Jimmy Nicholl: New Hibs No.2 sees Europe looming

Hibernian assistant manager Jimmy Nicholl. Picture: SNS
Hibernian assistant manager Jimmy Nicholl. Picture: SNS
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ON THE wall of an understated rented house in Stirling hangs one of the most iconic images in Scottish football history, proudly framed.

The home is Jimmy Nicholl’s, and the picture proclaims: Bayern Munich 0-1 Raith Rovers.

The grainy photograph of the Olympiastadion scoreboard at half-time has found its way into the folklore of our national game as a reminder of the night Ronnie Coyle, Julian Broddle and co. had Jurgen Klinsmann’s Bayern on the ropes.

For 45 minutes, at least.

“We had a great night in the Novar Bar in Kirkcaldy and I was presented with a huge picture of it blown up and framed. Brilliant stuff,” Hibernian’s new assistant manager says in typically effusive fashion.

Indeed, it is hard to chat to the eminently likeable Nicholl without images of Danny Lennon’s deflected free-kick in 1995, which opened the scoring in the UEFA Cup clash, immediately springing to mind.

Rovers, who Nicholl managed for eight years over two spells, ultimately lost 2-1 on the night and 4-1 on aggregate, having been defeated 2-0 in the first match in Kirkcaldy thanks to a Klinsmann double.

However, the march to Munich, which saw Raith defeat GI Gota of the Faroe Islands and IA of Iceland along the way, was already assured a place among Scotland’s vast catalogue of glorious failures.

“That campaign is not something I talk about to the players, but what I do say to them is: ‘Look at what you can actually achieve if you put your mind to it,’” Nicholl continued.

“I certainly don’t start team-talks with: ‘In 1995, with Raith Rovers...’”

He is quick to point out the not inconsiderable European feats achieved while he was assistant to Jimmy Calderwood at Aberdeen, although the Dons’ fine foray into the UEFA Cup in the 2007-8 campaign did not quite capture the public imagination the way “plucky” Rovers did. The Dons reached the group stages of the tournament thanks to a heroic away-goals win over Dnipro, before progressing from a group which contained Lokomotiv Moscow, Copenhagen and Atletico Madrid. Aberdeen even claimed a 2-2 draw against Bayern – presumably sick of the sight of Nicholl by this stage – at a raucous Pittodrie in the last 32 before succumbing to a 5-1 defeat in Germany. And, after leaving Kilmarnock to become assistant to Pat Fenlon this summer, Nicholl has an opportunity to add to an already prodigious collection of European memories as Hibs face either Malmo or Drogheda in the Europa League second qualifying round later this month.

“If it is half as good as I had with Aberdeen and Raith Rovers then it will be a treat,” he smiles.

“European football is like being in the hat for a cup draw, there is always excitement and anticipation. You never know where it could lead. When we [Raith] played a team from Iceland and team from the Faroe Islands, you never imagined you will end up playing Bayern Munich. These nights are all-too rare for Scottish clubs now. What happened to Raith, for example will never happen again, and you have to make the most of it at the time.

“But I am excited to be at Hibs. They are a really good bunch and some really talented kids with an appetite to work and learn.”

Nicholl’s departure from Kilmarnock was just one strand of a tumultuous summer at Rugby Park, with chairman Michael Johnston dismissing Kenny Shiels last month.

The decision provoked outrage from supporters – anger which has certainly not yet subsided – while Nicholl himself was mooted as a potential successor to his fiery fellow Ulsterman.

“I made him aware that he was a candidate to become our next manager,” Johnston told the BBC at the time.

However, Nicholl said: “I am too old to sit about waiting for things, and I told that to Michael. I said to him: ‘You know me well enough to know if you want to give me the job,’ but he wanted to go through a process.

“That is absolutely fair enough. I said: ‘If you are not going to phone and offer me the job then I’m off.’

“Things happened so quickly at Kilmarnock. I was on holiday and I got the call from Kenny Shiels, saying: ‘Things aren’t looking great.’

“It was disappointing for Kenny to lose his job, and I spoke to Michael about the situation. But when Pat Fenlon phoned to talk about the opportunity, I thought: brilliant.”

Nicholl is circumspect regarding his Rugby Park exit, while he has chosen to keep his own counsel regarding the way Shiels was treated.

However, he will always treasure the 2011 Scottish Communities Cup final victory over Celtic – and the bus parade he never got during his playing days at Rangers.

“When you play for Rangers or Celtic you can’t get an open-top bus through Glasgow, so you never experience that at Rangers,” he smiled.

“They are memories that you can be glad you were a part of.”