Republican News · Thursday 19 October 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Not boxing clever

As Aer Lingus planes litter the runway and Dublin Airport looks like a Ballymena swingpark on Sunday, Scotland is about to be gripped by its own wave of industrial unrest.

Soccer journalists in Scotland are about to go on strike. A beleaguered bunch at the best of times, they have had enough. From today, there will be no more match commentaries by members of the NUJ. Only tired old ex-pros will be allowed to `summarise', with every cliché mercilessly recycled.

McLean's personality all of these years had been, at best, glum and dour. He would make an Ahoghill Free Presbyterian preacher look like a Rasta under a palm tree
Expect Après Match on acid.

The real professionals in the Scottish media, the guys who can do the joined-up thinking, are downing tools. Those who cover professional soccer matches in Scotland have looked at their pay and conditions and are asking to have parity with war correspondents. They want more pay, danger money and a butch looking flak jacket like Martin Bell had in Bosnia.

No feckin use if you get hit with a mortar, but it has some pulling power. Also, no use if you get caught in a right and left hook crossfire. Because those are the days we are livin in brother. Dangerous game the soccer reporting; it is, after all, a contact sport!

I am, of course, jesting. But last week being a sports hack in Scotland, for 14 seconds, became a bit dangerous. BBC Scotland radio reporter John Barnes (no not that John Barnes!) was biffed as he was interviewing Dundee United supremo Jim McLean. The interview started badly and went downhill rapidly.

Barnes, the affable bloke's affable bloke, got a fat lip and instant sympathy. McLean lost the enduring passion in his life for 14 seconds of red Scotch mist.

His personality all of these years had been, at best, glum and dour. He would make an Ahoghill Free Presbyterian preacher look like a Rasta under a palm tree.

Laughing Boy he wasn't, but he had been at Dundee United for 29 years.

His achievements during the 1980s were nothing short of remarkable, arguably even greater than those achieved by Alex Ferguson at Aberdeen.

He took a small provincial club to win the Scottish Premier League in 1983.

The following season he took them to where only Celtic had been before from Scotland, a European Cup semi-final. They were 90 minutes from the final. They took a 2-0 lead to Rome and got beaten 3-0.

McLean spent pennies on his team. Pre-Bosman, his was an entirely hand-reared outfit. By 1987, his boys were now men and they reached the UEFA cup Final against IFK Gothenburg after beating Barca and Gladbach on the way. They suffered a 2-1 aggregate defeat in the two-leg affair.

Mclean's approach with players became increasingly outdated as agents became the norm and Bosman shifted the balance of power between the clubs and the players. It started to emerge in the early 1990s that the club, effectively McLean, had been tying up young lads on ludicrously long contracts on little more than apprentice wages. This couldn't last.

This finally fell to bits with Duncan Ferguson; after his big money move to Rangers he leaked his last wage slip to the press. The top line was woeful for a professional footballer, after a series of fines for niggling little misdemeanours he had exactly the price of a cheeseburger left.

The way McLean ran the dressing room was to rant and scream and shout. Richard Gough, who had made Dundee United big money when they had sold him to Spurs had spoken of McLean ``ruling by fear''.

In the age of the powerful player with his switched on agent, this just wouldn't wash. The economic basis for Mclean's man management approach was shifting under him. He was confused by this new world. In the end he couldn't cope.

Like the great heavyweights in the ring, McLean didn't know when to quit. In 1988, he became the Managing Director and Club Chairman, but he retained overall control of the team.

In May 1993 he gave up the management of the team officially, but he was forever sticking his head around the door.

In August 1993 he was made a Freeman of the City of Dundee. That was the moment to take his final bow and leave with his reputation intact. He didn't; he stayed on believing that he could bring back the glory days.

From then on in it was a spiral decline for Dundee United, on and off the park. They were relegated the following season. Although they made it back, the season without Premier League revenue further hurt the club.

Finally he was running on empty.

His judgement so gone that even the most reasonable of questioners sounded like a smartarse asking for a sore face. The ex-joiner duly obliged.

A sad end of a genuine great in the game.

Personally I will miss him. He always made me smile, even if he couldn't himself.

He was a graphic reminder to this Glasgow Bhoy of what I will never be - Scottish!

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