THE backbone of England's bid to qualify for next year's World Cup finals in France is, unusually, Scottish in the rugged shape of John Gorman. Eyebrows were raised when England boss Glenn Hoddle gave Gorman the nod shortly after he was appointed prior to the Euro '96 Championship. But they have survived the test of time, in more ways than one, and make a good team, these two, friends leading England forward amid a mood of renewed optimism about the state of the national team. Hoddle takes most of the plaudits, of course, and the brickbats, too, but Gorman is the support he could not do without. He has been through thick and thin with Hoddle since the day they met, when the England coach was a callow 19-year-old at Tottenham Hotspur. Later, Gorman helped him through the knee injury that had threatened his playing career and backed him up during the cutting of his managerial teeth at Swindon Town. ''We have got a relationship that is more like brothers than anything else,' Hoddle said. 'We are very close on most things. It is almost as if he knows what I am thinking and I know what he is thinking. It is uncanny.' Gorman, 48, born in industrial West Lothian, is good at enthusiastic encouragement, at making others feel good, making them confident. It is his forte, his gift. It courses through him. It defines his character. He is one of football's decent men, honesty personified, an oasis of sincerity in an increasingly cynical game. Now, even the initial doubts that some seemed to harbour about the worth of his role have disappeared, and Gorman has won the respect he deserves. Gorman said: 'My main priority is to assist Glenn in whatever way I can. I try to think of things before he thinks of them and implant them in his mind. He always discusses everything before a decision is made and it helps to disagree, to throw things out at each other. I tend to dig at him and keep putting my own point of view and he's always willing to listen before he makes up his mind. 'When I first got the job, I was a bit perturbed because I could see people looking at me in training with a sort of quizzical look on their faces, thinking 'what has he done to deserve to be Glenn's No 2, working with these big names?'' In fact, Gorman is eminently qualified for his role. He has come up the hard way, shirking nothing, serving a solid managerial apprenticeship at football outposts such as Gillingham and Leyton Orient. His playing career was varied, too, starting at Celtic, moving on to Carlisle United and Spurs before a serious knee injury forced him to the United States in 1979 to end his playing days with Tampa Bay Rowdies and Phoenix Inferno. It was when he was at Orient that he went to visit Hoddle in Monaco as he tried to recover from a knee injury of his own. Hoddle began to think about coaching, too, while Gorman was there, and when he was appointed manager of Swindon, he appointed Gorman his assistant. When Hoddle moved on to Chelsea, Gorman took on the Herculean task of trying to keep Swindon in the Premier League, and earned widespread admiration for the way he stuck steadfastly to his principles of playing neat, passing football. 'Being the manager, the No 1 at Swindon, helped me to find out a great deal about myself,' Gorman said. 'After being my own boss and realising that I needed a good assistant, I know I make a good assistant myself. I feel completely at ease being a No 2, even though my destiny is linked to someone else's. 'Some people, mostly people in Scotland, have asked why I am doing this job and when I am coming back to Scotland, but they never said that when I was at Gillingham and Orient. 'I have surprised myself how passionate I have become. I felt so proud when we beat Poland in May, I could not have been any more English. I could not have been prouder if I had been born in the Home Counties.'