A Tin Man made of steel

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ON A European night at Ibrox the irresistible Tin Man tanks down the flank, beats one man, two, flummoxes a third before bewildering himself. "I look up to try and cross the ball, but it's a wild swing and I take a huge divot," says Ted McMinn. "I got a standing ovation. The only one not laughing was Graeme Souness."

The exasperated Rangers manager, unable to unlock the Tin Man conundrum, once asked his ungainly winger: "How can I tell Ted McMinn what to do when he doesn't know what he's going to do?"

There was brilliance and befuddlement about McMinn. Scottish football had never seen the like and will never see anything like him again. With Davie Cooper sprinkling his magic dust on one wing, a different kettle of metal clattered about the other, doing his demented dance of delight (or disaster depending on the day). His methodology was madness and defenders had migraines trying to halt this formidable contraption of angles and elbows. Tim Burton may have dreamt up Edward Scissorhands but he could not have imagined Ted McMinn.

McMinn is now 42. Soon he will have his right leg amputated at the knee and replaced with a prosthetic limb. It seems unjust that this should happen to anyone, but the Tin Man? This is life and McMinn is learning to live with it. The man of metal almost sounds in fine fettle as he describes the trauma of the last two months.

"I was playing golf and felt this pain in my foot," says McMinn. "Later I went to a family party but after 20 minutes I had to go home and never got out of bed for three days." Sick and dehydrated, McMinn was examined by the doctors and gradually the starkness of the situation emerged, that an operation was required to halt the infection, that he would lose his foot. "They cut it off at the beginning of August," says McMinn, who has endured four bouts of surgery since that day on the golf course.

Though the infection was eradicated, McMinn has made a courageous decision to commit to additional surgery and further loss. "After the fourth operation I thought 'brilliant, I've got more than I thought' but I realised what I've got just isn't good enough. It's very easy to fall over and I don't want to be on crutches for the rest of my life. Within a year I could be playing golf again but if I stay as I am I'm more or less housebound. I'd rather have six more weeks of pain and my life back. I may be losing a limb but I'll accept that for the sake of the next 25 years."

If there is clarity in his mind, the source of the infection remains clouded. "The doctors were shaking their heads all the time, but they don't even talk about it any more. It could have been anything. It's in your mind: how did it happen and when? I probably punish myself most at nights thinking: I was in Greece on holiday. Was it an ant bite? I went camping with my son. Was it then? Was it even while playing golf?"

What is unmistakable is the response from those on whom the Tin Man's idiosyncratic style left an indelible mark.

"I've received a lot of messages from Rangers and Queen of the South fans," says McMinn, who now lives in Derby where he works as a BBC Radio summariser on former club County's matches and hosts a weekly phone-in when punters can put their points to the Tin Man.

Read this small sample of the goodwill messages for McMinn posted on the BBC website from places as far flung as Argentina: Don't give up heart, Tin Man; All the best big man from a fellow blue nose; Good luck Ted, I'm from the other half of Glasgow; Ted, they broke the mould when you were born, your style was off the wall; Like all Doonhamers you will bounce back; They'll have to throw more than that to stop the Tin Man.

For his 40th birthday, McMinn received a Rangers shirt with 'Tin Man' emblazoned on the back. He ponders his marvellous moniker. "I quite like it but it's one of those things, like my foot, that's a mystery. People say it's the way I ran but I've watched the Wizard of Oz and the Tin Man never runs. Maybe the Rangers fans thought I never had a heart." More like they took you to their hearts, Ted.

But Ted's an invention too. Kevin Cuthbert McMinn was called Teddy at school because he ran as if he had a teddy bear tucked under his arm (fitting that he joined Rangers then). Teddy became Ted who ended up naming his own son Kevin.

"I hated that name. So my son asks 'Why did you give it to me then?' Seriously, I was worried about the reaction of the kids to my operations but Kevin says 'it's only a foot, dad'. He thinks it's nothing as long as I can still play him at golf. He still won't beat me with one leg."

There is neither bitterness nor self-pity in McMinn's voice. "Sometimes it's a pain but it's probably more of an annoyance for my wife Marion (she is the club secretary at Derby County), who takes me to hospital in the morning and back home before she goes to work. I'm in the flat for the rest of the day and we live on the second floor so it's not easy getting in and out.

"My independence has gone. If I want to do anything now I need to rely on other people and I've never had to do that before." The artificial solution should restore that lost independence.

McMinn recalls his late 1980s Rangers days ("Davie Cooper was my hero and we got on well") and muses on Ally McCoist's role within Walter Smith's Scotland set-up ("there can't be a minute's peace, he'll be cutting socks and putting deep heat in their knickers"). Given his unorthodoxy it barely surprises that in the Tin Man's full Rangers debut against Dumbarton at Boghead he scored direct from a corner kick. "Jackie Stewart, my dad's hero, gave me a tankard after that game. I still have it." A vivid memory is the first-ever televised Old Firm match, when Ian Durrant scored the only goal at Ibrox. "I must have nut-megged Derek Whyte 15 times that day," reckons McMinn whose personal highlight at Rangers was winning the League Cup under Souness.

But the Tin Man was being wayward off the pitch as well as on it. "I wasn't getting on with Souness. I was stepping out of line too often." Thus it was cheerio Glasgow and hola Sevilla, McMinn re-united with the man who brought him to Rangers from Queen of the South, Jock Wallace. Suddenly Bernabeu and Nou Camp audiences could gape at the Tin Man. "Jock had taken a gamble. Ted who?"

It was fun while it lasted, but Wallace left Spain and McMinn went to Derby and played some of his best football alongside Dean Saunders and Mark Wright.

"I never played in Scotland long enough but I love it down here," says McMinn, who settled in the East Midlands after a spell over in Australia. "The radio work is ideal. You're sitting summarising the game so I only missed two or three while I was in hospital."

When the Tin Man reached the end of the Yellow Brick Road he got his heart-shaped clock. After Ted McMinn finishes his painful journey he will be back on the golf course. If he plays golf like he did football then a round with the Tin Man is worth more than 18 holes with Tiger Woods.

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