Paul Forsyth: Great team-mate Ian Redford mourned

THEY said that he was born, the son of a Perthshire farmer, with a silver spoon in his mouth. They said that he kept himself to himself in the dressing room, that he was a bit of a loner, who did not conform to football’s working-class culture.

Ian Redford, pictured in 1979. Picture: SNS
Ian Redford, pictured in 1979. Picture: SNS

They may have been right, but they didn’t know much about Ian Redford, at least not until he got round to telling his own story in the form of an autobiography. Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, a book that detailed both his troubles and his triumphs, was published in November, just two months before his tragic death at the age of 53.

Redford, whose body was found in woods near his Ayrshire home on Friday, had every reason to be proud of his book, as he did his career. On those pages, the former Rangers and Dundee United player, a left-sided midfielder with the most cultured of touches, described not just the successes and failures of his football career, but the handicaps he had to overcome along the way, from the deafness in one ear – diagnosed at the age of six – to the loss of his brother a few years later.

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It is the absorbing, and often poignant, tale of a player who thought deeply about the game, about life, a man who was always a bit different from the rest. What is interesting about the book is not so much its content – although that has been widely praised – but the fact that he penned every word himself, without the aid of a ghostwriter.

That was typical Redford. He never ran with the pack, even when it came to recording his own life story. Eamonn Bannon, one of his United team-mates, respected that. “I don’t normally read these kind of books, but I thought to myself: ‘I’ll go and get this one because for a player to actually write his own book is a more interesting slant’.”

Readers already knew the nuts and bolts of Redford’s playing career. The four medals he won during five, difficult years at Rangers. The miraculous run to the 1987 UEFA Cup final with Dundee United, the highlights of which were their victories, home and away, against Barcelona. Even his appearance for Raith Rovers in their 1994 League Cup final win against Celtic at Ibrox.

They were less familiar with his problems off the pitch, which he wrote about with unflinching honesty. One of those was his deafness, which led a doctor to advise him against playing contact sport. The condition made life difficult, in midfield battles – where he could lose his bearings – and in the dressing room, where it was easy to give the banter a miss.

Redford also spent much of his life coming to terms with the loss of his brother, Douglas, who died of leukaemia at the age of five. As a result, Ian’s childhood was “tense, anxious and depressing”. The emptiness haunted him for the rest of his life. Throughout much of his professional career, he felt guilty and lacking in self-esteem.

By his own admission, Redford, whose move to Ibrox in 1980 made him Scotland’s most expensive player, didn’t fit into the Rangers dressing room, where he once came to blows with Tom Forsyth. There were a few highs at Ibrox, but there were more lows, which sometimes left him depressed and overweight. Before he came off the bench to score a delicious winner in the 1981 League Cup final, he had been eating a box of chocolates.

Only when he moved to Tannadice in 1985 did Redford fulfil his potential. The highlight of his three years under Jim McLean was undoubtedly that UEFA Cup run, in which he played a pivotal role. He appeared in 59 matches that season, but reserved his best for Europe. His free kick in the quarter-final set up John Clark’s famous header in the Nou Camp. His last-minute goal, in the semi-final against Borussia Monchengladbach, was perhaps his finest hour.

He had come a long way, mentally and physically, since his days at Ibrox. “Eventually, he had this kind of box-to-box, running attitude, and he was a great passer with a great left peg,” says Bannon. “But it’s funny. As a player, you don’t tend to analyse your team-mates as players. You analyse them as pals, whether they are good guys or bad. I don’t think of him as a football player, I think of my relationship with him. And Ian was an incredibly generous guy.

“He played for Dundee before he went to Rangers so we played against each other back in the day. You have an impression of someone when you play against them, but when he came to United, he was an incredibly nice guy, and I’m not just saying that. He really was a lovely lad. Very kind. He tried to do a lot for his team-mates.”

This was a side of Redford not often appreciated. He was the quiet man of the dressing room, inhibited perhaps by his hearing problems. “The deafness issue was a factor because if you’re deaf and you can’t hear what’s going on, you tend to be slightly detached, but I found him to be very much part of the dressing room,” says Bannon.

“To a certain extent, he did his own thing. He lived in Blairgowrie, which was unusual for the United players at that time. They all lived in the Dundee area. So the nights out were difficult for him.”

Redford, though, made up for it by throwing a party for his team-mates every New Year. The whole United squad would be invited to a hotel in Blairgowrie, where a shindig would be held at the host’s expense. On one occasion, when they were snowed in, they stayed the night. “That’s one of my best memories of him,” says Bannon. “He had hired a hall, and the snow started coming down, like a scene out of White Christmas. You opened the doors and these huge snowflakes were falling.

“Stuart Beedie headed for home, but he couldn’t get his car up the hill, so he turned back. The party carried on and we all ended up staying the night in Blairgowrie. It was a great night, and it was all down to Ian’s generosity.”

Redford went on to play for Ipswich Town, where he visited a psychologist to confront his lifelong guilt about Douglas. Then there was a spell at St Johnstone, the club he had supported as a boy. He saw out his career with Brechin City and Raith before trying his hand at a variety of challenges. A scratch golfer, he even fancied his chances as a professional in senior competition, inspired perhaps by his son, who has ambitions in the paid ranks.

In 2011, when Bannon was at a golf outing in Fife, he bumped into Redford for the first time in years. “He was just out there walking his dogs, so I asked him what his handicap was. When he told me he played off scratch, it blew me away. At United, I used to arrange the golf outings and he didn’t even play. It was the most bizarre thing.”

Redford was a fine golfer, but he was a much better footballer, most notably on that special night in the Nou Camp nearly 27 years ago. The following morning, United were the toast of Europe, but there was one particular line in the local newspapers that caught his eye, a line that warrants repetition now. “Redford,” it said. “He is magnifico.”