There can be few more fiercely felt privileges than for a son to pick up an award on behalf of his father. For golfer Ian Redford junior, this emotional task represents having come full circle.
There’s a photograph of the Redfords together at Gleneagles when Ian junior is three years old. His father is looking down at his then fair-haired son preparing to try to connect golf club with ball on a pitch and putt course, the rolling hills of Perthshire in the distance.
“I was looking at that the other day and thinking: now I am preparing to induct him in the Dundee United Hall of Fame,” says Ian junior. “It has almost come full circle. I am his son and I get to do this for him. It is the least I could do. It’s the very least…”
There will be few dry eyes in the hotel in Dundee later this month when Ian junior, now 24 with dark, floppy fringe and the handsome image of his father, delivers an acceptance speech to mark his dad’s inclusion in the Tannadice club’s roll of honour. What could be more special than this?
Well, his father could be there too, of course. That would make it better. That would make the world seem a more familiar, less harsh place. But this honour is a posthumous award. It’s still so hard to take in. Somehow Ian Redford, who 30 years ago today lined up for Dundee United in the first leg of their triumphant Uefa Cup quarter-final tie v Barcelona, is no longer here.
Ian junior freely admits he has struggled to cope with the new reality of life without the person who carried his bag for him. That isn’t a metaphor for the responsibilities of fatherhood. Ian senior literally took the strain, caddying in tournaments around Britain as his son sought to build on winning the Scottish Under-16s boys’ title in 2007.
“When he finished his own playing career, he was done with football,” says Ian jnr. “He had a lot of other hobbies he wanted to do. He loved his golf, got down to scratch himself. His other part-time job was taking me to the golf course. I was his new project I suppose, which was fine with me!”
But Ian junior’s progress, already hampered by illness and also serious injury following a car crash, was brutally halted just over three years ago when his father was found dead in woodland outside Irvine, aged just 53. With no dad around to try to make proud, what was the point any more?
“It was the thing me and him shared,” says Ian junior. “It was our thing. That’s what has made the last couple of years harder.
“Round about this time last year, I was playing qualifying for EuroPro and there was a point when I knew I was missing the cut. I remember turning to my mum, because she was caddying for me now instead of dad, and saying ‘I am not looking forward to telling dad about this’. And then it hit me…”
Ian junior took a break last season. He was playing a tournament at Haggs Castle when he realised it just wasn’t fun any longer.
“I was walking up the 15th fairway, knowing I was not going to make it,” he recalls. I thought: ‘I just don’t want to be here’.”
The fact he was still playing even then is remarkable, given what he has had to cope with. First there was glandular fever, then a car crash in Drumoig in Fife, where the Redfords lived at the time. Sitting in the passenger seat, Ian junior took the brunt of the impact. The irony was they were returning home from visiting one of his friends in hospital. Hours later he was admitted to the very same hospital in Dundee they’d just left.
But he returned to golf, urged on by his father, an ever-supportive ally. The year before Ian junior’s Scottish boys’ win, two of his friends and fellow club members at King James VI golf club in Perthshire claimed significant victories.
“I remember going to the golf club and the older members were saying to me, ‘what happened to you?’ I was delighted for my friends. But some of the adults were like, ‘when are you going to win something?’”
Ian junior returned home and relayed this story to his father, who happened to be holding a gas canister. “He went over to the fence and began thrashing at it with the canister. He was so annoyed. He looked at me and said: ‘you are going to prove all of them wrong. I will make sure of it’. I remember it clear as day. And the next year I won the Under-16 Scottish boys’ title.
“That’s what made the victory sweeter. Because I knew dad had been right, and had faith in me. He took me out of school early because he knew I could do it. It is things like that you are eternally grateful for.”
So nothing could prepare him for the darkness that fell on 10 January 2013. Rather than ever fully recover, he knows it’s something he can only hope to learn to cope with. There will be good days and bad days. Naturally, there’s been some uncomprehending anger. “I’d be training and go to the punching bags and punch non-stop without gloves until my hands bled. I would not stop ’til they started bleeding. It’s hard to explain.
“The day it happened, I will never forget,” he adds. “I was staying with my cousin the night before. Natalie, my sister, phoned me in the morning and said dad’s gone missing.
“I remember my heart sinking, but thinking everything will be fine… I came back home and had something to eat. And then I just heard screams.
“That still haunts me. And it won’t go away, unfortunately.
It does not get any easier, to be honest.”
But he can find some relief in managing to say the one thing so many will regret not having said to a parent when they had the chance.
Before his death, Redford, who played over 250 games for Rangers prior to signing for United, had started returning to Ibrox for the first time since he’d retired. Conscious of the enormous expectation he’d been saddled with when he signed from Dundee in 1980 for a then record fee between two Scottish clubs, he felt the Rangers fans hadn’t seen the best of him.
So the warm reception received on his return was a belated blessing for him and made a hugely comforting and enduring last impression on his son.
“One of the times I could step back and realise how much of an important player he had been was the last time he took me to a football match,” says Ian junior.
“We were coming out of the stadium with folk asking for his autograph. And they’d come up and they’d be nervous, like ‘excuse me Mr Redford’, or ‘excuse me Ian, can I have your photograph?’ It was so surreal but so cool to see: ‘That’s my dad, he is looked upon as a hero by these fans’.
“For whatever reason, he had this idea people did not like him. So he got a pleasant surprise when people came up to him, and looked at him like he was a god.”
For the son, too, it was an epiphany. Born in 1992, when his father was beginning to wind up his career at St Johnstone, Ian junior just hadn’t appreciated what a star his dad had been.
“I was like, ‘why do all these people want a photograph with him? I am the golfer, I won the Scottish Under-16s!’
