Morton is Lilley's pad

A SECOND helping of seconds inside a year is how Derek Lilley's summer move to first club Morton might be billed. Certainly, the 31-year-old player is supremely confident of feasting on the challenges that life will present with the Second Division side across his three-year contract, even though the return to former team Livingston, that preceded his latest Cappielow calling left him sickened.

Eight years have elapsed since the striker said goodbye to the Greenock club and signed for Leeds United in a 500,000 deal. With extensive modernisation of the ground - including conversion of The Cowshed into a stand, for goodness' sake - he has rejoined a club that bears little resemblance to the set-up in which he spent his first six seasons as a professional. But Lilley will be satisfied, just so long as they treat players differently compared to his past two years in the game.

About eight days elapsed between the ceaselessly industrious forward leaving administration-handicapped Livingston for Boston United last summer and realising that he had made a huge mistake in turning down overtures from Aberdeen, Hibernian and Dunfermline to seek the security of a three-year, 2,000-a-week deal. Then the West Lothian club proved his rescuers, paying the Lincolnshire side 10,000 to acquire his services once more. Under SPL rules governing administration, Livingston were allowed to sign players only on one-year deals, but Lilley and a number of others were also issued with statements of intent covering a further season - which the club elected not to make good.

This left Lilley, Colin McMenamin and Colin Meldrum high and dry, and they have taken their grievance to the players' union: a court battle is now expected.

Considering the ownership of the club and, following the Hassan Kachloul affair, that SPL status for Livingston became mired in legal debate, the Lionheart consortium might want to consider diversifying to provide solicitor services. All that concerns Lilley, meanwhile, is that his previous employers do what he believes to be morally right by him.

"I wish I had never gone back now. And if they had been up front with me and a year was all they could give, I wouldn't have. Other two-year deals were available to me. They pulled the wool over my eyes.

"A group of us signed a contract along with the chief executive [Vivien Kyle] that said as long as they gained ownership and the club stayed in the SPL, we would have another year. For them to say this is null and void, and that it was only a statement of intent, is sickening.

"This will drag on now because, backed by the SPFA, I am not going to let it go. Why should I? Whatever length of time it takes, I'm prepared to go all the way.

But they think they have found a loophole to save them money."

It appears that Livingston may well have the law on their side. Indeed, the club could contend that, in changing their minds, they were merely exercising the same right as Lilley did in rejoining them a year before - in a rapid volte-face that resulted in the player being ridiculed as a prime example of the recent phenomenon of homebird Scots whose sense of adventure can't even extend to living a four-hour drive away.

Padding around Lilley's plush and spacious Dunblane home, which he shares with wife Shona and children Derek, 11, and six-year-old Stephanie, it is easy to see how it would be a wrench to leave. But in beating a retreat back from Boston, he insists that there are no similarities with how Livingston treated him latterly. "I was very open and honest with Boston. I hadn't taken a penny from them. They offered me money I couldn't earn, but rather than sit in and take it for a few months, I spoke to the manager, Steve Evans, face to face and told him my wife didn't want to be there. There was no agenda, and that is why they let me go. It was a place about an hour from civilisation - a weird and not-so-wonderful spot - and I was probably naive to think we could settle there at this stage. But I object to being roped in with the group of younger players who have come back to Scotland an instant after moving to England.

"I loved it down south and, between my time with Leeds and Oxford United, was four years there. In fact, I would have stayed down if an English club rather than Dundee United had made a good offer. I moved down with my wife and young son, and my daughter was even born there."

Lilley was bred at Morton, his goal-scoring being instrumental in helping them to haul themselves up from the Second Division. He considers it to be "no risk" that he has dropped down to the third tier of the Scottish senior game.

The striker believes that the largesse of chairman Douglas Rae, whom he knew as a director last time around, will make good on the potential of a club recognised as an institution. And he is enthused by the presence of Jim McInally as manager, coupled with his recruitment of a fellow experienced head Andy McLaren, and another former Livingston performer in Ryan Harding.

"We have an ambitious chairman, an ambitious manager and an ambitious team, and I think we are going down the same route as Gretna," Lilley says of the favourites, who are expected to find themselves in a ding-dong battle for the title with other full-timers Partick Thistle and Raith Rovers.

"I knew I was going back to a club that has the potential to be a Falkirk because of my great years there. I had heard so many good things about Jim's training regime I was excited, and that has been everything I hoped it would be.

"I did have interest from St Mirren and St Johnstone, but I wanted to look to a club where good possibilities would lie ahead for my career. I reckon I have five or six years left, and didn't want to be paddling away in the First Division for the next few years. At Morton I was sure I would enjoy helping my old club make progress."

Lilley regards as a good career the progress that he has made since his first stint in Greenock. And whatever he may think of those in charge at Livingston, his most satisfying season was his first year at Almondvale, an 18-goal haul and a CIS Cup triumph ensuring that he will forever recall with pride the 2003-04 campaign. The only trophy of the past 21 contested in Scotland not to go the way of the Old Firm, this was Lilley's cup. The last-minute penalty conversion that secured a semi-final victory over Dundee and the strike setting Davie Hay's side on their way to a 2-0 final success over Hibernian are goals that make him a noteworthy contributor to Scottish football history.

"The semi came the day that administration happened, and to know I'd scored a goal that would generate so much cash made the achievement of reaching my first final all the sweeter. It was special to win, and I could play for another 12 years and never add another medal to my collection."

Without gilding Lilley's achievement, it may be as long again before players operating outwith the two Glasgow teams, who hog the silverware, lift a trophy.