Interview: Jim Leishman, Dunfermline director

Jim Leishman, pictured in 1973
Jim Leishman, pictured in 1973
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THE Pars legend is doing all he can to help Jim Jefferies emulate his 2005 relegation escape act

JIM LEISHMAN’S first job on arrival is to plug his flagging mobile phone into the charger. Like Dunfermline’s SPL survival prospects, the poor thing is in need of revival. It’s not surprising, it must be draining trying to keep up with a man who has so much going on. Throughout the course of the interview the thing rarely stops ringing and, when it’s not a call coming through, the bleep indicates the arrival of a text.

Saving grace: Jim Leishman at Pitreavie Playing Fields. Picture: Dan Phillips

Saving grace: Jim Leishman at Pitreavie Playing Fields. Picture: Dan Phillips

He would normally switch it off, he explains, but this is a slightly unusual day. While the phone’s depleted energy level needs bolstered, so too does the club’s playing squad. But the wheels of bureaucracy are turning slowly in Spain, where Dunfermline are awaiting the go ahead on paperwork which would allow goalkeeper Bernardo Dominguez Fernandez to play for the East End Park side and Leishman is fielding enquiries from club administrative staff, the chairman, the manager, all of whom want to know that everything has been cleared. He can’t give those assurances, not yet, so he is chasing up contacts in Spain and at the SFA and SPL. It is a frustrating time but frustration has been a major feature of the current campaign.

With the split looming, the club has only a handful of games in which to avoid the drop. For all his legendary status at the Fife club and the heap of highs he has enjoyed there, Leishman understands the pressures which currently threaten to consume the playing and management staff.

Like Jim Jefferies now, he was brought in towards the end of a poor campaign and asked to guide the club to safety. That was in 2004-5, with only three league games left and, somehow, he managed it. Although, even now, he’s not quite sure how.

“I remember, there was only a few games to go and one of the newspapers had a picture of Davie Hay, Richard Gough, Gordon Chisholm and Jim Duffy, and they were all getting talked about for relegation. Then I replaced Davie and the photo was me, Jim Duffy, Gordon Chisholm and Richard Gough.

“I looked at that and the adrenaline started pumping. But then we won 5-0 against Dundee in the first game and then we beat Dundee United and we were safe and my face disappeared and it was down to the other three going into the final game.

“It was an amazing two weeks and I remember sitting in the garden after the Dundee United game, with a magnum of Moët & Chandon and we popped it and sat there just shaking our heads, wondering how it had just happened. Me and [his wife] Mary, and the coaches. It was an amazing feeling.

“It’s funny when you think about it because the problem we had at that time had been scoring goals! But then in two games it was six goals for and none against.

“The key moments were when we were 1-0 up in that first game and Derek Stillie made a great save and again when we were 2-0 up. Our goalkeeper played a massive part.”

When he took over from Davie Hay, Leishman says he approached the task with his usual positivity.

“There was nothing to lose. I knew with just three games left, it wasn’t about fitness and it wasn’t really about tactics, it was all about a mindset and positive thinking. It was about doing different things, wee things I thought would maybe change it and it wasn’t all training. I took them for a walk, a five mile walk down the coastal path and then we had a bar lunch at Aberdour golf club and just had a blether and tried to relax.

“A lot was about confidence at that time but, to be fair, I remember my first statements to them were maybe a bit aggressive. I said to them how sad and angry I was to be standing there because it meant somebody had lost their job because of the results they had been getting and that I felt they were better than that and now it was up to them to prove that their attitude was right. That’s the biggest thing. You can talk to players about motivation and ability but the biggest strength is attitude. If you have ability and motivation but your attitude is crap then what’s the point, you’re just a talker then.”

Leishman talked the talk and the players ultimately walked the walk that year.

The class of 2011-12 now have to dig just as deep. This time though, in his role of director of football and loyal fan, Leishman’s input will be less hands-on.

But at least that means he might get some sleep during this run-in.

“The nerves are still there before big games but back then I don’t think I slept for two weeks, not until we were safe.”

“This time it’s up to Jim Jefferies and he has a bit more time than I had. He will have his own ideas and sometimes that’s all that’s needed but this is last chance and the players have to respond. But my energies will go into trying to help Jim in whatever way I can.”

The pair have known each other for a long time, their football fortunes intrinsically linked since the day in 1974 when they came together in a tackle. The challenge with Jefferies left Leishman with a broken leg and stymied his early promise. He was playing again after 18 months but he never got back to his best.

“Yeah, he’s lucky he has got a job here after that!” jokes Leishman. “But he knows he owes me and he better keep us up or I’ll be breaking his leg this time! I’m only joking. He knows genuinely that he is going to get 105 per cent support from me. There’s no grudge. Not at all. These things happen in football and, if it hadn’t been me coming out of that challenge with a broken leg, it would have been him. Honestly, if he had got the ball first I would have kicked his leg but I got the ball first because I’m quicker than him and he knows that. I was too brave for my own good that day. I didn’t think of the consequences, you just go in for the tackle, but that’s history now. It’s about creating new memories and we will both work to do that. We have new goals, new aims and objectives.”

The month of May is shaping up to be a significant one in the life of the famous Fifer. As well as the football, he has other big ambitions. As a Labour candidate, he is standing for election to Fife Council. It seems a natural transition for the big fella, as he pounds the streets, chatting to voters. That has always been his strength.

For once it’s not the calls which are interrupting the interview. There are kids gathering for coaching at the Pitreavie Playing Fields which Dunfermline use as their training base and Leishman can’t resist cracking a few jokes and encouraging the youngsters.

“I think it’s important. Every football club is a community club but, think about it, is every one a club in the community? There is a big difference. Just look around, we are trying to get the kids in and we get out into the community, we don’t want to lose that.”

Leishman can remember skiving school to get to big European games at East End Park, he remembers what it meant to sit amongst his heroes when he first signed for the club.

He wants to win the election but, in his quest to serve his community, he knows from experience that there is more than one way to do it.