The Great Glasgow Alternative
“If I try to be like him, who will be like me?” – Yiddish proverb
Being a gooseberry isn’t the definition of fun for most people. But Roy Scully didn’t mind it a bit – at least in a footballing sense.
His career had been good, if not spectacular. It had been highlighted by time in the top flight of the English game at West Ham, the team he served loyally for sixteen seasons.
He had come through the Academy of Football and stood tall as a defensive midfielder. He had the unglamorous role in the game – he had to chop down the other side’s high flyer, and administer some high-footed justice from time to time as the situation warranted.
As a result, he was highly unpopular with opposing fans, even as the Eastenders loved seeing his name on the team sheet when he wasn’t injured – or suspended.
That had happened far more than once, but amazingly enough, never for actions taken against an official. He had been sent off a dozen times in the Premier League and served God only knew how many yellow card suspensions, but not a single one of his cards in his entire career had anything to do with dissent.
“I earned ‘em all,” he would say with a laugh.
Opposing players soon learned to respect the Salford boy, who had been “discovered” on a touring team trip to East London when he was eleven years old. Neither of the big Manchester clubs thought he had been worth a youth team slot, but the Hammers certainly did. They brought out the biggest, and the strongest, in the young man.
He never forgot that, and always saved his very best for the big boys in red and blue. His West Ham teams lost more than they won in those clashes but getting the opportunity to put a lump on Paul Scholes after one of his legendarily bad tackles was a duty he was proud of.
Some people called him a dirty player. But he wasn’t. What he was, was fair.
He insisted on it from his teammates, and from himself. You take one of mine, I’ll take one of yours. Fair’s fair.
And so it was when he finally called time on a long career at 35, the club’s testimonial match for him was against Everton – a club he had long respected and one of the very few who didn’t hold some sort of grudge against him.
Like a lot of players who realize they aren’t good enough to hold to their own standard any more, he started sniffing around coaching badges. They came soon enough, but when the time came to look for a new job, he knew that a lot of teams in England wouldn’t touch him.
So, he looked north, and wound up a footballing gooseberry.
Roy strode through the doors of the club offices and knew right where he was going. He had scouted out the manager’s office during his interview. He was in Glasgow, for a job that seemed perfect both for him and for the club.
In Glasgow, there is Rangers and there is Celtic.
And there’s the Great Glasgow Alternative – Partick Thistle.
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Roy thought there was a good fit with the Jags.
He had spent his career trying to get up off the deck, so to speak. The unwanted kid from Manchester had gone on and made a name for himself in London, in front of fans no less passionate than those he had left behind.
So it was in Glasgow. The fourth-largest city club, Queens Park, was set in its back room but at Thistle, freshly relegated from the Scottish Premier League, there was opportunity.
There were a few half-decent players. And there was a sense of anger that what the club had worked so hard to achieve was now being thrown back in their faces through the pain and embarrassment of relegation.
“Those Americans don’t know how good they have it,” Roy mused to himself as he looked at the fixture list. “Imagine a league where nobody gets held accountable for failure. You just get the best selection the next year and try again.”
That wasn’t for Roy.
And there was this to add: as an Englishman, he could claim absolute neutrality in arguably the hottest conflict in world football while in Glasgow: the Old Firm.
Roy could hold himself above it all. The vitriol that passes between fans of the blue and the green isn’t attractive for anyone or anything, and as the gooseberry, Thistle could promote itself as something different.
And it did. They were “The Great Glasgow Alternative.”
You could be passionate – even wear your heart on your sleeve – without a lot of the baggage the Old Firm brought to things.
And of course, Thistle wouldn’t be playing either of them in the 2018-19 season, unless Cup ties decreed.
In front of Roy sat a team sheet. He had seen his team play already, in a glorified scrimmage match against his reserves, won comfortably by the first team – and he knew there were some things he needed to change.
Tactically, Roy was as you might expect. He wanted order and discipline. Regroup without the ball. Engage, but not too high. Be ready to spring into counterattack.
He liked 4-4-2. What Englishman didn’t? But there was a disturbing lack of wide players and he had seen that already. He chalked that up as one reason he was in the position and Thistle had gotten themselves relegated the season before.
Bradford City and his first friendly in charge awaited. The Bantams would be a good test.
He looked down at the sheet and wrote:
GK – 1 – Bell
That would be Cammy Bell, the former Killie and Rangers keeper who was deemed surplus to requirements when the Big Blue Monster got its financial feet under it after the disaster known as Craig Whyte had faded into obscurity.
Roy put down his pen. It got harder after that.
# # #
God has returned with yet another thrilling story. Thank you.
He's back! I'm ready for some more perfectly written tales from yourself...
Well! You make me blush, gentlemen. Thanks for the kind words - nice to be back!
There was a fair bit of annoyance in Roy’s tone as he addressed his team.
“We have work to do,” he said, “friendly or not.”
The Championship side had visited English League One Bradford City and lost by a goal to nil despite dominating the chances and much of the possession. A simple lapse in man-marking twelve minutes from time had resulted in Kai Brünker sidefooting home past a helpless Bell from six yards out.
