By James Rowe – @JamesRoweNL – Chief Football Writer You are currently in your second spell as manager of Raith Rovers. How would you describe the club and what do you believe are the challenges of managing there?
“It is very similar from the first time I took over at Raith Rovers in November 2006. The club were then second from bottom of what is now named Scottish League One, and we went on to finish third that year and obtain a play-off position.
“When I returned to the club just over a year ago we were certainly not second from bottom and the expectation levels are still very high because Raith Rovers are one of the bigger clubs in League One. They look upon themselves as being a Scottish Championship club who often fight for promotion, and history will tell you that they often do.
“We currently find ourselves in the Championship, having won promotion last season, and look forward to the season ahead.”
You had a season managing Heart of Midlothian. How do you look back on managing a club such as Hearts and do you have any particular highlights?
“Yes you are correct in that I had seven months as manager. I left Hearts in 2006 to join Raith Rovers and I was at Raith Rovers until July 2012. Then after five and a half years at the club I went back to Hearts as manager.
“Previously I was at Hearts for eleven years as youth team coach, reserve coach, caretaker manager, you name it, I did it.
“I was not a successful player in that I did not play at a high level, but my plan was to go into coaching from youth level and then built up in order to gain a reputation.
“Upon my return to Hearts, as manager, they had a lot of financial problems with players not being paid, and that was ongoing for a couple of seasons. Things had reached an unsustainable level wehre they may go out of business, so it was maybe the wrong time to be at the club.
“But I still felt I did a good job in my brief of bringing through young players after losing many players who had won the Scottish Cup the previous season in order to cut the wage bill down, and to some extent we were successful.
“We reached the Scottish League Cup Final but unfortunately I did not last long enough to actually lead the team out in the cup final. We played a few big European matches against Liverpool, who at that particular time were managed by Brendan Rodgers.
“We lost 1-0 at home due to an own goal and we drew 1-1 at Anfield, and those games were big occasions with great atmospheres. To play against a team of Liverpool’s calibre were probably the biggest games that I have managed in terms of level. Luis Suarez scored late in the game to put Liverpool through.”
You mentioned that you did not play at a high level during your playing career. As far as I am aware you played for Berwick Rangers and you had a spell at the youth team at Bolton Wanderers. How do you look back on your playing career?
“When I was 14 I signed an S-form, which was a schoolboy form with Dundee United around about 1975. I got let go by Dundee United when I was 16 and I signed for Bolton Wanderers, playing in different youth teams and reserve teams, and I was there for 18 months.
“As I little boy all I wanted to do was become a professional footballer, and from that point of view I managed to succeed in that being my job.
“Unfortunately, it did not quite work out and I returned to Scotland to play part-time football with Berwick Rangers. Frank Connor was the manager and I spent three years at the club making more than 50 appearances. I managed to score a few goals too as a utility player playing in different positions, and because I was two-footed I would generally get put in a left-sided position.
“After my time at Berwick Rangers I went to what would be the equivalent of non-league football in Scotland with Whitehill Welfare, and after that I started coaching at the age of 26, at youth level and local teams level, and building up a reputation by doing well with these teams.
“Then in 1995 Jim Jefferies and Billy Brown at Hearts asked me to become their under 16s manager, then I moved on to coaching the under 18s team three years later.
“As I say, I then went on to stay at Hearts for 11 years in different coaching roles including assistant manager and caretaker manager of the first team. Only in November 2006 did I move on to Raith Rovers.”
Finally, John, you have accrued a lot of experience as a youth team coach and now a manager. How would you describe your coaching and managerial philosophy?
“I like to play good football and everyone has an opinion on what good football is. I like a passing game but not at a slow pace. I like it to be at a high tempo, and I like to press high and see the ball moving on the pitch.
“I love to see attacking options and players passing in different combinations on the edge of the box and putting crosses in.
“Obviously you have to have discipline within your team and you have to win games as a manager. It would be nice to win every game 5-4 but that is unrealistic. I believe that organization within a team is also very important, but all in all, I like nice and easy on the eye type of football.
“My teams always have to adapt in terms of attack and defence and I believe as a manager that you have to man manage well and delegate.”
Bobby Williamson spoke exclusively to Callum McFadden for Football CFB
Last time with Bobby Williamson we spoke about his early managerial career, his time at Kilmarnock and what it’s like to win the Scottish Cup in your first year of management. But there is much more to come in Bobby’s story. In the next part of his interview Bobby talks about his fondness of bringing through youth, including one Scott Brown, and managing Hibernian.
One of the things that we found out about last time was how Bobby brought through a plethora of players at Kilmarnock in his year of Scottish Cup triumph and he went on to promote youth throughout his career, so what are his thoughts on mixing that youth with experienced players, does it benefit the side and can you be to over-reliant on those youth players.
‘When I was at a club like Kilmarnock, right from the very start they were bringing in Trialists who to be honest weren’t much better than the players that we already had. So, I made the decision that they would have to be a special player if I was going to bring them in from abroad, we had a lot of players who would come in from across the continent and they’d be disappointing. So, from my experience in youth, what I did was start to turn more of an emphasis onto promoting youth players. I was able to convince young players and parents that they would get an opportunity in the first teams and luckily enough for me some of those players took that message on board and managed to break through, but, the truth is, a lot of lads didn’t. Whether that be through injury of personal choices but that said some of the players did manage to grasp the opportunity and when they come into the squad it can only ever be a good thing.’
After leaving Killie for Hibernian the setting for Bobby would have been very different. What he did at Kilmarnock essentially set them up to put them into the position that they are in today but as he arrived at Hibs he was coming to a team that hadn’t won a game in 18 matches! The feeling around the club must have been the polar opposite to what he had experienced at Killie?
‘When I first arrived at Hibs the first thing that I remember thinking was that there were far too many players. And it was obvious that this was leading to personality clashes all around the club. I remember I walked in one day and counted the different countries and there must have been over 10. You had the French guys in one corner, Spanish in the other, South American, Scotland, Irish, Canadian, and dealing with that is very difficult. Almost all of them could understand the Scottish language to a certain extent, but it’s a huge challenge. You’ve got to get to know all of them, you’ve got be understanding of all their different cultures and I found out about that even more when I came over to Africa but it was very difficult because you had a lot of experienced players in the dressing room who couldn’t understand the reason as to why they were the way they were.’
One of the things that Bobby is most well-known for was his faith that he put into youth players, especially at Hibs. He brought through players like Scott Brown, Rayden, O’Conner, Thomson, Whittaker and others. But was it obvious to Bobby that they were going to make it, or did they need nurturing first?
‘Well for a lot of the players, especially the ones that you’ve named their you could look at them and very quickly realise that they were ready for first team standard football. You knew that most of them weren’t ever going to have to wait too long that’s for sure. So, there’s that, but also when you are at a club and you are bringing through Youth players, the fans really appreciate it and get behind it. There isn’t a player that a fan can get behind more than one who has come through the ranks at their club. And then beyond that, bringing through those players and just bringing them into first team training can act as such a large motivating factor for other players, because suddenly you have competition, and a lot of players need that. But no, to answer your question, you can see the p[layers with the talent it’s just whether or not they have the right attitude to use it.’
‘Yes, I had enjoyed my time as a player and always felt that a move into England would be comfortable for me. But, things happened at Hibs which left me in a situation where I felt that when the opportunity arises that I would make a move, so then to get offered a job that far South, in a lower league, I thought maybe this would be a bit of a risk but I’ve always thought that I would rather regret something that I tried rather than regret something I never did.’
Having already learned of his willingness to move and looking at his quote where he wants no regrets for not doing something, then it is easy to understand how the next chapter of Bobby Williamson’s story came about. Now that we’ve heard his escapades in the UK next time, we investigate Bobby’s famous move to one of the most passionate footballing continents in the world, where Bobby went on to manage at club and International level. Next time we explore, Bobby’s African adventure!
You signed for FC Dordrecht in 2019. How are you enjoying your time at the club and how would you describe a club such as FC Dordrecht?
Yes, I have enjoyed my time at the club but unfortunately I have not played as many games as I would have liked due to sustaining an injury and I was subsequently operated on my groin where I was out for quite some time. I am now a free agent and I can go where I please. I arrived at the club with the intention of playing regularly and FC Dordrecht is a great club and is a very relaxed environment.
There is not much pressure as we know that FC Dordrecht will not be up there fighting for the Dutch First Division title although they may have such ambitions in future. The opportunity to play for such a nice club appealed to me and I saw it as an advantage to sign for the club and play many games but things worked out differently to what I imagined. I imagined being able to play every game but unfortunately that did not last long due to sustaining an injury.
You came through the youth setup and debuted for SC Heerenveen. How do you look back on your time at the club and did you learn anything in particular that stood you in good stead for your career as a professional footballer?
Yes, Absolutely. I always believed it to be an honour to play for SC Heerenveen as I am also from the area and that region of the Netherlands and I started out in the youth academy at a young age and I learned a lot from many coaches and such an experience has made me the man I am today. I managed to forge a good bond with the club and SC Heerenveen supporters and it is a club that I will always hold close to my heart. I was treated really well by the people at the club and I will never say a bad word about SC Heerenveen.
You played abroad in Italy for Foggia. How do you look back on your time abroad and at the club and do you have any highlights or special memories?
Yes, I could write a whole book about my time at Foggia and what I experienced in Italy. The then manager Giovanni Stroppa brought me to the club and he and the club showed a lot of confidence in me and after a period of sitting on the bench and awaiting my chance I got it towards the end of the Serie B season and I played five games in a row I also won an award the best player at the time of Serie B and I also signed a contract extension.
I played well against Carpi and I even saved a few penalties. Shortly after that other clubs became interested in signing me and Foggia were asking too much money in terms of transfer fee and then a new manager arrived and he had a different approach and he made his own choices. I will never shy away from learning a new language but you must also have a click with a manager as a player and I did not have that with Gianluca Grassadonia and unfortunately things did not work out.
A lot of things happened both on and off the pitch, my car was stolen by the mafia and everybody knew where my car was but me and then I was offered to buy my own car back for €10,000 which I was prepared to do but then the manager advised me against doing that because ”You will only get the skeleton and the car itself will have been stripped” So I decided not to do it.
If we won a game there were always celebrations and if we lost you had to watch your car or not enter into the city and that shows the passion and experience that Italian footballers have and how they think about football and it is something that is awesome in my opinion and it is something I have come to admire. I will never say a bad word about my time in Italy but the experience could have been even more beautiful but due to circumstances. I would have liked to play more games although I look back on my time in Italy with very positive memories and I have come to appreciate how Italian fans think about football and that is something that I view as very important.
You have accrued experience in the Netherlands and also in Italy, could you say who are among the best players you have played alongside so far in your career?
Yes, If I can turn it around and say that the best player I have played with is Hakim Ziyech. We played together at SC Heerenveen. If you see how he has performed in recent years and that he has now made a wonderful transfer to Chelsea FC in the Premier League. I have also played with Alfreð Finnbogason who is now playing for FC Augsburg in the Bundesliga and he is also a great striker but if there is one player that stands out in that respect then it is Hakim Ziyech. I am really intrigued about his transfer to the Premier League and the high expectations at Chelsea FC.
I can imagine in your position as a goalkeeper that you have come up against some difficult opponents through the years, could you say which opponents have stood out for you in terms of talent and ability?
For me personally as a goalkeeper I treat every game I play like a final and I do not view particular players on the pitch as stand out opponents and I view it as eleven against eleven so I do not pay much attention to big players. I take each game as it comes and it would be very difficult for me to pick a specific opponent from the games that I have played through the years. I also feel that I would be selling my other opponents short by picking out certain opponents. I much prefer to look at myself and that is something that I always do. When I play a match I am facing eleven opponents on the pitch because it is not just about one player for example.
Finally Andries, could you say who are the coaches and managers who have meant a lot to you and have played a key role in your development as a professional footballer?
Yes, One manager that gave me a lot of confidence was Johnny Janssen at SC Heerenveen and he helped me to improve my level. At NAC Breda I worked together with Jelle ten Rouwelaar who is currently goalkeeping coach at Anderlecht in Belgium. I learned a lot from him and he also gave me a lot of confidence and I am grateful to him and I would also like to mention Giovanni Stroppa at Foggia he was in particular tactically very strong. He had a great way of playing football.
At Ajax in the Netherlands for example the careful football they play starts at the back and Giovanni played in a way with a lot of passion and will and he also had a very good career playing for among others AC Milan and Lazio and he wanted to play good football and I was always charmed by the way that he thought about football and he would make his thoughts and methods known to his players and the players would take it on board and go out on the pitch and perform well because they knew of the career that he had and that he knew what he was talking about.
Former Rangers Manager Ally McCoist couldn’t care less about the background of his potential signings, as long as they were of sufficient quality to enhance his team, saying: “It’s 2013, I couldn’t give a monkey’s. I’d sign anyone from anywhere.”
However, even in 2013, Jon Daly recalled on Football CFB that not everyone was prepared to take that view.
Jon recalls a letter arriving at his family home and being read by his wife BEFORE he had even joined Rangers
Daly said: “I am Catholic because I am born into the religion, I am not a practising Catholic.
Religion is a big big issue with certain people and certain individuals, but it is not with me.
“I am not bothered by people’s religions or where they are from. I view it through my own lens, which is how I do a lot of things.
“Obviously it caused issues for certain people because I did play there.
“I actually remember coming home to my house after the end of season after being at Dundee United.
“I had signed for Rangers, gone away on holiday with the family, gone back to Ireland to see my own family, then come back to the house and walked in carrying all the suitcases.
My wife was there reading this letter, and she was boiling. I said ‘are you alright love?’, and she was shaking her head.
“I walked over and said ‘give me a look’.
“It was a letter someone had sent to Dundee United that they had forwarded on to my home address from a person saying how disappointed they were – and I’m putting it politely – that I had signed for Rangers.
“The letter said that I was this and I was that. And my family would be disgusted with me etc etc.”
“The fact of the matter is that my dad was quite ill at the time and he was over the moon that I got the chance to play for a club like Rangers.
“My family were over the moon that a club like Rangers wanted me to play for them.
“I was over the moon to go and play for Rangers.
“Certain people in this world can be quite narrow-minded and if you let them affect your decisions and your judgement, you are not going to make the ones that you think are the right ones for you.
“There were a number of people who got in touch, whether it was letters sent to Dundee United getting forwarded on or getting sent to the training ground.
“I used to have a great laugh with the boys reading these letters.
“But by the end I just said to Stevie on the front desk ‘if there are any letters which come for me just open them and if they are of that nature just put them in the bin’.
“I don’t need negativity in my life.
“Unfortunately signing there, that happened. And it came with it.
“But it doesn’t cloud my experience with the club or leave me having any negative feeling for it.”
Written by Gavin Blackwell – @GavinBlackwel11 – Vastly experienced football physio
In the close season of 1966, Middlesbrough Football Club appointed Jimmy Headrige to the club’s backroom staff.
Such appointments are more common now at this time of year across football, and also often happen with the appointment of a new manager. In the last three years, half of the Premier Leagueteams have either changed their doctor or physio on the back of a new manager being appointed.
But back to Jimmy. Born in Glasgow in 1939, Jim served in the Parachute Regiment during his national service. He played professional football for Clydebank and it was at this time that he first got interested in the treatment of sports injuries.
Forced to retire at a young age with a severe knee injury, Jim wrote a letter to Middlesbrough’s medical officer and vice chairman Dr Neil Phillips asking if there were any positions for an assistant trainer. His own injury, he wrote, had given him a great interest in the treatment of injuries and he was now seeking employment in that sphere, with a football club.
Harold Shepherdson had now become assistant manager to Stan Anderson and Micky Fenton had retired leaving physiotherapist George Wright was the only member of the treatment room staff.
Doctor Phillips replied to Jimmy’s letter, informing him they may be interested in offering him a position and inviting him to attend an interview. He and Wright spent a day at the club with Jimmy and although he had no experience, they were both very impressed with him as a person. More importantly, Wright believed he could work well with Jimmy on a day-day basis and was prepared to act as a tutor and train him in the ways of a qualified physiotherapist. For his part, Jimmy was keen to learn.
Doctor Phillips recommended to the board that Jimmy be employed as reserve team trainer. It was one of the best appointments he made at the club.
Jimmy’s enthusiasm for learning every detail of all aspects of sports medicine, was exceptional and George was experienced and well qualified to teach him – the two worked well together.With Doctor Phillips the club had three staff looking after and caring for players’ health, injuries and overall welfare.
It provided the Middlesbrough manager and players with an exceptional medical service and introduced a strategy of care for all players, routine medical examinations, clinical examinations and heart and lung function tests included.
During his time with Middlesbrough Jim saw Service in Divisions One, Two and Three – and the Central League During his two years as reserve team trainer-coach. He was part of manager Stan Anderson and Jack Charlton’s staff who he would win the second division title and with-it promotion to Division One in 1973/74 season.
Blood tests would be carried out at regular intervals, immunisations and vaccinations would routinely be kept up to date. Prevention of injury was the focus, with training warm up sessions to include stretching exercises a novelty in those days.
Injured players would have a personalised, active, full time programme of rehabilitation. No injured players would have afternoons off, they would be in for treatment. Special diets for the players were introduced and stretch routines – unheard of at the time.
Jimmy went on to complete all the necessary qualifications in both coaching and physiotherapy. After two years he was promoted to first team trainer and physiotherapist. Becoming the youngest physio, aged just 28, to hold such a responsible position in the Football League.
The programme notes following his appointment read: ‘George Wright, our trainer Physiotherapist, has taken up an appointment with Arsenal F.C. and takes with him our best wishes for the future. To his successor, Jim Headrige, we offer our congratulations on a well-deserved promotion. A quiet scot Jim has impressed Manager and players alike with his approach to all aspects of the game and we are confident that with his qualifications and football know-how the “back-stage” is in competent hands.’
He worked on injured players seven days a week, morning and afternoon to help them get much closer to match fitness. They also had a first-class medical centre consisting of an emergency medical room, a private consulting room and separate treatment area with a remedial gymnasium.
In 1966, the building of such a medical centre at a football ground was considered quite revolutionary. So much so that Dr Phillips was asked by the FA to write an article on its development for their magazine. It was also suggested to him other clubs could follow the development.
During his time at Middlesbough, a young apprentice Alan Smith broke his leg and whilst out injured, and being guided back to fitness by Headrige, he also developed an insight into the treatment and management of injuries.
The Scot encouraged Alan to become a trainer and physio and to complete the necessary courses. He went on to serve Darlington, Blackpool, Rotherham United and Sheffield Wednesday, along with England U21s and the senior team at four major tournaments.
Jim had by this time become one of the main tutors for the FA and trained many a physio both professional and in non-league, and inspired many me included.
The backroom staff in a football club not only have specific tasks but also plays apart and creating a dressing room-atmosphere which win lose or draw produces a spirit of determination so important if a club is to achieve success.
It must also ensure that things run smoothly in all conditions like his Gaffer Jack Charlton said following the 1973/74 promotion year; “I told Jimmy Headrige that I wanted to know everything that was going on. Some people think that managers don’t need to know everything but I wanted to know the lot and often he would come up to me and say I think you should have a word with such and such a player or this player needs sorting out. That way everything is nipped in the because I knew what was going on.”
He would later move on to the Arab Emirates to take a physio coaching role, before returning to England and joining Bolton Wanderers in 1978. During his time at Bolton, Jim dealt with many serious injuries that included a significant knee injury to former Everton and England midfield player Peter Reid who paid an emotional tribute to his Physio on receiving the P.F.A Player of The Year Award In 1985.
“I would like to thank my first club Bolton Wanderers who are going through a sticky patch at the moment but they will be back. I had a lot of injuries at Bolton and without the help of one-manPhysio there Jim Headrige, the late Jim Headrige I will not be standing hear with this award.” He then lifted the trophy looked to the sky and sad thanks Jim.
In 1981 very soon after joining Manchester United, Jim was head hunted by Ron Atkinson who made him one of his best signings when he persuaded Jim to move to Manchester United. “Jim was the best Physio in the game— and I mean no disrespect whatsoever to the man who replaced him, or indeed the man who succeeded him” said Ron.
Sadly, though I’m just a few short weeks, and days before the new season was due to start, he collapsed whilst training at the Cliff aged 42. When the news broke Alan Smith who was now Physio for Blackpool and United’s opponents in a final pre-season game that evening at Bloomfield Road. Smith was to experience the raw emotion of events. Looking forward to meeting hismentor when the sad news broke. He was asked if he could look after both teams only the Manchester United Physio Jimmy Headrige had passed away that morning.
In a benefit game against Bolton Wanderers held on the 24th of August 1982, exactly 12 months following the tragedy, Atkinson paid this glowing tribute to his Physio in the match day Programme. When I first arrived at Old Trafford, I asked for, and was granted my own staff around me. Jim was at the top of my shopping list, I’m proud to say he accepted the invitation. Since his untimely death. I’ve been asked on more than one occasion, just what was it about him that made him so good? Obviously, as I said earlier, he was for me the best in the game, but more than that, he had this tremendous ability to get on with people. Soon after he arrived here, we were off on a pre-season tour of Norway, and to see experienced international players in such awe of the man was remarkable. I had ounce before tried to get Jim to join me at the Hawthorns. On that occasion he turned me down. He had only been with us for a few short weeks together here at Old Trafford. I cannot recall a man, at any level who so quickly won the respect and admiration of his colleagues. Make no mistake, Jim was the best Physio in the game — and I mean no disrespect whatsoever, to the man who replaced him, or indeed the man who succeeded him.
