Alloa Athletic’s ground is the perfect setting for a fairytale. I don’t mean because it’s next door to a KFC, rather that the vista of the Ochils at the opposite end makes you think of magical transformations and how it might be possible for Scottish football’s favourite villain to wander into these pretty hills and come back a dashing prince.
Jim Goodwin tries to tell me that the transformation wasn’t really all that magical, that he’s always been “laid-back”. But notorious reputations can be hard to shake off, especially one like his, and in the manager’s office at the Indodrill Stadium I’m thinking: “As opposed to lay-’em-out-cold-on-the-turf, you mean?” Obviously I don’t say this out loud. He’s Jim Badwin, after all, or he used to be.
But then comes the clincher, the happy ending to beat them all. “This isn’t my day job,” he explains. “I’m here Tuesday and Thursday nights for training and, obviously, Saturday afternoons for games. But the rest of the week I’m a salesman for Cadbury.” Yes, the fearsome enforcer of the midfield who dreads to think about how many bookings he amassed – “Could it have been as many as 100? Crikey, better say 90” – is now the kiddies’ friend, ensuring the sweet shops of Airdrie, Coatbridge, Kirkintilloch and environs are well stocked with treats.
So come on then, Jim, what’s hottest in the Chocolate Factory right now? “It’s all about the Twirl,” he says. “Did you know it’s the best-selling chocolate bar? That surprised me, too.” In his own house he has banned the products of rival confectioners. His children Ava, Milly and James don’t mind this as long as he comes back from his runs with plenty of “damages”, the slightly bashed bars which can’t be put on shelves.
Goodwin, 35, has a lilting Irish accent which surely must have persuaded referees to keep the odd card in their pockets down the years of crash-bang-wallop at eight clubs. But, while it would be easy to make a cheap joke about him switching from one kind of “damages” to another, hopefully we’ve established that he’s a changed man, although, away from the crazy bagatelle of scrapping for safety points, he was always a quiet-living fellow who liked to strum a guitar.
Certainly his appearance has changed if your last glimpse was of him disappearing down the tunnel, a rueful shake of the head following yet another red-card rumpus. Back then the head was shaven but he has since ditched the psycho-skinhead image to let his grey hair grow again. It’s slicked over to one side in the current style. With the addition of a beard, and to keep the fairytale analogy going a bit longer, he now resembles one of the handsome suitors of the Disney Junior princesses which my two daughters watch on repeat.
Pity he didn’t offer up this softer disposition while playing for St Mirren – it might have spared him a few of those cards when his reputation very much went before him. “You might be right,” he chuckles. “For years folk have been on at me to let my hair grow back.”
If it’s not too metrosexual an inquiry for 5pm in Clackmannanshire, has he always been grey? “Fraid so. My dad said to me at 16: ‘Son, put a rinse in your hair now and nobody will know’. I didn’t do it – must have thought it wasn’t macho or something. But at 18 I was even whiter and at 21 I looked 31 and I was wishing I’d listened to him.”
Well, the new look suits him, and football management seems to agree with him, too, with Alloa already confirmed as runners-up in League 1 and bidding to get back into the Championship. “Write something nice about our club,” he says. “I want people – new players, new fans – to come here.”
That’s easily done. Alloa have terrific heritage – they’re ten years older than Celtic – play in shirts of a Golden Gordenesque design and are aptly nicknamed The Wasps, having been considerable irritants to Rangers and Hibernian in recent seasons.
While waiting for Goodwin to finish his last twirl, or Twirl, round North Lanarkshire on the chocolate run, Indodrill worthies tell me about bust-ups over socks and balls they had with the Ibrox club. Rangers were always fussy about the hosiery Alloa should wear on trips to Ibrox, stressing it couldn’t clash with theirs – apart from the time they forgot to issue the directive. This resulted in the Wasps taking the field late and “looking like a pub team”, with half in socks bearing the Rangers crest, although this was cut out by the Celtic supporters in the side.
