JAMIE Mackie’s form up front for Plymouth Argyle in the English Championship back in the 2009/10 campaign caught the attention of the then Scotland manager Craig Levein and helped to earn him a call-up the following season.

By the time the Dorking-born winger cum striker made his debut for his adopted homeland in a Euro 2012 qualifier against the Czech Republic in Prague, though, he had moved on to Queens Park Rangers.

Could a player for The Pilgrims really ascend to the national squad? It is not beyond the realms of possibility. If Ryan Hardie maintains his current strike rate for the Home Park club he will be difficult for Steve Clarke to ignore.

Hardie, the former Rangers kid who had loan spells with Raith Rovers, Livingston and St Mirren before joining Blackpool in a permanent transfer four years ago, has netted four times for Plymouth in five appearances in the second tier down south this term.

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That is more than Che Adams of Southampton, Lyndon Dykes of Queens Park Rangers and Kevin Nisbet of Millwall – fellow Championship forwards who were all involved in the recent double header against Cyprus and England - have been on target in recent weeks.   

The 6ft 2in 26-year-old is, thanks to his goals against Huddersfield Town, Southampton, Birmingham City and Blackburn Rovers, currently the highest-scoring Scottish striker in British league football.

Glasgow Times: He appreciates, having spent the past four seasons in League Two and League One, he has to continue to perform in the weeks and months ahead to be considered by his country. Still, the lad who donned a dark blue jersey at every age-group level has lofty ambitions. Hardie for Scotland?

“I don’t see why not,” he said during a chat in the Home Park stands after a training session earlier this week. “I have always thought in the past that I have been playing at a level below where I deserve to be. I know I haven’t done anything to merit being in the Scotland squad. I need to keep doing what I am doing, working hard and scoring goals.

“But if I keep doing that then who knows what will happen. My ultimate goal is certainly to play for my country. I would love to do that. Steve Clarke has done an incredible job with the national team. The way we are playing just now is unbelievable. But if he ever called upon me I would be ready. I will be there if I am ever given the chance.”

Hardie found chances difficult to come by during the time that he spent at Rangers. He only played in 17 first team games in five years. Despite that, he looks back on his spell at his boyhood heroes with great fondness. He remains indebted to them for the coaching he received and guidance he was given.

He recalls how training and playing with three Scotland internationalists as a teenager made him quickly realise the high standards he had to attain if he was to succeed in the professional game.

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“I was pushed through quite quickly at Rangers,” he said. “I made my debut (against Falkirk in a League Cup tie away in 2014) when I was 17 when Ally McCoist was manager. It is one day that I will never forget.

“I got a couple of starts under Stuart McCall after that. But I was only getting the odd game. I had been given a sniff of first team football and I wanted some more. You get a different feeling, a different adrenalin. It is one that you get addicted to probably.

“I would play for the reserve team. Billy Kirkwood was quite a big influence. He did a lot for me. He advised me to go out on loan and most of the loans went well. I had a positive impact. I came back and played the odd game off the bench. But I wanted to play regularly so I could further my career.”

Glasgow Times: Hardie continued: “When I started, Kenny Miller, Kris Boyd and Lee Wallace were at Rangers. Training alongside players like that made me realise what it takes to be a top pro. The hard work and effort that they put in made me think, ‘Wow! That’s the level you need to be at every single day!’

“Kenny was a massive influence on my career. He probably guided me into a couple of loans. He was a big advocate of going out and getting some games. I had a lot of time for him. But all the senior pros in the changing room at that time were really good to me.”

Hardie realised there was little prospect of him establishing himself as first-choice striker at Rangers after Alfredo Morelos was signed from HJK Helsinki for £1m in the summer of 2017.

“He was just a maniac,” he said. “A maniac who loved to score goals. Even in training, all he wanted to do was score goals. On the pitch at the weekend, he just wanted to score goals. You could tell he would do well straight away. He went on and scored over 100 goals for them.

“You always feel you could have had more of a chance and more of a run. I was sure I could have had more of an impact if I had had more minutes. But I appreciated the managers were under a lot of pressure to get results. It is hard putting your faith in youngsters.

“I would never say anything bad about Rangers. I got the opportunity to live my dream by playing for the club I had supported as a youngster. And it kicked my career off as well. I look back on my time there with affection.”

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Being in and around Rangers during their financial meltdown and witnessing the unrest in the stands and boardroom power struggles in the years which followed were eye-opening for a youngster.

“I definitely went through a few managers,” he said. “McCoist, McCall, (Mark) Warburton, (Pedro) Caixinha and (Steven) Gerrard. But I never took to do with the off-field stuff. I was just a kid. The most important thing was just playing games and scoring goals. All I wanted to do was be out there on a Saturday.”