“We were in the car driving back from Ibrox, after I’d seen him sign all these autographs. I turned and said: ‘dad I am so proud of you. You are a hero. You are my hero’. It was one of the last things I said to him.”
These are the men who defeated Barcelona at Tannadice on 4 March 1987 – and then did so again a fortnight later in the Nou Camp: Billy Thomson, John Holt, David Narey, John Clark, Maurice Malpas, Eamonn Bannon, Ian Redford, Jim McInally, Paul Sturrock, Iain Ferguson and of course Kevin Gallacher, who struck the spectacular winning goal 30 years ago this evening.
Paul Hegarty played in the second leg, coming in for the injured Bannon, while Paul Kinnaird came on as a late sub at Tannadice for Gallacher.
It’s heartbreaking to look back at pieces written about the 25th anniversary and realise this most recent milestone, five years ago, is the last one when this special team remained intact.
It’s ten years since, approaching the 20th anniversary of United’s Uefa Cup final appearance against IFK Gothenburg, I crunched up the gravel drive to meet Redford senior for the first time at the then family home in Abernethy, Perthshire.
He revealed the deafness in one ear he had sought to hide from managers and teammates during his playing career while also opening up about the death of his younger brother, Douglas, from leukaemia.
Redford also spoke about his difficult relationship with his own father, head of a typically practical farming family unable to process this unbearable tragedy, or make sense of their grief. On the day of the funeral, Ian, then aged 12, was sent to school as normal.
The first Ian junior knew of the story of his uncle was when he pointed at a young boy in an old family photograph he’d found, and asked: ‘who’s that?’
“He never talked about it. I don’t know how old I was. It might have been only ten years ago when I eventually found out he had had a brother.
“That was the one of the things that cut him up most when he was younger,” continues Ian junior. “It was a difficult time for the family. No one really talked about it. You had to deal with it whatever way you could. And dad dealt with it by kicking a ball. That was his escape.”
Five years after Douglas’ death, and shortly after turning 17, Redford made his debut for Dundee under player- manager Tommy Gemmell, an early mentor and neighbour in Errol, the Perthshire village where the Redfords lived and where the Celtic legend moved after signing for Dundee from Nottingham Forest. Gemmell, who died earlier this week, also became head coach at Errol Rovers, the boys’ side founded by Redford’s father.
That connection meant Redford was paranoid about resentment in the Dens Park dressing room. Of course, rather than favour him, Gemmell often came down harder on Redford, Dundee’s boy wonder.
Redford’s sheer talent helped overcome anxiety about his so-called privileged background and hearing difficulties to become one the most elegant Scottish players of his generation.
His career spanned from his teens to mid-30s, when he climbed off the bench for Raith Rovers against Celtic in extra time of 1994’s League Cup final. He was due up next when Paul McStay saw his shootout penalty saved to hand Raith the trophy.
Redford’s family wish to treat his career as a celebration, which is why they were so happy to learn of his recognition by United, for whom he starred and scored in perhaps the club’s greatest performance – the 2-0 away win against Borussia Monchengladbach that clinched their Uefa Cup final place 30 years ago. It’s also why they were so upset Redford was missing from the BBC’s Remembering Those We Have Lost segment of 2014’s Sports Personality of the Year awards programme, held in Glasgow of all places that year.
He is already in the Raith Rovers Hall of Fame on account of being a member of that 1994 League Cup winning squad. There will be little surprise if the same honour is bestowed on him in time at Rangers, where he has already been nominated once.
In readiness for the Dundee United event on 17 March, Ian junior has been flicking through the pages of his father’s autobiography, Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, published just months before his death.
“It’s different from other footballer autobiographies,” he notes. “I mean, he didn’t grow up in Govan and dream about playing for Rangers. He grew up on a farm in Perthshire. He was not poor but his mum and dad were hard workers, they earned what they had.
“He came through a lot of heartache, he was deaf. He had one curve ball thrown at him, then another one. And yet he persevered.
“But he was hard on himself, so very hard. Someone made the point that the book’s the longest suicide note you will ever read. It’s full of him beating himself up.
“But I urge people to give it a read. Not because I want them to buy it… I will get anybody a copy who wants a copy!
“I just want his story out there. I want people to understand him more. I want people to know the person he really was – a great guy who worked his ass off and achieved his dream.
“I can’t say much about his playing career,” he adds, with reference to the forthcoming Hall of Fame event which will see United stalwarts Iain Phillip, Guido van de Kamp and Davie Wilson inducted along with Redford.
“I just know him as dad. I will just tell people about dad, because other people will tell me about him as a player. I want to tell people not about the guy on the field, but the person outside of that, who, to me, was just as inspirational as the guy playing football.”
It’s almost unbearable to recall that January afternoon three years ago when Redford was laid to rest, the melancholic strum of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash’s version of Girl from the North Country playing as such prominent Scottish football figures as Ally McCoist, John Greig and Hamish McAlpine filed out of Perth Crematorium.
But there’s now a sense of a new beginning, of trying to move on, underlined by Ian junior’s determination to return again to the golf circuit.
He intends to begin the long road back to European Tour qualification this spring. Lacking a current sponsorship deal, he has been saving up while working at a Nike store in Glasgow.
He jokes he’s probably nearer Tiger Woods in terms of world ranking now than he was before. “I am just a couple of wins away,” he smiles. “So that’s a positive.”
It’s a reminder of his father’s upbeat philosophy, something obscured by the manner of his death. “Despite some bad experiences, I always try to stay optimistic and keep an open mind and be ready for any possibilities or opportunities that may still arise.”
This is how Ian Redford, the Dundee United legend, father and hero, ends his autobiography. That’s the way to remember him best.