A player’s brain can be a tough nut to crack

Ian Black's verbal criticism of the Rangers fans was ill-advised. Picture: SNS
Ian Black's verbal criticism of the Rangers fans was ill-advised. Picture: SNS
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Ian Black’s ill-advised verbal assault on his own club’s fans strongly suggests that he ought not to bother making plans for a second career in public relations. But It can also be construed as an indicator that there won’t be any change soon in the long-held and widespread perception that the space between the average footballer’s ears is stuffed with sandbags.

The Rangers midfielder, having accused the supporters of unwarranted demands after their derision of the team’s performance in the 1-1 draw at home to Albion Rovers in the Scottish Cup, then gave a master class in playing the stereotype by using the Ibrox in-house media to claim that those mischievous reporters had distorted his comments – despite the fact that he had been addressing a room full of journalists electronically recording his every utterance.

Black is, of course, merely the latest in a seemingly endless line of players whose tongues tend to be quicker out of the blocks than their wits, although examples that have been sprinkled through this veteran columnist’s almost five decades of chronicling have often been more entertaining than repugnant.

When, for instance, Anton Rogan was a regular selection at full-back for Celtic in the late 1980s, he developed an extravagant generosity towards opponents in the matter of presenting them with utterly unnecessary penalty kicks. Anton’s eccentricities would include throwing up a hand as deliberately as a goalkeeper to intercept the ball inside the box and then examine the rogue appendage with a puzzled look, as if wondering whence it came and to whom it belonged.

He would also burst a gut to chase an opponent who was heading wide and out of the penalty area in order to make sure he caught him with a foul challenge before he made the border, thereby ensuring the rival got what hadn’t been coming to him.

After his latest aberration one weekend, the management team of Billy McNeill and Tommy Craig told the Irishman to wait behind after training on the Monday and put a proposition to him.

“Now, Anton,” said Craig, “please understand we don’t want to punish you, but to help you. But you have to help us. We’re going to ask you a question and you have to give us a proper answer. If you say you don’t know, we can’t help you. Do you understand?” The full-back nodded the affirmative and Craig asked: “Why do you do it?” Anton replied: “I don’t know”.

At Aberdeen a number of years ago, the dressing-room was sometimes pervaded by a resentful atmosphere through the presence of one of those rare players who seem to be more celebrated for glamour than productivity. He was more notorious among his team-mates for his eternal love affair with the treatment table and the paucity of his appearances on the field. But he was also attractive to sponsors and frequently the recipient of “freebies”, hence the resentment. One day, a member of the coaching staff told him a parcel been delivered, which he collected at the front office. He returned to the dressing-room with the bulky package and muttering, “I wonder what this can be”. To which Pittodrie’s resident satirist instantly retorted, “It’ll be your next f*****g injury”. But perhaps the most heated image of a manager utterly distracted by the cerebral foibles of a player belongs to the famously tempestuous Jim McLean at Dundee United. He told the story of the day he was readying a forward to come off the bench to try to change the course of a match. “Before he went on,” said McLean, “I said to him: ‘Now, whatever happens, if we get a free kick in a good position, don’t you take it. Remember, don’t take any free kicks’. The point was, he was hopeless at them, spent an entire career without finding a teammate from a free kick.

“Anyway, literally within 30 seconds of him going on, we got a free kick in a threatening area on the right. And he took it! Can you believe that? He actually took the free kick!”. At this point, McLean entered that peculiar managerial zone in which surrealism takes over: “Sometimes,” he said, “Ah think we hiv tae crack open thur heids and drap in a wee note”.

Cup final is not win or bust for Hughes

Any Inverness Caledonian Thistle fan who anticipates the dismissal of manager John Hughes in the event of defeat in tomorrow’s League Cup final at Celtic Park is surely suffering from an overload of expectation.

Having engaged Hughes on a two-and-a-half year contract a mere three months ago, no directors are about to expose themselves to accusations of outrageous folly after such a short period – or commit their club to compensation and the expense of another appointment. In any case, Aberdeen’s status as odds-on favourites to lift the trophy makes failure by ICT a probability, rather than a scandal. It should be the source of some distress and discomfort to Hughes, however, that there is an unmistakable groundswell of opinion among the club’s support that he should not have been given the job in the first place. The commonest objection appears to be that he lacks credibility and pedigree, especially when set beside the authority and relatively high achievement of his predecessor, Terry Butcher.

In this regard, the position in the capital of the Highlands was always going to be difficult to fill with someone who could be immediately identified as comparable with Butcher. Even Hughes himself would be unlikely to dispute that he has much ground to cover to draw level with Butcher. And perhaps his shorter-than-normal contract hints at an element of “probation” in his appointment.