Sorrow at passing of Dundee United’s Ian Redford

ON DOZENS of occasions I have stood at football grounds to remember people who have passed away and to mark events of significance. Inevitably, there are times when such tributes feel more relevant to you than others.
Ian Redford remained close to his Perthshire roots. Picture: SNSIan Redford remained close to his Perthshire roots. Picture: SNS
Ian Redford remained close to his Perthshire roots. Picture: SNS

Friday night, at Aberdeen v Hibernian, was one occasion when the urge to stand and remember, to salute someone so deeply woven into Scottish football’s fabric, and of whom I had become extremely fond, was overwhelming.

But of course, there was no one-minute silence on this particular evening. Because on Friday night Scottish football was still digesting the awful news about Ian Redford, whose playing career spanned six clubs in Scotland and one south of the Border. The shock was still being absorbed. At 53, and only weeks after the publication of his self-written autobiography, Ian was gone. How was this even possible?

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When the match at Pittodrie kicked-off, I cannot lie, my mind was elsewhere. It was with the family of someone I first got to know properly seven years ago, when he was the subject of a Saturday Interview slot in The Scotsman. The hook was that it was 20 years after his appearance in the Uefa Cup final with Dundee United. Ian played a significant part in helping United qualify for the final after scoring his side’s second, tie-clinching goal against Borussia Moenchengladbach in the semi-final second leg in Germany. He was also instrumental in the win over Barcelona at the Nou Camp in the quarter-final; he and John Holt were singled out for praise afterwards by the Spanish press. One word, used in reference to his own performance, stuck in Ian’s mind afterwards, as it would anybody: ‘magnifico’.

The main thrust of this particular interview for The Scotsman concerned the deafness in one ear he had concealed from manager Jim McLean as well as many of his own team-mates. It was also news to me and it was an honour that he trusted me with such sensitive information, since I could tell he was slightly hesitant in talking about it.

While sitting on a sofa in the lovely house where he and his family then lived, near Newburgh on the Fife side of the river Tay, he chronicled other battles too; the difficult relationship with his father, and the death of his younger brother Douglas from leukaemia, when Ian was only 12 years old. And yet this was someone who later had to put up with dressing-room jibes – some playful, some not so – that he had been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. The basis for this assumption is that he is a Perthshire farmer’s son. Different, perhaps, to the upbringing of 99 per cent of his team-mates, but, as he himself explained, he was hardly Little Lord Fauntelroy.

His uncle and aunt farmed next door to where I grew up in rural Angus, and now his cousin runs the farm. As a child, it thrilled me to know that someone who had been such a young star for Dundee had links to these fields. But it wasn’t until Ian signed for Dundee United from Rangers in 1985 that he truly came into my orbit as an elegant midfielder for the team who locked horns with Dundee in some memorable derbies; tellingly, I cannot recall a single hoot of derision made in his direction from Dundee fans, even though he was now playing for the rivals.

The Ian Redford of this era is how many remember him; shirt outside shorts, dark hair, hint of a quiff; looking not unlike James Allan of the band Glasvegas I now think when I look back at photographs of him as a player. One image in particular was used by several media outlets at the weekend; Ian is captured with bent knees and both hands thrust in the air in triumph, after scoring v Neuchatel Xamax.

Snow lies all across the pitch behind him. There is no joy like his. It reminded me of something he told me a year ago. Charlie Adam Senior, who he had played with at United, had recently passed away at the age of only 50 and so we chatted about this barely believable news, and the difficulties some footballers have after the roar of the crowd can no longer be heard. On the pitch, Ian told me, was where someone like him, with a tendency towards anxiety, really felt free. Rather than become more uptight, this was when the insecurities, the low self-esteem, melted away.

At the time, Ian was struggling to find a publisher for the book he had completed about his life and career, while I couldn’t even get past first base in my own attempt to write one about another footballer. He willed me on.

It says everything about Ian that he took the task of getting a publishing deal into his own hands, just as he did the writing of the book. He also edited it down himself with the help of his wife, Janine, from well over 250,000 words. It is with some regret that I have to accept I didn’t help as much as I should have. Nevertheless, he ploughed on.

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The satisfaction was all his when Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head was published late last year, by Black and White. A couple of prospective publishers hadn’t much cared for the title, but he was adamant; these words were what he wanted on the front cover. Of course, they form a hardly subtle allusion to the depressive episodes that he suffered, both when a player and since. The book is a valuable document for anyone studying or wishing to find out more about excelling in sport at the top level while coping with illness and disability. It is worth a hundred other footballers’ autobiographies, in my opinion.

Our last contact was just before Christmas, when he texted wondering if I could give him the contact details for a couple of football managers, because he had ‘the possibility of placing a young centre-back from England’. It seemed he was making tentative steps back towards the football agent’s existence he had once known in the Nineties and early 2000s; a life he had quickly retreated from after some interesting experiences in Romania and Moscow, when, he admitted, he was in danger of walking a little too near to the wild side.

After furnishing him with the required details, I mistakenly returned a text to him that was meant for footballing five-a-side friends, requesting them to try and recruit extras because numbers were low for that night’s game. “Eh??” Ian texted back. When I explained that this baffling message was actually an appeal to find footballers to play that evening, he replied: “Could’ve obliged!” This was Ian to a tee. Always ready to oblige, and a gentleman to the last.