Aidan Smith's Saturday Interview: Alan Rough on Andy Goram, Craig Gordon, being made an MBE and what the Queen said to him last time they met

As Wacky Races' Dick Dastardly was wont to say, drat, drat and double drat. Scotland have blown their World Cup dream and my whizzo idea of a post-match chat with Alan Rough seems to have gone up in smoke as well.

He had great hair until he succumbed to the 1978 bubble-perm craze
He had great hair until he succumbed to the 1978 bubble-perm craze

Roughie alone featured in our two titanic qualifiers against the Welsh – 1977 and 1985 – and I’d hoped we could be looking forward to Cardiff tomorrow together.

But as I rouse myself for an anticipated mad morning of chasing around for another interview subject, there’s small consolation for the Tartan Army, big consolation for the goalkeeping legend and his family and pretty sizable consolation for your correspondent as well. Say hello, everyone, to Alan Roderick Rough MBE.

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The gong – and a Queen’s Platinum Jubilee gong, no less – is plenty reason to keep my appointment with the man. But – why was I worried? – there’s more than enough to talk about, even in defeat, including the imperishable Craig Gordon, the stricken Andy Goram, the unbeatable Thibaut Courtois and – yikes – sweeper-keepering.

"I've got it, lads!" says Roughie to Colin Jackson and Tom Forsyth vs Northern Ireland in 1976

“Sorry I couldn’t tell you about the honour before but those are the rules,” he says. On the official citation it’s for services to football and charity. At Partick Thistle, where he once manned the posts for 624 games including the phantasmagorical 1971 League Cup triumph and now sits on the board, he helps dementia sufferers and those down on their luck in Glasgow’s Maryhill. For his country there were 53 caps and three World Cups and it is, he says, lovely to be recognised and especially as a Scottish goalie, that much-misunderstood breed.

So if this is his most recent prize – and given the choice of swish venues he fancies a trip to London to collect it at Buck House – what was the very first? “Well, I wasn’t particularly good at school but aged 14 at Knightswood Secondary I had to stand up in class and talk for two minutes about the World Cup - how big it was, how heavy, how Scotland were definitely going to win it one day – and for that I got a certificate. That was the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life. Keeping goal never fazed me.”

We know this, don’t we? Our abiding image of the man is of him cosy in his yellow jersey, a splat of mud on his backside perhaps but, leaning on a goalpost, hair never anything less than special, seeming to be without a care in the world. Which is not to say he wasn’t good at his job. Or brilliant when required.

Just because we’ve missed out on another death-or-glory encounter with the Welsh Dragon doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about The Save. In ’77 at Anfield, Wales’ ill-chosen venue in order to make their FA some money with the Tartan Army taking the place over, the fans on the Kop held their breath. With the score at 0-0, John Toshack had turned instinctively and caught the ball perfectly. His volley seemed destined for the postage-stamp corner. But Roughie, standing well off his line, was somehow able to arc backwards and tip the shot over the bar. His greatest-ever?

Scotland great Alan Rough has been made an MBE int he Queen's Platinum Jubilee Honours.

“Probably. At Firhill the old-timers will sometimes ask ‘Remember that double save in the cup – how did you do it?’ or ‘What about the one where you got down low against so-and-so – was that your best?’ I have to tell these guys that I’ve forgotten most of them. I think all goalies will say this: the saves you remember are the most important and the one from big Toshack was certainly that.”

And to think that David Coleman at the World Cup in Argentina – Scotland’s presence there due in no small way to that stop – would describe our man in commentary as “inelastic”. What a cheek. At Anfield and other arenas, maybe just not Cordoba against Peru’s Teofilo Cubillas, Rough was – cue the Detriot Spinners – “The Rubberband Man”. But he has never heard Coleman’s description until now, the day of the MBE being announced – how bad do I feel? No matter. He laughs it off like he’s chuckled at all the jokes about Scottish custodians down the decades.

Rough had made a hectic dash to Hampden from the airport following a holiday in Cuba. His base, Havana’s Hotel Nacional, was where Frank Sinatra once sang to an audience of American mafia bosses. But the game against Ukraine was far from nice ’n’ easy. Roughie could, in the words of another Sinatra standard, conclude: “I’ll never smile again.” Regarding Scotland, though, it’s probably best to accept: that’s life.

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He admits he was nervous about the outcome. “We were undefeated in eight games but I did think: ‘Who have we beaten?’ Ukraine turned out to be what we probably feared: like the Czech Republic and Croatia in last year’s Euros and just on a higher technical plane than us.

“If you looked at their centre-backs they were completely comfortable with the ball at their feet. I’m afraid that if Craig Gordon was to have passed across his six-yard box to Grant Hanley or Liam Cooper I’d have been chewing my fingers off.” So how would Roughie have fared in the sweeper-keeper era? “A helluva lot is asked of goalies now and an incredible onus comes from the passback rule. I was an 18-yard-box keeper who liked to play outfield in nine-a-sides at Scotland camps but you have to be two-footed now and I never was.

“Craig lost his place at Celtic because he was deemed not to be good enough playing out with his feet. The guy who came in for him was supposed to be an expert but he couldn’t keep the ball out of the net as well as Craig and is that still not really a keeper’s main job?”

Gordon is 39, the same age as Rough when he retired the gloves. The Hearts man would be 43 come the next World Cup and the dream may have gone for him now. “I feel sorry for Craig. He’s done brilliantly to come back from serious injury and reach this superb level of performance. At the [Scottish Football Writers’] Player of the Year Awards I congratulated him on his season and, standing next to him, not having seen him for a while, I couldn’t believe how tall and lean he is. He keeps himself in fantastic shape and with that agility and his reach he’s now got the benefit all that experience.