In the words of Jimmy’s wife Margaret, it was ‘The fulfilment of a lifetime ambition.’ He left Margaret and three children Karen, Lynn and Gary. Jimmy Headrige was regarded as pioneer in the treatment of injuries, rehabilitation and fitness. Developing an interest in injury prevention.
In 2015, I was able to recognise him when his family was presented with a posthumous award by The Football Medical Association for Jimmy’s outstanding contribution to FootballMedicine. Receiving the award from Ron Atkinson was a poignant moment for all. The fact that the entire room rose to give a standing ovation as the award was presented said it all.
The is no question that for many, not least Jim’s family, this was the highlight of the conference awards evening. It was a fitting tribute as well that the FMA recognised a colleague who is “gone but not forgotten.”
“Burnley had just been relegated with us (QPR) and I had always liked from a distance and how they did it,”
“There was a very socialist ethos to their club, the team and his (Dyche’s) managerial style which I felt would work with me.
I spoke to Burnley and was due to go and meet Dychey and then West Ham came in who were in the Europa League.”
Barton had a house in London which he and his partner had worked hard to renovate and the pull of staying in the capital prompted the midfielder to agree terms with the Hammers.
“My missus wanted to live in London. West Ham came in and I thought great because I could commute.”
“Then the fans kicked up a fuss after I had done a medical and agreed everything. They were saying I wasn’t the kind of person they wanted to sign and I think the club got cold feet and pulled the deal.”
“I met Burnley two days later and went to Sean Dyche’s house in Northampton and I just thought this fella is proper.”
“I just wanted to enjoy my footy, play in a boss team with a good set of lads who just want to have a go. “
“QPR had affected me and I wanted to be part of a group that was growing in the same direction on and off the pitch.”
“Dychey promised me that and he asked for certain things from me and I said I could deliver them no problem and we shook hands.”
Dyche famously cooked Barton an omelette while the two talked football and Barton, like so many other Burnley players past and present, speaks highly of the Turf Moor boss.
“It is one of the few meetings I have ever had with a football manager that not only has he delivered on his word but he has gone above and beyond it,” added Barton.
The Campbell’s Footballs Scottish Football Review of the week
Written by Dr. Grant Campbell – @stato_grant
The host of Campbell’s Footballs Dr. Grant Campbell has been casting his eye over an incident packed week in Scottish Football, giving his comments on some of the major talking points over the weekend’s matches. Feel free to discuss and debate the views on various social media channels.
HAKEEM ODOFFIN – AN UNLIKELY TALISMAN FOR ACCIES
Hakeem Odoffin (pictured) is becoming an unlikely talisman for Accies!
The Hamilton defender found the net in the final fifteen minutes on Saturday to secure a vital point at home to Dundee United. Brian Rice’s side showed tremendous character yet again to come back from behind to take something from a game. Indeed, that man Odoffin’s goals have gained Accies over half of their points haul so far and gave Hamilton their first home point of the season as a consequence.
As for Dundee United, I think they’ll be disappointed not to have seen the game out after leading for so much of it thanks to Lawrence Shankland’s second goal in as many matches. They looked impressive throughout with Logan Chalmers, in particular, proving a real threat. However, Micky Mellon’s side were wasteful in good positions and paid the price for failing to kill the game off.
I get the feeling Brian Rice will have been much the happier of the two managers on Saturday.
HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS AGAIN FOR LIVINGSTON
Gary Holt’s men are off the bottom and deservedly so after a very good win against St Johnstone on Saturday.
The damage was done in just under two first half minutes at the Tony Macaroni Stadium as Scott Tiffoney and Alan Forrest got the goals to gain the Lions a second win of the season to follow up their win against Ross County a fortnight ago. Both Tiffoney (pictured) and Forrest have had inconsistent starts at Livingston so far but they both found much renewed form in this game. In fact, the Lions were much better as a team on Saturday.
They played well last week at Celtic Park and I felt if they could put more performances in like that they would take more points off sides in the league. Their home form will be crucial if they are going to stay up. Their away form has been atrocious so they still have that massive issue to sort out.
Nevertheless, home seems to be where the heart is for Holt’s men and he will, I am sure, be delighted to have got a much needed three points in what is still a very tight battle at the wrong end of the Scottish Premiership table.
St Johnstone (pictured) just cannot get going this season.
This was a fourth defeat in five for the Perth Saints and in all of those games they have failed to score. In fact, Callum Davidson’s side have only scored four times so far in the Scottish Premiership. They don’t concede much but when they do, you just don’t seem them being able to break teams down and get back into things.
It’s clear Davidson’s men have problems at this early stage in the season. I’ve said before they need to go into the market for a striker because their front line is not cutting the mustard right now. They are creating ample chances but their strike force is not finishing them off.
It’s a frustrating time for the McDiarmid Park side and things don’t get easier for them as they host Celtic next week. You cannot see them picking anything up off the Champions, even if they have not been anyway near their best themselves. In the past, St Johnstone have usually been whipping boys for Celtic. The Perth Saints haven’t scored a goal against them since 2017 and haven’t beaten them since 2016.
The omens are not good for Davidson’s men and they will be hoping to find some confidence and goals quickly otherwise it could be a long campaign.
SETTLED KILLIE FLYING BUT BUDDIES PROP UP REAR
Whisper it quietly: Kilmarnock are looking decent just now.
Nicke Kabamba’s goal (pictured) was the difference on Saturday as Alex Dyer’s men recorded their third win in four matches with a 1-0 win over St Mirren. What was so good about this particular result and performance though was the fact that goalkeeper Danny Rogers in goal did not have a save to make.
Dyer’s side has a fairly familiar feel to it nowadays. Even without Eamonn Brophy who was sent off last week against Accies, Kilmarnock have a settled structure to their team. I have often felt that they will not lose many games with Alan Power and Gary Dicker as the engine room in midfield and with Kabamba, Chris Burke and Greg Kiltie in attack, Dyer’s men are beginning to show that they are a very capable side of causing problems to many sides in the division. They also have Youssouf Mulumbu and suspended Brophy to come back into the side as well should they want.
On the flip side, it is now five straight defeats for Jim Goodwin’s St Mirren. I said at the start of the season that I thought they would go down this year. This was based on the fact that they do not score nearly enough goals. In fact, only St Johnstone have scored fewer than St Mirren so far. Goodwin’s sides are also renowned for being solid defensively but the Buddies have conceded 13 goals so far in their first 9 matches with only Livingston conceding more. They have Aberdeen away next week, before three home Premiership matches in a row against Motherwell, Hamilton and Dundee United respectively, with two Betfred Cup games sandwiched in between.
Goodwin’s side, like Callum Davidson’s St Johnstone, need to pick themselves up quickly as they are in a real pickle at the foot of the table.
RAMPANT RANGERS ROUT DESPERATE WELL
Rangers will not pick up many easier wins this season than on Sunday at Fir Park.
A 5-1 away win against Stephen Robinson’s Motherwell side capped off a magnificent week for Steven Gerrard’s men as they maintained their lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership standings. A brace of penalties from James Tavernier with a rare Jordan Jones goal sandwiched in between had Rangers in cruise control by half time. Substitute Cedric Itten’s (pictured) double added more pain on Motherwell in the second half and despite an own goal from George Edmondson, it was a very convincing performance from the team from Govan as they ran out 5-1 winners. This was a great follow up performance from an equally impressive showing in Holland in midweek as Gerrard’s men thrashed Willem II 4-0 to reach the play-off round of the Europa League qualifying and a date with Turkish side Galatasaray.
They did not have to get out of second gear to win at Fir Park on Sunday against a Motherwell side who were playing their first match since their return from Israel against Hapoel Beer Sheva in midweek in the Europa League. Much of that was down to an absolutely horrific display from the Steelmen defensively. This may sound harsh but mentally they looked beaten from very early on in the game.
The two penalties Motherwell gave away were both for handball and I don’t think you could have had any complaints with either that were given. Even if Bevis Mugabi and Liam Grimshaw staunchly defended the indefensible. Ricki Lamie also had a day to forget. He was beaten for pace by Jones for the second Rangers goal and generally looked uncomfortable all afternoon against Alfredo Morelos. Yes, perhaps Motherwell should have had a penalty of their own but ultimately they were picked apart time and time again.
Despite the own goal from Edmondson and a free kick from Mark O’Hara that forced a great save from Allan McGregor, it was a toothless display from Well who seemed to accept their fate before the half time whistle had even blown.
Robinson’s men will have to dust themselves down and go again next time out but after a good couple of league performances, this week for me has been two steps backwards for Well.
FULL BACKS AND MIDFIELD MIX KEY LINK FOR CELTIC
It seems like Celtic may be beginning to find their formula for long term success. The 3-5-2 formation looks to be starting to work for Neil Lennon’s side.
Full backs Greg Taylor and Jeremie Frimpong (pictured) were influential in their 3-0 win over Hibernian providing support all over the pitch. Goals from Callum McGregor, Albian Ajeti and Mohamed Elyounoussi gave the Champions a convincing three points as they continue to keep on the coattails of leaders Rangers at the top of the Scottish Premiership. David Turnbull also made his debut for Celtic on Sunday and seemed to slot into the side with little difficulties. I’m looking forward to seeing his progression going forward.
For Hibernian, they will be kicking themselves for passing up some excellent passages of play especially in the first half. Christian Doidge and Kevin Nisbet were causing the three Celtic defenders problems and for a bit of a composure should have got themselves on the scoresheet at the very least. However, the Edinburgh side could not follow up their terrific exploits last week against Rangers and will have to lick their wounds quickly as they face Accies next.
DONS SWEEP ASIDE POROUS COUNTY
What a delight Aberdeen are to watch when they attack teams!
They were dominant in the Highlands on Sunday afternoon as they swept aside Ross County in a convincing 3-0 victory. Goals from Marley Watkins (who got off the mark for his new club) and two Lewis Ferguson (pictured) penalties helped Derek McInnes men back to winning ways after a desperately disappointing display last weekend against Motherwell.
3-0 flattered the Staggies. The Dons right from the first minute were dominant with Watkins, Niall McGinn, Jonny Hayes and Scott Wright missing superb chances. However, they were not made to pay for them and ran away with the match as County struggled to cope with the sea of red coming towards them time and time again. McInnes will hope this is the start of a promising run of results. With St Mirren and Dundee United in their next two games, they should be looking to getting wins in both of those matches for me.
For County, it was another desperately disappointing defensive display at home. They have now conceded 12 goals in their last 4 home matches and manager Stuart Kettlewell will be pulling his hair out at how easily his side was opened up on Sunday. It was like a hot knife through butter at times.
It’s definitely back to the drawing board for the Dingwall team and they will need to be much better than that next Sunday as they face a strong Rangers side at Ibrox.
It could be a case of watching the game behind the sofa for Staggies supporters next week.
MIXED WEEK IN EUROPE AS OLD FIRM FLY SCOTTISH FLAG ONCE AGAIN
On Thursday, four Scottish sides started off in Europa League Third Qualification Round action and by the end of it, only two of them remained.
Let’s start with the good.
Celtic overcame stubborn Riga to squeak through 1-0 in Latvia with Elyounoussi getting a late winner for Neil Lennon’s side. It wasn’t pretty and the Champions made heavy weather of things but they got the job done. Their rivals Rangers had less issues as they romped to a 4-0 win over Willem II.
Now onto the bad. Motherwell started well in Israel before succumbing to a 3-0 defeat against Hapoel Beer Sheva and Aberdeen went down 1-0 in Portugal to Sporting Lisbon. It all feels like an all too familiar story for Scottish sides in Europe. The Old Firm once again flying the flag for Scottish football. I thought Motherwell did well in Israel and to be fair I thought they had the hardest tie on paper away from home in my view. Hapoel had beaten Celtic there in the past. They should have been in front before the home side scored the opener and once Declan Gallagher was sent off and they conceded the second it was game over.
Aberdeen for me though were very negative in Portugal. After falling behind early in the game, Derek McInnes’ side had plenty of time to get back into the game in Lisbon. However, I was bitterly disappointed that they hardly lay a glove on the Sporting backline all game. It was all a bit flat from the Reds and it is now a 6th time in the last 7 seasons that the Dons have failed to make the play-off round in Europe. For me, that is not just down to bad luck. Granted, this was a tough game on paper and in terms of stature. However, with the nature of the play-off rounds down to one off 90 minute games anything can happen. I was frustrated Aberdeen did not ask enough questions of that Sporting defence.
Let me finish with a positive tone!
Good luck to Celtic and Rangers against Sarajevo and Galatasaray respectively. Let’s get two sides into the Group Stages of the Europa League.
By James Rowe – @JamesRoweNL – Chief Football Writer
You have achieved promotion to League Two and League One from the National league, have you noticed a big difference between the two leagues?
Yes. I have been lucky enough to have five promotions now and I think that this is the biggest jump, definitely.
I anticipated the jump from the conference South to the National League in the past, and in the way that the finances are structured. The money available to Football League clubs means that teams have got bigger budgets and more staff.
The standard of play in League Two is better and team’s are well organised and physically fitter, too.
When we were in the National League we ran over most teams in terms of physical fitness and I always felt that we won a lot of matches in the last 15-20 minutes due to our superior fitness, but it is much harder to do that in League Two.
We found it a big jump, but we are actually really proud of our achievements last season, able to be competitive week in and week out, reaching the play-offs, and obviously winning the Checkatrade Trophy.
Can I ask you about your playing career Danny? You are now well known as a manager, but how do you look back on your playing career?
I was at Wimbledon as a youngster from the age of 10 -16 years old. I then spent the early part of my career with Dagenham & Redbridge, having a period at Hornchurch and Harlow Town.
I had a good non-league career and I loved playing football, but unfortunately my playing career ended at 29 and I never really saw it coming.
I ruptured one of my hamstring tendons off the bone. I underwent a number of operations and 18 months of physiotherapy, but I could not quite get back to where I needed to be to play at the level that I wanted to.
You then face that decision at the end of your career of what do you do next. My brother Nicky had offers and one of those was Concord Rangers. My contacts at the club, plus persuading them that I could get my brother to sign for them, convinced them to allow me to become joint manager, and it all kind of went from there really.
You touched on it earlier Danny, the famous FA Cup run, and what a great performance it was. How do you look back on it as a manager, and did you receive any words of encouragement or compliments from the teams that you defeated?
All the managers we faced were all brilliant with us to be honest.
Mick McCarthy was really good, so down to earth and straight talking. He was very complimentary in how competitive we had been in the matches.
And then Chris Houghton too. It was lovely. We won a special achievement award at the LMA’s, and I think that we were the first non-league team to win an award. and he presented it to us which was incredible.
It was the 25th anniversary of the LMA’s and all the 25 previous winners were in attendance. It was just a room full of your role models and idols, and very overwhelming.
After the Arsenal match Arsene Wenger was great. We spent about 90 minutes after the match with him and we were literally peppering him with questions. To be fair to him in the week leading up to the match against us Arsenal lost heavily to Bayern Munich and he got pelted by the media, and yet he was still willing to give up his time and talk about the game.
You can see how much love and passion he has for the game, and it was incredible. We spoke about training and schedules, team selection, and when we tell the players and all these things.
Obviously we are miles apart in terms of league standing, but you realise that some of the decisions that you are making are very similar even with regards to the levels.
As an Arsenal fan living in Amsterdam, I attended that match and I think that everyone connected with Lincoln City acquitted themselves really well and you can be very proud of yourselves.
It was a good day. The first 45 minutes we did really well and second half was particularly long. It was a bit like watching your best mate get beaten up whilst you are holding the jackets. By the time Arsenal got confident off the back of their first goal, they were difficult to stop.
It was an incredible run and I think that the best thing that come out of it for us is that we were able to keep our feet on the floor.
The boys were brilliant and they did not get ahead of themselves. That we were still able to maintain our league form and go on to win the league and gain promotion — to do that off the back of playing 65 matches was an incredible effort from the players.
They were a relentless group and a pleasure to work with ”
How do you feel as regards to future ambitions. Do you have specific ambitions in football? Are there particular things that you would like to do?
I think for us we are really ambitious and we would like to manage at the highest level possible, but at the same time we have ambitions in this journey at Lincoln City. We always like to build something.
I spent eight years at Concord Rangers and I had plenty of opportunities to leave in that period to better clubs and earn more money, but for us we like to build something. Once you build something, continuity is a rare thing in football and I value that.
Sometimes I see managers that move at the first opportunity, and whilst I understand the reasons behind that, for me the reward is always in trying to build and create something. We managed to do that at Concord Rangers and, due to the success. that opened the opportunity to go Lincoln City.
We had the opportunity to go into full-time management, with it having been our dream all our lives we did not want to think — if only…”
Finally, Danny, you are still very young and highly thought of. As someone who is from the UK who has left to live and work abroad I am curious… Would you ever be interested in plying your trade abroad as a manager? Is that something that would interest you?
I think it would be a great challenge. I look at the foreign managers that come to England and I always really admire how they are able to communicate so effectively in a language which is not their first.
I am always impressed with people than can do that. For English managers, to try and learn a different language is something that is very important if we are going to be able to improve our reputation in the world game.
At the moment, maybe the rest of the world pigeonhole English managers in a certain way, playing in certain styles, and not being able to take their management techniques and style of play to other countries .
I think that there are some barriers to be broken down in terms of that. I think that England manager Gareth Southgate has done an amazing job in promoting young English managers, and he has gone about it with fantastic communication skills.
He has also worked really hard to get the media on side, and the group of players he has got. He has been brave with his decision making and he has found a way of getting the best out of our English players, breaking down some of those ideas that we can only play in a certain way and certain style.
He has given the players confidence and belief and freedom. You have seen in this summer’s World Cup, when you give young players that, what they are capable of.
I was lucky enough to meet Gareth Southgate at the LMA awards. He was really kind and spent some time with us. He has been brilliant for England and young coaches as well, and it is really exciting for the future.
By James Rowe – @JamesRoweNL – Chief Football Writer You retired from professional football in 2012. How are you enjoying retirement and how is life for you these days away from the pitch?
Although I officially retired in 2012 at Leicester City I knew a long time before after Manchester City that I had mentally retired. I knew after speaking to the surgeon and specialist in London that it would be a high risk if I start playing football again so I retired after Manchester City and I was getting myself ready to think about what I was going to do next.
“Then I received an out-of-the-blue phone call from Sven-Göran Eriksson when he became Leicester City manager and he invited me to their pre-season and he wanted to give me an opportunity to see if I could hit the levels again and focus on my fitness
“I was not too sure, but after speaking and listening to ex-professional players who sometimes say ‘I should have gone,’ or ‘what if,’ so I went and I surprised myself fitness wise and I played most of the pre-season games and I was then offered a contract. It was great news for myself to be playing under Sven again, and Sven knew my body and he told me that if I keep myself fit and ready, my time would come.
“Unfortunately, Sven lost his job and Nigel Pearson came in, and at the time I was still based in Liverpool and traveling down to Leicester. Nigel wanted players who could make an impact straight away, so we shook hands and I moved on.
“I then started to focus on what I wanted to do and I tried my coaching badges and it was not for me. I wanted to spend more time with my family and that is what I did. Then the phone started ringing from ex-players and parents and people in the football industry asking for advice for their sons or themselves to keep themselves into the game. I started consulting and I ended up being an off-the-record agent really, helping people and I have since started my own sporting agency with my business partners to help develop players if they need it and speaking to parents and young professionals.
“I am more on the mentor side of things speaking to clubs, parents, and players, and give the young players a pathway into the game, passing on my experiences to them in terms of what to look out for and to take responsibility for their own careers. I also offer a pathway of guidance to make it as smooth as possible for them so that they can concentrate on the right things.
“I believe sometimes the clubs do not direct too much information to young players these days. They give them the tools and hope that they can find their own pathways, but I always feel that the parents are the players agent, they are the ones that take them to training from six years old, and then all of a sudden a guy in a suit comes and takes control. I have never been a fan of that. I like to work alongside them all and just help and guide them. If I can give the players any benefit, that is what I am looking for.
“I am enjoying it, It is a different side of the business that I never thought I would be involved in. I am learning each and every day how each club works totally differently from the Netherlands to the UK, top clubs in the Premier League, and even clubs lower down the pyramid in all kinds of ways from the academy, the pathway to the first team how the Sporting Directors work. Each club is slightly different and any players that are under my umbrella if there is anything that I can add to their game will hopefully make them successful.”
You played four seasons for Glasgow Rangers. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any highlights or special memories?
“I loved my time at Glasgow Rangers, It was a strange move and one that surprised quite a lot of people. I did not have it in my sights to sign for them. I wanted to stay at Everton because that was my dream, but unfortunately that got taken away from me and I had to move forward.
“During my time at Everton we had many Scottish ex-Glasgow Rangers players who gave me advice and I knew how big they were. Paul Gascgoigne, Richard Gough, John Collins, Duncan Ferguson and Alex Cleland, along with Walter Smith and Archie Knox — everyone praised the club, and I remember Howard Wilkinson telling me he was concerned about my development at Everton because they were playing so defensively. He thought I was losing the attacking side of my game and he felt I needed to go and play for an attacking football club in order to aid my development and hopefully push for the England squad. So Glasgow Rangers ticked all the boxes for me and I would play in the Champions League as well.
