Hansen boys will always be sons of Sauchie

THERE are not too many occasions when Sauchie could be said to be the centre of the Scottish sporting world, but this week it might just be true.

On Tuesday Hansen, now 48, will switch sports, turning to his favoured pursuit of golf for the Alan Hansen Cel-Am in aid of the Scottish Society for Autism, together with the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Billy McNeill, Gavin Hastings and Pat Nevin. If it wasn’t for Millar, who, it is said, turned Hansen-the-midfielder into Hansen-the-defender in a pre-season friendly for Sauchie Juniors against Partick Thistle, he might have been rivalling Sandy Lyle for the title of best Scottish golfer in the Eighties. Indeed, Hansen was once named reserve for Scottish Boys v English Boys in 1972 with Lyle, then an ‘English’ 14-year old, present in the opposing team.

Instead it was his elegant style of defending which came to be showcased all across Europe, sophisticated enough for initial observers of his cultured approach to presume he hailed from one of the great Italian cities which churned out these defensive masterpieces the way Sauchie once did black diamonds. His dark good looks hardly disabused them of this notion. Shocked they were to discover he was Scottish, his talents honed on the pitches of Clackmannanshire such as the one built upon an old slag heap and where tomorrow Alan and also fellow Scotland international brother John return to pay homage to not only Millar, but also the village which shaped them, and where their parents to this day still live.

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The profits from tomorrow’s match, which kicks-off at 1pm to allow Tommy Burns’ young Celtic team time to hotfoot it back to Parkhead for the Premierleague trophy presentation, will also be directed towards an appeal on behalf of the New Struan House School for autistic children in Alloa. It is evidence, if any is needed, that the values of society preached by Millar, the old Labour-ite and former Provost, have been absorbed by his pupils. "It did not matter who you were or what you had done, Jimmy was always Jimmy," says Alan. "Three or four years ago I came back to Sauchie and went to see him and he wasn’t at all well. The cancer had him by then. He was struggling a bit. But even then I sat there for two hours and spoke once to him, I think. Jimmy was a bit like Bill Shankly. When you spoke to Shankly, all you did was listen to what he said. When you had a conversation with Jimmy it was the same thing. Like Shankly, he was a socialist, and he used to say the problem is that people have too much now. He said it wouldn’t surprise him if he walked through Sauchie next week - and you have to remember Sauchie is a mining village - and saw helicopters in each garden."

This egalitarian spirit has been adopted by Hansen, and so too, over his first impressive decade in broadcasting, the ability to sermonise, or, perhaps, alternatively, the inability to hold his tongue. How the BBC viewers might have loved it had Millar been invited onto a panel to analyse a match with Hansen, Lineker et al, his broad central Scotland patois used to de-construct a Premiership match, the tactics brought refreshingly down to the lowest common denominator. On the day he shifted Hansen back into defence, he apparently told his unconvinced fellow Sauchie committee members that he was a footballer, "and fitballers can play awniewhere". He was right. Immediately after the game - Hansen’s only appearance for the Sauchie senior team - Thistle manager Dave McParland came up to Millar, who also doubled as a scout for the Firhill club, and said: "Jimmy, I’m no’ leaving until I have that boy’s signature on a form."

Hansen’s commitment to not only Sauchie Juniors but also the local school for autistic children at Struan House forms a convincing defence against those who have charged him with desertion following his move south to Liverpool in 1977, and who are still wont to witheringly describe the 26-times capped internationalist as an ‘Anglo-Scot’. "People talk about that and mostly, to be fair, it is the Scottish press," he says. "I am Sauchie born and bred and always will be. It is as simple as that. Sauchie Juniors, where I played under-16 and under-18, is a big part of my life. Perhaps not so much when I was growing up but latterly Jimmy [Millar] became a hero of mine. And he is Mr Sauchie. It is a great tribute that they have built this stand as a tribute to him, and a tribute to Sauchie. My parents still live there, so I have a place to stay and always reasons to come home."

The brothers Hansen - John, who also went to Partick Thistle via Sauchie Juniors, is five years older and also now based in England - are both acutely aware of where they come from, the source from which their fortune flowed like icemelt down from the Ochils which form such an impressively rolling backdrop to the villages and towns scattered at their hem. And this, literally, had been the case for many in the area, the Ochils providing ample motive power for the mill wheels in the local textile factories in the early industrial revolution. But the locals were also baited by the illusion of progress, were wounded by mines that ran dry having sustained generations. Yet the appetite for football has never been exhausted, offering nourishment for all the usual coarse ailments which life offers, such as unemployment, redundancy and grief. Sauchie knows plenty about all three, but has re-built itself as a commuter town for Glasgow and Edinburgh, though still harbouring enough local pride to ensure that any visitor finds a thriving football club in operation at Beechwood Park, just a lazily hit three-iron from Schawpark golf course next door.