“[Dino] Zoff, [Peter] Shilton and [Pat] Jennings all played in World Cups when they were 40 - but 43? I definitely think Craig’s got another Euros in him but 2026 may be too far which would be a shame because I was fortunate enough to make three World Cups and, even though there was disappointment in how they ended, I’ll never forget the excitement beforehand, especially the build-up to ’78 with the whole country behind us, folk on Fenwick Moor waving us off and at Prestwick Airport even more incredible scenes.”

A sunnily upbeat fellow, even about Argentina, Rough dishes out more sympathy to another member of Scotland’s No 1 Club. He’s saddened by the plight of Goram who’s revealed he has oesophageal cancer and been given about six months to live.

“I went to see Andy before my holiday with Coisty [Ally McCoist], Durranty [Ian Durrant] and a few other Rangers boys. He was pointing all over his body saying ‘It’s spread here, here and here’. He was taking it all incredibly well and being brave. He’s refused chemotherapy because of how ill the treatment made his ex-wife Miriam, who had breast cancer. She came through it okay but says the chemo has ruined her life.

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“John Brown told Andy that however much time is left he should just have a blast. That made us laugh because he’s been doing that for years! He was in good spirits and I just hope he doesn’t get too down during those times when he’s on his own.

“The joke between us is that he’s always stolen my place. He took over from me at Hibs and the same at Scotland. When we were at Easter Road together he stayed with me for a while. I didn’t know him before but he was this cocky boy from Oldham who right away at training we could all see was special. Both of us would struggle to get a game in goals now because we’re not 6ft 5ins but Andy made up for that in every other department. He was a great shot-stopper and, like Craig, a guy for the big saves.”

At Hampden on Wednesday night there were few consolations for Rough but he was glad to meet up again with Rod Stewart, the celebrity Scotland fan with the best attendance record and, at the Spain World Cup in 1982, deep pockets, which gave lie to the showbiz rumour that he’s tight-fisted.

“After being knocked out of that tournament we asked [manager] Jock Stein if we could head up to Puerto Banus for a few drinks. It was a great party and Rod kept the champagne coming. It was getting late his and wife at the time, Alana [Hamilton], wanted to leave. ‘Come on, Rod,’ she said, ‘it’s time for bed.’ He said: ‘But I’m with the boys.’ It wasn’t very gallant of him but he told her to go up the road by herself.”

For the next World Cup in Mexico Rough expected to be back-up for Jim Leighton and for all but 45 minutes that was what he was. But at the interval in the vital Cardiff qualifier against Wales in ’85 his services were urgently required after Leighton had lost a contact lens. “I was out on the pitch with [fellow sub] David Speedie but you couldn’t call it a warm-up. We weren’t allowed to use the goalmouths because the Regimental Band of the [Welsh Cavalry] Dragoon Guards were the half-time entertainment. David and I snuck into a corner of the pitch and booted balls at each other. I think we knocked a couple of bandsmen’s hats off. Then [physiotherapist] Brian Scott told me to hurry back to the dressing-room. ‘You’re coming on,’ he said. I said: ‘You’re winding me up.’ And that’s when Big Jock, who couldn’t be doing with goalkeepers, bless him, wished the ‘fat bastard’ good luck - his last-ever words to me before he died.”

While in Cuba, Rough was able to catch the Champions League final and marvel at the performance from Real Madrid’s Courtois which won them the cup. He thinks back to some lively debates on his YouTube show alongside Peter Martin where his claim that goalkeepers can win games virtually by themselves was met with a few snorts - but can now present this display as conclusive evidence.

In the Ukraine game there was frustration Scotland hadn’t peppered their uncertain goalie, Georgiy Bushchan, with more shots and crosses – an “absolute puddin’” was how pundit Graeme Souness described him. This makes Rough smile because Souness was Rangers’ manager when in 1987 the keeper had to withstand his greatest aerial bombardment while playing for Hibs. “We were leading 1-0 at Ibrox. They threw everything at us and I was having just one of those games. Dave McPherson scored a last-minute equaliser but whenever I see Graeme he still mentions that match.”

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If a goalkeeper can win games almost single-handed can he also lose them? Rough remembers how in ’88, by then at Celtic, manager Billy McNeill picked Ian Andrews for an Old Firm clash in Govan. “It could just as easily have been me for a game that Rangers won 5-1. Ian took the rap but, really, were all the goals his fault? Maybe one. Other guys in the team were culpable. It’s too easy to blame the goalie.”

Back in ’75 the same scoreline in England’s favour had done for Rough’s predecessor in the Dark Blues, Stewart Kennedy. “He never recovered from that and I can understand why. But again I’m struggling to think that any more than one of the goals, maybe the header when he collided with the post, could be pinned on him.”

Rough, in Scotland’s unofficial goalkeepers’ union, can surely lay claim to the title of honorary-secretary-in-perpetuity, responsible for morale-boosting bulletins to the membership. And as he awaits conferment of his official distinction he reflects back to a Hampden friendly to mark the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, the Glasgow Select team beating a Football League XI 2-1. “Before kick-off all the players were introduced to Her Majesty. I was standing next to Kenny Dalglish and she said to him: ‘You’re doing especially well this season.’ Then she came to me: ‘And you’re having a nightmare, aren’t you?’!”

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