“While I was there, their fans were great and I settled down very easily. The training was tough and our manager ‘The Little General’, Dick Advocaat, was a manager that I respected a lot. It was a different type of training session but each session was good and I learned something new every day.
“We also had world-class players so for my personal development it was great, but unfortunately due to a past injury sustained at Everton (where my medical at Rangers could have been longer and more thorough) I broke down after a few games and I missed a large part of my Glasgow Rangers career due to two operations on the same knee. The team were still successful winning the treble, which I was disappointed to miss out on. I was still delighted for my teammates and the back room staff involved, but personally I was sad because my goal at Glasgow Rangers was to be successful and get medals in my trophy cabinet and I had to wait a long time myself through injury to do that and prove my fitness again.
“I really enjoyed my four years at Rangers and I wanted to stay longer, but due to the financial implications it was time to move on. I would have have liked to have played more games for the club, that was taken away from me by injury, but I have happy thoughts of my time at the club. Particularly around the way they treated me when I got injured. They had spent a lot of money on the transfer fee at the time, and it is frustrating when a big transfer comes to the club and they get injured. I believe that if Rangers had never made the decision that they did I would have probably not gone on as long as I did in my career. They did not penny pinch and then sent me to the best surgeon in the world, twice, which was costly for them, but they did it to get be back on the pitch as soon as possible when it was safe to do so.
“I still feel that if that club had not made that decision, I would have retired a lot earlier.
“My highlight was finally achieving things and winning the Scottish Championship and the Scottish League Cup.”
You also played for two seasons in the Netherlands for PSV Eindhoven. How do you look back on your experience playing abroad, and do you have any special memories of highlights playing for PSV?
“My time at PSV was a similar story really. It was a transfer that came out of the blue and due to my situation at Glasgow Rangers there were many clubs were looking at me, such as Newcastle United and Birmingham City, and all of a sudden out of the blue Guus Hiddink called me.
“PSV had done really well the season before, reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League. They had sold their left back to Tottenham Hotspur and they had a gap to fill, and due to the PSV and Rangers connection, with Ronald Waterreus recommended that I could possibly be available and that I was worth looking at. Jan Wouters was assistant at Glasgow Rangers and ex PSV as well.
“Guus Hiddink had watched the Champions League match vs AZ Alkmaar and liked what he saw. When he phoned me he spoke about me potentially getting back into the England squad, and that he could help develop me as a player as I was still young enough to improve. He wanted me to fly over the the Netherlands as soon as possible, and this was on transfer deadline day. I had virtually agreed to sign for Birmingham City on a three year deal and that got put back to a one year deal, so that was disappointing, so when PSV came in for me, I had a chance of playing in a top league, and fighting for Championships was what a wanted. Although in my first season I was cup tied in the Champions League, having played for Rangers in that tournament earlier that season.
“I made the move and I fitted in well very quickly. The training sessions were also similar to what I was used to at Rangers because of Jan Wouters. We had a total mixture of players and I remember at Everton it was difficult when foreigners came into the club and I do not think that Everton or the players knew how to settle the foreign guys in. We had the likes of Olivier Dacourt and Marco Materazzi, but the way that PSV handled the situation was smooth.
“We had a lot of South Americans, many Dutch players, and then the rest of the world, where there was players from Australia and myself on different tables and everybody kept to themselves.
“You then see the magic of Guus Hiddink’s training sessions come into it. The training sessions were longer than in England and also open to the public, so you had to put on a display for the people coming to watch you.
“The tempo of Dutch football is not as intense as the Premier League, so we put good training sessions in. In my opinion the training sessions in the Premier League were more recovery, and in the Dutch training sessions we would do all kinds of tactics and possession based games which I really enjoyed.
“I remember making a tackle in the game and I felt something in my knee and I tried to carry on. We had a thin squad at the time and it turned out to be a meniscus problem and I got sent home to recover. That set me back eight to twelve weeks.
“I was determined to get back in the side and, luckily enough, when I returned I got straight back into the team. I started playing and we went on to win the Eredivisie.
“After winning the Eredivisie quite easily in April, we lost the Dutch Cup final to Ajax 1-0, and it was the way that we lost it which was disappointing. We thought that we were a better team than Ajax that year. We both had a man send off and it felt as if we had gone down to their level and we did not kill Ajax off in that game. Unfortunately a mistake by myself, I could have cleared the ball easier, and it went off Klaas Jan Huntelaar who scored in extra time. But we knew that we had a good side and I was all ready to go the next season to try and kick on and get as many appearances under my belt. It was unfortunate that the manager changed and it just did not work out.
“Ronald Koeman came in and brought some of his own players and the pre-season went ok, but I was left out of the squad for the Dutch Super Cup which was disappointing as I had played every game pre-season, so I knew that there was something not quite right. Funnily enough Jan Wouters had joined Koeman as his assistant manager and I thought that would help me personally as he knew how I trained, my body, and history from our time at Glasgow Rangers together. Ronald Koeman asked me to play a game on an artificial pitch at the Herdgang training ground, to which I replied ‘it is impossible for me having been told by every surgeon that I cannot play on a plastic pitches, and it is a massive risk for me.’
“I also said that I could do it but only training at the weekend and then playing a 90 minute game is going to put my body at risk for the rest of the season and if he (Ronald) wanted me to move I could fail a medical, and If he wanted me to stay I could be injured for a long time but he did not understand and he did not like that answer. I even spoke to Jan as I knew him and he understood and agreed with me, but he also said that ‘Ronald Koeman is the manager and there is nothing I can do.’
“So that was my PSV career over, and unfortunately the timing of that incident transfer deadline was looming and I had to bide my time and wait, and I was very disappointed in Ronald how he handled that situation.
“I turned up every day to training knowing that I was never going to be involved and then after a while he pushed me back in the the PSV reserve side of things and out of the PSV changing room. Phillip Cocu was not happy with that decision, but the manager is the manager and he has got a job to do, but the way he handled it was very disappointing.
“I just had to turn up to training and keep myself fit and wait for an opportunity, because I knew in January if a club comes in for me I need to prove to that new club that I am going to be fit and raring to go. Lucky enough for me Stuart Pearce made the call to come and help Manchester City who were in the Premier League at that time. I jumped at the chance to go back home to the UK and to the North West of England to prove my fitness due to my frustrations of the last six months and to do well for Manchester City.”
You accrued a lot of experience in England, Scotland, and the Netherlands at club level. could you say who were among the best players you played alongside so far in your career?
“I always think about the players that did well when I was playing alongside them and who stood out. I played with Paul Gascoigne who showed flashes of brilliance but he was past his prime.
“Coming through at Everton, Anders Limpar could technically do anything. He was great with the young players. He would pull them to one side and pass the ball and sow young players running and jumping techniques and give little pointers. He had such quality when he played the game.
“I also looked up to players such as Gary Speed who went about the game the right way and was technically very good.
“When I moved to Rangers, even players who had come to the end of their careers like the De Boer brothers and Claudio Caniggia, would just do ideas and tweaks where even as a player you would look and say that is good and it would be something that you would take into your own game.”
I can imagine in your position as a defender that you came up against some very difficult opponents through the years, looking back on your career are there any that stood out for you?
“As a defender I was brought up to win my battles and as a full-back I would often battle against wingers. I remember when I used to play against Arsenal for Everton, Arsenal had great players all over the place. Marc Overmars on the right who ripped me to pieces one day when I played right-back for one of the first times in my career. I put that down to inexperience in that position.
“I used to play against Ray Parlour and he was a real battler, and as a full-back you get close contact at times. We had battles including elbows at times, but it was a fair battle and when I would come off the pitch I knew that I had a good game of football.
“I also played against the likes of Ronaldinho and Ronaldo, and I did well, but at times players like Steve McMananaman caused me problems as he was the first winger to come inside and then he would float on the other side. So for the 90 minutes I would only be up against those players for five to ten minutes maximum.
Even the likes of David Beckham and Ronaldo. Beckham was not a winger that could run at you, but he could hurt you by passing the ball forty yards over your head which would cause the defence real problems.
“I have been grateful to have played against such opponents and pit myself in head-to-head battles against them, and I loved every minute of it.”
Finally, Michael, you have already mentioned Sven-Göran Eriksson, Guus Hiddink, and Jan Wouters. When you look back on your career could you say who were the coaches and managers that meant a lot do you and played a key role in your development as a professional footballer?
“Yes, I have played under a lot of managers and a lot of successful managers who have had a massive input in the game globally.
“In my generation and trying to break into the first team, Joe Royle at Everton, even though I did not make my debut under him, he was there during my time as YTS, and along with Willie Donachie was really good at giving me confidence. They helped to get me ready for the pathway to Everton’s first team. They would get me involved in training sessions with the first team to learn and put me up against Andrei Kanchelskis to train and see how I could cope. I never forget situations like that.
“I go back even further to when I was an academy player at Liverpool (the wrong side of the city) and the coaches they had were fantastic. Steve Heighway and Dave Channon, what they implemented in me as a young lad was technique and working on technique passing and kicking a ball against a wall. It may sound boring, but they really drilled in technique in how to approach and control the ball, and it never left me.
“Howard Kendall was very impressive in how he dealt with different personalities in the changing room and he got the best out his players. He was the master of that. I always thought after playing professional football, if I was to be a coach or a manager that I could take the best bits of every manager that you come across.
“Guus Hiddink surprised me in how simple he made the game. Being an English footballer being brought up through the English system through FA coaches, while that has been great for my career, Guus seemed to strip that all away, concentrate on your own game and trust in your teammates around you, and that is ok when you are part of a good team and you have got good teammates around you and it seemed to work. He was the master of making the right decision at the right time for us to get results, and he put trust in me and my teammates.
“I learned a lot from my time in the Netherlands in terms of how they approach the game and how they trust their players.
“I remember a story at PSV, in England at corners I would be the last man defender and then it would be two vs one against their striker in case the opponent does a counter attack. I tried to do that at PSV and I got shouted at. Guus called me over and asked me what I was doing? to which I replied ‘protecting myself,’ and his reply to that was ‘if the goalkeeper kicks the ball 50 yards to their striker and he controls the ball, turns you, and scores past the goalkeeper who is an extra man, you will not be playing for PSV again. That response blew my mind. I laughed and I thought he is right, but it is the way that I had been brought up was to have that extra man to help you defend. He put that trust in me to think if Ryan Babel receives the ball on the halfway line he has to control, turn take you on, and then score past the goalkeeper.
“It also showed the trust that Guus Hiddink had in his defenders and his players to go out and defend and do it properly, and if you defend properly you are going to be successful.
“Sven-Göran Eriksson was mostly defensive minded and that was great for me especially in terms of training sessions. He put a lot of trust in his attacking players to go out and win us the game on the foundation that the defenders and goalkeeper will keep us in the game, and it was up to the attackers to go and get us a result. All these managers aided my development as a player.”
By James Rowe – @JamesRoweNL – Chief Football Writer
You have been the manager of Peterhead FC since 2011. How are you enjoying managing a club such as Peterhead and what challenges do you face?
“First of all I have been managing the club for almost eight years and it has been a pleasure. I work with good people and people that just let you get on with it. During my time at the club so far we have had good periods, although during one season we got relegated which was really disappointing.
“The highs were most definitely winning two titles and reaching the Scottish Challenge Cup Final in front of a sell-out crowd at Hampden Park, which was a dream come for the club.
“The downside of the club is the logistics of it. We really struggle to get players. We used to get players from the Aberdeen area and the North East and we now get most of our players from the Glasgow area, Fife, and even players from Dumfries.
“Players in my squad make great sacrifices. For example, I spoke to two players in my squad from Dumfries and I asked them when they would get home after training, which finished at 10:30 pm. They replied: 2 am, and then they would be up to go to work at 6.30 am.
“One of the upsides of the club is that we are, in my opinion, the best part-time club in Scotland due to the way we treat people. After games, the club lay on a three-course meal for the opposing team which is something the directors pride themselves in, and I believe it is that bit of class that makes us different to other clubs and it makes you proud.”
You played for many different clubs. How do you look back on your career, particularly your time at Nottingham Forest and Dundee United?
“I always feel blessed when I look back on my playing career. I was a Celtic supporter from a young boy and it was always my dream to play for the club and I managed to do that three times. By the same token I realized that it was time to move on.
“After a loan spell at Dundee I then got an offer from Nottingham Forest, and there are not many times that you can leave Celtic and go to a better team, but that is what I did because Nottingham Forest were the high-flying club, and it was only three years previously that they had won the European Cup.
“It was quite an experience to go and play for Brian Clough, and it is something that will live with me forever. He was a remarkable man in many ways and quite an awesome character for someone like me to play for.
“Having watched him on TV on shows like Parkinson, and then to go down to meet him and play for him was an experience and something that you never forget.
“Dundee United also had a remarkable manager in many football ways — Jim McLean. He was ruthless and football was his life. We would train at the same intensity that we played games. Fitness had to be the maximum and that is something he instilled in me.
“He moved me into the midfield and in my first season, we reached the UEFA Cup Final. I never looked back. I believe that Jim McLean was a football coach ahead of his time. He was a great tactician and coach.”
You mentioned Brian Clough. He rightly had a reputation of being one of English football’s greatest ever managers, As someone who played under him as a player what would you say were his main qualities?
“His main qualities were simplifying the game. I am pretty sure that he would be turning in his grave watching the modern-day game. Brian Clough just did not want anyone to do what they were not capable of doing.
“If you were a centre-half he wanted you to head it and defend well. If you were a full-back to stop crosses and get forward to support your winger. A striker — to hold the ball up and link up the game, and midfield players to pass the ball forward.
“He was also good if you were low on confidence. He would give you encouragement and when he did that it made you feel ten feet tall. I head a weakness with heading the ball and he would say to me at half time: ‘Hey son, you did not half head that ball well today’. You would go out in the second half feeling better about yourself and that made me play better.
“When players were playing well he would pick on them because he knew their confidence was high and that they could take it. His football management was so simple. He was magical in making players feel good about themselves.
“There was also a side of Brian Clough that many people did not see. When I went to Nottingham Forest I stayed in a hotel and he invited me to come and have Christmas dinner with him and his family, which was something special.
“He did not want me spending Christmas in a hotel and he allowed me to impose myself on him and his family, and people do not often speak about [that side].”
During your playing career, you were capped by your country of Scotland. How do you look back on representing your country and do you have any special memories or highlights?
“It is something that I have always been honest about. I never thought that I was worthy of playing for my country. I was a hard-working player playing for Dundee United that had a terrific run in Europe and your performances make you stand out.
“I was never particularly comfortable when I went away with Scotland because I always felt that I was inferior to the players I played with, but that did not stop me enjoying it.
“I played against Brazil. As a boy that is your dream, to play against Brazil. I made my debut against Belgium.
“My biggest and happiest memory, believe it or not, was just a short appearance as a substitute in the 1992 European Championship in Sweden against the then CIS.
“I think it was the first time that Scotland had won a game at the European Championships, so it was a special night and a great way to finish off a tough campaign.
“We were in a group with the Netherlands and West Germany, too. I was not on the pitch a long time, but I felt like I contributed. It was very special to represent Scotland at a major tournament.”
You have been a manager for quite some time. With experience managing, among others, Greenock Morton, Sligo Rovers, and currently Peterhead. Is there anything specific that you would like to achieve or experience in the remainder of your managerial career?
“To be honest my own ambition is to remain manager of Peterhead FC. I think the league that we are in is where we should be but it would be fantastic if we could take the next step and try to get into the Scottish Championship. It would be something special.
“In terms of my personal ambitions, I have no wish to go full-time again. I think that football can sometimes be frustrating at full-time level. I have really bought into the part-time football mentality, and I appreciate part-time players so much better than I do full-time players.
“Sometimes [I] get annoyed with the attitude of players and the money involved in professional football, and I believe that it has taken away a lot of the enjoyment of the game.
“So I prefer the part-time side of it and, to be honest, with the players and understanding the sacrifices that they make to play for a club like Peterhead, I am just so happy being where I am. I would love to take us up another league but I know that it will be pretty tough to do.”
DON’T expect crowds anytime soon is the clear message from the UK and Scottish Governments as the second wave of Coronavirus sweeps across Europe. With the number of new cases rising rapidly, the proposed date of 5 October for crowds at reduced numbers in Scotland to be fully introducedhas been shelved whilst Nicola Sturgeon put in measures to stop the virus getting out of control again.
For football in this country, it is a huge blow after a glimmer of hope that crowds could come back at a reduced number following two test events at Pittodrie and the Global Energy Stadium recently in front of 300 fans. Although both events passed successfully and, as far as we’re aware, no positive Covid cases have been linked to either match, no further test events have been approved by the Scottish Government and the SFA are now handing refunds to fans who’d purchased tickets for the sellout playoff against Israel.
Let’s make one thing clear, public health is the most important thing right now and the Governments worldwide let alone Scotland need to do something to stop to numbers rising. Whilst those numbers are rising, and Wednesday saw a record 486 positive cases since the outbreak hit Scotland, the Scottish Government cannot justify opening more things up at this time.
For football, it is frustrating for clubs, who’d previously been told that they could have a reduced crowd from 14 September before it was pushed back, and now face the prospect of several more months without fans coming into the stadiums. Since the Premiership restarted, games have lacked the same intensity without the atmosphere generated from fans and clubs without doubt will be feeling the lack of income from fans paying at the gate and buying refreshments from the kiosks. Without the comfort of the new Sky TV deal and pay per view through club channels, you wonder what position those clubs would be in financially.
However, the biggest worry for Scottish Football is how clubs from the Championship down are going to get through the prospect of six months without fans coming through their gates. Those leagues delayed their start date until mid Octoberto allow for the prospect of fans coming back into grounds to give them the income they need, in the case of the Championship, League One and League Two they have cut their season by nine games. Now that’s been taken away, there is a bigger fear that clubs will be lost to the game.
Over these last six months, clubs have had to be innovative to find ways to get cash into their clubs to see them through this uncertain period of no football, including JustGiving pages to raise tens of thousands of pounds. To have gone this far without games and not go under has been good going for these clubs, but it can only last so long and games without fans at Cappielow, Broadwood and Glebe Park is going to be unsustainable in the long term.
Which is even more reason that when Sturgeon finally gives the green light for fans to return to games at a reduced number, they should start in the lower leagues, as I have previously stated in an earlier blog (https://www.scottishfootballforums.co.uk/2020/07/crowds-at-games-should-start-from-the-bottom/). The next set of test events should be at an Ochilview or a Firhill, not Celtic Park or Easter Road, because most of these clubs, unlike the top flight, don’t have the benefits of a decent TV contract or the facilities to stream games on a club TV channel.
That’s not to say Premiership clubs don’t rely on fan income, of course they do. In fact, Scottish Football as a whole rakes in more money from fans coming through the turnstiles than from TV companies and, by head of population, Scottish Football is the highest attended in Europe. However, on the grander scheme of things, they already have in place other sources of income that can reduce the shortfall, whereas the others have a more difficult challenge. In a recent podcast, Stenhousemuir Manager David Irons said that 300 fans at Ochilview would be viewed as a good crowd, which sums uphow important it is that the lower league clubs, and non league, need fans back in their grounds.
It’s up to those who run our game to have talks with the Scottish Government and their advisors to find ways to get fans back into grounds as soon as possible, albeit safely, or to find a way that ensures these clubs survive the prospect of no crowds until the new year. Their recent statement(https://spfl.co.uk/news/coronavirus-joint-response-group-46977) highlights the reality of the situation and how important it is to our game that clubs survive. Nobody in the right mind, other than a bitter few at certain clubs wanting “justice” for other events, wants to see clubs go to the wall like Third Lanark, Airdrieonians and Gretna, it would not be a good look on our game if clubs were lost through no fault of their own.
It can be argued that it’s unfair that fans cannot attend sporting events in open spaces maintaining social distancing when pubs in enclosed spaces remain open, and there’s no evidence that it’s unsafe for people to attend sporting events in this country. So far, the two Premiership test events, plus the Edinburgh v Glasgow Rugby Union match in front of 700 fans, have not reported any links to positive Covid cases, so the arguments to have fans back remain valid. However, it also wouldn’t send the right message to allow fans back to watch football at a time when we’re not allowed to visit a family members house and vice versa.
The need for fans to get back to grounds has never been greater and this is even more the case for not just the 30 clubs who make up the rest of the SPFL, but for clubs in the Highland League, Lowland League, the West of Scotland League and further afield. These clubs are the heartbeat of their communities and we don’t want to see them be lost to the game.
Once Nicola Sturgeon and Professor Jason Leitch give the green light for more test events, let the lower league clubs get the opportunity to prove they can host games safely before its rolled out across the country. It’s fair to say these clubs need them more and most are more than capable of holding crowds of 300 at a social distance, and that number of people in their grounds would mean so much to them at a time where they need the cash to survive.
You signed for El Paso Locomotive FC in 2019. How are you enjoying your time at the club so far and how would you describe a club such as El Paso Locomotive FC?
I am really enjoying my time at El Paso Locomotive FC. I love the style of football that we play. I have been fortunate at all the clubs I have played at in my career to be surrounded by some really good players and here at El Paso Locomotive FC is no exception. The way our manager wants to play and the way he treats the players and his man management is brilliant.