At the end of equally towsy games at the Indodrill, meanwhile, Rangers players made a habit of booting the ball onto the nearby railway line. New ones aren’t cheap for a part-time outfit like Alloa and, when the away dressing-room door was damaged, the bill was quickly sent through to Govan.
Alloa didn’t need Jim Goodwin to help them fight those battles but now they have him. He was signed by Jack Ross last summer after five highly eventful years at St Mirren during which he experienced the highs of captaining the team to League Cup glory and the lows of relegation from the Premiership. Although he was thinking about management he had no immediate plans to hang up the boots. “I always thought I’d be a bit of a Peter Pan and play until I was 40 but then Jack left for St Mirren and I thought maybe I’d be with a decent shout for the job.” Goodwin stressed the importance of continuity – that he and Jack shared a philosophy on the way they liked football played, even though he hates managers using the word philosophy – and got the gig.
Initially he kept playing but soon realised the difficulties of combining the tasks. Maybe he should have consulted Kenny Dalglish, who juggled playing and managing so brilliantly for Liverpool before selecting Goodwin for his solitary appearance for Celtic. “Well, I suppose the difference between me and Kenny is that taking him out of any team would be removing the best player whereas taking me out wouldn’t quite be the same! Listen, I was probably a bit stubborn about wanting to carry on playing here but my last game, against Stranraer down at their place, we were losing 1-0 until I subbed myself and we ended up winning 2-1. I haven’t picked me since.”
Goodwin is finding it a whole lot easier to combine management with chocolate although, initially, he was unsure about making the switch to Alloa.
“I’d been a full-time footballer for 20 years and had heard horror stories about what part-time was like but I’ve got to say I’ve been knocked out by this place and how it operates. There are brilliant characters like Joyce the tea lady and Pat who looks after the players’ kit and honestly there are things which Alloa do better than some of my old clubs.”
Another issue was the Wasps’ dire plastic pitch. Rangers were especially loud critics although by no means the only ones. “I’d played on it and thought it was shocking,” says Goodwin. “I told Jack it was a disincentive to me coming to the club but in the summer almost half a million quid was spent on a new surface and it’s fantastic. I’ve always been a grass man but am being converted to astro, especially for smaller clubs like ours.”
So what kind of football do Alloa play on their man-made tundra? “I think that if we’re asking folk to pay 15, 16 quid then we’ve got a responsibility to entertain them. Anyone who’s seen our games will know that we like to try to get the ball down and play, particularly on this big park, although I’m not going to take total credit because we were doing the same thing under Jack.”
Doubtless some will be surprised that Goodwin has turned up as a manager. Isn’t he too combustible? Won’t he be unwilling to put a supportive arm round a quivering shoulder? These are people, he says, who don’t know him or only know his panto-villain persona. “I’m not a caveman, I don’t eat raw meat,” he laughs. “When I meet folk for the first time, when I’m down the pub having a pint and the chat starts, I think folk are surprised. You know, I’m not saying I’m this fantastic guy but I reckon folk go away thinking: ‘He’s not what I thought he’d be, he’s not as bad as he’s made out’. Regarding the dressing room, I think I’ve only had to raise my voice twice to the players since I took over last October. That’s down to the quality I’ve got in there.”
Goodwin hails from Tramore in Co Waterford on Ireland’s south-east coast where his father Bill worked in a builder’s yard. His parents still live in the seaside town, mum Theresa being the custodian of his solitary Republic of Ireland cap, as do two of his three brothers, and just back from Australia, his little sister Laura.
“I had a lovely childhood there. Probably everyone in Ireland has been to Tramore for a holiday but we were lucky enough to call it home and have a big beach for football.” The town’s history is dominated by the Seahorse, a troop ship which sank in 1816 with the loss of 363 lives. “I grew up with the story that, if the tide ever went out far enough, the remains of the ship would be exposed, but I never saw them.” A more definite presence in the town was Shay Brennan, retired hero of Manchester United’s 1968 European Cup triumph.
