and finance involved in the decision-making process and that is vital.
“However, I would try to stay at Hampden, if it’s at all possible.
“I’m not saying Glasgow is a better city than Edinburgh or Aberdeen, or anywhere else. But it is the main footballing city in our country.
“It has the Old Firm, and Hampden is the most-identifiable place for all supporters.
“Whatever the outcome of the meetings between the SFA, Queen’s Park and the politicians in the next month or two, we must make sure we get things in place for the Euro 2020, qualifiers.
“We are hosting three games at Hampden during the Finals in 2020, and it would be such a major disappointment for the whole nation if we weren’t there.”
Almost from the moment Gordon Strachan was sacked, Northern Ireland manager, Michael O’Neill, has been the bookies’ favourite to succeed him.
The SFA have been criticised since for not making that a reality, but McAllister is in no immediate rush to see the appointment made.
“There appears to be a clear favourite at the moment, but we can’t be certain until someone is unveiled.
“Some people want the appointment made immediately, but I’m comfortable with it all at the moment.
“It’s about getting the right guy in, and on the right terms. If that means you have to wait a few extra weeks, then so be it.
“You must never rush these things because there is so much detail to pore over and digest.”
Another failed campaign saw Gordon Strachan heavily criticised, despite the late rally in Scotland’s form.
McAllister, a friend and former team-mate of the departed manager, believes Strachan has left a legacy.
“I believe the next person in will have a solid foundation to build from,” he continued.
“I thought we were very unlucky not to make the play-offs a couple of months ago. I thought we merited that.
“I was hugely disappointed for Gordon and the players.
“I know Gordon well and know how much he put into the campaign. I don’t feel he was given his just rewards.
“We can all look back and analyse, and there is no doubt the last-minute equaliser from Harry Kane in the home game against England and the 0-0 draw at home to Lithuania was very, very costly.
“But there is no point in looking back. We can’t change the past few months or, indeed, the past 19 or 20 years.
“It’s about what we do from here on in, and it’s about everyone trying their very best to get the key decisions right.”
O’Neill is the preferred choice of the SFA, but he is under contract to Northern Ireland, and they are determined to keep hold of him.
But O’Neill is keen to have a conversation with the Hampden hierarchy and hopes that permission will be granted for talks at some stage early in the New Year.
McAllister said: “I’ve no idea what is going to happen in terms of who the new manager is going to be.
“All I can say is that I wish the next man in the very best of luck and hope he succeeds.
“We are all proud Scots and we want to see our national team doing well and qualifying for tournaments.
“I was very fortunate to play in the 1992 and 1996 European Championship Finals for Scotland. They were amazing highlights in my career.
“I still can’t believe it’s been almost 20 years since we last qualified for a major tournament.
“That statement just rolls off the tongue, we’ve become so used to saying it.
“But take a step back and really think about that number – 20 years – and it’s so hard to take.
“So many good Scottish footballers have missed out, and that’s extremely unfortunate.
“Indeed, we’ve had some really good managers try, too. I would have loved to have seen Gordon, Alex McLeish or Walter Smith take us through a process into a major Finals.
“Let’s hope the next guy in can do it, and we have an outstanding chance of doing so.”
McAllister, who turned 53 on Christmas Day, knows the importance of winning home games in the next qualification process. Hampden Park will play a huge role in it all in the next two years.
He said: “Whatever happens, we know we’ll still be playing at Hampden Park for the next two years.
“If it is to be our last two years there, then let’s go out on an absolute high. Let’s see the stadium absolutely rocking.
“I loved playing there and have many happy memories of doing so.
“From scoring there in a Scottish Cup semi-final for Motherwell against Celtic in 1985, to also scoring my first Scotland goal there in a game against Switzerland in 1990 in a Euro 92 qualifier.
“The former was so memorable. I put us into the lead that day, but Tommy Burns equalised and we lost the replay 3-0.
“As a Scotland supporter, I was there in the summer of 1979 when we lost 3-1 to the then World Champions Argentina, who had a young Diego Maradona in their team.
“I was also there the night we beat France 2-0 in a qualifier for the 1990 World Cup Finals.
“Mo Johnston was sensational that evening, on a wet Hampden surface, and pretty much battered the French on his own.
“He was playing in France at the time for Nantes, and was in the form of his life.
“It wasn’t long after that I broke into the international team under Andy Roxburgh and Craig Brown, and it was such a pleasure and, of course, a privilege.
“To be a Scotland player was very, very special to me and my family.
“I was honoured. To be honest, the feeling is almost indescribable. There was just such a buzz from the whole thing.
“So I hope the present squad can taste that.
“They’ll never forget it and make a whole country ever so proud.”