El Paso was an easy place to come and I had never played in this style before and I know that a lot of teams are trying to do it now in terms of playing out from everything and many managers may well want to play like that at the start of the season and then times get hard they will revert back to what they know and that is understandable, I know why that happens. I have had one season at the club and it has done wonders for my confidence and growing up where I grew up and at times English football is not so pretty and coming to the United States has been an education in terms of football and it has been interesting in a new league like the USL Championship, football is definitely growing in this country and I think when the United States puts it mind to something and can generally become top in the world at whatever it does put it’s mind to so I am hoping that they go about it the right way.
The USL Championship is growing but I am delighted to have made it over to the United States and it is a great place to be and to get started here in El Paso. I played in the club’s inaugural season which I had never done before and it was very interesting,it was remarkable the way the city galvanized around us and our home support was fantastic. I think El Paso is very suited to having a football team here because there is a huge Mexican influence, it is right on the border of Mexico and we know that the Hispanic culture of football is one that they are very proud of and they love the sport. They truly are football fans and I would say that El Paso is the perfect place to get a team because of that football culture.
You played in Sweden for AFC Eskilstuna. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any highlights or special memories?
Yes, I look back very fondly on a very interesting time in Sweden. What I enjoyed most about it other than getting to experience a new country was that it was wonderful to be involved in the Premier League of a country. I had previously played in League One and League Two in England which was wonderful.
We all know the powerhouse European League on the continent but to get just a little flavour of that and play against some great teams and Every game is also televised and you feel the exposure. AFC Eskilstuna had the lowest budget by far in the Allsvenskan and it was definitely an uphill battle but it was an education in getting to experience a different style of football, one that was more technical based compared to England. I would have liked to have spent longer at the club having played on 15 games for the club.
I got to work with Michael Jolley who was the manager at the time and he also ended up signing me for Grimsby Town. I played in the Friends Arena where AIK and the Swedish national team play and in getting to play against IFK Göteborg and Malmö FF I had a very good lesson in how to play football properly from Graham Potter who was manager of Östersunds FK at the time and now he is in charge of Brighton & Hove Albion. You are playing with and against players that are challenging for Europe or on the cusp of getting international call up’s and you feel that it is a slightly bigger scale. It is tough to differentiate between the standards of different leagues but in terms of the scale and what it meant to the country it was great to play in the Swedish Premier League.
You played one season for Grimsby Town. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any highlights or special memories?
I absolutely loved my time at Grimsby Town, I was talking about this with my way yesterday. I am very happy where I am now but I think my time at Grimsby Town was the happiest I have been at any club. A lot of it comes down to timing as well and I was lucky enough to join them at the time were they were in a relegation battle and thankfully the last ten games of the season went very well for us and I was able to be part of a team and a squad kept the club up so maybe it is because of that I had such a good relationship with the fans. I have nothing but fond memories thinking about Grimsby Town, it was a wonderful chapter of my life and my career.
Of all the clubs I have played for Grimsby Town felt the biggest in terms of history and what it meant to the city, how passionate the fans were. had I not moved to the United States for personal reasons I would have hoped to have gone on to play many more games for the club. I am still in contact with many people from the club and I have built up some great relationships with a number of the boys from Grimsby Town. I went on to feel comfortable in the position of left back which at first was new to me and I began to enjoy it more rather than worry about it before games. I really began to feel that position was my own. I had a really comfortable and warm time at the club.
You have accrued great experience in England , Sweden and the United States, could you say who are among the best players you have played alongside so far in your career?
A good question!. This is a really difficult one to answer. Jermaine Anderson at Peterborough United is probably the best in form player I’ve seen he was a level above the competition for a few months, I was blown away with how good he was. Unfortunately he was really unlucky with injuries, suffering multiple long term ones. It’s so unfair when that happens to players.
I played with Josh Taylor in college & even though it was not professionally, I still rate him as the most talented player that I’ve played with, there isn’t a team I’ve played for that he wouldn’t easily fit in & no question deserves to be playing at a higher level than where he currently is. However in terms of consistent quality, Nick Ross, who I currently play with has been the best. As complete of a player as I’ve played with. His intelligence, quality, work rate & attitude are top class. The way he plays & sees the game is very rare & my job is made much easier playing alongside him.
I can imagine in your position as a defender that you have come up against many difficult opponents through the years, could you say which opponents have stood out for your in terms of talent and ability?
A good question! I remember playing against Wigan Athletic and I came up against Callum McManaman who stands out for me and he has also played in the Premier League and he also had the ability to go both ways and he had very close control and the ability to get in behind defenders and it had you as a defender not knowing which way to turn.
Peter Crouch scored a hattrick against me so I suppose he deserves an honourable mention. He is a player that proved himself and everybody knows how good he was and that was during Stoke City v Stevenage FC. They were strong favourites in that game and we did not know what team they were going to play and often a team like that will field a weaker side but Stoke City did come and they went strong which was good, it was nice to be respected in that took the competition seriously enough to do that.
Bojan Krkić was my direct opponent in that game and he blew me away. I was very nervous going into that game because of the difference between a Premier League and League Two side and Stoke City fielded a strong side. It was a standard that I had rarely faced and it was interesting and every time the ball came into Bojan he just had lightning speed, a great speed of thought his mind was made up and it was the right decision and the execution was perfect. I think I was expecting him to get the ball, do eight step overs, flick it over my head and put it in the top corner, I guess that is unrealistic and happens in hardly any games but it was just constantly brilliant performance and when you add it up how could they not beat you at the end of the day, every decision they make is razor sharp.
Obviously Bojan’s football education speaks for itself and the things that he has won, that is effectively what every footballer would be after being in that FC Barcelona side and also winning international trophies and that is what these Premier League and international players can do and I would say that Bojan’s performance in that game is probably the best performance of an opponent that I have played against.
Finally Andrew, you mentioned Michael Jolley, could you say who are the coaches and managers that have meant a lot to you and played a key role in your development so far in your professional career?
At first I would go back to when I was 17 as I kid when I did not have a professional team. I would try and practice each day and focus all my enjoyment on improving and seeing what could happen and that ended up in me getting a scholarship to go and play in the United States. There was a coach I played for when I was just playing local football called Pip Davis when I played for Newmarket under 18’s and he would have great dialog with me and the coaching tips that he would give and he had great man management skills.
I also believe that year was the most influential in my career and a year in which I saw the biggest improvement. My coaches in United States at St. Edward’s Hilltoppers Brian Young and Matt O’Sullivan both were great and I would say from the years of 17-22 I improved enough to go on and earn a professional contract whereas I did not know if I would ever be quite good enough to sign a pro deal, those five years of development really got me going.
In terms of how my career has panned out now I owe a lot to Michael Jolley who I played for in Sweden and England and to be backed as a first choice left back at Grimsby Town, that was what did my confidence the world of good and that is when I really started to feel like the position was my own. Right now the manager here Mark Lowry plays a good style of football and if some does go wrong try, try and try again in the same way until you get it right and not to go away from it and that is something that I will keep with me for the rest of my career. I do not know if I will go into any kind of coaching but there are a huge amount of aspects of that way we play here in El Paso that I would try and translate into a team if ever I was in charge of one.
By James Rowe – @JamesRoweNL – Chief Football Writer
You signed for Hibernian FC in 2015. How are you enjoying your time at the club so far and how would you describe a club such as Hibernian FC?
My time at Hibernian FC has been brilliant so far. When I arrived at the club they were in the Scottish Championship and I took a step down in terms of level when I joined the club. I did not realise myself personally how big Hibernian FC really was until the guys filled me in and to be fair I have been loving my time since I have been at the club.
Hibernian FC have a great fan base and a fantastic training facility. It is incredible and I have achieved quite a lot since I have been at the club. Hibernian FC manage to attract a lot of good players the facilities the club provide help players to push on and develop to be the best player that you can and I have enjoyed every minute of my time at the club since I arrived.
You played three seasons for Dundee FC. How do you look back on your time at the club and you you have any highlights or special memories?
I feel that my time at Dundee FC was quite a successful one. I managed to win a trophy when we won the Scottish Championship and got promoted. I was not really established in the Scottish Premier League as such and I managed to get a few games under my belt before I went to Hibernian FC.
I made the jump from Montrose to Dundee FC who were in the Scottish Premier League at the time and I feel like it was a massive step for me at the time and subsequently jumping back down to the Scottish Championship with Hibernian FC was probably the best thing that could have happened to me and every season that has gone on I have developed different attributes, progressed my game and played much more regularly. I enjoyed my time at Dundee FC even though it was strange how I moved on as Dundee FC were in the top six at the time and I went to a then Championship team in Hibernian FC but these things happen and I do not look back. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Dundee FC and likewise now at Hibernian FC.
You have been capped at international level by Australia. How do you look back on representing your country and what are your highlights and memories of playing international football so far?
My time with Australia has been great so far. The positives so far have been playing in the Asia Cup and with the Corona virus situation we could have played a lot more games and been to a major tournament in the summer. Looking back on my four caps so far and I made my debut against a very good South Korea team in Brisbane which was unbelievable.
I started against Lebanon in Sydney, scored two goals and provided an assist which was brilliant. The manner in which my Australian teammates and back room staff have accepted me in; they have really showed faith in me and the manager has put his trust in me, even going away with the squad to Jordan having come back from a serious injury at the time I had not started a game for Hibernian FC and he picked me because he knew what I was capable of. He showed a lot of trust in my ability which is good. The whole time that I was injured they (Australian national team) gave me advice and people have even been flying to the UK to see how I am getting on as well as looking at other players.
The whole setup is an elite level, which is incredible. I am very honoured to put on the Australian shirt and represent the country and think that I am still in disbelief that I have made that step up to international football and played competitive games. Hopefully, I can attain my level of fitness and there will be more games to come in future.
You have accrued experience of Scottish football as well as international football with Australia. could you say who are among the best players you have played alongside so far in your career?
I have been quite lucky to play with some very good players. The highlight would be John McGinn; he has gone on to do incredible things considering he came from St Mirren to Hibernian FC and the journey that he has taken. He was flying for Aston Villa in the Premier League before his injury, so Aston Villa have been a good step for him.
I also play with Scott Allan at Hibernian FC who has been brilliant. I think in terms of ability wise I played with Anthony Stokes who is undoubtedly a talented player. Obviously, at international level with Australia the likes of Aaron Mooy and Matt Ryan in goal, his distribution as a goalkeeper is probably better than mine. I have been fortunate to play with many players that have made a step up in their careers and hopefully I can make that step as well and push my career further.
I can imagine in your position as a winger that you have come up against some difficult opponents so far in your career, could you say which opponents have stood out for you in terms of talent and ability?
I think when playing against ‘Old Firm’ teams and when playing against the likes of Virgil van Dijk when he played for Celtic FC before he moved on to Liverpool FC and also the likes of Victor Wanyama and Scott Brown with what he has achieved in Scottish football.
When I was a Dundee FC we played against Manchester City in a pre season game and there was a lot of superstars in that team. I was lucky enough to play against Samir Nasri and he is a brilliant player. I would say the players I have mentioned are among the standout names who have played at the highest level.
Finally Martin, could you say who are the coaches and managers that have meant a lot to you and played a key role in your development as a professional footballer?
I have been lucky to have played under some great managers. To be honest they have all helped to develop my career and I have not a bad word to say about any of my managers. I have been fortunate to have some quality managers and every manager has given me advice from my Montrose days Ray Farningham gave me first team football as a 16 year old which was fantastic.
At Dundee FC the likes of Barry Smith gave me the opportunity to sign for a Scottish Premier League team and then Paul Hartley came in and he gave me the opportunity to play every week. Alan Stubbs brought me to a massive club in Hibernian FC and we won the Scottish Cup which was brilliant even though I was a bit part player at the time and I learned an awful lot from him and after that Neil Lennon came in and I would say that is when I had my best spell of football in my career.
Neil Lennon is a massive name in football and he gave me the freedom to play which was good and I learned a lot from him and our current manager Jack Ross is exactly the same and I have picked up where I left off under previous managers and hopefully I can develop under Jack Ross even more as time goes on.
The Campbell’s Footballs Scottish Football Review of the week
Written by Dr. Grant Campbell – @stato_grant
The host of Campbell’s Footballs Dr. Grant Campbell has been casting his eye over an incident packed week in Scottish Football, giving his comments on some of the major talking points over the weekend’s matches. Feel free to discuss and debate the views on various social media channels.
1. CHAMPIONS WIN BUT DEFENSIVE FRAILTIES STILL A MASSIVE CONCERN
Celtic took advantage of playing first on Saturday afternoon and came out on top by defeating a stubborn Livingston side at Parkhead. The Champions going forward were clinical with their chances with Ryan Christie, Albian Ajeti and Callum McGregor, in particular, starring for the Champions (pictured).
However, the match on Saturday also showed Celtic’s frailties defensively yet again. The Lions took the lead at Celtic Park with a penalty from Jason Holt and had two or three excellent passages of play going forward throughout the first half. They’ll be disappointed with the goals they conceded but in an attacking sense Gary Holt will be happy that his team gave a good account of themselves. Their second goal as well was particularly special, a stunning long range strike by Julien Serrano.
For Neil Lennon and his team it is a good win for the Champions and it has brought them closer to league leaders Rangers but they still have a lot of convincing to do in their quest to deliver the ten in a row.
2. SHANKLAND INFLUENTIAL AS TERRORS GET FIRST HOME LEAGUE WIN OF SEASON
Dundee United are a different beast when Lawrence Shankland is in their team (pictured).
The Scotland internationalist was back in Micky Mellon’s team on Saturday and showed United fans and his manager what they have been missing. Shankland’s sweet strike midway through the first half gave the Terrors the lead against St Mirren before also being involved in Adrian Sporle’s goal to double the Tannadice side’s advantage.
For the Buddies, it was a frustrating afternoon for Jim Goodwin’s side. They passed up a number of excellent opportunities in the first half with Lee Erwin in particular guilty of failing to find the back of the net. His misses were punished and what added insult to injury was the silly sending off of Richard Tait midway through the second half at 2-0 down. Although they got a goal back in the game from Dylan Connolly, you do wonder if Goodwin’s side would have got something had Tait not shown poor discipline.
With United off and running at home this season, it will be intriguing to see if Shankland’s influence can drive the Tangerines further up the Scottish Premiership table.
3. KILLIE SHOW FIGHTING SPIRIT TO DEFEAT ACCIES
What a massive win for Kilmarnock considering how the game unfolded on Saturday.
It was looking like a fairly comfortable afternoon for Alex Dyer’s side after Greg Kiltie smashed them into the lead at Rugby Park. However, things took a nosedive for the home side after Hakeem Odoffin headed in an equaliser for Hamilton and then Eamonn Brophy was sent off for a high challenge on Scott McMann.
To give credit to Dyer’s side though, Killie came out into the second half and played to their strengths. It paid dividends with Nicke Kabamba’s 57th minute winner was enough to get the job done and leave Brian Rice annoyed at not making the one man advantage count (pictured).
Accies did not do nearly enough with the eleven men they had for much of the game. Apart from the goal, they did not ask Danny Rogers nearly enough questions in goal which will have left Rice frustrated, particularly as Accies were going for a hat-trick of away league wins.
For Kilmarnock though, it is a win through adversity for Dyer’s men and they will hope now to pick up some momentum going forward after an indifferent start to the season.
4. CAPTAIN VIGURS SHOWS THE WAY FOR COUNTY
What a superb away win for Ross County.
Last week I was critical of how poor the Staggies were defensively against Celtic but they were excellent on Saturday down at McDiarmid Park. I don’t recall Ross Laidlaw having too many serious saves to make either.
The goal which settled a tough game in Perth was a free kick wide on the right from captain Iain Vigurs which went all the way in. How often have we seen goals (and free kicks in particular) scored from those sorts of positions? Vigurs just played it into an area and the St Johnstone defence just could not deal with it (pictured). Every win for County this season has been 1-0 which shows Stuart Kettlewell’s side have plenty of resolve and character in matches. It also shows that on the whole they have sorted themselves out defensively.
It was the same old feeling for St Johnstone and their supporters. They passed up numerous good opportunities and were wasteful in front of goal when they got into good areas. It is now a third defeat in four for Callum Davidson’s side at home (all of them 1-0 incidentally). They need a striker before the window closes. Stevie May, Michael O’Hallaron and Jack Hendry look like guys who are out of form and need to find their feet quickly otherwise it will be a tough season for the Perth Saints.
5. NASTY HIBS EARN CREDITABLE DRAW
What an enjoyable game Hibernian and Rangers was on Sunday at Easter Road!
Sky Sports was due a good live match and these two did not disappoint. Both teams came into this game in good form and it was Hibernian who started the better of the two sides when Drey Wright opened the scoring minutes after a terrific Jon McLaughlin save from Kevin Nisbet. This was the first time Rangers’ defence had been breached this season domestically and it was what the game needed. I felt if Rangers had scored first they would have gone onto win fairly comfortably. Instead though, we got given the scenario we wanted: to see if Rangers could respond to adversity and come from behind.
They did that right on half time with a great finish from Alfredo Morelos to level things up. The second half saw Scott Arfield (pictured) give the league leaders the lead and it looked like Steven Gerrard’s men, from there, would go onto win the match. Ryan Kent, Alfredo Morelos and Scott Arfield passed up excellent opportunities and they were punished with an equaliser from Christian Doidge.
Hibs had a nastiness to their game on Sunday, something that was missed for much of last season and Andy Walker made this very admirable point post-match. They got stuck in and did not allow Rangers rhythm going forward. Some of the challenges Ryan Porteous, Drey Wright and Paul Hanlon made were borderline but you need to get in the faces of Rangers and Celtic if you are going to take points off either of the Old Firm. If not, they will blow you away with their quality more often than not. Nisbet and Doidge also bullied the Rangers defence for much of the afternoon and for once, a so often well drilled machine defensively wasn’t so clever for a change. Felipe Helander and Borna Barisic all looked shaky. Martin Boyle, with two assists, was also tremendous and a deserved man of the match. Conor Goldson.
It was a good result for Hibernian but undoubtedly it was two points dropped for Rangers, especially if they want to stop their rivals over the other half of Glasgow winning ten in a row. They can have arguments about the refereeing decisions all they want but ultimately their defensive frailties and lack of ruthlessness cost them the victory.
6. MALFUNCTIONED DONS EMBARRASSED BY REVITALISED MOTHERWELL
It was nothing short of a disaster for Aberdeen on Sunday at home to Motherwell.
With both sides back in action after a successful midweek in Europe, it was interesting to see which side would feel the effects of their matches more. You would have thought it would have been the Steelmen after their penalty shootout success over Northern Ireland’s Coleraine rather than Aberdeen after their fairly comfortable win in Norway against Viking. However, it was Derek McInnes’ men who were abject for much of this encounter.
The tone for an awful afternoon was set after Marley Watkins’ handball which led to Mark O’Hara netting from the spot. Things escalated even more after a rare error from Joe Lewis led to Christopher Long adding a second and Bevis Mugabi making it three all before the half hour mark. It was a shocker from the Dons.
When you defend like that, you have no chance of winning any game, whoever you are against. With the likely news of Scott Mckenna parting the Pittodrie club, McInnes must be looking at what options he can use to fill that void. Ash Taylor had a nightmare of a game on Sunday and whilst Tommy Hoban has been excellent this season, it is clear he is not fit for multiple successive matches. I think McInnes will need to go into the transfer market but who he will go for it anyone’s guess. I’d argue he needs reinforcements massively.
For Motherwell, it was their best performance of the season by a distance. They were professional, well-drilled and clinical. They were clearly boosted by that win in midweek and by beating St Johnstone last weekend. For me, it is no surprise to see Stephen Robinson’s side back to their best. They will move up the table now I have no doubt about that. Allan Campbell has had a terrific run of recent form and it seems like they have found their shooting boots in recent matches with Tony Watt, Callum Lang and Christopher Long all scoring in recent matches.
If they can keep up that recent consistency, they will definitely be in the top six which seems remarkable considering they only got their first league win last weekend.
For a malfunctioned Dons, it is back to drawing board.
7. INCENTIVE FOR QUARTET TO REACH EUROPA LEAGUE GROUP STAGES
The Europa League draw on Friday has provided massive incentives for all four Scottish Premiership sides to reach the group stages.
Celtic should see off Riga of Latvia in the third qualifying round and if they do win that they would play either Buducnost Podgorica or Sarajevo. Even though Neil Lennon’s side have been scratchy so far this season, you would back them to get the job done more often than not, whoever they faced.
For Rangers, if they were to see of Willem II of the Netherlands in Holland, they will play Galatasaray of Turkey or Hajduk Split of Croatia at Ibrox. A trickier game for Rangers on paper but I feel if Rangers want to emulate their European run of last season, these are the sort of matches you have to win.
For Aberdeen and Motherwell, the route is a little more challenging still. The Dons travel to Sporting CF of Portugal and if they were to cause a sensational upset against the Portuguese outfit they will be at home to either LASK Linz of Austria or Dunajská Streda of Slovakia. For Motherwell, if they saw off Hapoel Beer Sheva in Israel they will be at home in the playoff round against either SonderjyskE of Denmark or Viktoria Plzen of Czechia. The incentive of home ties for both the Dons and the Steelmen must give the players something to play for. It’ll be tough games to overcome to get to that stage but not impossible. We have seen underdogs beat the favourites a lot of times so far in this Europa League campaign, particular in one off matches.