One mistake had ruined a perfectly good game by the team – yes, it had come against the second eleven playing at the end of the match -- but Roy still wasn’t impressed.
"We should have had this put to bed long before they scored,” he said, and much of the squad agreed.
Roy’s reputation was a motivator, an inspirational player when he played. It was a skill he was really hoping would transfer into management, and this would be the first test.
Niall Keown, the Irish full back who had just signed a contract extension the previous day, had played well. So had left fullback James Penrice, who had been a substitution but outplayed the man in front of him, Sean McGinty.
Kris Doolan, one of the team’s spiritual leaders, had also played fairly well up front but obviously had not managed to find the goal.
But nobody else had played especially well and Roy was quick to note it.
“We’ve got Edinburgh City in three days in the Cup and you lot had better be ready for them,” he said, “because if you aren’t, they’re going to embarrass you. Learn from this. It’s a friendly. But don’t make a habit of losing matches like this. You won’t like me when I’m angry.”
Instilling a new spirit into a new team wasn’t always easy, and Roy, who had played for his share of managers with differing styles, knew that full well. Having skippered the Hammers on the pitch for the last four seasons of his career, he subscribed to a couple of different ways to motivate players.
One was the positive way. The other wasn’t.
He preferred the Roy Keane method, even though he didn’t care for the team he captained. Keano would stand for no nonsense either on the pitch or off of it, and woe betide the young player who fooled around in training.
Longtimers around the Hammers loved to tell the story of the day the captain caught two young players not taking a drill seriously. Both had recently been promoted to first team training and were enjoying the status of being with the big boys more than they were in applying themselves to their craft.
Roy took them aside after training.
“Welcome to the first team, lads,” he said, to the delight of the young men, who smiled broadly.
“And, if I ever see you f***ing around in a drill again as long as I’m captain, I’ll kick your a***s so hard they’ll be cleaning s**t from between your teeth.” Their smiles slowly disappeared.
He headed home disappointed, but not overly so. The first team had done reasonably well for a unit which had yet to do serious physical training. Their upcoming three-week training camp – in Manchester, no less – would see to some of that. So would four games in the Betfred Cup group stages.
He could be happy because one of the few people who knew Roy for the man he really was couldn’t wait to see him get home.
His wife of twelve years, Kate, simply smiled at Roy as he arrived and placed his overnight bag in the hall closet. He’d empty it later but for now he had more important things to do.
“Hi, babe,” she said, a smile lighting up her face. She wore her brunette hair long but tonight it was pinned up as she unpacked some of the couple’s belongings.
“Don’t you look wonderful,” Roy said, advancing to hug his “bride”, as he still called her.
“Didn’t go so well, I hear,” she said.
“Only if you like scoring,” he replied. “How’s things coming here?”
“Well, I could use your help when you aren’t busy being Mister Football Manager,” she teased. “There’s some things for tall people to do in this place and I’m not one of them.”
She stood 5’7” and she was as East London as they came. As she spoke, her dazzling blue eyes looked up at him. He couldn’t help but melt, even though he knew there were things that needed doing.
Eventually, he headed into the kitchen to start putting kitchen items into upper cabinets Kate couldn't reach. Some house husband tasks couldn’t wait.
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I wouldn't want to f*ck with Roy by the looks of things! Interesting to see how this approach will work with the squad.
‘ I’ll kick your a** so hard you’ll be cleaning s*** from your teeth’ brilliant line
A hardy holding midfielder named Roy, I wonder what kind of blueprint we'll be following here?
Honestly, I hadn't thought of that, Justice, as the manager's name was randomly generated, but you might have a point. That said, Roy Scully isn't the biggest fan of either Roy Keane or his most famous employer.
As much as Roy adored Kate, he adored their daughters every bit as much.
Jessica was seven and Shelley was five. They both had dark hair like their mother’s and to say that the girls had their dad wrapped around their little fingers would have been an understatement.
There’s nothing like the relationship between a father and a daughter, and Roy would say it to anybody who would listen. His girls were just barely old enough to understand the game and what their father did for a living, but as yet had shown little inclination to play.
That was fine with their dad, who had seen most of what the beautiful game had to offer and didn’t like much of it. But there was a lot to say for the good things about the game and that was why he stayed in it.
The morning after the Bradford friendly was an off-morning, so Roy stayed at home and watched video of Edinburgh City to help the scouts prepare a report for the Cup tie the team would play in a few days.
City was a semi-professional outfit and sometimes looked like it. As recently as two years before they were playing in the Lowland League, earning promotion to League Two by virtue of winning that league that same season.
The video Roy had to look at wasn’t much. League Two wasn’t on television that often and City even less. The point was that the Jags would have to play their own game and, at home, would be expected to win well.
And since it was summer, all Roy’s girls were at home as well. It was the perfect morning.
Shelley did what she loved to do when Roy was home – she climbed onto one arm of his overstuffed sitting room chair and leaned her head on his shoulder while he watched video. It was a very nice distraction.
Jessica watched a children’s show on a tablet in a chair across the room. It was quiet, it was serene, and it was everything Roy had avoided being associated with while he was a player.
