n reaching milestone birthdays, it’s normal to stop and reflect. Gordon Strachan, who turns 60 today, has extra reason to recall where his remarkable journey to Scotland manager, via World Cups, league titles and European trophies, began.
The streets of his north Edinburgh patch have been depicted again in T2, the sequel to 1996’s Trainspotting, that opened in cinemas last month. By the time Strachan sat down recently to reminisce about his life so far he had already watched the film in the Midlands, where he lives now. He and his wife, Lesley, both betrayed their Scottish roots – Strachan met Lesley while at his first club, Dundee – by (spoiler warning) laughing at the bits that passed over the heads of their fellow, mostly English, multiplex companions.
“The funniest thing was watching it in England and no one got the jokes, like when he (Renton) is putting ‘1690’ on his arm,” says Strachan. “Me and Lesley are looking at each other, howling. That has to be the funniest thing I have ever seen. And the rest of them in the cinema, not a clue!”
The intricacies of Scottish and Irish sectarianism aside, the film has particular relevance to Strachan, since he grew up just round the corner from the author of the book on which it is based. Irvine Welsh and Strachan’s paths crossed in Muirhouse, just a short hop from The Spartans Community Football Academy, where the Scotland manager has spent time in recent days.
“It was just over there, yes,” he says, gesturing towards the window. “I used to fight with his brother, regularly. Bump into him in the street, have an argument. I am sure it was his brother, at least.
“I remember… he (Welsh) was a tiny wee guy, but he is a big lad now, isn’t he? Irvine used to be round the block from me, about 150 yards. He paints this picture (of the area)… but then I think he stayed there longer than me.
“I left home when I was 15. And I think the drug thing was just starting when I was leaving. It just used to be a hard area – if you said something you’d get a smack in the chops but no-one was going to knife you. There might have been a threat of a knife somewhere, but I was never actually threatened with one.”
Strachan perhaps left at the right time, heading for the bright lights of… Dundee. It was there where he said he learned to drink pints with his older, more battle-hardened team-mates, so it was not as if he managed to completely escape trouble.
But what might have happened had he stayed? Would he still have realised the boyhood dream of scoring for Hibs? (Strachan did eventually fulfil this ambition, in a testimonial against Coventry City after he swapped sides at half-time).
Or was there a danger of him turning into a Francis Begbie-style character someone – perhaps with experience of being at the wrong end of one of Strachan’s cutting answers, a heart-stopping moment to rival a brush with Begbie – wonders? Fortunately the manager laughs at this before recalling his younger self, all ginger hair and freckles. “I was Spud!”
Strachan doesn’t want to make growing up in this part of Edinburgh at the time sound like a miserable existence. It was quite the contrary. His mother, Catherine, still lives in the area.
They didn’t want for what they did not have. Strachan mentions a line written by a “singer songwriter friend”. It’s in fact Tim Booth, of James. And the lyric in question is from the band’s biggest hit, Sit Down. “If I hadn’t seen such riches/ I could live with being poor”. Strachan believes this sentiment sums up his happy existence in late 1960s, early 1970s Edinburgh.
“I loved living here,” he says. “I thought it was brilliant. I had football pitches next to the house, a golf course and a beach – it was all there for me to enjoy myself. I have to say, when I lived there, in those days, no-one showed you this picture of another world on social media, this was your only life.
“My only dream was scoring for Hibs. There was not a dream of cars, houses. You never saw it on telly in those days. There were three channels, cartoons, a bit of drama and that was it. Nowadays it is all reality shows, and everyone wants what these people have round the world – clothes, money, watches, and things. That was not there.
“All your dads had the same stuff, got the same bus, went to the wire works down the road there. No-one was jealous of anyone else because everyone had the very same thing.”
“Life was a wee bit different,” he adds. “Now if kids round here do not have a watch, do not have this, do not have that, then they are failures. They feel bad about themselves. I never had anyone tell me I was a failure. I just thought I was the same as the guy down the road. Irvine (Welsh) was just the guy round the corner.”
But neither Strachan nor Welsh were the same as everyone else. The former, certainly, quickly began to create waves, outplaying Alan Ball in a friendly between Dundee and Arsenal while still a teenager and then going on to find fame and fortune with Aberdeen, Manchester United and Leeds United, where he enjoyed such a fine Indian summer.
All this via a much-publicised falling out with Sir Alex Ferguson, who he played under with Aberdeen, Manchester United and Scotland.
“It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t a big thing,” he shrugged. “I’m quite happy floating along. I don’t bear grudges. None of you would be in here today if I did!
“Going back to Fergie, I think he fell out with everybody. You ask Brucey (Steve Bruce), Mark Hughes, they’ve all been there. There is a whole line of them. I was just one of the first. I was one of the pioneers!”
As Sickboy suggests in T2, it’s not always healthy to be “a tourist in your own youth”. Strachan is certainly not the type to wallow in the past.
Only the third man to occupy the post of Scotland manager in his 60s, he would like to think his greatest achievements lie ahead – getting the nation to a World Cup finals, and continuing to inspire others. “I love being in the game and the job I am in now is fantastic,” he said. “My big thing is trying to make young football players better.
“I want to push sport to make Scotland a better place to live and for kids to grow up in. I can do that alongside coaching and managing. It’s like playing – why did I play until I was 40? It was because I was fit.
“When people packed in at 34 I could carry on and use my knowledge. At 60 I hope I can carry on coaching, helping players and other coaches, whatever it may be.”