Let’s hope for the co-efficient all four Scottish Premiership sides can give a good account of themselves and make it through! They will all never get a better opportunity.
By James Rowe – @JamesRoweNL – Chief Football Writer
You played ten seasons for Nottingham Forest where you managed to win, among other trophies, the European Cup two times in a row, and played under such a tremendous manager in Brian Clough. How do you look back on your time there?
“I look back on my time at Nottingham Forest obviously being a Nottingham boy, I managed to get into the first team and to go on to achieve the things that we did, makes me very proud.
“I am honored to have been in the right place at the right time with the players that I ended up playing with at Nottingham Forest. So I look back on a fantastic time at the club.”
You moved on to Arsenal from Nottingham Forest. How do you look back on your time playing at Arsenal?
“At the time I had just got married and everybody had left Nottingham Forest and I was the last one to leave. I got the opportunity to go to Arsenal and to go and live in London and try a new club and have a new adventure.
“I went there with a bit of trepidation after being at Nottingham Forest for all those years. When you go to a new club it can be treacherous but I was made to feel very welcome.
“I had the likes of Tony Woodcock there who I played with at Nottingham Forest and Paul Mariner who I played with when representing England, Graham Rix and Kenny Samsom, and I throughly enjoyed my time at the Arsenal.
“I would never have left Arsenal had I not been offered a contract by Manchester United. I was offered a contract extension by George Graham at Arsenal and the case went to a tribunal and Manchester United paid £250,000.
“There is a bit of history between me and Manchester United,. I used to train with the schoolboys every summer holiday and over the years I was told that I might not make it at Manchester United, so I returned to Nottingham and got a job. After that Nottingham Forest approached me if I would like to sign for them.
“Manchester United were one of my first loves and provided an opportunity to return to the club. If it was any other club I would have stayed at Arsenal.”
You were the first Black player to play a full international for England. How do you look back on representing your country and what are your memories of playing international football?
“Yes, I was the first full international and Laurie Cunningham the first black U21 international. My memories of international football are very varied.
“When you start off on the journey of being a professional footballer the last thing that you think of is playing for your country. I never thought that I would end up with 30 caps and going to two World Cups, although I did not play.
“There are frustrations of not playing in World Cups but if I look back now I had a fabulous time playing for England, and to get 30 caps has made me more than happy.”
You have played under some tremendous managers: Brian Clough, Sir Alex Ferguson, and Sir Bobby Robson to name a few. Did they ever give you any specific advice or guidance during your career?
“I believe the three managers that you mentioned: Brian Clough, Sir Alex Ferguson, and Sir Bobby Robson — Terry Venables was also my England under 21 manager and I played under Ron Atkinson at Sheffield Wednesday — all those managers mentioned played football the right way and football that I like.
“I can’t recall anything specific that they said to me but they were clear in their message of how they wanted to play football.
“Playing and moving and getting in advanced positions, and that has been instilled particularly with the Manchester United ethos for many years.
“They wanted to entertain the fans in the stadium and that rang true with all the managers that I just mentioned.”
Finally Viv, how do you feel that the game has changed in comparison to when you played?
“The game has got quicker but if I was playing now I would just train that little bit harder than I did before and I think people that question if players from my era could play in the current day, of course we could.
“You would just adapt to the circumstances and the flight of the ball, and training more. I look at my position as a defender and I always remember Brian Clough saying to me: ‘Your job before anything else is to stop the ball going in my net. Anything else that you can do going forward is an absolute bonus because I pay you to keep the ball out of my net.’
“Many full backs these days are known for how good they are going forward as opposed to how good they are at stopping wingers, crosses, and keeping the ball out the net, and that has changed a lot.
“I think it has gone more to how many times can a defender get forward in the game opposed to how many times can you stop the winger from crossing or scoring.
“I would also like to elaborate Playon Pro, which is what I do now. We look after retired players in their ‘next life’ as we say.
“I started Playon Pro because the statistics are phenomenal — 75 percent of ex-footballers, in the first year that they retire, get divorced. One of the reasons is that they are used to being in a male dominated environment and going for lunch after training, so when a career stops, what do you do?
“So they are looking for things to do in the next phase of their lives, and we have an app called the Playon Pro App where they can text and speak to one another. We try to give ex-players work opportunities too in the next stage of lives where they do not know what to do and they are waiting for the phone to ring.
“We try to bridge that gap from playing to now when you go into the real world, and we try to help players in as many ways as we can.
“Some might have mental, financial or gambling issues and they can use Playon Pro as a self-help group to text one another on the ap.
“[While] Playon Pro is for the ex-players, we are also going to launch a platform to get the supporters in touch with the stars asking the players to pass on birthday wishes to their family or friends. We want to try to bring the supporters closer to the ex-players.”
By James Rowe – @JamesRoweNL – Chief Football Writer
You retired in 2012. How are you enjoying life after professional football and how is life for you now away from the pitch?
A very good question. I had a lot of friends of that era who also finished playing and as a player you sort of have a perfect picture in your mind of when you are going to finish and how it happens and for me it did not quiet work out like that. I went out of my way massively to try and finish my career a Shrewsbury Town and I was at Bradford City and I knew that ny twoyear contract was coming to an end and I was desperate to get to Shrewsbury Town so I really had to work hard to prove and convince the manager Gary Peters that the ability was still there and that I was good enough to finish my career there.
I earned myself a contract and I did well at the club considering that I had some nasty injuries including a bicep tendon injury at the back of my knee. Shortly afterwards Gary left the club due to results and it came to a point when I returned to the squad after a back injury and Paul Simpson was the manager and he let me go too early and when he let me go I was not ready to leave and I even offered to the club that I will play for next to nothing I just wanted to be around the club and gain my youth coaching badges and UEFA A license through the club and learn my trade that way but it did not work out. and I sort of got forced to retire.
I did get offered a couple of contracts and I went and trained with a friend of mine who was a Kidderminster Harriers at the time and then I was offered a deal by Telford United in the Non League but I had just lost my heart so when I finished playing I was not quiet ready to finish and I lost my way massively in that I was not ready to properly finish my career where I wanted to finish. From then on I decided to stop thinking it was the best way and you think it is the right thing to do at the right time but because I did not expect my career to finish as quickly as it did I could not work out what I wanted to do and which direction I wanted to go in so I lost a few years being in limbo of not knowing which direction to turn. By then i done a few bits and bobs but I was losing touch with the coaching people at football clubs and I found that quiet difficult. I found retiring when I did very difficult and a lot went on it my early years of retirement.
Moving forward now at the other end it took my a few years to get over certain issues and things that went on but now I am on the other side of it I am back coaching and I have my own air conditioning business. I have settled down again and things could not be better and things have come full circle but it took a good nine years to get to that point ”
You played five seasons for Burnley FC. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any highlights or special memories?
I have really fond memories from my time at Burnley FC. I love the football club and when I signed for the club things happened very quickly and at the time I was training with Crewe Alexandra and I was going to sign for them and Burnley FC came in at the last minute and I remember going up there and they were one of the old English football clubs with a lot of heritage. Turf Moor was a great ground and I was really excited. It was a no brainer to sign for the club and I signed a two year deal.
It was an unbelievable time and I met a lot of great people and I had a good relationship with the fans and people in and around the club too. I was very fortunate to play with some legendary players. I left the club on a high having achieved promotion to the Championship but it was time to move as the club were moving in a different direction and I wanted to move in a different direction too. I have nothing but admiration for Burnley FC and I still keep in contact with a few players from my time there and the experiences that I had there were phenomenal really. Burnley FC is just a great football club all round really.
You played abroad in South Korea of all places for Busan IPark. How do you look back on playing your football in another country and what are your highlights and special memories?
A good question again. It was at the back end of my career at Stoke City and I knew there was whispers of it because agent of someone I knew very well had also heard a whisper that Busan Ipark wanted to sign me and it was all off the back of the 2002 World Cup when they were trying to push the K League as hard as they could. I got wind of it and I did not think much about it and at training one day for Stoke City manager Tony Pulis asked me Cookie how do you fancy a game of golf ? I knew that he wanted to talk about the future as Stoke City had just survived in the Championship and I knew that Tony was looking for a different direction. He told me that a few teams have come in for me and there is a chance for you to go and play abroad and how would I fancy it.
I viewed it as a fresh challenge and financially at the time it was very appealing and playing in World Cup stadiums every game too and also the chance to experience a different culture was massively appealing to me. I was desperate to experience that and I knew that I would be playing with and against South Korea national team players that were technically very good and I wanted to test myself. I played with and against some great players during my time in South Korea. Fellow British players Chris Marsden and Jamie Cureton also went out there.
I played well out there and I was offered a contract extension but it was very difficult in terms of not many ex pats and life off the pitch was completely different in terms of pastimes and having a young family too and family in the UK and that had a big play on how it all came to an end. My time in South Korea was a brilliant experience. Sometimes I think I should have stayed out there as the money at the time South Korea were offering more money than in England and there were many pluses but also minuses in terms of traveling to and from the other side of the world with a young family and also the heat at times. Overall it was fantastic to take the gamble and go and do it was a big thing. Not many people lasted out there and I remember signing the contract for Busan Ipark straight away which came through via fax machine. My time in South Korea was a great experience.
I can imagine in your position as a striker that you have come up against some difficult opponents through the years. Are there opponents that stood out for your in terms of talent and ability?
My personal opinion is the higher you go in terms of league and the higher you play the more time you get and it is how you use that time and how comfortable you are on the ball the ball which matters. The lower you go in terms of the Conference, Non League and the League of Wales the more difficult it tends to be because there is not time.
Players are a lot more physical and it is hard to play on certain pitches and it becomes a real scrap and it becomes difficult to compete against lower teams. It is the quality in the end that is the difference and that is again what the leagues are there for. Also in terms of opponents what is important is who you play with.
I was very fortunate to play was some great strikers such as Andy Payton , I was fortunate enough to play with Ian Wright, Dean Windass, Pete Hoekstra and Peter Thorne. It does not matter who you play against it is all about your game and how you perform.I remember I played at Anfield in the FA Cup and I went to close down Steve McManaman and he went past me as if I was an empty crisp packet and I just through that he had pure ability that you could not get near and sometimes you recognize and realize how good players are.
Finally Andy, You mentioned Tony Pulis and going for a game of golf. When you look back on your playing career which managers meant a lot to you and played a key role in your development as a professional footballer?
I think for me to go and and be where I was Jake King played a big part. I got released after an apprenticeship at Telford United and I was playing Conference football at 17 years old and if that was happening in today’s era someone would pick you up straight away. Telford United bizarrely let me go even though I was playing well and there was a manager named Derek Mann who has sadly since passed away but he was a massive influence in my career because he got me through the apprenticeship well. He recognized me as a local player and he made me belief that I was a good player. Jake King took me to Newtown AFC in Wales and he worked with a gut called Brian Coyne and between them they basically ran the football club. They had a huge influence in me reaching the heights were I needed to be and getting in to professional football.
A manager that really stands out is Stan Ternent. It would sometimes look as if he was bullying a great player we had in Glen Little but he wasn’t he really cared about him. Stan Ternent was so loyal if you did it on the pitch for him he would look after you and you knew inside out what was expected of you week in and week out and if you did not do it you did not play. Stan was a great guy. Paul Weller, Glen Little and I would get invited to Stan’s house on a Sunday afternoon for wine and dinner with his wife. His wife would cook us dinner and because we were doing it for him week in and week out he would look after us. He had a massive influence on my career and I was very lucky to play for such a guy where it was not just about the coaching it was more about the way he was with people. He was such a great character who got the best out of people. The time that we won promotion together was a fantastic experience with a group of lads that he trusted and we all worked together to achieve what what we did. Stan Ternent was definitely a one off in my opinion.
Tony Pulis was very black and white and it being exactly what is says on the tin. He would an old school manager who gets the best out of people because you did what he wanted you to do. I always think that man management is a massive thing in football and you talk about man management in business it is exactly the same in football where if you do not man manage your players and you do not get the best out of them you don;t get results and you don’t get where you need to be. I would also like to acknowledge the supporters of all the clubs I played for and I was very fortunate to have had a great relationship with them all, which is so important as that’s what football is all about.
Christie Murray’s column is exclusive to Football CFB – @ChristieMurray7
New Club – Familiar faces
Whenever you join a new club, it’s vital that you settle as quickly as possible. For me, settling in at Birmingham has been very easy.
Within the first fortnight, I have got to know my new teammates quickly, loved working under manager Carla Ward as her sessions are first class and demanding and to top it all off, I was made team captain for the season ahead.
I never thought I would be made captain of this great club especially this quickly. However, as soon as I was asked, I was absolutely delighted and determined to succeed.
In the last week, I have been joined at the club by Scotland teammates Rachel Corsie and JamieLee Napier. We also have Abbi Grant – who was at the club last season – which has been great as we all have similar humour and a drive to succeed.
Carla has even commented that she loves having us Scots in and around the club as we have a great work ethic – something that has been instilled in me since my beginnings in the game at Celtic and Glasgow City.
NEW SEASON BUZZ
Last weekend, we started the season away to Brighton and Hove Albion. Unfortunately we lost the game 2-0 but we learned a lot and it is still very early in the season. I am confident we will grow as a team in the coming weeks and months.
The WSL has witnessed an influx of world class talent this summer with many US internationals joining the league and Champions League winners returning to the WSL too.
This makes this season even more exciting for me and my teammates as I love nothing more than testing myself against the very best – both at club and international level.
There is no doubt that the women’s game is growing year upon year and to those sharing mistakes from our game in social media, I have a simple message. Footballers are human and all players from the elite to Sunday league make mistakes and that is what makes the game what it is.
Mistakes are learning experiences for players. They don’t define us and they certainly don’t define the women’s game. Rather than sharing a short clip to poke fun at our game, why not watch a full match and gather a balanced view of our game and the skill within it rather than try and mock us for being dedicated each and every day to what we love: football.
Tierney or Robertson
I feel for Steve Clarke. Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson are two of the best left backs in world football. There is no doubt about that.
How do you fit them both into the Scotland team and ensure you get the very best from each of them?
I’ll be very honest and say that I am unsure of the best way to do it. One of them will have to play out of position and to be fair Clarke and Scotland have tried a few options – Tierney at RB or CB and Robertson further forward in LM – which have varied in success.
I think Clarke will get it right and that both players can play together and that as a nation, we will see the best of both players in future years. Things always take time to gel and I have no doubt the Scotland team will gel with both Tierney and Robertson in starting positions sooner rather than later.
Sometimes players show up at clubs no one expected to see. In the 1980s Charlton brought in one of the greatest strikers in the game, Allan Simonsen. If he popped up at any other club, it wouldn’t have been noteworthy. Charlton on the other hand wasn’t as well known as the Charlton Brothers. The club was also helped by the fact that European sides had a quota system, each club could only have three foreign players in the team. In Spain it was two foreign players in the starting eleven. Boy times have changed.
In 1982 Barcelona was trying to keep up with their El Classcio compatriots Real Madrid, and signed Argentine wonderkind Diego Maradona. That set in motion as was mentioned above, one of the world’s deadliest strikers Allan Simonsen to leave Barcelona for English Division Two club Charlton Athletic. Transfer rumors weren’t a thing back in Simonsen’s era but the presence of Charlton as a suitor was very far from anything anyone could imagine. The Danish striker, who won the Footballer of the Year in 1977 over Kevin Keegan and Johan Cruyff. Allan’s three years in Catalonia was very fruitful, finishing as the clubs top scorer, and scoring the winning goal in the 1982 Cup Winners’ Cup final.
Simonsen tried as he might to stay at the Camp Nou he was deemed surplus. Prior to the arrival of Maradona from Boca Juniors for 5 million, Simonsen and Bernd Schuster were Barcelona’s foreign allotment in the starting lineup. As soon as it was clear to Simonsen that Schuster wouldn’t be dropped, Simonsen chose to find a starting job instead of sitting on the bench. Ironically, Maradona ended up having an average career with Barcelona eventually leaving for Italy. Interest from clubs in Europe began to come in, namely Italy, Germany, and England. It looked like originally that Tottenham and Real Madrid were the forerunners to sign the striker. However, a wrench was thrown into the proceedings as Charlton Athletic put in a bid for 324,000 pounds, which was above and beyond anything Spurs or Real were going to offer. It was also twice as much as Barcelona had paid for Simonsen three years before.
People mostly took the bid seriously until Simonsen said he reveled in the idea of playing for a less stressful level of football. A contract worth 82 thousand pounds per year didn’t hurt, so Simonsen became an Addick. The transfer was key to Mark Huyler’s vision for his favorite club. Huyler was the new club chairman of Charlton, and saw his club having trouble attracting 7,000 fans to the stadium that held 75,000.
The previous season in Division Two Charlton had finished 13th and had seen their lowest ever gate receipts in the clubs history. The last time the club had attracted 40,000 fans into the stadium was in the 1948-49 season. Huyler was hoping for a big change in fortune and Barcelona was well aware. Because of the Catalan club knowing this they accepted the bid on one condition that it was paid all up front. This was nearly the death nail for the deal because a bank couldn’t guarantee the funds. The 1983 total income for Charlton was roughly 270,000 pounds, so Charlton eventually paid Barcelona half of the fee upfront and the rest later. When the gate fees for Charlton improved. That was a slippery slope to go down just ask Leeds fans.
Simonsen’s first appearance for the club was a reserve match against Swansea where 4,000 Charlton fans came out to cheer the new signing. Four days later 10,000 fans came out to see Simonsen play in the league, a 3-2 loss to Middlesbrough. If we go by the number of fans coming out for the first two appearances, it did look like so far the club was off to a sorting start in the change of fortune.
Not all was bad, in the first 16 matches with the club he hit on nine goals while routinely being the best player on the pitch. That wouldn’t be such a big surprise since the heights he had reached in the sport. Simonsen’s best moment came against fellow Division Two strugglers Chelsea, who had just been humiliated 7-1 against Burnley. The Great Dane came alive in the second half of the contest notching two goals in the 5-2 win. But as good as Simonsen was, the players around him were several levels below him.
Simonsen had done his job in improving the quality of the Charlton side, but he hadn’t improved the finances. He only bumped up the attendance to 13,000 at its top. Just selling Simonsen wouldn’t help Huyler because Simonsen’s agent had fought for a release clause in the contract. The agent was rightfully suspicious of Charlton’s ability to afford the man. When Huyler notified Simonsen that they couldn’t afford to pay him anymore, Simonsen enacted the release clause and went back home to his boyhood club WB in Denmark.
Charlton became a mess, both on the pitch and in the accounting department. Hulyer was hit with a £145,000 tax bill from Inland Revenue, a fee that Charlton couldn’t afford. On the pitch they finished five places lower at 18th while facing bankruptcy. Eventually the debts got up to £400,000 leaving the club no option but to enter administration, leaving the Valley for a groundshare with Crystal Palace.
By James Rowe – @JamesRoweNL – Chief Football Writer
You signed for New Mexico United in 2019. How are you enjoying your time at the club so far and how would you describe a club such as New Mexico United?
I love it here, New Mexico United is a fantastic club and there is a great energy and passion around the place to fall in love with the game more. I think there is real commitment to win and a winning culture that we have certainly built here as a club with the players, staff and coaches that we have.
The fans and the city alike it is a source of unity that is bringing people together from all sorts of races and walks of life and it has been an amazing thing to witness really as a player and an individual to see how this place and the state of New Mexico has come together around the club.
I have been looked after as an international player very well, I have never had an issue with the owner or coaching staff and teammates alike have been committed to making me become a better player and more importantly a better person and it is something that I will take on through my professional career until the day I retire and I have also learned lessons that I will be able to use after that.
You had a four year spell at Charlotte 49ers. How do you look back on your college career and do you have any highlights or special memories?
Yes, It was a mixed bag for me in college. I was not a player who came in and grabbed the headlines and to be honest never in my college career did I light the show up as a player. I was ‘ Red Shirted ‘ in my first year which meant I did not play any minutes and I came into a system that was very different from the sort of player that I was.
I was much a ball centered, wanted modern fluid football and keeping the ball and kind of more aesthetically ball centered kind of team, that is all that I had known and I came into a very strong, tough unit at UNC Charlotte in North Carolina who were without doubt a very good college team but they were playing in a way that I had never been used to, being able to run and off the ball learning the game from a more physical aspect and kind of having to become more a student of the game and that was a priority.
After two years the transformation in my maturity in the game and my physical appearance was something that really transformed throughout my time in college. I had begun to understand that I had a job and it was the first time I understood that I have a job to do here and that I have a role to play and then fulfilling that role with what I can guarantee in the game. So I played as a number nine or number ten throughout college and there is no doubt about that I struggled in my first few years because I was still learning and having to mature in my game and understand that I have a job to do and that it was not just going out to play for the love of it but the last few years I was able to step into more a leadership role and I understood those roles.
I was also captain and top scorer and top assists for the last two years in college and things began to fall into place. The coaching staff were two guys from England Kevin Langen and Jason Osbourne and they both extremely valuable for me in my career as both a college player and a professional, you had an understanding that you have a role to play in the team and a job to do and if you don’t get it done then somebody else is going to step up and that is just the way it is. It was a great learning experience, there were up’s and down’s that I managed to come through and some great memories, some great wins and we ended up getting pretty high in rankings and I came out of it with a degree at the end of it as well which is obviously fantastic.
