Thursday, 13 March 2014

ROVERS AND OUT! - By Andy Ritchie


MY time as Albion Rovers’ player-manager was so short-lived that I am struggling to even recall exactly when it was and how long it lasted.

But it was certainly eventful. Ashtrays full of fag ends and a bath that looked like it had been used for dipping sheep!

I even had to share an office with the old guy who was the handicapper for the dogs after he had threatened to throw me out.

Cliftonhill Stadium has never been a place for the faint hearted. Did I just say ‘Stadium’ – now that’s really pushing it!

I was persuaded by my former Morton boss, Benny Rooney, to become Andy of the Rovers at the end of the 1984-85 season – I think – as they were desperately short of players. They must have been to want me.

Then Benny left to join Partick Thistle and the Rovers chairman, the legendary Tam Fagan asked me if I fancied the job of player-manager.

I was 28 at the time and I ended up playing six games and scoring twice. But, for the life of me, I can’t remember how long my brief managerial reign lasted. Not long, that’s for sure.

The legend that was former Hibs, Torino, Arsenal and England striker Joe Baker was about the place as a sort of jack-of-all-trades, head sponge man and chief motivator, that sort of thing.

Joe was working as a scaffolder and just wanted to have an involvement in the game and I wasn’t going to turn him down when he asked to stay on.

He was, in fact, the best thing that happened to me. A true gent, Joe had played at the highest level and I fed off his stories and knowledge of the game, so having him around was a godsend.

My first day in the job I arrived in the manager’s office to discover a desk and a chair and little else, apart from an old tin ashtray that was overflowing with 150 dog ends and hadn’t been emptied in months.

The office was in such a filthy state of disrepair you wouldn’t have kept horses in it! But I quickly discovered a canine connection!

Suddenly the door burst open and in walked this gnarled old guy who asked what I was doing sitting there in his chair. I informed him in no uncertain terms that I was the manager and that it was my office.

What do you mean, your office? You’ll need to find somewhere else,” he shot back before proceeding to come round the desk and open a drawer.

I was none too pleased, I can tell you. But it turned out he was the handicapper for the dogs after they had switched from speedway to greyhound racing.
I thought to myself, “How the mighty have fallen.” But I won the argument all the same.

Mind you, I don’t know why I bothered. The place was a tip. It hadn’t seen a lick of paint in years and the bath in the home dressing room looked like it had been used to dip sheep.

I think the club only had something like nine registered players and as we had a Lanarkshire Cup-tie coming up against Motherwell I told Tam that I would need finances to make signings.

The old boy told me to go ahead and sign whoever I liked and I knew the very man who could do us a turn, Bernie Slaven, who had just been released by Queen of the South.

Bernie was considering an approach from junior side Rutherglen Glencairn, who were offering him a £250 signing-on fee and twelve quid a week, and I said we’d match that.

Bernie accepted my offer and agreed to complete the formalities the following day. But when I told Tam he almost burst a blood vessel.

“He’s s...e,” he exploded. “You’re no signin’ him. I saw him play for Queens last season and he was f.....g rubbish.”

But I said I would pay Bernie out of my own pocket, if necessary and retain his registration. I wish I had after what later transpired.

Tam told me I could do what I liked. But the following morning he reappeared with 250 of the grubbiest one pound notes I’ve ever seen and the deal was done. He also informed me there would be no more cash for players.

I wonder how the old boy reacted when Bernie scored 27 goals that season and Rovers later pocketed £35,000 when they sold him to Middlesbrough?

Bernie, who also made it into the Republic of Ireland squad for the 1990 World Cup finals, was a lovely lad and he once left a couple of bottles of champagne on my doorstep as a ‘thank you’ after he had been presented with a case of bubbly by a newspaper for his scoring exploits.

Things have clearly changed at Rovers since my time. The people now running the club have smartened the place up and given it an occasional much-needed lick of paint.

Rovers are also enjoying a Scottish Cup cash windfall from their quarter-final against Rangers and the additional money they’ll get from the replay being on Sky.

That will make a huge difference to them and could lead to a dramatic revival in fortunes and bring the club into 2014. I certainly hope so.

The personnel running the club had replaced the dead and dying who used to inhabit the boardroom, but maybe some things never change.

I wonder if they’ve found any skeletons in the cupboard – those of dogs, sheep and old nags?

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