Some individuals are memorable in so many ways while others are worth forgetting.
John Lambie was someone that once you encountered him you were unlikely to ever forget him – even if you wanted to.
My former Partick Thistle Gaffer sadly passed away on Tuesday but his memory will live on in my mind for the rest of my life – he was one of those enduring characters.
From his industrial language and incredible energy to his cigar smoking and giant smile he caught your attention.
He spoke his mind no matter what the subject was and irrespective of who was listening.
He didn’t give a monkeys what other people thought of his opinions – they were his and that was all that mattered to a man who believed in honesty and hard work.
If you didn’t agree, so what? If you did concur with him, so what?
John Lambie didn’t want sycophants around him. He wanted workers.
I first encountered his colourful language while I was on a train between Bristol and London 24 hours after he had replaced Tommy Bryce as manager at the Jags in 1999.
I had been quoted in a newspaper saying how disappointed I had been – as a former teammate and as a player that he signed for Thistle – about Tommy’s sacking.
Lambie phoned me and simply said that I could put any emotions to the f***** side and that he was now the f***** manager and wondered if I had a f***** problem with that?
When I replied no he simply said, ‘good, we’ll get on just f***** fine then’.
And that was the start of a tremendous relationship.
I liked to work for managers who didn’t operate with agendas and left you in no uncertain terms where you stood. John epitomised that style of management.
Along with his assistant Gerry Collins it was pretty damn hard to misread ANY situation.
Both men were cut from the same cloth – hard as nails but fair.
In truth, Lambie had his own ideas about how the game should be played and when he was on the training pitch I wasn’t alone in questioning some of his thoughts.
But, there is no doubt that he got it right far more often than he got it wrong when it comes to his time in charge at Firhill – his record speaks for itself.
He was more into heart and hunger than tactics and transitions and you can forget periodisation and other modern buzz words; for him it was all about picking players.
And, to be fair to him, he consistently got his selections right and results followed.
Did he know a player? Yes. Could he piece a team together? Yes. Did he get them to play for him? You better believe it.
If he thought someone wasn’t pulling their weight he would give him both barrels. If someone deserved praise they got it. And, guess what? Players responded to that.
Throughout his managerial career he had a real knack of picking up guys who had something to prove and provided them the platform to build or rebuild their career.
During my time at Firhill he plucked Martin Hardie from East Stirling and he went on to have a wonderful career in the game. Stephen Craigan arrived from Fir Park as a kid with plenty to prove yet he became a defensive rock for Lambie before returning to Motherwell and winning over 50 Caps for Northern Ireland.
Lastly, Danny Lennon, who had already hit the heights with Hibs and Raith Rovers, signed up and his spell at Firhill signalled the best of his career as John’s trusted lieutenant during a glorious spell for the club that included back-to-back titles.
Me? I was simply privileged and honoured to be his captain for a period of time and will never forget his honesty and his constant efforts to ‘bat for his players’.
We knew that he would do everything for us so we did everything for him. Simple.
He offered me a new contract and even guided me on what money to accept by shaking his head behind the chairman when the first and second offers were made to me.
When the third deal was proposed he winked and the handshakes were instigated and the contract was signed.
Even when it was apparent that I wasn’t going to be a permanent part of his plans moving forward he dealt with me brilliantly.
I just wanted to play football and was finding myself more and more on the bench as Alan Archibald’s career blossomed in Lambie’s favoured formation of 3-5-2 at that time.
When his old St Johnstone teammate John Connolly had a bid accepted by Thistle to sign me for Queen of the South I sat down with John and asked him his thoughts on it.
In typical style he said “it had to be my f***** decision and that he would be f***** delighted to keep me as part of his squad.”
But, when I then asked him if he would prefer to use my wages to help sign another full-time player he smiled and said “well, when you f***** put it like that.”
I was then the one who smiled, shook his hand and thanked him for everything.
Every time I bumped into him after that night we would shake hands, have a laugh and try to rip the piss out of each other.
I genuinely liked the man and admired him for what he was in a game that all too readily conformed to the pressures from people who didn’t know football.
John Lambie knew football. That’s a fact.
His death is a sad loss to the many people who played for him and called him a friend. To the Partick Thistle fans it is a JFK moment – every Jags’ fan will remember where they were when they heard of his passing. That’s how much he meant to the supporters.
They sang “One John Lambie, there’s only one John Lambie”
Truer words have never been sung or spoken.