You are still very young but with the experience you have accrued so far you have played with some great players, could you say who are among the best players you have played alongside so far in your career?
For myself I like to learn from players who are not necessarily like myself because it adds more armory to myself and if I can learn from them. I would say in college Brandt Bronico who is now playing for Chicago Fire, just physically he was a little bit taller than me but far more imposing his body and muscles would help him push past players and it was an important thing that I had never put any importance on in my own mind before and it was something that pushed me to become more competent of how I treated my body and took care of the tools that I have and on top of that he was a fantastic player to play alongside in college.
He scored a lot of goals and now he is doing some great things at Chicago Fire. Whilst being a professional here at New Mexico United I feel so fortunate to have played with some of the best players I have ever played with. It just seems like there is such a wealth of talent in this squad, we have have a Colombian player named Juan Pablo Guzmán who is our number eight and he players central midfield for us and I have never played alongside a player who is so composed and consistent and has as good a level or communication both on and off the pitch as him.
He is absolutely outstanding as a player, I do not believe he has ever played in the MLS but he has had an amazing USL Championship career, he is now 31 years old and his technical ability on the ball and how he positions his body is just amazing, I do not think I have ever seen him give the ball away in training, he is just fantastic and I have learned a huge amount from both Juan Pablo and Brandt during my time alongside them and I feel very fortunate to have played with a lot of very good players so far in my career both at home and overseas as well.
I can imagine in your position as a midfielder that you have played against some difficult opponents so far in your career, could you say which opponents have stood out for you in terms of talent and ability?
Yes I can, I feel very fortunate to have played against some very well known players. Last season at New Mexico United we had a great cup run. The Open which is sort of the FA Cup equivalent where you can draw teams from leagues below and above and it is a special competition, After beating two USL teams and we went on to draw three MLS teams and we beat the first two Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas ( away ) which meant we reached the quarterfinals and I was fortunate to start and play in all of those games and to experience playing against that wealth of talent is truly something that I will never forget and then we were drawn against Minnesota United away in front of 19,000 fans at the Allianz Arena Field and I remember distinctly we went 1-0 up, we ended up losing 6-1 which was very humbling.
I will never forget the performances of two Minnesota United players in particular one being a central midfielder called Ossie Alonso, I think originally he was at Seattle Sounders but was playing as a holding central midfielder and I just could not get near him he was absolutely phenomenal, one of those most mature and in control performances I have ever witnessed in my life. He was fantastic and I was just chasing his shadow all game, he was unbelievable and the second would be Vito Mannone the goalkeeper, for a number of times in the game I will never forget his voice and just his presence. I was half a pitch away from him and I could feel him breathing down my neck. He was such an imposing goalkeeper and it was something which stuck with me for a long time. I have played against a number of good players but those two really stood out for me as being two great players.
You mentioned Kevin Langen and Jason Osbourne, could you say who are the coaches and managers who have played a key role in your development as a professional footballer so far in your career?
DYes, I think I think my college head coach Kevin Langen, he just taught me so many valuable lessons about how to treat the game of football and how to view it in a more professional mindset, his ethos and philosophy is that we are in control and to not give our power away and to not blame mistakes on referees or blame mistakes on teammates or opposition and to not blame bad performances on anything but look in the mirror and he installed that habit to look in the mirror after each training session and after each game and really dissect why I played well, why I did not play well and be honest with myself.
I think that is a lesson I have learned that honestly helped me to become a professional footballer because I was not blaming anything else even maybe when it was right to so, Kevin taught me something which is invaluable as a professional. Our current head coach at New Mexico United, Troy Lesesne, has such a vast knowledge of the game and even though he is relatively young for a coach he’s probably forgotten more about the game than a lot of coaches will ever know He studies and watches that game and he loves it and the amount of detail and intricacy that he brings to the table that I had never really seen or witnessed before is just amazing to sit under and watch.
We currently training in groups of four right now within the legal limits and I am still learning things about movement and just a few yards either side for it to be right or wrong and his detail and approach to the game is just phenomenal and just learning more about the game itself in a more tactical way and I believe Troy is up there with the best coaches I have ever had. Also when I was younger I had some great coaches that installed a pure love for the game and I will never forget them as well.
Finally Daniel, you are still young. Is there anything in particular that you would ideally like to achieve in your professional career in future?
Yes, there are a lot of things that I would love to do. I want to play at the highest possible level that I can play at and you can put names on these things such as different leagues in England, MLS . I have played against three MLS teams and beaten two and I have scored goals in the USL Championship and got assists.
My first ever professional goal against Sacramento Republic FC gained national attention on ESPN’s sports center. Ultimately I just want to play at the best level consistently for as long as possible. I make small goals each week, each month. When I was playing in England my goal was to play in college, whilst I was playing in college my goal was to play and get a USL Championship contract and that happened and whilst I am playing in the USL I love this team and I want them to do well but ultimately I want to be the best player I can possibly be and I would be doing a disservice to the fans and to myself if I weren’t and it is certainly a dream to play in the MLS one day and then when I am there it will be the next thing and that is how life works, you have to be that way to play professionally, you have to wake each day want to be the very best you can possibly be and be right in the moment which I believe I am doing well at the moment and I hope to continue to do so in future.
The experiences I have had at New Mexico United I will cherish for my entire life. I was in an apartment in North Carolina Charlotte not even thinking I would be able to have contract and that I would be going home and working using my degree and six months later I am on ESPN sports center and walking out in front of 19,000 fans at Allianz Field in the Open Cup quarterfinal and that transition and story is something I will never ever forget and New Mexico United game me that platform, believed in me and wanted me to succeed and I owe it to them to each and every date wake up and be the best player that I can possibly be at the moment.
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, this weekend sees the beginning of arguably the worlds biggest and most prestigious amateur/semi-professional football competition, the FA Vase.
It is a continuation of what was the FA Amateur Cup which was first contested in 1893 all the way until 1974 when the advent of semi-professionalism in the lower levels of non-league (i.e. the payment of players on a part-time basis) encouraged the FA to scrap the ‘amateur’ moniker. The competition has some very glamorous names in its list of winners including the likes of Middlesbrough, Barnet, Wycombe Wanderers and Wimbledon, all of which have gone on to achieve great success in the Football League.
Today, it is a competition that encompasses all clubs at Levels 9 and 10 and a smattering of Level 11 clubs in the English Football Pyramid, a total of 612 clubs at these levels have entered for the 2020-21 edition all with one dream, to be one of the last two standing that get to play at the country’s grandest stage, Wembley and with that, live TV coverage on BT. A massive chance to showcase your club to the nation and indeed the world.
However in the last 10-15 years, the tournament has seen an unprecedented level of domination from one region and indeed one league in particular, the self-proclaimed second oldest league in the world, the EBAC Northern League.
Each Northern League club that has won the FA Vase has a unique and incredible story and these are told in a brilliant book written by North East non-league journalist Mark Carruthers called ‘Northern Goal’. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for great first hand accounts of some of the North East’s Vase winners ranging from Newcastle Blue Star in 1978 to South Shields in 2017 with accounts from the likes of Jason Ainsley, Billy Irwin and Julio Arca. It’s available on Amazon for £11.99 with all profits going to the IfYouCareShare foundation.
Here though, i’ll look into reasons as to why I think the North East has enjoyed a lot of unprecedented success in recent years as well as a look through the relevant finals.
A PAST TRADITION OF GLORY
To look into it, you have to go back to the FA Amateur Cup. The Northern League was a prominent fixture on the winners podium with its clubs winning 23 of the 71 editions, just shy of its South Eastern counterpart, the Isthmian League, the two leagues enjoying a good rivalry in the competition. Its most famous winners were Bishop Auckland, the record holders with a magnificent 10 wins with fellow Northern League rivals Crook Town in a share of second place with 5 wins alongside the Isthmian League’s most successful side in the competition, Clapton. the last Northern League winners were North Shields in 1969.
Bishop Auckland’s success is well documented and is fondly thought of from Manchester United fans. Bishops had just completed an unprecedented threepeat in 1957 when the Munich air disaster occurred. To help United complete their remaining fixtures, Bishops loaned them three players including former Great Britain olympic captain Bob Hardisty. They helped United to a respectable 9th place finish in the league and reach the FA Cup final where they lost to Aston Villa.
The appreciation for Bishops contribution has lasted ever since with United sending a team to Bishops’s old Kingsway ground for a fundraising friendly in 1996 and the current floodlights at their new Heritage Park stadium being donated by United.
As I stated though, the Northern League accounted for more than just Bishop Auckland winning it, with Crook Town (5 times), Stockton FC (3 times), Middlesbrough (twice) and also single time winners North Shields, West Hartlepool (now Hartlepool United) and Willington all finding a place on the honours list.
DOMINATION IN THE FA VASE, A REASON OF GEOGRAPHY
As one could imagine, it took a while for semi-professionalism to hit the Northern League, they were reportedly offered multiple times to join their former amateur rivals the Isthmian League to become a direct feeder to the Alliance League (now the National League) which was created in 1979. But instead it chose to stick to its amateur roots until the early 1990’s when its position meant it had to become part of the pyramid. And when that came, the chance to be a conference feeder was long gone and instead, the league was to be a feeder to the Northern Premier League.
One redeeming feature of the success in the FA Vase is the lack of promotion from Northern League Clubs (and North East clubs in general) into non-league’s upper echelons ever since the formation of the Alliance League. Many reasons have been stated for this but a prominent one has been about money, or more specifically the increased costs that come with competing in the NPL and above. Back when the NPL created its Division 1 in 1987, any Northern League club that wished to be promoted would have faced a huge increase in travel commitments.
In the Northern, the furthest trips at the time would have been to the likes of Penrith and Gretna whereas the next division up saw potential trips to outposts like Staffordshire (Eastwood Hanley & Leek Town), Nottinghamshire (Sutton Town & Eastwood Town) and Derbyshire (Alfreton Town) with the nearest away day being down in Harrogate. So looking at that, its little wonder Northern League sides were weary of going up. infact this list of clubs the North East promoted into the NPL up until the introduction of enforced promotion in 2018 makes for sparse reading.
This resulted for many years in the lack of North East clubs within the upper echelons of the pyramid. This I also believe is a big reason for the success of Northern League clubs in the FA Vase. Let’s take the North West as an example. If a player cannot make it at a Premier League side through their academy, then they have plenty of options, for instance, Championship football at the likes of Preston or Blackburn, League One at the likes of Accrington Fleetwood, Crewe, Rochdale and Wigan, League Two at the likes of Morecambe, Tranmere, Salford, Bolton or Oldham, and even beyond there, a plethora of non-league sides at Steps 1-4, its safe to say the North West is very well represented in the top 8 tiers.
In contrast, for the 2012-13 season, after the demise of Darlington, the North East and North Yorkshire had just EIGHT clubs in English Football’s top EIGHT tiers (Newcastle United, Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool United, York City, Harrogate Town, Whitby Town and Blyth Spartans). For a lot of the region’s best talent, if one couldn’t get a spot at any of those 8 sides, there was pretty much no place to go apart from the Northern League.
The seeds of the Northern League’s domination of the Vase began I feel in 1996-97 with Whitby Town’s 3-0 win over North Ferriby United. They would also that season be the last Northern League club to take promotion to the NPL for nearly 10 years. From there, the next 2 years saw Northern League sides reach the final, Tow Law Town (1998) and Bedlington Terriers (1999), both lost out to Western League side Tiverton.
Bedlington would go into deep runs for the following two years reaching the Semi-Finals in 2001 before Whitley Bay won their first Vase in 2002 beating Tiptree in the final. For the next 6 years, many Northern League sides would make deep runs in the competition with 2004 being the only occasion where not one Northern League side managed to reach the last 16, the only time that has happened in the 24 years since Whitby won the competition. These includes the likes of Billingham Synthonia and Jarrow Roofing (both semi-finalists) plus Norton & Stockton Ancients and Crook Town (both quarter-finalists).
WHITLEY BAY’S THREEPEAT INSPIRING OTHERS
Then came the 2008-09 season, and the beginning of legendary achievements by Whitley Bay, themselves a Northern League club who took the plunge and accepted promotion into the NPL in 1988 before returning to the Northern League 12 years later. They had suffered a heart-breaking semi-final defeat to Lowestoft Town the year before.
Little did fans know it back then but their 2nd round win over Abbey Hey in November 2008 was the beginning of an over three year unbeaten run in the competition, a run that would last 3 years and 3 months until a 5th round loss to West Auckland Town in February 2012. Their three finals are all memorable, most notably their 6-1 demolition of Wroxham in 2010, arguably the most dominant Vase final win in the history of the competition. That game saw Paul Chow score what was at the time the quickest goal ever scored at the new Wembley Stadium finding the net after just 21 seconds. It lasted until 2018 when Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen took 11 seconds to score against Manchester United in a league game.
Yes Whitley Bay’s run of glory ended with that aforementioned 5th round loss in 2012 but in terms of the Northern League’s domination of the tournament, things were only beginning. West Auckland Town would go on to become part of the competition’s first ever all Northern League final as they faced Dunston. A pair of Andrew Bulford goals saw Dunston lIft the cup. It was then Spennymoor Town’s turn the next year as Gavin Cogdon and Keith Graydon goals saw off Tunbridge Wells. West Auckland Town then had a chance to make up for the 2012 disappointment by reaching the 2014 final but they would lose 1-0 to Wessex League champions Sholing.
North Shields helped return the Vase to the north east in 2015 after a pulsating extra time win over Glossop North End but up till this point, the region’s success in the competition was largely under the radar from a national standpoint. That would all change in 2016.
MORPETH AND SOUTH SHIELDS, CEMENTING THE LEGACY
To combat low attendances at the FA Vase and Trophy finals, the FA introduced a new format called ‘Non-League finals day’ for 2016 where both the Vase and Trophy finals would take place on the same day. Coupled with that was live coverage of the event on BT Sport which finally brought non-league’s showpiece games into the national and international spotlight.
The Northern League were represented once again, but this time by Morpeth Town, a club who just 5 years previously languished at the bottom of the Northern League’s 2nd Division and only escaped relegation out of the league due to a lack of promotion applicants from below, since then under manager Nick Gray, they went on a wonderful run of success which led to their appearance in the Vase final.
Their opponents though were Hereford, a phoenix club formed the previous summer from the remnants of former EFL side Hereford United. They had rebounded magnificently winning the Midland League with 108 points losing just 4 games. And with their status, they got the majority of the publicity also selling an astonishing 22,000 tickets which was a signal as to the size of the club. As such, Hereford were installed as heavy favourites.
However, this game would be the first time, the Northern League’s domination of the tournament was finally laid bare for the nation to see as Morpeth recovered from a goal down to dismantle Hereford by a 4-1 scoreline which could well have been even more. It was a demolition that shocked the watching pundits but not the Northern League regulars who knew full well the standard of the football they were watching every week in their league.
Then came the 2017 edition where South Shields gave the Northern League its 8th triumph in just 9 years with a 4-0 win over Cleethorpes Town. To many people, the Whitley Bay Vase Threepeat side of 2009-2011 is the best Northern League side to have won the FA Vase, and I am in full agreement with that fact. But without doubt, (and I say this in a totally unbiased way) South Shields were the strongest team to represent the Northern League in a Vase final, and with it, they were arguably the ultimate peak of Northern League success in the competition.
Why? Well the squad was choc full of talent that had won the competition in previous years. Gavin Cogdon, Andrew Stephenson and Wayne Phillips had won in 2013 with Spennymoor and goalkeeper Liam Connell won with Dunston in 2012. Not only that, there was Robert Briggs who was a losing finalist with West Auckland in 2014. Also there was Carl Finnigan who featured in Falkirk’s Scottish Cup final defeat to Rangers in 2009 and also Gateshead legends Jon Shaw and Craig Baxter (the latter featured in Gateshead’s conference final defeat to Cambridge in 2014). And all that doesn’t include former Sunderland and Middlesbrough favourite Julio Arca. It was a phenomenal team Shields had assembled.
WHAT OF NOW?
Since South Shields’s 2017 win, the re-organisation of the English Football Pyramid brought about the introduction of enforced promotion from step 5 to step 4. With clubs no longer being able to refuse promotion out of the Northern League and being threatened with relegation to Step 6 if they did (a fate that befell Andover Town in 2018).
So presumably, this could end up spelling the end of the Northern League’s domination of the Vase, with more North East clubs going on to populate the upper parts of non-league and with it, the regions best non-league players having a higher level at which to play. Which is why when Stockton Town reached the final in 2018, a few people (including myself) had a thought that they could be the last finalists for a while from the region. They ended up losing 1-0 to Thatcham Town. Then the 2019 edition seemed to confirm my thoughts as it became the first Vase final to not feature a Northern League side in 11 years. In that, Chertsey Town needed extra time to dispatch Cray Valley PM. Chertsey themselves knocked out the last remaining Northern League side, beating West Auckland in the Quarter-Finals.
However, 2020 sees the Northern League return to the showpiece with a bang. Both Consett and Hebburn Town will contest the second all Northern League Final after both won their delayed semi-finals. It’s a clear sign that the league is not yet ready to let go of its addiction to success in the FA Vase. They were due to play the final at the end of this month but the recent upsurge in cases of Covid-19 forced the FA to postpone to as yet an unspecified date.
Overall, yes the region’s best non-league talent may be leaving the Northern League as the NPL will continue to be populated more by the best the Northern League has to offer, but not yet will they be wanting to let go their grip on the FA Vase. And with promotion last season curtailed thanks to the null and void of the league seasons, Northern league sides will be going in as the teams to beat once again.
A man who is so well known within Scottish football is Bobby Williamson, having played at Clydebank, Rangers, West Brom, Rotherham and Kilmarnock as a striker scoring over 140 goals in his professional career. He then turned his hand rather unexpectedly to management where he went on to have a 20-year career. He took the helm at Scottish sides Kilmarnock and Hibernian, English sides Plymouth and Chester City and then went on a fascinating adventure across Africa.
This is the first in a series of pieces taken from an interview with Bobby where we talk about his playing career, managerial career and of course the truly unique experience of international and club management across the African continent. First off Bobby’s managerial career. How he got into it and winning the Scottish Cup in his first year of management with Kilmarnock.
Coaching was something that Bobby had never really considered as a player but when faced with the options after retirement he couldn’t see himself doing anything outside of football, so considering this, was Bobby surprised by how long he did end up managing in the game?
‘It does still, it does still surprise me to this day but when I was offered a place at Kilmarnock a team that I knew so well. They were a good bunch of players, I knew the club upside-down, I knew the players and the ones who were ready to make the step up from the youth academy so for me it was a no brainer. But then I remember the disappointment of losing my first game in charge against Dundee United, but I remember on the Monday after saying to the players “Look you’re disappointed and you’re grieving but that is what it’s all about” I essentially told them that unless they wanted to feel like this every week then they have to be able to make that step up, the level that is required to play in the first division because I was going to be bringing young lads through that I know can challenge for their spots. And I think they took note of that, which I am very happy about, because obviously we went on to have a fantastic season.’
Bobby’s quick transition into an unexpected coaching career couldn’t have really started any better, a high placed finished in the league, European football and best of all winning the prestigious Scottish Cup! A feat that had only been achieved by the club twice before and over half a century ago! What was that cup run like as an experience to Bobby?
‘Well they were all really tough games in the lead up to that final, the players had worked hard and really enjoyed it. But then for the final itself we had a fortnight to prepare, so the week before the final we had a big get together, a few drinks were consumed, I was still close friends with a lot of the players in that squad, but in the end we won because of the work we put in on the pitch and on the training fields beforehand. But it was absolutely tremendous and the day itself was fantastic’
But a whole other layer to this final was that not only was this a massive occasion for the club, who had finished runners up in five of their previous final appearances, but also for Bobby as the manager who faced off against Falkirk who were now managed by Alex Totten, the man that Bobby had just replaced at Kilmarnock! Had this caused any tension or piled more pressure onto Bobby beforehand?
‘To me there was no extra pressure, a cup final is a cup final, there is enough pressure as it is. But if anything, maybe it was felt more by Alex than it was by me. He was the one who had developed that team who I was coaching, I had only really brought through a few kids. I never really brought any new players in. But the young players I had brought through were showing fantastic enthusiasm and they helped some of the players who had become slightly disillusioned earlier in the season and had their heads down. And it was those lads that I brought in who helped push on the rest of the team to the season we had. But no from my perspective there was no added pressure because of Alex being in the other dugout’
But what then is it really like to win a major trophy as a manager? Having gone through the training and preparation for weeks, the pressure and fan anticipation on your back, to then have it all work in a cup final where it matters most, you might never get to experience those emotions ever again.
‘To be honest it’s relief more than anything else, and the enjoyment comes a bit later. But obviously I know Alex very well so it was very disappointing for him in his career, so I went over and shook his hands straight away because you know that both of you as managers may never get that opportunity again, so for as relived as I was, I was also aware that it was an upsetting time for Alex. But then after that I go over to our guys, I praise everyone, started celebrating and I’m more than aware that this was going to carry on for a while anyway. But I never took a step back from any of the celebrations, you have to remember I had just finished playing, so a lot of the players who had just won that trophy were also players that I had actually played with! You know a lot of the core of that team were still there from my playing days so you can’t help but feel a part of that, even as the manager’
Bobby ended up staying at Kilmarnock for 6 years. He led Killie to four top four finishes, a league cup Semi-final and Final. But then in 2002 Bobby after 12 years at the club as a player and a manger he left and went onto manage Hibernian. His story there and many more all still to come.
