Cooney and Black

That big nose, an unholy fear of ambition … and grab-a-granny nights at home. What wouldn’t you give for an audience with Gordon Strachan?

Gordon Strachan

bybryancooney

AN audience with Gordon Strachan never fails to stimulate anyone fortunate enough to be in the auditorium.

It’s impossible to feel short-changed by the fella, unless you happen to be some poor young slave to Pitman’s shorthand who has attempted to lob him with a banal question.

Mind you, not only tenderfoot journalists should beware. Back in the early Eighties, when Aberdeen FC were achieving a momentum consistent with magnum force, I visited him at his west end townhouse one Sunday afternoon.

Strachan insisted on tearing up the predictable script of a wet and sombre Sabbath by delivering not so much an interview as a 30-minute cabaret. It was a humorous, illuminating, highly-charged performance that simply refused to resort to cliché.

I couldn’t wait to set my fingers tapping on a typewriter (remember, this was over 30 years ago), for I knew that the end product would guarantee an immediate herogram from a pretty selective sports editor.

Unfortunately, Strachan, after giving the matter much thought, demolished any such forward planning. On my departure, he waylaid me at the front door, and implored me not to use any of the material, lest it provoked a retributive act from Alex Ferguson, a man who trying to slap a patent on dyspepsia.

Experiencing pressure from this frustrated sports journalist, the player agreed to my quoting him on a fairly flippant remark about his physiognomy – something about him addressing life whilst possessing red hair and a fairly large conk.

I related the tale back to him when we last met back in 2005, only a few months before he joined Celtic. There was no apology for the veto he had tacitly imposed. Nevertheless, he was unable to resist a return to the cabaret circuit.

“My daughter Gemma was watching an old DVD, and then she saw an up-to-date clip of me on telly. ‘Is Dad’s nose getting bigger as he gets older?’ she asked. ‘Naw, it’s just that ma heid’s shrinking!’ I responded.”

If anyone still can’t quite understand the football renaissance currently being experienced by Scotland, I recommend them to conduct a study of Strachan’s personality and assess its effect on those around him.

Anyone coming away from him and reporting anything less than a rejuvenation of the mind cells is telling porkies. Oh, he’s quite capable of doing enervation, but only if you’re feeling lucky and insist on a bit of masochism.

No-one will ever be able to confuse the national team’s training sessions with the daily agenda at a holiday camp. The ethos is hard work and hands are encouraged to become dirty, but Strachan’s verbal enterprise allays any fears that slave labour is involved.

So, before possibly the most critical game of his managerial life – against the Republic of Ireland – it’s an appropriate time to look at the Wee Man, not the Paul Ferris version, in a little more detail,

There is no need to resort to hyperbole. Strachan’s achievements are already notable and whatever happens over the next few days (Scotland take on England on “friendly” terms on Tuesday) is unlikely to diminish them.

He has brought together a group of players – none of them answering to the names Lionel or Cristiano, or indeed likely to feature in the annual Fifa Ballon d’Or contest any time soon – and moulded them into a tight, unflinching, eye-pleasing unit.

The spirit of musketeers has been developed here in Scotland. Hallelujah!

As a nation, we once luxuriated in the sophistication of Baxter, the complexity of Johnstone and the deadliness of Law. Now, our heroes are more roughly hewn; they’re ostensibly mere pedestrians as opposed to power walkers; they’re blue collar rather than white collar workers.

Previously, some would have had difficulty in finding a colleague with a pass had they been carrying a portable sat nav. Now, they can transfer the ball pretty efficiently without it turning up in a different postcode.

Success obviously attracts predators. When a man is capable of changing a nation’s sporting identity, his stock soars and the football market takes note.

Would Strachan be tempted to leave Scotland in the manner of one or two of his predecessors, and return to club management in the more lucrative fields of England? I can’t claim the perspicacity of a Jonathan Cainer, but I would say not.

What sets him apart? He is not one of those types who nurture ambition as if it were a newly-born baby. This is the perfect job. He sees the squad at regular intervals throughout a season, and has a lot of downtime which he can devote to his family.

At 57, he believes the family unit holds far more importance than the football one. He is still in love with his wife Lesley, whom he met in 1975. He takes her everywhere, including the bedroom, as he once reminded me.

“We’re grandparents now which adds another dimension,” he said. “Hey, I’m sleeping with a granny. It’s grab a granny every night in ma hoose!”

When the laughter subsided, the conversation recorded a more serious note. When I asked him whether Lesley needed to keep a tight rein on him, he responded: “She doesn’t need to. I’m all right. She never needs to give me a bollocking. No chance. I like the training ground, but as soon as that’s finished, I’m home.”

There are more important positives on his cv – one being an almost ambivalent approach towards hard cash. No, there is no village idiot gene lurking within him: he wants to be properly remunerated for a job that’s been satisfactorily carried out, and indeed insists on it.

But he is equally careful never to step into that mammoth sinkhole called greed. Remember, this is the guy who once walked away from Middlesbrough after ripping up two and a half years of his contract.

So, there you have it – he puts a smile on the faces of his players, although probably working them harder than any manager before him; he is a family man who puts loyalty at the top of his wishing tree; he is not driven by the gods of avarice.

Could Scotland ask for anything more? Probably not. Let’s go back to ambition. On another meeting with him, he argued: “Ambitious people scare me, because they usually only think about themselves.

“My ambition is to be the best I can be that particular day. Then I go to tomorrow and start again.”

He rather contradicts himself there. His assistant is Mark McGhee, a long-standing friend and colleague from the legendary Aberdeen team of the 1980s. McGhee is a man who figuratively foams at the mouth with ambition.

I suppose if Strachan is ever in any need of such burning desire, he can borrow some from his pal. But, hey, what is one tiny contradiction?

To my mind, he deserves every success. We’ve been a bit short of stimulation on the international football front these last few years. Hopefully, it has returned on a vehicle driven by the Wee Man.

The audiences await. Let the cabaret begin.

 

 
PICTURE COURTESY OF: Jeff Holmes Pix

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