It’s the memories that matter to Gordon Strachan and they are safely locked away and carefully looked after. Which is more than could be said for the medals and the shirts that are the more tangible rewards from a 45-year career that has served him well.
“Someone asked me last week where I keep my medals and I said ‘I’ve not got a clue’ but I found them and the guys here will show them,” he said as he chatted at the home of Spartans FC, reflecting on a lifetime in the game. “They were in the garage and the medals were in an old Asda bag! I’m so proud of them but I don’t need to show them.”
With footballers in the family, he says the last thing his kids or grandchildren want to see when they pop round to visit is all his “stuff” dotted about and, for him, and wife Lesley who has been with him throughout the journey, there are no need for reminders. Which is why he has already given away some of his medals to individuals and owners or to players who had cruelly missed out.
Those recently excavated from his garage will go on display just a mile from his childhood home, at The Spartans Community Football Academy, where he is the Patron. Alongside the Cup Winners Cup and European Super Cup medals he won with Aberdeen and several English and Scottish league and cup trinkets, will hang four strips. They each offer a snapshot of a career that exceeded anything the young red-haired boy had dreamed of as he ran along Cramond promenade or around Silverknowes Golf Course, putting in the legwork that would ultimately allow him to play on at the top level until he was 40.
“It’s not so much the games, it’s the silly things that happened in those games. The strip there, for the World Select, I didn’t realise I had been speaking to Danny Kaye for five minutes, I thought he was a groundsman! Then he came out and shook our hands eventually and wished us all the best and I was like ‘Jesus Christ, it’s Danny Kaye!’”
Few in Hollywood could tell tales the way Strachan can, as he rifles through the corners of his brain, dusting down one anecdote after another. “It was after the 1986 World Cup that I played in that game. I got stopped by Maradona’s minders on my way to my room. These were guys with guns and they wanted to know what I was doing and I said ‘I play’ and they just laughed at me!” That was the Americas v The Rest of the World and while the colour is in HD, the fact the match details are foggy reinforces his view of what matters. “I think it went to penalties and I took one, I think I scored. I’m sure it was a draw.” The game ended 2-2 and while Strachan did score a penalty, the Americas edged the shoot-out 4-3, with Maradona scoring the winning penalty.
“There is always a story behind most of these things, and a bit of a laugh and a joke. The one behind the Aberdeen strip [it is the one he wore when Alex Ferguson’s men triumphed in Gothenburg], is me cutting my hair before the game because I couldn’t see. I just chopped it off. And I gave my wife a piggy back to bed at the end of the night, after watching Mark McGhee fall in the swimming pool.”
Then there’s the strip from the day Leeds won the 1991-92 Championship and the top from his 50th Scotland cap. Some players have shrines to themselves in their homes, Strachan doesn’t even have photographs of him in the guise of a football man. “I have a lithograph of Tommy Burns flying through the air when we beat Shakhtar Donetsk and the boys went to celebrate. I have got that up but that goes back to it being about people you meet in the game. The only team picture I have got is of my dad when he played for Royston Boys. But that’s that.”
Turning 60 on Thursday, the Scotland boss says the medals were not part of the original plan. “Leeds were the one club who said we need to bring you here to do this. We need to get promoted or we’re kind of knackered as a club. And I scored a goal that kind of got us promoted against Leicester. For me, every bit of practice, every run down the beach and all the rest of it, it seemed to be for that moment. It was probably the most tired I have ever been in a football match. But I was a special mission. The rest of them unfolded, they were never planned.
“When you were a kid you never thought: ‘European cups, manager of Scotland, leagues.’ The great plan was scoring for Hibs, that was it. And I never achieved that so I am a failure in life!” He did play in a testimonial for his boyhood heroes while he was assistant manager at Coventry. “I scored a penalty and big Ron [Atkinson] didn’t speak to me for about 48 hours. Coventry were under pressure at the time and they were winning with five minutes to go then I scored the penalty!”
The birthday celebrations are likely to be low key, he says, although a trip to Graceland for the Elvis fan will be factored in at some point. For now, he has to focus on Scotland. Delving into management is where the game gets payback, he says. “If you ask Brian McClair how long he’s been working, he’ll say ‘I’ve never worked a day in my life…’ Management makes up for it though. That’s working, 24 hours a day, sometimes it feels like 48 hours a day! In saying that, there’s that kickback you get from helping people. I met Robbie Keane last week and he was very complimentary, which was great.”
But, he knows it is not all plaudits, with managers having to adapt to changes in player personalities these days and the hairdryer treatment rarely employed. “Mind you, I heard Conte at half time when we played [Italy] in May – whoa, I’ve never heard anything like it in my life. It was Alex Ferguson stuff. He cleared the dressing room.”
Managers can no longer dish it out but, operating in such a spotlight and with forums and phone-ins, they have to be able to take it.
His wife Lesley knows better than to voice her opinion post-match. “She’s not daft. She won’t open her mouth until two days after a game.”
Others were not so reticent. “My dad was down for a Coventry game when I was the manager and he’d had a few drinks in the boardroom. We were driving back afterwards and he asked me “why did you take Robbie Keane off?” I told him: “Because I’m the f*****g manager!” We never spoke for a few days!”
The tales, the people, the highs and the lows are all locked away in his brain. The trinkets and the strips are for others to enjoy.