Interview: Hibs manager Colin Calderwood insists he's in for the long haul and vows to instil some steel in a fragile team

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Colin Calderwood is a rotten manager. Every Saturday after the match, during which Hibs have invariably lost or underperformed, he'll replay it in his head as he drives down to Northampton to stay the night at the house he still owns there, trying to work out where the team, and it follows, the boss went wrong.

Then on the Sunday he'll continue south to London to collect his son from his his ex-wife's house and they'll play a round of golf. "And Alfie, who's 15, will give it to me straight in a cockney accent: 'You're rubbish, Dad.'"

Calderwood is laughing as he tells me this, in what is his first major interview since arriving at Easter Road last October. Come to think of it, I may have just witnessed his first major smile in his short, difficult, close-to-squeaky-bum-time reign. On balance I'd have preferred a breakthrough for the footballing philosophy he's trying to impart in Leith over a breakout in grinning, but it's nice to see all the same.

The usual demeanour is the one glimpsed in the technical-area when the TV director switches from a piece of typical Hibee faffing on the pitch to the manager's stony reaction. It's fair to say that football-wise right now this juxtaposition is at the absolute opposite end of the spectrum from the jump-cut between the beautiful game as played by Brazil and those beautiful women in the stands in itsy-bitsy canary-yellow bikini tops. And that's the last time in this piece that Hibs and Brazil will be mentioned in the same paragraph.

So, Colin, how are you enjoying being Hibs' eighth manager in ten years? "Great," he says, "I'm getting on terrifically well here. Really enjoying it." And he repeats: "Really enjoying it." His record is played 12, won two, drawn three, lost seven: a truly eccentric series of results even by Hibs' perverse standards which has included a 3-0 win at Ibrox, two derby defeats, the usual Scottish Cup muck-up at home to lower-league opposition, and it was after Ayr United had earned their replay that the cameras seemed to capture a different Calderwood: not yet haunted but definitely more anxious, as if the pressure is beginning to tell.

Because of that 0-0 draw, and because of his reputation among the football hack-pack for being some way short of the most verbose character they plonk in front of sponsors' partition walls twice a week, I was anticipating a strained interview at Hibs' training complex. But in the end he gives me a full hour in which he explains where he's gone wrong, how he hopes to get it right, what's lacking from Hibs' play and why he won't stand for any more "horrible" performances. He's honest, bullish and pretty impressive. Presumably this isn't the start he wanted, or expected.

"No, it's not, we've got to be better." Has he, as wild rumour suggests, "considered his position"? "Not at all." It seems ludicrous asking this of a manager who will only clock up three months in the job on Tuesday when he takes his befuddled team to Ayr for the Cup replay, but this is football now. In the first week of this year four bosses who've been to European finals – Carlo Ancelotti, Roy Hodgson, Gerard Houllier and Avram Grant – were deemed at risk of the sack and one of the three who only arrived this season has since fallen.

"I don't feel under pressure," he adds. "The job, being a manager, is something I love doing – and I'm loving being at Hibs. So while I accept results have to improve, I'm not worried. I'm sleeping fine. Have I been to see the chairman? No. If anything the situation we're in is giving me reason to do the exact oppopsite, to enjoy it even more." Then he leans forward in his chair. "And this job, being a manager, I'm good at it."

To understand Calderwood more – and he accepts Hibs fans don't, not yet – you have to go back to his roots in Stranraer and his beginnings as a footballer. He didn't start out with great access to the game. "You couldn't always see football on the telly, because of Stranraer's proximity or lack of it to the transmission masts. Our picture was always snowy and the signal came from Northern Ireland so we saw more English matches than Scottish ones. For Scotland's great win against Wales which took us to Argentina, the whole family had to troop up the hill to my granny's house.

"I wanted to become a player, of course, and Stranraer's Derek Frye was my idol for his keepy-uppy routine in the warm-up using just his muckle thighs. I went to see the school careers officer and he made me watch a film about an S-form lad who had to quit through injury and didn't have a trade to fall back on – it was like a government health warning." His commitment was also tested by the long bus journeys to boys' club matches in the region. "Many's the time I threw up bumping over the road to Dumfries. I used to suffer badly from motion sickness and had to steer clear of funfairs and obviously boats." Funnily enough, his father Adam is the exact opposite. "He went from the Merchant Navy to being an electrician on the Stranraer-Larne ferries because he hated being on dry land."

Although a proud Scot whose favourite books are those on the country's history, Calderwood's skewed view on the football world produced in him the ambition to feature on ITV's English higlights programme, The Big Match. "Brian Moore presenting, Gerald Sinstadt commentating, and I'd have been happy with just the one appearance." So at 16 he left home – for Mansfield Town.

"A team in England's bottom flight in a place I'd never heard of – it wasn't a glamorous start. As a 17-a-week apprentice I was put up in digs. The landlady, Maude Winterton, worked in a chipshop Saturday lunchtimes so after youth games we'd end up there. But there was a lot of loneliness, a lot of homesickness. I was phoning home every night. All the 2p pieces I needed for the payphone soon made quite a dent in that 17 quid. You had to want to be in Mansfield, and survive the times when you didn't.