By James Rowe – @JamesRoweNL – Chief Football Writer
You signed for KV Mechelen in 2018. How are you enjoying your time at the club so far and how would you describe a club such as KV Mechelen?
Yes, I am really enjoying my time at KV Mechelen so far. When I signed for the club they had just got relegated to the Belgian First Division B. We managed to gain promotion back to the Belgian Pro League and win the Belgian Cup too which was impressive but in terms of name and how the club is viewed in Belgium that KV Mechelen is a big club and I believe that they belong to the biggest eight clubs in Belgium and I certainly have no regrets about my decision to sign for the club especially if you look at how we have been performing as a club since my arrival and things have been going really well at the club.
You played four seasons for SC Cambuur in the Netherlands. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any highlights or special memories?
I starting out playing in the youth setup at SC Cambuur and my first highlight was that I managed to go on to make my official debut for the club in a home match against MVV Maastricht. They were my first steps in professional football and the season after making my debut we became champions of the then Jupiler League and I managed to play a lot of matches.
I will never forget the Championship match away to Excelsior Rotterdam that is something that will stay will me for the remainder of my career and is an absolute highlight of my career so far and that I managed to win the championship with the team that I started out in their youth setup. It was also the first time in ten years that SC Cambuur returned to the Dutch top flight to play in the Eredivisie and I was pleased to have played such an important role in that team. I must also mention what we achieved during the following two seasons in the Eredivisie were we played some great football and obtained good results.
You played one season for Cadiz CF in Spain who are currently flying high in the Spanish second division. How do you look back on your time in Spain at the club and do you have any highlights or special memories?
I must be honest with you in that I made a conscious decision not to renew my contract at SC Heerenveen as I really wanted to experience playing abroad and Cadiz CF came in for me and that really was the whole package in terms of the country and the type of football.
I had a fantastic life in Spain with good weather and I can tell you that my season at Cadiz CF was fantastic both on and off the pitch. The Spanish second division is still a very good league with a lot of quality. I must also say that it was a completely different experience of football than what I was used to in the Netherlands. I am absolutely delighted that I could experience playing for such a club and in such a great country as Spain so far in my career.
You made a somewhat controversial transfer to SC Heerenveen from rivals SC Cambuur. Given the strength of the rivalry between the two clubs was it difficult for you to make such a transfer?
On the one hand well yes it was a bold transfer and on the other hand SC Heerenveen came in for me and SC Cambuur did not wish to work on such a transfer and when the transfer window was open FC Twente came in for me and they are also a big club an I was interested in signing for them and SC Cambuur did not wish to work on such a transfer under any circumstance.
Whilst I was then in transfer negotiations I stated that if you are going to block this transfer then I am not going to renew my contract as maybe the same thing will happen again in future and then I decided to stay another six months at the club and then SC Heerenveen came back in for me again and they did everything in their power to sign me. They also gave me a lot of confidence and the potential to make a big step in my career was attractive to me. Heerenveen is 30 kilometers from Leeuwarden and I have family that come from there and the family of my wife too so we were able to carry on living in the same place so that was another reason. SC Heerenveen are also a really good club and the financial and private reasons to make the transfer were also ideal.
You have accrued a lot of experience playing professional football in the Netherlands, Spain and now in Belgium. Could you say who are among the best players you have played alongside so far in your career?
Yes , I look back to my time at SC Heerenveen when Martin Ødegaard joined the club on loan from Real Madrid. He is currently on loan at Real Sociedad in Spain and I personally believe that he is the best player I have played with so far in my career. There is a lot of hype about him coming from Real Madrid and that brings with it a certain expectation but he is the real deal. I remember the first time that he trained with the first team at SC Heerenveen you could clearly see the quality he had and that it was of a different level that I was used too.
I must also mention Sam Larsson who has recently made a transfer to China. He has such a fantastic technique and ball control that it was bizarre at times as I have not seen that from many players. He also has so much potential that I thought that he would go on from Feyenoord to make a step up to another league in Europe.
Finally Lucas, could you say who are the coaches and managers that have meant a lot to you and who have played a key role in your development as a professional footballer?
I would say Dwight Lodeweges at SC Cambuur during our first season back in the Eredivisie. He ensured that even though as a small club we played some great football at times and got some great results. He was also the managed who took me from SC Cambuur to SC Heerenveen.He is certainly a manager that I would like to mention in that respect and I have absolutely no regrets regarding my transfer from SC Cambuur to SC Heerenveen.
The Campbell’s Footballs Scottish Football Review of the week
Written by Dr. Grant Campbell – @stato_grant
The host of Campbell’s Footballs Dr. Grant Campbell has been casting his eye over an incident packed week in Scottish Football, giving his comments on some of the major talking points over the weekend’s matches. Feel free to discuss and debate the views on various social media channels.
1. RUTHLESS CELTIC TAKE ADVANTAGE OF CALAMITOUS COUNTY DEFENDING
Celtic are begining to get their act together and came back after the international break in fine style in Dingwall.
Neil Lennon’s troops were ruthless in their convincing 5-0 away win in Dingwall. What will have pleased the Celtic boss even more so will be the fact that five different players got on the score-sheet. Odsonne Edourard opened the scoring on his return from injury with a cool penalty, Albian Ajeti continued his excellent goal scoring return; he’s now scored 3 goals in just 56 league minutes, his two centre backs Kristoffer Ajer and new signing Shayne Duffy (pictured) both notched a goal apiece and Patryk Klimala completed a convincing display.
On the face of things, it was a pretty easy win for Celtic but that did not tell the whole story.
County had some great chances of their own too. They were denied twice by woodwork and other times by Greek goalkeeper Vasilis Barkas in the Celtic goal. However, the Staggies contributed to their own downfall with some calamitous defending. The tone was set with the penalty they gave away after a clumsy challenge by Coll Donaldson. Every one of the Celtic goals was avoidable in my view.
As impressive a win as this win was for Celtic, the Champions still look vulnerable in patches and Lennon will hope new signing Duffy will provide valuable leadership they need in a team which still looks a bit loose at times.
2. HISTORY MAKING GERS SMASH UNITED BUT LOSE KEY PLAYERS
Congratulations to Rangers who on Saturday afternoon created history by breaking a 114 year old defensive record of seven consecutive league clean sheets.
There is no doubt Rangers have been ruthless and professional in their disposing of the teams they have come up against so far this season, especially at Ibrox. The Gers were dominant in their display against Micky Mellon’s side with August player of the month Ryan Kent and Ianis Hagi, in particular, showing their quality. A goal from Kent, as well as finishes by James Tavernier, Kemar Roofe and Scott Arfield, led to a comfortable victory for Steven Gerrard’s side. It probably could have been more for the hosts had it not been for the goalkeeping of Benjamin Siegrist in the United goal.
What will worry Rangers connections alike though, are the loss of four key players for the foreseeable future. Leon Balogun, Ryan Jack, Alfredo Morelos and Brandon Barker all pulled up with injuries on Saturday from this match. Gerrard will be anxious to have these guys back as squad depth will be important in their pursuit of stopping Celtic and for their European journey also.
Speaking of injuries, the one plus for Dundee United is that Lawrence Shankland was back on the bench on Saturday for Mellon’s side. After three straight defeats including back to back 4-0 away losses, United will need him to be back firing in order to get back on track.
3. MCCRORIE SHOWS HIS CLASS AS DONS GO FOUR UNBEATEN
Ross McCrorie more and more is looking like one of the signings of the season.
The versatile Dons player has been absolutely outstanding since joining Derek McInnes’ side and this was confirmed with a superb performance in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Kilmarnock. McCrorie was at the heart of everything for the Dons; Starting attacks, breaking up attacks from the opposition and scoring the only goal of the game with a lovely finish. Many Dons fans will hope the former Rangers player will continue this fine form both domestically and in Europe. If he can, it will give Aberdeen a massive advantage in their quest to have a strong season.
This was a solid display from the Dons who have found some real momentum after that opening day loss against Rangers. Since that game and the COVID8 saga, it is 5 wins in all competitions, four league victories in a row and just one goal conceded.
Kilmarnock on the other hand just cannot get one over on their opponents from the Granite City. Killie have now only won one of the last 26 meetings between the two sides. Quite an extraordinary stat!
4. HIBERNIAN BACK ON SONG AHEAD OF HUGE GERS CLASH
After a couple of sketchy performances, Hibernian have rediscovered their mojo it seems.
It had been well documented the situation at St Mirren before kick off. However, you can only beat who is in front of you and take control of things on your side of the white line. Hibernian were ruthless with their display in Paisley. The game for me was ran by Joe Newell in midfield who is quietly looking like an excellent signing by Jack Ross. Furthermore, with Martin Boyle and the returning Kevin Nisbet back on the score sheet as well for the Hibees, this was much more like it from Ross’ team. They will need a similar positive display next weekend as they head into a massive showdown with leaders Rangers at Easter Road.
5. YOUNG ACCIES COME OF AGE IN COMEBACK AT LIVINGSTON
You can never write Hamilton off in any game and Saturday’s comeback against Livingston is a huge reminder of that. After conceding in the first minute at the Tony Macaroni Stadium. you would have had long odds on Brian Rice’s side turning things around. However, David Templeton and Kyle Munro’s goals turned things on it’s head for youthful Accies to recover and pick up three crucial points.
Gary Holt will be absolutely livid at the two goals his team gave away in the second half of their match as both were avoidable at set pieces. However, he will be equally annoyed at two glaring misses by Marvin Bartley at 1-0 and Scott Pittman at 1-1. This was a game that Livingston should never have lost but you have to credit Accies for digging in and showing real character to fight back and pick up the points.
6. CAMPBELL INFLUENCES MOTHERWELL TO FIRST WIN OF SEASON
What a week for Allan Campbell!
The Motherwell midfielder scored two important goals this week: one for his country in Lithuania and the other for his club side against the Perth Saints at Fir Park in two consecutive 1-0 wins.
I’m pleased to see Steven Robinson’s pick up their first victory of the season on Saturday. I’ve been scratching my head all season why the Steelmen have been struggling to get results. They have been playing some good football in matches but individual errors and a lack of profligacy has cost them thus far.
There is also no doubt that Motherwell will miss David Turnbull who has joined Celtic in the last few weeks. I feel now that Campbell is the guy who has to take over the mantle that Turnbull has now vacated. He certainly has hit the ground running that is for sure!
7. BUDDIES CORONAVIRUS ISSUES
I really have a huge degree of sympathy for St Mirren.
Their game against Hibernian for me should have been postponed this weekend and Chris Iwelumo on Sportscene on Saturday evening shared the same views as myself. For them to have lost all three goalkeepers for the match against the Edinburgh side is nothing short of a freaky situation to have occurred. I think the SPFL and the SFA should have implemented special dispensation for this game to be postponed even though this happened so close to kick off. It has shown us that the COVID-19 strain is still rife in society and we should still be cautious no matter what we are doing.
This is not the first time St Mirren have been affected by this either.
Celtic got their match against the Buddies postponed after Boli Bolingoli left the country on his own accord. Where is the consistency in a situation like this? This was a far more innocent situation it seemed than the COVID8 at Aberrdeen as well. The sporting bodies must be clearer about the rules in a situation like this. St Mirren should no way have been forced to call in an emergency signing for a game or two the night before a match. Credit to Zdenek Zlamal for stepping it at short notice but he clearly was not up to speed as the other three keepers would have been and as a consequence did not have his best match.
You can see Jim Goodwin was frustrated by this and I quite agree with him. I am not a St Mirren fan but sporting integrity should be maintained as far as possible in a situation like this. I agree we should try to see leagues and cups out in the safest way possible but we should not rush. This will be a recurring situation I have no doubt about that but the SFA and SPFL have set a dangerous precedent now with their handling of this situation.
8. BANANA SKINS FOR SCOTTISH SIDES IN EUROPE
Rangers, Motherwell and Aberdeen are all back in Europa League action this Thursday and all should get through should they prepare in the correct manner. However, in these early Europa League rounds, banana skins lie all around. For a start, all three Scottish Premiership sides are all away from home and all matches in Europe on the road are far from easy. Secondly, all three sides are coming up against outfits who have been known in the past and in current form to be tricky to negotiate.
Rangers will know all too well about Lincoln Red Imps after they won the home match against Celtic in Brendan Rodgers’ first European match in charge. Accompanied with a few injuries for the Ibrox team. Steven Gerrard’s side will need to be professional to see the job through.
Aberdeen have found their feet in recent weeks but so have their opponents Viking who have gone unbeaten in their last five, winning their last three. That will be a tricky game for Derek McInnes’ side in the ‘Oil and Gas’ derby over in Holland.
Motherwell though for me have potentially the dodgiest match-up on paper on Thursday night. They come up against Coleraine, a side I know well following Northern Irish football on a regular basis. The Bannsiders knocked out Maribor in the last round on penalties and have an incredible home record at the Showgrounds, having only lost once in the whole of last season domestically. They are also managed by former St Mirren manager Oran Kearney who has revolutionised the Northern Irish side since his return to Coleraine. Kearney will be keen to showcase why he got the job at the Buddies and a win over the Steelmen on Thursday night would be another big feather in his cap.
At their best, all three Scottish Premiership sides should progress on Thursday but they should take nothing for granted especially in these one off matches.
9. GOOD TO SEE FANS BACK!
Two test events with fans came into force this weekend and from the outside looking in, it seemed like it went well. Football, simply, is nothing without fans and we need them back sooner rather than later undoubtedly. However, we should all be still adhering to the Government’s advice and make sure we ourselves do our bit to make sure we do not risk another upsurge in the COVID-19 virus. I am a football fan like many and I am frustrated I cannot go and see my team every Saturday.
However, those days will return soon. Yesterday’s events gave me and hopefully others a sense of hope.
10. TOP 4 BREAKING AWAY AT THE TOP
It already feels like we have a quartet at the top pulling away from the rest of the teams in the Scottish Premiership.
Rangers have been the class of the field so far but next weekend sees them take on Hibernian and for me that will be the first real indication of whether or not they can keep pace with Celtic at the top of the standings. Celtic should beat Livingston next week at home and I fancy Aberdeen to continue their fine form by narrowly beating Motherwell.
Below them, just three points covers 5th to bottom. It is so tight and each week it gets harder and harder to predict who will win and pick up the points.
You get the impression a side like Ross County could be on the slide down the table after a poor run of results and next week’s match between Dundee United and St Mirren looks like a six pointer already after both sides’ poor recent form. Hamilton will look for three successive away wins as they travel to Kilmarnock. St Johnstone host the Staggies in another tricky match to call as well.
It may be the usual suspects up front but like the Formula One, below the top four is very interesting. Let’s hope it continues!
Brighton Manager Graham Potter spoke to James Rowe – @JamesRoweNL – Chief Football Writer about his journey in football that led him to Brighton and the Premier League.
You were manager of Östersunds FK for many years. How did you enjoy life in Sweden?
I really enjoyed life in Sweden. It was been an unbelievable journey. When I look back, I arrived, like you said, in 2011, and the club was in the fourth tier of Swedish football, now the club are playing in the top tier (the Allsvenskan), and also our experiences in the Europa League.
It’s been an amazing experience. The club has also developed and grown, and I have as a person too. My family has also grown we have had children since we have arrived in Sweden. It’s been amazing.
Do you notice any differences between the coaching philosophies of Sweden and England?
It’s hard to generalise, of course culturally there are differences between Sweden and England, and I suppose that reflects a little bit in coaching and football.
English football is unique in how it’s played and the general cultural view too. I have tried to develop my own path. I had my English background and education after my career finished. I am very lucky to experience life in another country and culture.
I believe Swedish football has it’s similarities to English football, and you can see that with the influences of Bob Houghton and Roy Hodgson. Every country has it’s own identity too.
You mentioned Östersund’s run in the Europa League. For you as their manager, what was the highlight?
I would say the highlight for me was winning at home against POAK. We were 3-1 down from the first leg, and we were disappointed in how we played in that first leg in Greece.
It was a tough environment, with the heat and their passionate crowd. We felt that our away goal gave us a chance for the second leg at home.
We played really well at home and deserved to go through. The feeling of qualifying for the Europa League, and the implications that it has, was the highlight of 2017 for me.
You have faced opponents such as Athletic Bilbao, Hertha Berlin, and Arsenal. Was there any specific preparation you did as a Swedish team going up against more seasoned teams from stronger leagues?
If I reflect back on the entire tournament I think we had a bit of luck first off when we drew Galatasaray, in terms of them being at the start of their preparation for the season. We caught them at a good time, and we had an advantage of being in the middle of our season, but we still had to play well.
What you have to understand, from our perspective, is that the opposition are playing at a higher level every week and they are used to playing at a quicker tempo.
We needed to be as good as we could be, and also as clear as possible because the level we were competing against is essentially higher than ours.
We had make sure that we were clear in what we were doing, in our game play, and trust that the players could adapt quickly and rise to the challenge of playing against players that are used to playing at a higher level.
You secured a famous win at the Emirates Stadium against Arsenal. I was at the match and I thought that you were tremendous, and your game plan was executed really well. An impressive win for Östersund. As an opposition manager, what did you see as the key weakness when playing Arsenal in the second leg?
We were disappointed with the result in the first leg in Sweden. We did not play well in the first 25 minutes of that game, and we were caught like a rabbit in headlights at times, and we got punished.
We tried to learn and think how we could improve. We had an idea around trying to be compact in the middle of the pitch in the second leg, and counter-attack in good way from there, but also knowing that Arsenal were 3-0 up and that they would not quite be at their level.
They got beat in the North London derby. We thought that if we could stay in the game and make it difficult we could offer a threat.
We managed to change the environment at the Emirates Stadium, especially being 2-0 up at half-time.
The shame from our perspective is that we conceded a goal early in the second half, which let them of the hook a little bit.
It would have been nice to maintain that 2-0 lead for longer, and then maybe nerves would set in. It was not to be, but we did our best.
I would like to ask you about your own career. You played for Birmingham City, Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion, and York City among others. At what club did you enjoy your football the most, and what were your highlights?
I look back on my playing career and I am grateful for all the time at had a different clubs.
I started of at Birmingham City and I have fond memories of my time at Stoke City too. I could not single out one particular club.
I had 13 years as a player full of ups and mostly downs. I was not a particularly top player, but I am delighted to have had the experience, and I loved and respected all the clubs that I played for.
In terms of highlights, I was involved in the famous Southampton v Manchester United game at the Dell, and that was a special game. I came on as a substitute. It was a great scoreline and performance that day.
When you are a professional footballer you are fortunate, and maybe you do not understand that at the time. When I look back now I was very fortunate to have the experiences that I did.
Were there any players that you played with in your career that stood out for you in terms of talent and skill?
If you talk about talent and skill it would have to be Matt Le Tissier, who I played with at Southampton.
He was an incredible footballer and an amazing player. He had such ability, and technical quality.
There were times where he kept Southampton up on his own. There was also a great atmosphere at the Dell, and we always had a great team spirit. Le Tissier could do stuff that was out of this world at times.
Finally, are there any managers that have stood out for you and that have helped you in your career?
As a player you learn and take bits from all managers, in that respect I understand that football can be a difficult game.
The one guy that was an influence on me is Cyrille Regis at West Brom, who sadly passed away this year. He was a very impressive character and man. When he spoke you listened.
He gave me good advice about controlling the things that you can control and effect, and not get worried about what other people think. I would name Regis as a strong influence.
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By James Rowe – @JamesRoweNL – Chief Football Writer
You signed in January 2020 for Larne FC in Northern Ireland. How are you enjoying your time at the club so far and how would you describe a club such as Larne FC?
I am really enjoying my time here at Larne FC. I came over to Northern Ireland after I had some really bad injuries. I wanted to come over to get away from things and get some game time. My original intention was to come to Northern Ireland, get game time and then leave again but I have enjoyed it so much that I wanted to stay and I moved to Larne FC from Glentoran FC and Larne FC is a club that is massively on the up.It is a full time club and not all clubs here in Northern Ireland are.
They have a great owner in Kenny Bruce and he has the best interests of the club at heart. Sometimes you have owners that are only in it for profit or for non footballing reasons and he brought this club being from Larne himself.Larne is also a small village and he wants everybody at the club to push in the right direction and he has done that so far. They club got promoted last season so this season is their first season in the top division. I signed in January and the club also play good football. I like to get the ball down and play football the right way and it is great to have good people in and around the club and it was a massive reason why I wanted to sign for Larne FC.
You came through the youth setup and debuted for Celtic FC. How do you look back on your time at the club and did year learn anything in particular that stood you in good stead for your career as a professional footballer?
When you talk about big clubs it is first and foremost always hard to go and stake a claim and play in the first team. I signed for Celtic FC when i was eight and I started out in the under ten’s team. Even now there are not many players who go come through the youth setup and debut for the first team.
No matter what happens it is something that I will always hold close to me and be thankful that I got the opportunity to play for Celtic. I loved my time at the club and being a Celtic fan being brought up in a Celtic household so for me even being in the youth team was a big deal and I managed to make to debut at Celtic Park against Ross County and play competitive games for the club was massive for me and my family as well because they gave up a lot to make sure that I could get there and finally achieve the goal that I wanted to.
