SURPASSING this season’s feats will be an almighty task for Michael Higdon.
The Motherwell striker claimed the PFA Scotland player of the year honour last Sunday night in, eh, memorable fashion to further enhance his campaign of extraordinary outcomes. His finishing prowess has propelled his club to second in the table, with 26 league goals – so far – allowing him to eclipse the club’s post-war scoring record set by Willie Pettigrew 34 years ago. Additionally, the 29-year-old’s plundering has a put him on course to become the first man not berthed at a Glasgow team to finish at the summit of the top-flight scoring charts since Tommy Coyne did so, as a Motherwell player, in 1994-95. So just how do you top all that, was the question put to the Liverpudlian the other day as, fittingly, he was picking up another accolade in the form of the Clydesdale Bank player of the month award for April.
“Winning the league would top that… or getting back to the hotel safely,” said Higdon mischievously. This was, of course, an allusion to the fact that, in the early hours of Monday morning, the narrative of his season changed from his being a player who has been banging in the goals like no other, to a player who was banged up like no other. Following the PFA awards ceremony, an altercation in a nightclub led to Higdon being arrested for an alleged assault and spending the night in the cells. He was released without charge and a report has been sent to the procurator fiscal.
“The phone hasn’t stopped ringing, partly because it’s so out of character for me. They’re more shocked,” he said. “I go in, but I don’t ever go out. They’re surprised I got myself into a situation like that, as I was. I’ve had plenty of abuse from the lads here and that’s to be expected. You have to take the stick when it comes your way.”
Higdon could force a chuckle at how league reconstruction and Alex Ferguson’s retirement took the heat out of how his “proudest” night in football concluded. Until these events, we were being treated to reactions such as the wearying and obligatory radio phone-in over the suitability of footballers as role models.
Yet Higdon’s self-improvement in recent years has made him a model example of how the ugly duckling footballer can enjoy a time when he becomes a swan. A handful of goals was all he managed per season in his early days in Crewe. At Falkirk, the totals weren’t much better. Then at St Mirren, and in his two seasons at Fir Park, he ramped up his chance-to-conversion ratio. His only aim at the start of the season was to be top scorer by breaking the 20-goal barrier for the first time. In doing that and much more, he has become beloved by the same Motherwell punters who, not too long ago, regularly belittled him.
“I think telling them to f*** off helped,” he grinned. “They told me to f*** off plenty of times. No, it’s a strange one. You just need to please the one guy and that’s the gaffer. That might sound weird but that’s the way it is. You want the fans to like you but first impressions weren’t great and I just kept going at it and believing in my ability and it’s come good now. I’ve had stick everywhere I’ve been. Half the time I look a lazy bastard don’t I? The body language doesn’t reflect the performance sometimes. I think I’ve got better at that. I’m just a laid-back guy anyway. I’ve managed to come up trumps this time.”
The blunt fact is that Higdon must surely look to cash in now. Out of contract and approaching 30, his next deal should be the most lucrative of his career. He knows that, however much he loves Motherwell, the club might not be able to give him the same platform next season, with other out-of-contract players Nicky Law, Darren Randolph, Chris Humphrey and James McFadden set to leave – as could even a couple with a year remaining, such as Henrik Ojamaa. “Henrik has been excellent for me. I always take the piss and say we’re Toshack and Keegan and he’s like: who’s that?” said the Liverpool fan.
“I think we players are waiting to see what each other is doing. I don’t think most teams have been in this situation before where most of the starting 11 is out of contract. We talk about it. We’re asking each other what’s happening. But like me, they’re probably getting phone calls but they’re not telling you the right things. When the season finishes, that’s when we will start being able to get answers. There’s an offer on the table [from Motherwell] but obviously you’re negotiating. I want that stand named after me over the other side. We’ll keep negotiating, talking to the brick wall, and see what happens.
“The main factor is I’m settled here as is the family. But with the season I’ve had, if I get something that I can’t turn down then I’ve got to look at doing it with the age I’m at. I’d like to play at as high [a level] as I can because it’s a short career. But I’ve got nothing to tell you. Whether it be England or anywhere else I just want the best for myself and the family.”