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.

A new beginning..

After 18 years as a columnist with the Scottish Sun it is now time to share my views on football and the ever changing world of the beautiful game on a new platform.

From as early as I can ever remember I have loved football.

All I wanted to do as a kid was to play the game with my friends on any spare piece of ground that we could find. Growing up in the 1970s and coming from a working class background meant that the ball we used during those kickabouts varied day on day.

It didn’t matter to us what condition the sphere we were using was in. From ‘real leather’ balls and plastic blowaways to patched up bladders and tennis balls we just got on with it as we played five-eleveners, headers or World Cup Willie.

Those were magical days when EVERYONE I knew wanted to be a footballer.

I was one of the fortunate ones who actually managed to live the dream when I was offered a contract at Celtic by Parkhead gaffer and Lisbon Lion Billy McNeill.

That happened after a reserve fixture at Dens Park where I was lucky enough to play as left-back behind the late, great Tommy Burns who was returning from injury. I have said many times that Tommy playing that evening was the difference for me – he literally coached me through every step of the 90 minutes and I couldn’t fail to impress.

Signing for Celtic changed my life forever – it gave me credibility as a player in an era when players who left a club the size of Celtic were guaranteed a contract elsewhere.

Inevitably, my career started at the top and I worked my way down. Not that I’m complaining; there were better players than me who never kicked a ball professionally.

In truth I was NEVER good enough to play for Celtic’s first team and even though I elected to only sign on a part-time basis that didn’t matter – I could have trained 24/7 without the extra training being enough to allow me to make the ‘big time’.

Instead, my journey in football began in the Reserve Leagues under the watchful eye of Bobby Lennox and alongside others who would go on to have very decent careers – Stuart Balmer, David Elliot, Gerry Britton, Stevie Fulton, Mark McNally, Andy Murdoch, Alex Mathie and Gerry Creaney were just some of the boys I had the pleasure of sharing a changing room and pitch with.

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So, yes, my football life started on the streets and spare bits of grass in and around Milton of Campsie but it was on the pitches of Barrowfield and Helennvale astroturf that my professional career was spawned and developed in the first instance.

As well as sharing memories of my time in the game I’ll comment on the pressing matters within Scottish football and the wider football community.