I suffered some bad injuries at the club but looking back on my time at the club I was involved in some big games.I was on the bench for the famous win against FC Barcelona. So there are a few iconic situations that stand out for me.I also believe that my injury situation was the only thing that stopped me from doing what I wanted to do. I left on a new manager coming in and I was not where I wanted to be.
Ronny Delia came to the club and I was not anywhere near the first team because he did not know me as a person and I was still young and that is the reason why I left. I loved my time at Celtic and people who know football know that it is all about luck and you need to be lucky in certain situations and when you get your chance you have to take it and for instance I made my debut and during training the following day I broke my ankle so it was hard at times but such experiences have made me the man I am today being mentally stronger and dealing with different situations. I am a true believer that everything happens for a reason and I am really thankful for my time at Celtic FC and it was a dream come true to play for the club and something that will stay with me forever and something that I am really proud of.
You played two seasons for Blackpool FC. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any highlights or special memories?
After I left Celtic, I had a few offers to stay in Scotland from having been at a big club in Celtic but I always wanted to go and play in England. So I went down to sign for Blackpool FC and I loved it.
I had a good pre season and I was flying and then two days before the season started I suffered a ACL injury, my cartilage so I was out for eight to 12 weeks. It did not heal properly so I ended up being out until Christmas time amd then I went on to play around 25 games and I enjoyed my time at the club even though I felt at times that English football did not really suit me. I met some really good people during my time in England and I had a good manager in Neil McDonald who was assistant to Sam Allardyce at West Ham United and he had a good understanding of football and he new what he was talking about but he changed his ways after a few bad results and he brought in very physical players over six feet tall and started playing long ball so I did not play the last three months of that season.
He was honest enough to explain his reasons for leaving me out and I respected his reasons. Every footballer values honesty from their manager. He then got sacked due to Blackpool FC getting relegated to League Two. I then received a few offers to go back to Scotland and then Gary Bowyer came in as the new manager and me and him did not get on at all. We had a few coming togethers and disagreements and it was best for me to move on and he would not allow me to leave and then on deadline day I managed to secure a loan move to Dunfermline Athletic in Scotland.
My time at Blackpool FC ended really in a really silly way but I met a lot of good people. A lot of people in Blackpool FC have a bad name as the Oyston’s were there at the time but they were really good to me and they helped me a lot as I went down to Blackpool as a young 21 year old boy and I have got a lot of respect for them.
You have accrued experience playing in Scotland, England and also youth international level for Scotland. Could you say who are among the best players you have played alongside so far in your career?
I played with some very good players during my time at Celtic. We had some very special players such as Virgil van Dijk, Victor Wanyama, Gary Hooper James Forrest, Joe Ledley but the real stand out player for me was Scott Brown in everything that he carries and his whole persona with hard work. He has the whole package and I think he is very underrated. He is also underrated in Scotland even though everybody loves him.He is just so driven.
I also played youth international football for Scotland at under 18 and under 21 level and I went on to captain the under 21 team and we played in European Championships.I remember at Celtic in the youth team a played called Islam Feruz who ended up leaving to go to Chelsea and he was a special player. He probably left Celtic too early but Chelsea were offering him something that he could not turn down but he was a very special player.
I can imagine as a midfielder that you have come up against some difficult opponents through the years.could you say which opponents stood out for you in terms of talent and ability?
Yes, Going back to my time at Celtic I played competitive games and every year we would also play pre season and mid seasons games against top teams such as Borussia Mönchengladbach and Galatasaray.
I can always remember playing against Borussia Mönchengladbach at Celtic Park and at the time Granit Xhaka was their captain and I can remember coming off the pitch thinking wow if that is the standard I need to get to. He was great with both feet, he could move and run as well as being fit and strong. He also had an unbelievable range of passing too.
I also played against Athletic Bilbao in the San Mames Stadium in Bilbao and I was only 16 years old and Celtic FC pulled me out of school to travel with them and play the game. I played 80 minutes and I have the shirt of Ander Iturraspe.He taught me a lot in that game and his movement on the ball was just fantastic. I played opposite him in midfield and I did not know where he was. The ball would go behind me and he had such quick feet.
I also played a friendly against Tottenham Hotspur and they had Mousa Dembélé playing for them and he is probably one of the best players I have ever played against. He is just so strong and he carried the ball so well. I remember thinking he could go on to play for one of the best teams in the world.
You mentioned Neil McDonald at Blackpool. Could you say who are the coaches and managers who have meant a lot to you so far in your career and who have played a key role in your development as a professional footballer?
I think Neil Lennon has to be up there.He took my under his wing from the age of 17 years old in the youth team of Celtic. I still stay in contact with him even now. Celtic pulled me out of school early and I signed full time professional terms and Neil Lennon was the reserve manager at the time.The first team manager was a man named Tony Mowbray and he came and watched a couple of under 18 matches and I had played well so Neil Lennon called me up to the reserves within three months.
Tony Mowbray then got sacked and Neil Lennon then became the interim first team manager and after doing well Celtic gave him the job permanently so there was me training with the first only four months after leaving school. It was just unbelievable given my Celtic background and for me it was very special. He gave me the chance at a young age and he also gave me my debut.
I will be honest I had agreed to sign a new contract at Celtic and then Neil left to go to Bolton Wanderers and that is the only reason I left. If he had of remained at Celtic I would still be there.When I left to go to Blackpool Neil Lennon tried to get me to go to Bolton Wanderers with him. Bolton Wanderers were playing in the Championship at the time and I was guaranteed more football in League Two with Blackpool FC at the time and then after I finished my loan spell at Dunfermline.
I was going to sign for Hibernian FC as Neil was the manager there and after failing a few medicals I spoke to him and he is the reason I came over to Nothern Ireland because he is from there. He told me go to Nothern Ireland I have got a big team for you in Glentoran and you will get some games under your belt. He is someone who I have a tremendous amount of respect for.
Written by Gavin Blackwell – Physio within football for over 30 years.
I was put in charge of Jaffa cakes, bananas and pasta.” One of my lecturers used to work for a Super League club in rugby league. One day I asked him why he had given up? “I was coming home one day and listening to the banter on the team bus and realised that I didn’t want it anymore.”
I have worked in football for many years on the supporting cast and working for a number of managers, in backroom teams that consist nowadays of assistant managers, coaches, goalkeeper coach, physios, doctors, sport science, analysts and fitness coaches. As with a football team, one member who doesn’t perform effectively can undermine the results and morale of the entire group.
When Sir Alex Ferguson was the first to admit that a manager is no longer a one-man band and that a boot room would be hard-pressed to accommodate meetings of backroom staff. The challenge is therefore to select staff as well as players and to build teams in the pleural rather than just a team, who not only have specific tasks but also plays apart in creating the right atmosphere around the team.
Former Arsenal and England Trainer/Physio Fred Street described working for a football club in whatever capacity as not so much a job rather a way of life. Your title or job description defines a very narrow view of your function and being a member of the staff team is probably more accurate, as it covers the multitude of small day to day problems that crop up when dealing with a population of around forty people. With all the concomitant problems that any large group of people produce, in addition to those of the footballer and his peculiar situation in a strange world of changing values and daily assessment of his ability.
Staff in whatever capacity or level must be available at all times to listen, help if possible, advise, correct and guide, and keep our finger on the ‘pulse’ of players problems real or imaginary being a utility man is probably more accurate.
Arguably English footballs greatest manager Bob Paisley preferred the word staff rather than titles when referring to his backroom team. The modern-day manager has to captain and lubricate the machinery to ensure it runs smoothly in all conditions. At all levels it is one of the most precarious aspects of the game is when a board loses faith with the main man a question that always gets asked no matter what football club what part of the country what about the backroom staff whenever a manager departs the club. It brings uncertainty for the supporting cast.
When Shankly arrived at Anfield in 1950 he opted to release two dozen players but retain all the backroom staff – a rarity in today’s game. One Liverpool staff man Ronnie Moran, who became the perfect lieutenant and perfect foyle for not only Shankly, but Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Roy Evans. However, he always feared the worst when a new manager was appointed. This is why when a manager gets appointed the first act is usually to sack the backroom staff except the youth team manager ( because he knows the kids that are coming through) and the physio because no manager would be daft enough to do that immediately because he needs fit players and nobody knows the players better than the physio.
Good physios are hard to find and tend to stay at clubs for a long time, seeing a lot of managers come and go – like Rodger Wylde at Stockport County. The rest of the staff get culled like cubs by a new lion because they may not be loyal to the new gaffer and have lofty ambitions themselves. The manager does this because he feels that he can trust his own team of staff who have been with him before and are ready instantly to put in to practice what the manager wants. When he finally gets sacked the backroom staff usually go the same way and just say F…. it until they get another chance.
Over the years many high profile and good club men have been shown the door or been marginalised into a lesser role following the appointment of a new manager. Nowadays culls don’t just stop at coaching staff it more often than not affects doctors and physios. In the last three years half of the Premier League clubs have either changed doctor or physio following the appointment of a new manager.
When Neil Warnock, one of the game’s most successful managers, was appointed the Plymouth Argyle manager in the close season of 1995 made a couple of signings. However,Argyles next import was not a player but Norman Medhurst the Torquay United physiotherapist who struck up a friendship with Warnock during a brief spell as a consultant to the south-west club.
“I’m delighted to get someone of his calibre” said Warnock, “you want your own men I was always impressed with Norman during my time at Torquay. I have explained to Paul that that’s football I’m afraid.”
Former Arsenal and England man Street described the physio who has been a more than able lieutenant for a number of managers with England that included Don Revie, Ron Greenwood, Bobby Robson and Graham Taylor. A bit like the civil service, who carry on regardless of who is charge, whetherthe minister or in our case the managers change, and that’s the way it should be.
Most new managers want to stamp the own authority on the club and inevitably this means changes. Former Oldham Athletic physio Ian Liversedge whose previous clubs include Newcastle United, Burnley, Accrington Stanley, Newcastle United and Fleetwood Town and wrote a chapter in his book titled Moving On. “I didn’t understand his lectures thinking at the time but after trips to Dagenham and Redbridge, Gillingham I began to understand what he was saying. Graham wanted and needed to stamp his own authority on the club and inevitably this meant changes. That is his prerogative. It ended for him in January 2013. The gaffer just pulled him to one side and said that he had a long think and decided to release me. People move on all the time in football. It’s no big deal. This was the fourth time I had been sacked and it’s not nice when you have done nothing wrong, mistreated anyone or been unprofessional.”
Following the appointment of a new manager the former Wolves fitness coach Tony Daley said on leaving the club following Nuno Esperanto Santo’s appointment that surviving five managers is an achievement in itself. The are many more worthy examples of these. Gary Lewin who succeeded Fred Street with Arsenal and who also served England. He tells the story of how he feared Arsene Wenger was going bring all his own staff in. He bought Boro Primarac in keeping all the original staff on. His words to us was you are good at what you do otherwise you wouldn’t be here.
This is an aspect in that managers can miss a trick hear the comparison of this is David Moyes opting to clear everybody out. One person shown the door with big Manchester United connections was assistant manager Mike Phelan. His former manager Alex Ferguson said Is it merely about proving you “manhood?” There is an argument that the is no point in suddenly changing routines that players are comfortable with – it can be counterproductive, saps morale and immediately provokes players to question the new man’s motives. A leader who arrives at in a big club setting or inherits a big club role, needs to curb his impulse to display his manhood.
Often backroom staff tend to get a feel for what going to happen regarding your position long before you get to find out. Former Everton manager Sam Allardyce sums this up perfectly. “I knew I was leaving two months before I left I am too old and wise not to know what was going on behind the scenes. If they thought they was keeping it quit they don’t know how many people I know. They should of just said look Sam fantastic job but we are going to move in another direction next season. Instead of not saying that and Just come out and say it. I can take it I am big man.”
Predicting how a league campaign will play out is difficult to do at the best of times, but navigating the minefield of this uniquely unusual 2020/21 season is more difficult than ever this summer.
EFL football returns after six months away next week, yet ironically the opening day arguably comes a little sooner than many clubs would have preferred thanks to the accelerated nature of pre-season under Covid-19 restrictions. Squads are mostly nowhere near being finalised too, since the Transfer Window has been extended into mid-October to allow clubs more time to finalise their recruitment.
All of that being said, it is interesting to plot where Doncaster Rovers figure to fit into the equation and to do that we can only go on what we know so far. Approaching the division with a big asterisk labelled “Opinions Subject to Change” then, here are our early predictions for how the season will pan out in League One.
Pompey and Ipswich Feeling Blue
At first glance, there are a number of big, big clubs inhabiting the third tier these days and it stands to reason that any discussion of true title contenders should begin with them. Portsmouth were beaten Play-Off semi-finalists last season whilst Sunderlandand Ipswich missed the top six entirely, and Hull have dropped into League One via the Championship trap door along with stricken clubs Wigan and Charlton – who we’ll get to later. For many of this crop however, problems run deep meaning the race to the summit is far from cut and dry.
Pompey have another strong case for being promotion favourites, although manager Kenny Jackett is not a popular figure around Fratton Park having failed to get the best out of a number of talented players, including former Rovers star striker John Marquis. A lack of additions to date will only serve to increase frustration around the club and their creatively lacking style of play may hinder them. In short, if Jackett remains in the dugout then Portsmouth won’t likely figure in the race for automatic promotion.
There is a question mark over the capability of the manager at Ipswich too, as Paul Lambert – who won League One with the Tractor Boys’ bitter rivals Norwich once upon a time – appears to be on a downward trend in his career and failed to maintain the strong start his side managed in 2019/20, eventually sliding out to 11th. Ipswich have added experience in Stephen Ward, goalkeeper David Cornell and the imposing Oli Hawkins, but the potential loss of midfield starlet Flynn Downes, who has handed in a transfer request, would leave a sizeable hole in the team.
Big Cats with Big Problems
Sunderland are easily the biggest team in League One but find themselves set for a third successive season at this level amid ongoing boardroom uncertainty and after suffering the ignominy of missing the Play-Offs last season, a failure thought unthinkable in some quarters. Phil Parkinson has blown hot and cold during his time as manager but has made some astute signings for the Black Cats this summer, most notably forward Aiden O’Brien who has pedigree at this level – leaving Sunderland in a better position than any to push on a level this year.
Hull City need no introduction to Rovers fans, who delighted in seeing former manager Grant McCann lead the Tigers to a catastrophic collapse that saw them drop like a stone to the foot of the Championship after selling Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki in January. The turncoat Northern Irishman has miraculously retained his job for now, and has the strength of his Play-Off run at Rovers to lean on as some form of accomplishment at this level, but stopping the rot that runs deep at the Humberside club will take some doing.
They have a small squad smattered with talent including Mallik Wilks, and recruitment looks solid this summer – including two players he tried to bring to the Keepmoat a year ago in Greg Docherty and Richie Smallwood – but it will be tough to forget the truly miserable run they ended last season on and if that form continues into the new campaign it could quickly be curtains for McCann. Hull could easily compete for honours if they start the season refreshed, but if their decline sustains they won’t look much of a threat for promotion just yet.
Oxford Determined, Posh Out for Revenge
If you look beyond the so-called big boys, there are two teams who stand out as a real threat for promotion and they both had very good seasons in 2019/20 – Oxford and Peterborough.
Karl Robinson took his Oxford side to the brink of a return to the Championship after 26 years in the lower leagues, only to fall at the final hurdle in defeat to Wycombe at Wembley. The U’s have lost defensive talent Rob Dickie in recent days to QPR, but having secured returns for Matty Taylor and Liam Kelly, and with additions such as Sean Clare and former Barcelona youngster Marcus McGuane, Oxford look in strong shape for a renewed push and can easily challenge for promotion.
Peterborough meanwhile have dubbed the upcoming campaign their “Revenge Season” after the PPG weighting on last year’s curtailed table saw them left out of the Play-Offs. Ivan Toney was head-and-shoulders the best striker in League One and has earned a £10 million move to Brentford, but in one-time Rovers loanee Jonson Clarke-Harris, Posh already have his replacement through the door and the signing of Ryan Broom from Cheltenham goes a long way to filling the void vacated by Marcus Maddison in attacking midfield back in January.
Whether or not Darren Ferguson can deliver on his bosses’ desire for “revenge” remains to be seen. Fergie is not exactly the picture of consistency and he has failed to get the best out of quality players in the past, although it is hard to look past them for a top six place at least. If nothing else, Peterborough join Oxford as the best-placed sides to crash the big clubs’ party at the business end of the League One shake-up.
Tangerines Lead Dark Horses
Much has been made of the strong number of incomings at several clubs who finished in mid-table in 2019/20, chief among them Bristol Rovers, Blackpool and Gillingham. Whilst Ben Garner’s Rovers have added excellent defensive reinforcements in Max Ehmer and Jack Baldwin, as well as the mercurial Zain Westbrooke, the loss of Clarke-Harris and general lack of consistency prevalent in the side last season mean they are unlikely to trouble the top six.
Blackpool however have recruited smartly as Neil Critchley looks to build a team in his own image, not least two players with familiarity to Rovers in attacking duo Keshi Anderson and Jerry Yates brought in after excelling at Swindon. MJ Williams is another shrewd arrival and if Critchley can translate his stellar coaching reputation into tangible success, the Tangerines could find themselves in with a shout of a Play-Off place.
Whether you like his style or not, Gillingham boss Steve Evans has had a year to acclimate the Kent outfit to his way of operating and signings like Kyle Dempsey and Vadaine Oliver further embolden fans’ belief that their side can kick on from last season’s promising finish and make the Play-Offs. Brandon Hanlan’s future remains uncertain – with Rovers one of several clubs linked to the forward after he refused multiple contract offers – but John Akinde has the opportunity to hit the ground running and bag the goals to take Evans to success once more in League One.
Fleetwood will do well to shake off the dark cloud that engulfed them in a poor exit from the Play-Offs this summer, and they have lost players who fit their ethos perfectly, whilst Lincoln have shed a lot of deadwood left over from their rapid rise out of non-league and might fancy a tilt. Darren Moore’s developing squad is probably right around this group of teams too, but it is fair to say that additions later in the window may yet change the shape of things once more for both Rovers and sides like Lincoln and Fleetwood.
New Boys Set to Struggle
Wycombe’s unbelievable success on a tiny budget makes writing teams off as relegation fodder a dangerous game, so take it all with a pinch of salt, but the four newly promoted sides all look likely to find it tough getting to grips with League One.
Plymouth have added a talented midfielder in Lewis Macleod, and Swindon have added a crop of young prospects to offset the gutting of their forward line (with Eoin Doyle now at Bolton and Anderson joining Yates at Blackpool) but both will likely be aiming for a season of consolidation. Crewe and Northampton meanwhile will be amongst the smallest resource clubs in the division but the failure to bring back Callum Morton will hurt the Cobblers in particular.
In addition, teams who struggled last season will surely feel the pinch again with Rochdale shorn of players who were at the heart of their side – Williams, Callum Camps and talismanic striker Ian Henderson especially – and Wimbledon perhaps still a year or two away from being able to use their impending return to Plough Lane as a catalyst for more success. Sam Ricketts’ Shrewsbury have issues to iron out amongst their ranks and may also find themselves dragged into trouble if they can’t find a rhythm quickly.
Experience on the pitch will likely help to keep Burton away from trouble, but rookie boss Jake Buxton has big shoes to fill replacing Nigel Clough and their squad looks light on the “x-factor” needed to excel. Neither Accrington nor Milton Keynes Dons appear set with their squads and so the remaining weeks in the transfer window may be the difference maker for whether either of those sides have to worry about dropping into the bottom four.
Fate Unknown for Wigan and Charlton
Football appears to have learned little from last season’s plight at Bury and Bolton, with relegated sides Wigan and Charlton both unsure if they can even start the season as the opening day looms. Charlton at least have a talented squad and in Lee Bowyer possess a manager who has succeeded at this level before, as Rovers know all too well. The Addicks have been under a transfer embargo however and it is tough to gauge how well they will be able to manage without a takeover agreed for the club.
Alex Gilbey and Conor Washington are two excellent additions for any League One club but the depth to push at the top simply isn’t there at the moment and the boardroom situation is a complete mess. Wiganare in truly dire straits meanwhile, in administration and desperately searching for a buyer to save them from extinction after the truly outrageous manner of their relegation from the Championship following an ownership change completed under suspicious circumstances.
The Latics have lost nearly 20 first team players, only made their first additions on Friday – winger Viv Solomon-Otabor and lower league veteran Dan Gardner – have no manager and will have to consider starting the season as a resounding success. Predicting the fortunes of these two clubs feels unsavoury in a way and it has to be hoped that both see resolutions to their ownership situations as soon as possible so that we can get back to talking about matters on the pitch with both clubs.
ITEN Predicts…Final League One Table 2020/21
As we stated at the outset of this piece, there should be a heavy dose of caution in predicting anything this season. The last campaign didn’t even reach a conclusion, something thought unthinkable at the outset. In any case, Rovers look to be on a decent track to mix it up with the division’s best sides and may yet strengthen further to cement a Play-Off push, but for now here is how we see the table shaking out for Darren Moore’s side and for the other 23 sides who will line up against them in 2020/21.