His desire to feature in the starting line-up on a weekly basis led to him signing for Blackpool. Unfortunately for him, Terry McPhillips, the manager who made the initial enquiry about him, was replaced by Simon Grayson before he arrived. He soon discovered that he did not fit into the new system and found himself frozen out.

Glasgow Times: Still, he refused to down tools and was rewarded for his positive attitude. “I would ask to play in the reserve games,” he said. “I just wanted to play, no matter what level it was. When I got picked up for Plymouth I was playing in a reserve game for Blackpool and their manager was there watching.

“Plymouth was the other end of the British isles. I didn’t know how far it was. But I moved up the road from Stranraer to Glasgow on my own when I joined Rangers at 15. I have always been away from home. It is something I have got used to.”

He agreed to go down to Devon, on loan initially, and has not had cause to regret his decision. He has been their leading scorer for the past two seasons and his goals helped them reach the EFL Trophy final at Wembley and win League One last term.

Hardie has now been involved in nearly 300 senior matches and believes he is a much more rounded as well a greatly improved player as a result of the vast experience he has accrued.

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“I was definitely naïve when I was young,” he said. “All I wanted to do was run in behind and score goals. I never thought about coming to link the play and setting up others, all I thought about was playing on the last shoulder and scoring goals.

“I have taken in a lot off of different managers. You couldn’t get any better than McCoist at Rangers. His motto was, ‘Get in the box!’ That is probably where all my running forward came from! I still see myself as a penalty box striker. If I get a chance in there I want to score. You have got to stick to your strengths. But I have worked a lot on my weaknesses. 

“Now I like to come in, especially in the shape we play in now, a 4-3-3. There is a lot of rotation. Now I like to drop in, get on the ball, play it to the wingers.  I have looked to strengthen my link up play a lot in training.

“I have played a lot of games for someone of my age. I have learned a lot about the game. I have different tricks to get on the ball, different tricks to move away from defenders. I have got a lot stronger physically. Experience has helped me a lot.”

Scotland has, like so many football nations, struggled to produce top-class strikers in the modern era. Maybe more of them should follow the path which Hardie has taken. He certainly recommends doing so.

Glasgow Times: “The most important thing for any youngster just now coming through is to play in as many adult games as they can,” he said. “It is a lot different to youth football. You are playing for livelihoods, you are playing for win bonuses. Some people rely on getting the win at the end of the week.

“Even the tactical elements of it are a lot different. It is a lot different to under-21 games or whatever. The pathway is there. The age-groups you play in coming up are brilliant and get you ready for it. But they are not the same as first team football.

“I have been through highs and lows. I went to Blackpool and had a real tough time. I had to get out of there. They only started me in something like five games in six months. There were a few things which made it difficult for me. It is part and parcel of football I suppose. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But I have got a good agent who pointed me in the right direction.”

Plymouth have made an excellent start in the Championship and are in 10th place in the table going into their match against Preston North End at Deepdale. Hardie has loved every minute of it. 

“The manager (Stephen Schumacher) puts the most detail into what we do,” he said. “The in-depth analysis that we do, on the opposition, on ourselves, is incredible. We dig out the negatives, we dig out the positives.

“The manager and I became quite close when he was assistant because I would do all my extras, my movement specifics and my link-up, with him. It could be harsh at times, but it has made me the player I am.

“The clubs in the Championship are massive, Leeds, Leicester, Southampton. They should be Premier League clubs. I grew up watching them. We are going to some special stadiums. It is a sell-out every week, no matter where we go. But I don’t get nervous, I take it as a positive. It is a chance to showcase what we can do. We feel comfortable, we don’t feel out of place.”

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Hardie has been helped by the constant presence of his partner Chloe on his journey. The couple now have a three-year-old son Arthur and he is enjoying fatherhood as well as his football.

“Plymouth was eight hours away from home,” he said. “Coming down here, though, was something that I was prepared to do. It is something that has matured me as a person as well as a player. But I had my missus with me as well. She has been with me from the start and deserves a lot of credit for where we have got to for putting up with my mood swings when things weren’t going my way.

“Arthur has just turned three. He is causing mayhem just now! He comes to the games with his ‘Daddy No 9’ strip on and is my biggest fan. When you go home in a mood after a loss he can cheer you up at the flick of switch. It is a blessing when you can take yourself away from the football sometimes. Everything I do now is for them.

“There is nothing better than going home after getting a goal in a game. When I come in the door, he shouts: ‘Daddy scored!’.”

Hearing Scotland supporters chant his name in future might just top it.

Glasgow Times: