“You have your good times and your bad times,” pondered Jim Duffy, whose philosophical musings were yesterday prompted by collecting the SPFL League 1 manager of the month award for November. The Morton manager could hardly have expected such high and low points to come within a matter of days of each other.
On the penultimate Saturday of last month, Morton were sitting top of the league after a 3-1 win over Stenhousemuir. This was the Cappielow side’s fourth win in a row, hence the recognition Duffy received yesterday – his first such award for over a year, when he was with Clyde.
On the last Saturday of November, however, the manager watched Morton slump to one of their worst-ever defeats, when they were knocked out of the Scottish Cup by Spartans. Talk about the curse of the manager’s award, although Duffy did not actually learn the result of the vote until a few days after the shock Spartans reversal.
Still, the jinx was in evidence on Saturday when Morton were knocked-off the summit down to fourth place, courtesy of a 2-0 defeat at Stranraer. Not that this could compare to the disappointment Duffy experienced at the hands of Spartans, particularly since Morton led 1-0 at half time before falling 2-1.
“I could have had a night out with Kylie Minogue and it would have made no difference, nothing was going to pick me up from that,” Duffy said yesterday, when asked whether yesterday’s award went some way to making up for such a dark day.
“I’ve had a lot of disappointing results, so I don’t look at it and say that was the worst ever. But since I came here it was the worst without any shadow of a doubt. It lingered quite a while. But then that’s football for you.”
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Duffy has been through the mill. He won the players’ player of the year award with Morton in 1985 and looked set to mount a challenge to the likes of Willie Miller and Alex McLeish at centre-back for Scotland. However, a cruel knee injury sustained while in his pomp playing for Dundee dashed these hopes.
Although advised to quit the game, he returned nearly three years later, again with Dundee. Understandably, he could not perform to quite the same level but, on becoming player-manager, he did lead the Dens Park club to the League Cup final versus Aberdeen 19 years ago. This was during a period when he experienced Ron Dixon, the first in a series of idiosyncratic owners Duffy has known. Other interesting experiences occurred under the likes of Ken Bates at Chelsea, where Duffy was a youth coach, and Milan Mandaric at Portsmouth, where he assisted manager Graham Rix.
Then, of course, there is Vladimir Romanov, whose interfering ways Duffy got to know when he had a short spell as director of football at Hearts in 2006. Even Delia Smith at Norwich, where Duffy had a stint as caretaker manager, could prove somewhat eccentric at times.
But it is Smith who Duffy believes most resembles the passionate Douglas Rae, his octogenarian current chairman, and someone whose munificence has helped keep Morton running in recent years. Duffy is alert to Rae’s crucial role in the club’s survival, just as he is aware of the warning emerging from the SFA-hosted football convention last week that Premiership clubs, never mind those operating in the third tier like Morton, could soon be forced to go part-time.
Rae made the brave decision to maintain Morton’s full-time status despite the disappointment of relegation from the Championship last season. An added blow was missing out on the increased income guaranteed by circumstances that deposited Hearts, Rangers and Hibs in the league Morton had just left. Although Rae threatened to turn the club into a part-time football outfit, they remain full-time – for now. Much perhaps rests on Duffy being able to get Morton back to winning ways as quickly as possible.
“It will be part-time football if the chairman decides he no longer wants to put his hand in his pocket,” conceded Duffy. “It’s like all football clubs. Ultimately it’s down to the goodwill of the chairman. That’s when you really appreciate people like him in the game. They put their hand in their pocket.
“A lot can say we should be doing this or we should be here or there,” added Duffy. “But not many actually go in and physically do it. I’ve had a few characters in charge of me – Ron Dixon, Giovanni de Stefano, Ken Bates, Milan Mandaric and Vladimir Romanov. I had Delia Smith at Norwich as well.
“The chairman here is a football man and a Morton man,” he added. “He is not too dissimilar to Delia Smith in that she was an out and out Norwich fan. The others like Romanov, Mandaric, di Stefano and the others came to clubs – they were not supporters. The chairman at Morton has been a supporter since he was a child. He is a Morton fan first and foremost.”
In view of this long-term attachment, Duffy is perhaps more minded to indulge Rae’s understandable desire to be hands-on, even when it comes to playing matters. But the situation is still not as extreme as at Tynecastle under Romanov.
“At Hearts an opinion from ‘upstairs’ wasn’t an opinion – it was a team-sheet,” said Duffy. “One or two names would be Tippexed out and another one or two written in. That’s certainly not the case here.
“The chairman only misses the odd game. Sometimes you are in the dug-out and you hear his voice behind you making a suggestion. That’s fine, that’s his call. He is in the stand and is a fan, that’s what fans do.”
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