“Shay was idolised throughout Tramore. After he finished up playing he’d come back to run a haulage business and he was a regular at the local golf club – at the 19th hole mostly. I was friendly with his daughter Mary so I was sometimes round his house. He was always ‘Mr Brennan’ to me because, you see, I was brought up a polite, well-mannered boy and even now when I’m back home everyone is still ‘Mr’ and ‘Mrs’.” Goodwin remembers the family car journey where he announced he was going to become a footballer. “All five kids were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up. Mum can’t remember saying to me, ‘Don’t be daft, that’s not a job’, but she did.”
He was 18 when he turned out for Celtic for the one and only time, the last game of the 1999-2000 season better remembered for marking Henrik Larsson’s comeback from his leg break. “As proud as I am of that day, I’m realistic about how it came about,” adds Goodwin. “The league had been lost, the John Barnes era had come to an end and the club wasn’t a great place to be. I remember the crisis meeting after the ‘Super Caley Go Ballistic’ game [when Inverness dumped Celtic out of the Scottish Cup]. John asked the players what formation the team should use. Even at 18 I knew that was wrong, that the guys would have wanted leadership from him.”
But Goodwin, then a centre-back, revered Larsson. “He more than anyone would have been entitled to an ego and been forgiven for it but he didn’t have one. Henrik was brilliant with the young players. After I moved to England I was back in Glasgow for the night and spotted him in a pub, but decided not to bother him because everyone else was doing that. Then he saw me. ‘Hey, Goody!’ he shouted. I was impressed he remembered my name.
“But some of the others at Celtic at that time weren’t my cup of tea. I thought they were very fortunate to be playing for a club of that stature.” Goodwin himself realised he wasn’t quite good enough. “I knew I was out of my depth. Martin O’Neill had come in and was signing quality. He had a schoolmaster’s air about him and I was seriously impressed. But thankfully I was mature enough not to hang on to a dream that was never going to become reality.”
Just before quitting he met his future wife Laura Jane. “She thought she was on to a good thing having been chatted up by a Celtic player and then I took her to Scunthorpe!” Prior to Scunny, Goodwin was at Stockport County, managed by Carlton Palmer, the man responsible for spotting his potential for breaking up play and also as a bogeyman.
“I’d been playing centre-half but was too small for the position in the English lower leagues and was always getting bullied. He switched me to his old position, sitting in the midfield, because I guess he could see that like him I had limited abilities but good energy and was competitive and a nightmare to play against because I really got in the opposition’s faces.”
He returned to Scotland to find the landscape changed. “The worst thing that happened to me was the SFA introducing a compliance officer,” he says with a wry smile. “I hadn’t been doing anything different down the road; indeed you could get away with just about anything there. But here there was suddenly this extra scrutiny.”
Not only that, but “trial by Sportscene” too. “Aye, I was a victim of that a couple of times.” Steven Thomson, then combining punditry with playing for St Mirren, would phone up Goodwin before transmission to alert him to the fact the footage didn’t show his combative team-mate in the best light. “He’d say: ‘It doesn’t look good’. I felt sorry for him. So I’d say: ‘Tell it like it is, no point in holding back’.”
The Sunday highlights round-up has since moved to tea-time when children can watch but, back when Goodwin was Badwin it had the late-night slot of those old Alfred Hitchcock shockers and maybe that was a good thing. “Listen,” he says, “I’m not proud of that time but I was always quick to hold up my hands when I’d done something really stupid. The reputation I had encouraged clubs to tell their players to go down whenever I came near so I might get sent off but obviously there were many occasions when I got what I deserved because I was caught up in the heat of the moment.
“Believe it or not, I had a pretty good relationship with some of the refs. I remember telling Craig Thomson: ‘You’re having a nightmare today’. He said: ‘So are you!’
“For a while I was the story. Rangers were out of the top division, the football wasn’t great and I was the big controversy. When the Sun put my face on a dartboard across two pages the family back in Ireland thought it was hilarious although my wife was mortified.
“I never wanted that kind of notoriety but hopefully I can change the general perception of me. In years to come I’d like to think I might be remembered as a good manager and hopefully a successful one.”
Who says fairytales don’t come true?