Indeed, Jim Cousin, club stalwart of 50 years also brother of the Dundee legend Alan, tells the story of Millar waiting by the end of the pitch nearest the golf course as Hansen competed in some or other local boys’ medal on Saturday mornings. If he sighted Alan at the 16th, 17th or 18th, it meant he could be named on the substitutes’ bench and pressed into action at half-time. If he was still clearly some way from the club house the team’s chances of a result had diminished already because Hansen was ruled out.

"It wouldn’t happen now," says Hansen, confirming the story, although picking out the germs of myth running through another. Who hasn’t wondered at how he came to bear the scar running down his forehead? "It was an away match, in Denny I think," recalls Cousin. "They had big great glass windows at the front of the school, and we were late getting there. I told them to get in there and get changed. Alan was first, and ran straight through the glass door. He thought it was open and never saw it. I remember the Sun asking one day whether anyone could phone in and tell them how he had got it [the scar], but I forgot to. He played that day too, we bandaged him up and out he went." While the glass door is true, the miraculous recovery is not. "I was in hospital for four hours," says Alan. "I was lucky - the scar stopped right at the top of my right eye. I had 27 stitches in my head, and my legs were cut to ribbons." Also it was not a ‘football’ injury, but in fact was in inflicted on his way to play volleyball, just another sport in which he excelled.

Superb athlete though he was, Hansen, despite the badge-of-honour disfigurement, always suffered from a suspicion he was not hard - or, indeed, brutal - enough. Cousin recalls another schools match at Lornshill Academy, this time against St Mungo’s of Falkirk, which took place in a biblical storm. "Alan said to me: ‘There’s no way I am going out in that.’ I told him he had to, but if we were four up I’d take him off. Well he went out and scored two and set up two, and came running off: ‘that’s me, then’. Tom Harvey, the Celtic scout, was watching, and asked me later if Alan was injured. I told why he had come off, and he said: ‘I cannae tell Jock Stein that!’."

John played for Scotland before Alan and memorably featured in the Partick Thistle team who defeated Celtic 4-1 in the 1971 League Cup final. He might have expected to be the greatest sportsman of his generation in Sauchie, population just over 3,000. In reality, exceptional though he was as a fleet-footed full-back, he was not even the best in his own household. "John played for the school and also Sauchie too," says Cousin. "But I remember his father, also John, telling me before a Sauchie Juveniles’ game: ‘John’s good but wait until you see Alan’. I started watching the game and after a few minutes said: ‘Aye, I think you’re right’. Alan was something else. We had three great players from here at that time: John, Alan and also Joe Craig [who played for Partick Thistle, Celtic and Scotland]."

It’s tempting to conclude it must be something they put in the water. But the source is less mysterious. Both Hansens are unequivocal when considering to whom they owe their careers - Millar, the man whose name stretches across the new stand, built from the considerable sum he left to the club when he died two years ago. "The history of football in Sauchie is the history of Jimmy Millar," says John, who, they hope, might be persuaded to don his boots again for at least five minutes of tomorrow’s match.

Millar’s memory will be evoked tomorrow, although it might also be disturbed. Below the stand which bears his name a bar will be doing roaring trade, something he refused to countenance when in charge of the club. Millar, fanatically tee-total, would not touch even a drop. He never went on holiday, announcing, Eva Peron-like, that his people needed him. Not in Buenos Aires, of course, but in the almost-as-lusciously-sounding Sauchie, which means the place of willows.

But don’t cry for Sauchie Juniors, a club on the up after reaching the quarter-finals of the Scottish Junior Cup, and to which they attracted 1,300 to Beechwood Park (on the same day Alloa counted 365 in at nearby Recreation Park).

And don’t cry for Millar, whose spirit will soar over the proceedings tomorrow in any case. John Hansen recalls Millar’s reaction to any sub-standard displays: "He would just turn his back to the pitch, and look towards the Ochils, drinking in the scene for inspiration." It gladdens you to report that sitting in his stand you get the same hit from the view. As Millar might say himself: it’s not where you are at, it’s where you are from. The good souls of Sauchie have much reason to be proud: Millar, the landscape, and the local football team. And of a pair of Hansen devils, too.