Ibrox return stirs painful memories for Morton’s Jim Duffy

Jim Duffy in his pomp, playing for Morton in season 1983/84, a year before being voted Scotlands player of the year. Picture: SNS

Jim Duffy in his pomp, playing for Morton in season 1983/84, a year before being voted Scotlands player of the year. Picture: SNS

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After over 40 years in football, nearly 30 of them as a manager, little can surprise Jim Duffy. His take on the shock news involving Mark Waburton, the person he expected would welcome him to Ibrox this afternoon, can be summed up with this comment. “As with all managers, you have enough to worry about with your job without looking over to the other dugout to see how the other guy is doing.”

But then he knows worse things can happen at Ibrox than a manager losing his job. Duffy can remember the pain of being cut down in his prime.

Football managers need to start preparing for the sack from the moment they write out their first team-sheet, he reasons, “because it’s inevitable”.

Primed now to take advantage of the turmoil again surrounding Rangers and lead Morton into the last eight of the Scottish Cup, his side are also hot on the heels of Hibs and Dundee United as they chase promotion from the Championship.

So Duffy doesn’t appear to be in any immediate danger at a club where he enjoys an esteemed status in any case. It’s where he excelled enough to win a PFA player of the year award with the Cappielow side while playing in the Premier Division in the early 1980s.

But he already knows what he will do when he’s shown the door, something he treats as inescapable. It’s a fate he has already suffered at Hibs, Hearts and even Dundee, where his association runs even more deeply to the Duffy core than it does with Morton. This is perhaps something a surgeon could confirm when the time comes to replace that mangled right knee.

“It’s sore, mate,” explains Duffy. “That’s the way it is. I am in my late fifties now. I probably do need a new knee. Whenever I get the sack I will probably get it. As a manager, that’s inevitable. You just wait. The next time I get sacked, that is what I will do.”

It was while in the first of three playing spells at Dundee that Duffy’s studs stuck in the lush early season Ibrox turf, 30 years ago in September. He was only 28. As he puts it, “everything in my knee which I needed to play football was damaged”.

Even taking into account the advances in medical knowledge, the injury, had he sustained it now, would result in the same solemn news being broken to him by a consultant: career over.

What made it harder to accept was that it occurred in such innocuous fashion. Robert Fleck was the nearest player but no blame was attached to him. It was just simply horrible bad luck, at a time when Duffy was playing well enough to be touted for a Scotland call-up. Not that everyone was sympathetic. Duffy’s ties with Celtic, where he started his career, made him an obvious target at Ibrox.

“From my point of view, it is strange, I always loved playing at Ibrox because of the atmosphere and the stadium and the environment,” he says. “If you are a wee boy brought up in the west of Scotland, a full house at Ibrox was something you aspired to. Sometimes people say I don’t like that place, it’s got bad memories. No, that’s not the case with me. I don’t associate it with a negative part of my life.

“Eric Ferguson was the physio,” adds Duffy. “He said to me ‘C’mon , we need to get a stretcher’. I was slightly towards the Govan stand, I was getting a bit of stick obviously. I thought: ‘I am not going off here on a stretcher’. I’d have to have gone off at that side of the pitch and been carted all the way round to the tunnel. So I made sure I hobbled off with my leg kind of swinging off.

“Jocky [Scott] was manager. I remember saying to Jocky, ‘give me a minute and I will see if I’m alright’. It was ridiculous.”

It was just the seventh minute of the match. To this day he claims he doesn’t know the result. (Sorry Jim, Dundee lost 2-1.)

When it quickly became clear he couldn’t continue, his next concern was whether he would be fit in time for a League Cup semi-final against Aberdeen at Tannadice later in the month. But there was to be no appearance there. No appearance, indeed, for another two-and-a-half years.

Even that was against the advice 
of the surgeon who told Duffy to quit, which he did, initially, a sickening litany of mostly incomprehensible medical terms ringing in his ears.

“It was Dr Mike Turner, no longer with us, who was the consultant. He said: ‘you’ve got a ruptured cruciate ligament, a damaged medial ligament. You’ve got a femoral condyle fracture, you’ve got meniscus damage and you’ve got articular surface damage’.

“I understand what it means now. But then it was gobbledygook, other than the ligament damage, that’s the only part I’d heard of. The reason I can reel it off now is that I had to find out about it.

“There was no Google in those days. So I said, ‘what are you telling me?’ He said: ‘I am telling you you will not play professional football again’.”

The consultant wondered if he had any questions. Duffy asked only “to be given a minute”. He looked away, “swallowed a gobstopper” and took the view that since he had just become a father again, to Kim, he needed to keep himself together.

“I came back but in my opinion I was 75 per cent the player I was before I got injured,” he says. “As I got a bit older, that figure was getting smaller and smaller. I got injured playing in my twenties and by the time I came back, I was in my thirties.

“But I played another 100 games or so, I cannot complain.”

His return meant he got to play in a cup final, leading Dundee out at Hampden against Aberdeen in the 1995 League Cup final.

The price he paid can be observed by watching him hirple around the dugout area at Ibrox. But he was warned his knee would turn arthritic, he accepts, before claiming the pain’s been worth it.

Rangers must be on guard against a team led by such an indomitable figure bidding to be the one inflicting a scar on an already fragile home support’s psyche.

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