"But if I allowed myself to think that was a stressful situation for a 16-year-old centre-half, I soon met lads who were under far more pressure. Half the youth team were boys who were already working down the coalmines and they resented us apprentices. You had to stand up for yourself, you had to gain their respect. You did that by showing them you were as tough as they were and by being honest and not thinking yourself any better than them."

When he tells this story, Calderwood doesn't present himself like one of Monty Python's self-made boasters, recalling the sheer ordinariness of his early days. If he's agreed to do this interview to improve his PR then the anecdote comes up indirectly, when we aren't talking about Hibs, and I'm the one who suggests he doesn't feel under pressure now because he's experienced a fair bit already.

"Well," he continues, "Mansfield didn't seem like the best of preparations for a young footballer. The manager changed before I arrived, we got given lots of menial tasks, the youth coach died, we were left to our own devices, strength-training was heaving the coal up to the top of the stand and chucking it down the chute and for a while self-preservation was the big thing. But, you know, it is difficult to think of myself as being under pressure here when I remember how the miners' strike affected that area. Mansfield is right on the border with Yorkshire so it was absolutely at the heart of the dispute. The Nottinghamshire miners' went back to work so you can imagine what that did to families – whole villages just crumbled."

Hibs haven't crumbled – not yet. Does Calderwood accept they're in a relegation fight? "We're in a fight for the top six," he says firmly. Today they're at home to Celtic and he's hoping the big-game atmosphere will lift his players. "It's not a match I think we should be losing."

It's live on TV, as is the Cup replay, which could shape the rest of Hibs' season. "Aye, and I wonder why Sky are going to be heading down to Somerset Park for that one ... "

He talks of a "PR battle" being fought on more than one front. Quizzed by a press-box scribe lacking a decent working knowledge of football's finer points he has to be stop himself being sarcastic. Then there are those hard-to-please Hibbys – does he read fansites? "No, never, although I'm obviously aware that there are one or two players who the fans have turned against. But look at that first game against Ayr. The worst guy on the pitch was probably the crowd's favourite, (Merouane] Zemmama – he could do nothing right. If that had been Colin Nish they'd have invaded the pitch and burned down the main stand. That's as bizarre as things are right now."

CALDERWOOD will celebrate his 46th birthday two days after the replay and the present he wants from his players is a grown-up performance which kills the tie, possibly reminiscent of those intensely obdurate ones Scotland produced for Craig Brown when he won his 36 caps. Some called that team boring and said another Kenny Dalglish would be along any minute but we don't hear so much from them now. Hibs, in their current plight, are beggars who can't be choosers in the ongoing debate over flair.

"What we're seeing from the team are all the frailties," he admits. "We over-complicate; there has to be a simplicity to our game. We don't get enough bodies into the opposition box and that's probably to do with the fear factor of players not wanting to expose themselves." But there's something else missing and although he wouldn't describe it as such, this is the steel Calderwood showed as a player.

He nods and asks to speak off the record. What he says is nothing that Hibs fans haven't been moaning about for a while, and he uses the same industrial language. Some would probably like him to come right out and say what he thinks but managers always protect their players, not least in delicate-though not-yet-desperate circumstances like those embroiling Hibs, where the personnel available to the manager is entirely inherited and for the time being no one else can help the club climb the table and – dare we say it – put together something vaguely resembling a Cup run.

Two of what seemed like his first-choice back four have left and as yet in the transfer window there are no new faces. Is he worried about this? "No, I think another five or six could leave and that wouldn't hurt us because at the moment we don't have what I would call a first 11." As many as that will be out of contract at the end of the season. Calderwood, who says he doesn't fear the sack even though he was once dismissed by Notts Forest, plans to stick around for the overhaul.

"What I certainly need is an example player, someone who can tackle. In the first game against Ayr one or two situations where we didn't come away with the ball were entirely unaccaptable. No matter how good a footballer you are, you must win your contacts, whether on the ground or in the air. At the moment some of the players think it's okay not to tackle. Well, there's only so much of that a guy like me can bear and it's definitely got to change."

The manager has made mistakes, too. "I strongly believe that the principles we want at this club are the right ones but we're just not effecting them well enough at the moment and I'm going to have to re-address and make them simpler. Also, I maybe haven't ensured that all of the pressure is off the players at all times. Some people have said to me: 'It's not a team you built, you don't need to worry about that.' No, I may not have signed the players, but it is my team. As a manager you should never forget how hard it is to be out there on the pitch. As a fan I'm afraid you'll never know."

From the only hilltop showing Scotland games to the often desultory and sometimes feral existence of a footballer in Mansfield – avoiding all fairgrounds along the way – this has been a highly unusual football journey. On Tuesday, Calderwood will return to where it all began for him, and he'll obviously be hoping the route doesn't make him sick.

If the result does, then desperate measures will be required. How about the instalation of a coal chute at this fine and possibly too luxurious training centre? I'm pleased to report he's laughing again.