ONE JOHN LAMBIE

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.

Promoting my book where he featured plenty..

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.

RIP Gaffer.

Carpe Diem

Matthew Craig is an inspiration to everyone who knows him.

To those who don’t I’m just about to give them some context about a boy who has already faced far more adversity in his 17 years on this planet than most face in their lifetime.

On Christmas Eve in 2013 Matthew, aged only 12, was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer.

Aye, Merry Christmas to you too.

What happened next was an incredible test of his character and spirit during a nerve-shredding cancer journey with his big brother Scott and his mum and dad Karen and Chris along with his extended family and group of close friends.

The popular kid, who had shown real promise as an athlete with Kirkintilloch Olympians, required the full works to eliminate the cancer and chemotherapy preceded a life saving operation to remove the tumour on his hip.

That resulted with Matthew requiring a new hip and learning to walk all over again.

Last Saturday morning this incredible kid cycled to the top of the iconic Crow Road in the Campsie Fells in memory of his grandfather Fred Craig who sadly passed away cycling on that very same hill almost a year to the day of Matthew’s challenge.

1000 vertical feet of climbing in just over 3 miles is quite an ask for most cyclists. For Matt it was a special effort as he had only started to ride a bike again last year.

But, along with his brother, dad and a 30-strong support group of cyclists he did it.

Every pedal stroke was for his grandfather AND Teenage Cancer Trust – the charity that his family and friends fundraise for after the support they received from TCT during his time in hospital and since he returned home.

So, why am I telling you all of this?

Let’s just say that this story should serve as a reminder to EVERY young footballer to make the most of the opportunities that they are presented with and to never take anything for granted.

Why? Because it can all change in the blink of an eye – just ask Matthew Craig about that.

If a young player REALLY wants to be the best they can be then it will take hard work, dedication and a learning cycle that will last until their last day in the game.

More players at all levels need to look in the mirror more often and ask if they can do more to improve. Most, if they are honest, will say of course they could.

Whether that is on the training pitch or away from it only they will know but there are so many facets to being a footballer nowadays that there is no place for shortcuts.

Is it any wonder that the best players on the planet are those who work hardest at it?

From Ronald and Messi on the World stage to Tierney and Robertson in Scottish terms the formula is the same – dedication, determination and application.

Too many youngsters want the plaudits without putting in the hard shift. Some are too quick to blame others for their shortcomings rather than really grabbing the opportunity that they are given and making the most of it.

Not that I am saying it is all a bed of roses being involved in football.

Will there be low points on that journey? Of course there will be.

Is it possible that they will ask if all the effort is worth it? Probably.

And, do you always get what you think you deserve out of it? Seldom.

But, and this where Matthew Craig comes back in, imagine asking the same things about your cancer journey rather than your football career?

There is perspective for you right there.

But, from day one Matthew Craig showed a maturity and resilience way older than his tender years. His attitude and application to his recovery has allowed him to return to athletics with the Forth Valley Flyers and he has shown real promise in seated throws.

Last Saturday was the perfect demonstration that Matthew Craig will be defined by what he can do and not characterised by what he can’t.

He continues to seize the day and continues to inspire everyone who knows him.

Well in Champ.

MANAGER OF THE YEAR

We have reached that time of the season when the players and football writers will be asked to choose their players and managers of the year.

While there is plenty of debate about who has performed best ON the pitch there can be no argument about who has delivered the most from the technical area – Steve Clarke.

Yes, even if Brendan Rodgers delivers a back to back treble I’d argue that the Killie gaffer has actually achieved more during the season than his Celtic counterpart.

Sure, football is about winning trophies and competing at the highest level and there is no doubt that a ‘Double Treble’ would be worth shouting about but, when a manager’s impact on a club is as significant as Clarke’s has been, there is no competition.

When he took control of the Rugby Park squad back on October 14th his team sat bottom of the pile without a win from their first eight fixtures, had amassed only three Premiership points and scored just five league goals.

Fast forward five months and Kilmarnock are now sitting in fifth spot and have only tasted defeat on four occasions from the 25 matches he’s presided over.

More importantly, Killie have won 13 of those games and beaten both Celtic and Rangers at Rugby Park. They also won at Ibrox last weekend and had previously picked up draws against Celtic and Rangers in Glasgow.

That’s progress of huge proportions.

From cannon fodder to top-six certainties you would have to say Steve Clarke has worked wonders in Ayrshire in a relatively short period of time.

