Micky Mellon has never been slow to stress how much he owes to Joe Jordan. The debt of gratitude has increased now that Mellon stands on the brink of taking over at Dundee United. It was Jordan who rescued Mellon when a teenager who feared he was going to fail to make the grade when he was released as an apprentice by Hearts.
He moved on to Bristol City, where he won promotion to the Second Division under Jordan. Mellon described the Scotland legend as a “consummate professional” who “ran a fantastic football club from top to bottom,” in an interview with Nutmeg magazine last year.
“I loved playing for him,” he added. His management style, he said, is based on what he learned from Jordan.
Like Mellon, Jordan was still only a teenager when he moved to England. They both grew up in villages outside Glasgow. Cleland in North Lanarkshire in Jordan’s case, Elderslie in Renfrewshire Mellon’s.
Jordan quickly saw something in the midfielder who had failed to catch Alex MacDonald’s eye at Tynecastle - Mellon has since accused the former Hearts manager of being “flippant” with his career.
“Someone mentioned him to me, saying he could be worth looking at,” Jordan recalled to The Scotsman yesterday. “He came down and stayed with us for a period, he impressed us – good attitude, very enthusiastic. and we signed him. I gave him his debut fairly early on. He made a good impact with the dressing room.”
This spell of mutual appreciation was broken by Hearts, of all clubs. Any pleasure Mellon may have taken from hearing MacDonald had been sacked from Tynecastle was negated by the identity of the manager chosen to replace him.
Jordan decided against bringing Mellon back to Edinburgh with him. “No, he was happy where he was. He enjoyed his time at Bristol. He has done well. And he’s worked hard to get these opportunities in management.
“I have bumped into him now and again. He will realise it’s an opportunity with Dundee United to push on and further his career in Scotland.”
Mellon, 48, will relish the chance to shine in his homeland, where his recent success in twice achieving promotion with Tranmere Rovers following wins at Wembley did not, perhaps, receive the coverage merited. He is also the man credited with setting Jamie Vardy on the road to stardom at Fleetwood Town, having signed the then unknown striker from Halifax Town.
One concern United fans are already voicing is Mellon’s knowledge of Scottish football – or, specifically, the lack of it. Despite growing up here, Mellon’s entire playing and management career has been spent in England and Ireland (he spent a spell on loan at Cork City in the early 1990s). The same question was posed about Jordan after he returned home to take over at Hearts thirty years after leaving Scotland. He played almost all his career at the very top level in England and Italy (many starring displays in a Scotland shirt notwithstanding). He was signed by Leeds United in 1970 after just a few games for Morton.
Jordan acknowledge these concerns and appointed Frank Connor as his assistant. Mellon’s current No 2 Mike Jackson is English and has played all of his career south of the Border. It is not known yet whether he will join him at Tannadice.
The club’s preference is for Mellon to work with the current coaches, Lee McCulloch and Gordon Forrest. However, they are wanted by Robbie Neilson at Hearts.
“I was never without knowledge of the Scottish game at the time thanks to those I had round about me,” said Jordan. “Alex MacDonald went and some of his staff went, but one or two remained. Frank was a great help for me. He had been at Raith Rovers, he had been at a big club like Celtic. It was not as if he was dormant. He was very involved in the scene.
“I knew quite a bit about the Scottish Premier League at the time but Frank could give me an insight into other areas, and all the divisions. I was never caught off guard.”
Hearts finished second in Jordan’s only full season in charge. He left the club in May 1993 after a 6-0 thrashing by Falkirk. Jordan’s first home game in charge was a 1-0 win – over Dundee United, with former Tannadice player Eamonn Bannon scoring the winner.
That early victory in September 1990 over United was one Jordan particularly enjoyed. He knew what a force the visitors were at the time.
“Dundee United were a huge club when I was at Hearts,” he said. “They were under Jim McLean at the time and that was a very successful chapter in the history of Dundee United.
“They were one of the clubs consistently at the top of the league. I know things have changed at the moment. But that was how it was then.”
Nevertheless, Jordan considers going from Tranmere Rovers – who have been relegated to League Two after the English Football League’s decision to curtail the season - to Dundee United as very much a step up, whichever division the latter club are in when the new season kicks off. Complicating Mellon’s first days in charge at Tannadice is not knowing for certain which league his new side are in – Premiership or Championship, with an arbitration panel set to decide the matter.
“It is up to Micky now,” said Jordan. “He will want to take Dundee United further. He will have connections within the English game. That will help as well. I know Dundee United’s youth policy was very successful. They brought a lot of players through and sold them.
“Micky has knowledge of the English game at different levels. When it all settles down and he sees what he has, it might be his intention to come back down to England to get players. He will need to have a look at that and make an evaluation.”
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