In that regard, he was quite happy. The footballing world saw him as a hard man, a person who would tolerate no nonsense in his quest to be better today than he had been yesterday. That was true.
But he was also a doting father, very much in love with his wife, and there was nothing he wouldn’t do for any or all of them. That was also true.
It was their secret.
# # #
A hardy exterior covering a gentle interior. It is a good insight into the man's mentality; he will do what is necessary when it is necessary and isn't afraid of challenging somebody but he holds those closest to him in a warm and gentle manner.
You've really set the scene well, I cannot wait to see how this develops!
An incredibly detailed start and I can't wait to read more! Good luck to Roy!
Thank you, gents .... more on the manager's character is revealed below.
It was better. Not much better, but better nonetheless.
A rather ragged-looking bunch of Jags took the pitch for the club’s first match of the Betfred Cup, with League Two Edinburgh City providing the opposition.
Roy’s tactical meeting the day before seemed to please the players. He was taking their shackles off – at least, as far as he was concerned – by switching to a more positive mentality.
“Look, we ought to have the beating of this lot and with some style,” he said. “You all know that – none of this nonsense about pressure. Don’t let this go to your heads. Just play like you can, and stick to the match plan.”
He paused. It was time to address an issue that was already getting under his skin.
“And another thing,” he said. “When I tell you that you’ve done well, you can believe it. Don’t look at me like I’ve got two heads. I don’t compliment often and when you do, you can be assured that I bloody well mean it.”
That was one of Roy’s pet peeves. He had called in Andrea Mutombo after a brilliant week of training to say he had noticed and basically been told where to go and how to get there.
Roy didn’t react well.
Why on earth someone should respond negatively to being encouraged or praised was beyond him. He lived in a world where being complimented actually meant something and he didn’t care for the attitude of some of the younger players in that regard. Some of today’s players were real snowflakes, he thought, and expected praise as part of their daily diet. Others took being praised as an insult.
He wasn’t supposed to be a mind-reader, to know if positive feedback would hurt their feels. He was supposed to be their boss. And when the boss tells a player he’s done well – or done poorly – he felt the player needed to take it on board.
So he sent them out onto the pitch and watched the players carry all before them – for the first half hour.
Within thirty minutes, the Jags were two goals up and playing with a fluency Roy had scarcely thought possible after the Bradford match.
Miles Storey scored the first goal of Roy’s tenure 14 minutes into the match, and winger Blair Spittal followed in 33. That was great, since both central defenders, Thomas O’Ware and Sean McGinty, wound up in the book within the first twenty minutes for clumsy fouls, forcing a change in scheme on the back line.
Then they conceded, with City striker Denny Handling bundling over the line just sixty seconds after Spittal’s goal, and the players’ reaction was worrying.
It was the footballing equivalent of getting punched in the mouth, and the players reacted poorly. Roy saw something in his players that he felt was a significant factor in their getting relegated the previous season.
They drooped when they faced adversity. That was an issue of mental toughness,
or rather lack of the same.
Roy had a choice. He could coddle, or he could show some tough love. When the match rolled to halftime, Roy had a decision to make.
He chose the latter.
“You nearly threw away half an hour of good work because of one sequence,” he said. “That’s all this game is, really – one play after another. They strung a few together and look where it put you. The question is what are you going to do about it?”
The reactions Roy was getting showed him that he was on the right track.
“This is still a match you should win comfortably,” he added. “You are better than this team and everyone in the ground knows it. But if you fall back into your shell now you run the risk of not getting out of it again. Stay aggressive. Take the play to them. Show that there will be no upset today and then put your boots on their necks.”
He sent them out for the second half and was curious to see their reaction. It was a match that Thistle dared not lose if it harbored hopes of reaching the second round.
Tactically, City was not hard to deal with. It was a bit cheeky for a League Two club to go on the road to opposition two divisions up and play three at the back with two strikers. Whenever the wingers were slow tracking back in City’s 3-1-4-2 look, Roy’s better wing players would simply knock the ball into the open space on the flanks and run until they either ran out of real estate or dropped.
It was one of those wings – Jack Storer – who put the match to bed in 66 minutes when he took a ball in that expanse of open space on the left. He cut inside and not only was his marking winger nowhere to be seen, the right-sided defender was trailing the play as well. Storer made no mistake and Thistle went on to a 3-1 win, at a canter.
“Good, good,” Roy told his players as they headed back to the changing room after the match. “Now it gets tougher. In four days you’re away to Livingston and that’s a team that should be in our league while we should be in theirs. You have a chance to show them. Rest day tomorrow, but report for tactical and video at 10 am. Enjoy your night.”
Betfred Cup Group Match #1 – Partick Thistle 3-1 Edinburgh City
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A positive result in a game you're expected to win is a good start, nonetheless. I totally agree with Roy about the attitudes of some of the modern players of today and I feel like I may be able to get behind the character already. Some real traits that I strongly admire!
Great start to your reign and a great post man, looking forward to more!
A good start. You seem to be getting a feel for your players now and I'm sure that with some tough love, you can get the best out of them. Success can only come with relentless performances.
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