Brendan Rodgers on the other hand has NOT taken Celtic forward this term.

Of course, an invincible season was always going to be difficult to surpass but there is no doubt that his team have gone back the way and most Celtic fans will recognise that.

How far back will vary from punter to punter but I’d suggest that Rodgers has a major job on his hands to even get his squad back to last year’s levels.

Sure, the Hoops will still win the league by a distance and will ultimately be the power brokers of Scottish football for the foreseeable future but that’s not the manager’s mantra.

No, he wants to develop players and teams by improving individuals. He wants to continually challenge the standards at his club. He has spoken about creating a legacy during his tenure.

And, he wants to provide all of that with an attractive brand of football.

Well, this season was clearly not on the Sat-Nav route to those destinations.

Less impressive performances, a drop in standards by individual players, unresolved defensive frailties, ropey recruitment and a few humblings in Europe are all confirmation of the step backward from that all conquering group of last term.

Let’s face it, it is not likely to be panic stations around Lennoxtown but Brendan Rodgers will know himself that some things have not gone to plan.

For that reason I think Steve Clarke is the pick of the managerial bunch.

In fact, if I was to pick anyone other than Clarke it would be Jack Ross.

The St Mirren gaffer grabbed the Paisley side by the throat and literally dragged it out of the car crash it found itself in last season.

He placed the squad in intensive care and has gradually resuscitated the entire fabric of the club to such an extent that he will take the Saints back into the top flight next term.

That too is progress and in any other year it might just have been enough to get the nod.

Sadly for Jack Ross and the rest of Scottish football’s gaffers Steve Clarke has eclipsed them all.

 

 

 

 

 

The Gaffer..

Billy McNeill. Gordon McQueen. Jimmy Bone (twice). David Provan. Michael Oliver. Billy McLaren (twice). Tommy Gemmell. Tom Spence. Rowan Alexander/Mark Shanks. Tommy Bryce. John Lambie. John Connolly. John McVeigh.

14 men with one thing in common – they all managed me during my playing career.

And, the point is, that is probably ALL they had in common.

Football management is not prescribed and there is no magic formula out there that guarantees results for the man in the dugout. There is literally no Sat-Nav to success.

Sure, coaching courses and seminars can provide guidance to budding gaffers but it is ultimately down to the individual to come up with his own route to eminence.

What works for one guy might not work for another and vice-versa. Management is about what works for YOU. End of.

Were all of my managers the same? No. Did they all have the same technical and tactical aptitude? No. And, did they all have the same man-management styles? Definitely not.

Some were more concerned with coaching and camaraderie while others majored on fitness and formations.

The bottom line is that success will always be relative and governed by a number of factors including; the quality of players recruited and the identification of a formation to suit them, the group’s understanding of the shape and strategy, the physical ability for the players to perform, the desire of the squad to execute that strategy, and the belief of those players in the guy who is asking them all to do all of the above.

Get those factors right and you won’t be too far away.

It is not a science – and that applies to any team in any workplace.

On the same night last week that the news of Alex McLeish’s appointment as Scotland manager was breaking I was having dinner with a good friend who has been hugely successful in business.

We had chatted about his experiences of building a business, managing employees and putting together a board of directors.

He emphasised about NOT needing to have everyone in your team on board with your vision and views but, to have any chance of success, you MUST have the majority.

Football dressing rooms are no different.

It is impossible for every player in a squad to be happy with the manager because some of them don’t get picked. But, those who are selected can influence them.

They can ultimately change the behaviour of any doubters or dissenters very quickly and, if that happens, everyone at the club can benefit.

Look at what Brendan Rodgers has achieved at Celtic in his 20 months in charge?

You NEVER hear publicly about players being unhappy about being left out of the team. That doesn’t mean that they are not unhappy – they just know that they need to work harder to get back into the side and hold onto the jersey when they get that opportunity.

The one thing that has never changed about managers is that they dictate what standards are acceptable at their football club. That’s their bag.

From the way the players behave at the club and out with it’s confines to the way they apply themselves in training and in games the gaffer alone calls the shots.

He is THE most important person at the football club and everything else derives from how well he does his job.

Attendances, sponsorship deals, media coverage, marketing opportunities and other revenue streams are all affected by how the manager performs.

Quite simply if you get it right on the pitch you should reap the rewards off of it.