IS THERE joy in repetition? "Some people say you should never go back but I enjoyed it here first time round," says Tom Hendrie. "I always had fond memories."
Hendrie is in the referee’s room at Recreation Park but he is not giving some match official his forthright views, instead he’s giving an interview in this small space from the other side of the desk. After this, Thursday night training with his Alloa squad. It’s bitterly cold outside in Clackmannanshire but welcomingly warm in here.
It requires the drive from Edinburgh where Hendrie remains a mathematics teacher by day. The classroom is still his domain but it is grand to be back in the game again.
Alloa appointed Hendrie as their manager second time round in November as successor to long-term friend and fellow teacher Terry Christie. This pair still meet up regularly as "like-minded people" and talk about the team. For years now they have chatted over "the trials and tribulations of management".
When Hendrie lost his job with St Mirren, and fell out of football, he filled the gap vicariously listening to Christie on Alloa. Now it is the other way round.
The team’s form, and, more importantly, results, have improved considerably since Hendrie took over the reins again with the club four points adrift at the foot of the second division, though there was that unwelcome Scottish Cup exit to Spartans. There seems renewed positivity around the place and Hendrie is determined for that to follow throughout this season.
"Ultimately you are only as good as the players you have," says Hendrie. "They just lacked a bit of belief but fortunately the results have given them the confidence. We’re hopeful of catching a few teams and getting into a position of real safety."
As a mathematician it is not unusual for Hendrie to have formulated his own hypothesis on a game that forever seems to confound logic. "Football is riddled with short-term goals," says Hendrie. "It’s not about getting X number of points in X number of games. I simply don’t see that as being a motivational tool to help the players.
"The game at times defies all reasoning," reasons Hendrie, "and sometimes defies all the hard work you put in. Sometimes you watch the team on Saturday and think you’d never talked to them or coached them."
Four years ago Hendrie was coaching full-time a St Mirren side that he had grabbed by the scruff of the neck and hauled into the SPL. Here Hendrie was making his managerial bow in the division, alongside Martin O’Neill, Jimmy Calderwood and Ivano Bonetti.
Hendrie was a young manager in the top tier making a big impression, though the team did not make enough of an impression and subsequently went down. The next season was harder to take though.
Expected to bounce straight back up, St Mirren floundered and by the early weeks of the following season Hendrie was out the door with 36 months left on his contract. An out-of-court settlement was reached a year ago. With no other club to go to, Hendrie settled back in the classroom again.
"I had a fantastic time at St Mirren. I remain glad that I took the job and I think I am a better manager for it. All I had ever done was to manage success," continued Hendrie, referring to his times at Berwick, Alloa (first time round) and the Buddies, whom he had brought up from the first division before they fell back through the trap door. "I’d never lost three games in a row until I took St Mirren into the Premierleague. That was a different side of football.
"The season after, in the first division, anything that could go wrong went wrong. It brought great personal frustration. You start to doubt yourself, look at your beliefs and ask am I making mistakes here?
But I tend to have a positive outlook in life and I try to transfer that to the players. The good thing about this club is that they have ambition but then it is tinged with realism. They realise they are never going to play in the Premierleague, but would like to be a bit higher than they are and perhaps in another league above this one."
Hendrie talks of sacrifices he has made in the past for the sake of management. This time there was no sacrifice. "I wasn’t in football - and I was keen to get back in."
Does he envisage an eventual return to full-time management at a higher level then? "I never dreamt first time round that a full-time opportunity would have come my way, but it did," says Hendrie. "I’d certainly consider it if the club suited me, but then again there might never be that chance."
When Hendrie was a young player with Dundee, he used to share regular car trips with Gordon Strachan. They used to batter opinions back and forth, and apparently Hendrie would always have the last word. While Hendrie relishes a return into the football fold, Strachan has opted out of it. What does he make of it all?
"I’ve spoken to Gordon," says Hendrie. "He is very passionate about football and has that incredible will to win. Any time we’d play golf, both of us tried exceptionally hard to win the game. He’s made a decision which I think is a right one in terms of his health and I’m sure when he sorts that out and sits back and has time to reflect a bit he will want to get involved in football again."
Before he leaves for training Hendrie turns to the subject of maths to explain the rewards he gleans from teaching football. "In teaching, watching someone come into high school at 13 with a certain ability as a good mathematician and seeing them leave at 18 a different person mathematically gives me great enjoyment.
"Then you have watching a young player come to a club and develop and become a first-team player and make an impact on society. If you feel that you’ve been part of that development, there is great reward in that."
Tom Hendrie and Alloa hope there will be a mutual reward in their renewed relations.