WHEN PFA Scotland asked Mark Wilson to coach at the showcase week they will shortly offer to players rendered free agents this summer, he agreed without hesitation.
The issue has personal resonance for the 31-year-old. Unattached since his short-term deal with Dumbarton concluded last month, the full-back is himself on the hunt for gainful football employment. Wilson would hope, though, that any young player on such a quest avoids his predicament. The former Dundee United defender is convinced his pursuit of a new playing deal has been made more awkward by a situation entirely out of his control.
Wilson enjoyed considerable success at Celtic and throughout his career has been recognised as a smart and sensible pro. He is dismayed that so many now choose to associate him with an incident in Glasgow’s Ashton Lane last October that will result in Dundee United’s Paul Paton standing trial later this year for allegedly assaulting Celtic goalkeeper Lukasz Zaluska.
Then a United player himself, grainy pictures of Wilson at the scene appeared in the press and online. The fact his role was restricted to attempted peacemaker seemed lost because the Tannadice club disciplined him for being out drinking the night before he was to play in a development team fixture. Two months later Wilson’s second spell at the Tannadice club was ended by “mutual consent” – six months before his deal was scheduled to expire.
Wilson was only able to protest his innocence once he had departed Tayside because such a course of action was denied him by United. At great cost to his reputation, he believes. “I am trying to get a new club and mud sticks,” he said. “I was honest enough at the time to tell the Dundee United manager that I had been drinking the day of the Ashton Lane incident. I held my hands up to that and it was an under-20s game that I chose to play in.
“There was so much about it on the front pages of the papers, pictures of me, there were guys outside my house taking photos, people questioning my wife, who was there that night. All I wanted to do was sit down with you guys [in the media] and say what actually happened. I wasn’t allowed to do it until I left the club and even then I have to be careful because it’s a live case.
I have always shied away from nights out. I don’t go on many at allMark Wilson
“I went out for lunch and had five beers over the course of nine hours, to put it into context, [although] it is still not right. I was going home at 11:30pm and I would have been in the house for midnight. This kicked off at 11:40pm and because of the police interviews it kept me out way past that time.
“The police could not have been more grateful to me and handed in letters to the club. I am aware that it is not the right image to project when you are involved in these kind of things the night before any game, let alone an under-20s match.
“I remember thinking at the time: was this mud going to stick to me and my career? Even when I went to Dumbarton, I felt I had to explain to the boys in the dressing room because you know players hear stories which get fabricated into something that never actually happened.
“It was a ten-minute thing and I should not have been there. I was at a going-away party for friends, we were having lunch and I would still have bumped into Lukasz Zaluska and it would still have happened.
“I am not that kind of person and I have always shied away from nights out. I don’t go on many at all. I never envisaged that this would happen to me and, if it did, I would have thought that it was me who had done something bad to put me on the front pages. The fact that I was trying to calm certain people down and I got the blame for what happened was ridiculous, and I could not get my head around that. It looks really bad but I guess that is just how the system works.”
Yet, the unfortunate Wilson seems to have been something of a Zelig for confrontations involving football people. His manager at Celtic, Gordon Strachan, had a long-running feud with the club’s winger Aiden McGeady.
The pair’s paths will cross once more when the Republic of Ireland host Scotland in Saturday’s Euro 2016 qualifier. In their time together at Celtic, the pair seemed to forever cross when in each other’s path.
Although turning in early, Wilson was on the night out that ended with Aiden McGeady suffering a black eye following an altercation at a hot-dog stand.
“Obviously Gordon wasn’t happy,” said the defender of the manager he rates above all others he has played under. “We flew to Chicago after that and Aiden was made to wear dark sunglasses and wasn’t allowed to train.”
Wilson was also there when the “totally out of order” ’keeper Artur Boruc punched the blameless McGeady after offering his hand following an argument in an attack over which Strachan hardly supported the winger.
Then there was the infamous dressing-room rammy following a 1-1 draw at home to Hearts in December 2008 that scarred Strachan’s final season as Celtic manager.
“They didn’t get on too well,” said Wilson of Strachan and McGeady with wonderful understatement. “It was a clash of personalities. I think Aiden was probably like Gordon was when he was younger.
“Aiden’s a good guy, but he’s such a cheeky guy that he would cause a fight anywhere. He’s a likeable guy but after that one game, it all kicked off and got a bit out of hand.
“It wasn’t a scuffle but Aiden got out his seat and there was a coming together. To be fair to Gordon, he handled it perfectly, the way any top manager would: he suspended Aiden for two weeks. We ended up winning at Ibrox during that time… which didn’t please Aiden. He was probably hoping for us to get beat without him!
“Sometimes your instinct is to stop a fight. At other times you let it go. It depends who it is. If you split things up, you can get into trouble. I’m never splitting anything up again. I’ve learned my lesson.”
l Players who would like to attended the DPS Group Player Showcase, which takes place from 22-26 June should email PFA Scotland’s Michelle Evans on Michelle@pfascotland.co.uk