Many of you will be supporters of so called ‘smaller’ clubs and will continually be put out by the disparaging reference that clubs in financial difficulty, may have to go ‘part-time,’ as if that’s some sort of slur or put down. The truth is, that many of our part time teams, live within their means and are run on a much more business-like basis than many of the full time clubs they are supposed to aspire to. Thankfully, a recent report has informed us that some of our full time clubs have at last got their house in order and the tremendous financial kickback almost all of our part time clubs have received from Rangers making their way through the lower divisions, will see a lot of them continue to prosper. But is it really such a bad thing to be ‘part-time?’
I was a full time footballer for 14 years, before the ravages of a serious foot injury put paid to my ability to train every day and I had to go part time and apparently sell my soul to the football devil. Part time players get a raw deal in my opinion, with their commitment to the game and holding down a full time job which in many aspects puts some of our full time footballers to shame. I had a lot of things to get used to, not least of all the fact that I was suddenly having to get up in the morning and go to work for a living. I suppose I could have made things easier for myself had I not signed for Stranraer, with the logistics involved in getting to and from matches, but in fairness to them, they were a very well run part time team who recognised that getting players from their own catchment area would be impossible, which meant we were able to train in Glasgow. It was also fortunate that of the many part time clubs I could have chosen, Stranraer were one of the better payers at the time. This was a consequence of the geographical location of the town, meaning players had to be enticed into giving up some extra time to travel to matches on a Saturday. We were always very well looked after though, leaving at 10am on a match day and stopping at the local hotel in the Blue Toon for a pre-match meal, a luxury rarely afforded by any part time outfit. A final bonus was that I was able to work with Billy McClaren, a veteran of many part time clubs and the only manager I have ever come across who was able to skip seamlessly from amiable to indomitable in a matter of seconds. He was a highly intelligent man and to meet him in the street he was so softly spoken and well mannered you would never believe there were many times in my capacity as player/assistant manager when I had to convince him not to rip the head off one of his own players, but he was a wonderful, old school, football man. A part time football man in the loosest possible sense.
Billy had a very good full time job working in the tax office and his senior position allowed him the flexibility to leave early or manipulate flexi time to allow him to fulfil all his managerial duties. It always amazes me when you hear of the part time player who has a ‘sympathetic’ boss or the manager who is ‘very understanding’ when the player needs time off. I’m convinced a lot of it is anticipation of that day, when the wee team plays the big team in the Cup, and all week, the press are pushing for a romantic story. I’m certain a lot of those bosses are waiting to the hear old line being trotted out by their employee – “Aye, ma gaffer at Chunkerton, Phillips and Webb solicitors has given me the afternoon off so I’ve got time to get to Pittodrie.” Well we all love a bit of free publicity and our ego’s furnished now and again. It HAS to be the reason. Football does irrational things to people and even the most hardened supervisor on the shop floor, seems to fold in the face of a possible giant killing.
While there is no doubt that the standard of play in general as you go down the divisions drops, do not be kidded that the gap between the average full time teams and the better part teams is as big as our pundits and experts would have you believe. One thing it is absolutely not down to is fitness. There is a myth always bandied about when the bigger club beats the part time team that ‘full time fitness told in the end.” In my opinion, this is very rarely the case. When I trained part time, the Monday/Tuesday fitness session was as tough as any session I ever done at a full time club. There is a certain level of fitness your body can reach and a part time player having played 12 games in a row will be no less match fit than a full time player. Don’t we think the roles would be reversed if part time clubs were able to pay the full time players what they are used to? Do we think fitness would come into it then if a team of part time players were getting full time money and therefore attracted more quality? That’s what generally shows in the end. Sure, the high end Championship clubs as has been shown this season, will pull away at the top due to the different resources at their disposal, but as for the rest, I think it has been shown that at all levels, the part timers can compete and certainly have a place.
My time at Stranraer came to an end and after another couple of injections and a close season of doubt as to whether I would play for another year, I decided to give it a go. I had some offers from the Juniors of a tidy signing on fee and a few quid in my hip pocket but I declined as I wanted to finish my career, still playing in the Football League. My legs were going but I knew I could still play for two years as my mind would allow me to compensate for the lack of athleticism. Albion Rovers was to be my final destination in Coatbridge, in truth, it was a family decision as well as a football one for once as the ground was only 15 minutes from my home and 20 minutes from my work in Cumbernauld. For once I was thinking about my family as well as myself. Football does that to you. You become so engrossed in your own world of playing and coaching that you disregard people close to you and their feelings. It’s all about the football. Only now that I am no longer in the game, can I see that. The third division was easy, but I started to realise that even though it didn’t look like it, I was struggling to match players who in reality, shouldn’t have been on the same pitch as me. I was no world beater, but I was better than this although my left knee was now telling me that my head had a cheek to keep up the pretence. It started well, before I jarred the medial ligament again and struggled my way through ’til Christmas. It was a great wee club and the players were well looked after. Wages were always on time and although Cliftonhill was very rundown and dated, there was a tremendous sense of identity and don’t forget, I had played through serious financial difficulties at big clubs like Partick Thistle, Airdrie and even Hibs so there were times when being involved at Cliftonhill was something of a luxury. I played around 15 games before the highlight of our season came around, a Lanarkshire derby in the Cup against Hamilton. They were in Division 1 at the time and being full time and at Accies’ New Douglas Park, full time fitness was expected to take it’s toll as Accies would run out comfortable winners.
They took an early two-goal lead, although we managed to claw ourselves back into the game and get it to 2-2. We had them rocking in the second half as the fans got on their back and with about 10 minutes to go, a cross came in from a corner which I met full on the volley from about six yards, only to see the ball come crashing back off the bar. It went straight out to the 18 yard line to a Hamilton player and they launched a counter attack that resulted in the luckiest of volleys, driven into the ground AND deflected into the net. Of course, the full time fitness had apparently told in the end. Or had it? Well if the Rovers had just had a quality centre back at their disposal, one who could put a relatively simple volley into the net instead of onto the bar, then the apparent ‘part time fitness’ would never have come into the equation. Then again, if I’d have been fit enough to get back and stop that lightning quick counter attack, who knows what the headlines would have been. Either way, whether it was full time or part time, the best thing I could do, was call time.
Finally… On Saturday in the national newspapers I tipped Hibs to not only win the game on Sunday against Rangers, but to also win through the Championship play-offs. My prediction was based on current AND overall form throughout the season. Whilst I was left with egg on my face after Sunday’s result, I still believe Hibs can win through at the end of the season and it remains to be seen if Rangers can now maintain a level of consistency and gain enough momentum to capitalise on what was clearly a very good result and level of performance at the weekend. A more pressing question for Rangers fans though should be “where has that level of performance and more importantly commitment been all season?” There can be no doubt it was hugely improved on what has been served up during the League campaign so far on both counts.
With all the financial implications and cutbacks at Rangers, and the inevitable scaling back on luxury items at both Murray Park and Ibrox, I just hope that none of the cost-cutting measures has involved the removal of all the mirrors from the first team Changing Room.
My first book – JOURNEYMAN: FOOTBALL FROM THE INSIDE is now available to pre-order from http://www.tecklebooks.co.uk All pre-orders before November release date will receive a signed copy and free delivery.
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