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WHEELING AND DEALING WITH RANGERS, LISBON LION TOMMY GEMMELL’S INSIDE STORIES (Part Five)

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CQN today continues our EXCLUSIVE extracts from the book by the late, great Celtic legend Tommy Gemmell, ‘All The Best’, co-authored by Alex Gordon.

Today, the Hoops icon continues his hilarious first steps into football management with some interesting transfer wheeling and dealing with his old Rangers rival John Greig.
Here is the amusing story behind a fabulous bit of business by a genuine character who had obviously learned a trick or two from the-one-and-only Jock Stein.
I BOUGHT Jocky Scott from Aberdeen for £15,000 in 1979 for his second stint at Dundee. However, if the previous gaffer, Davie White, had had his way Jocky would never have darkened the Dens Park doorstep again.

Actually, it’s difficult to disagree with White’s thinking. Jocky and a few of his team-mates did something that was bang out of order on the evening of our celebrations at the Angus Hotel in Dundee after we had beaten Celtic 1-0 in the League Cup Final in 1973. The champagne corks were popping all over the place and everyone was having a great time. Let’s face it, Dundee didn’t win too many trophies, did they? So, when you had the opportunity to enjoy such a success then you were quite entitled to let your hair down.

As the evening was reaching its crescendo, it was noted that a few players were missing. A quick head count told us Jocky Scott and Gordon Wallace, the man who had scored the only goal at Hampden, weren’t anywhere to be seen. I think Bobby Robinson and George Stewart were AWOL, too. Where on earth could they be? Amazingly, it was later discovered they had gone to the home of Dundee United manager Jim McLean in Monifieth to celebrate with him.

It beggars belief, doesn’t it? Wee Glum – sorry, Wee Jim – had been first team coach at Dundee the previous year before leaving for Tannadice.

Scott and his cronies must have felt they owed some debt of gratitude to McLean, but, clearly, they didn’t think that one through. Personally, I would have taken it as a slap in the face if any player had done that to me if I been manager of a club that had just won a trophy. It’s unthinkable. You have got to hope that McLean wouldn’t have encouraged it, but the players should have known better.

It was a crazy thing to do and no-one could have blamed White for being upset. This was Dundee’s night to give it yahoo and had nothing at all to do with the manager of the city’s rival club. I’m told Davie White was livid when he discovered where a chunk of his first team were that night. He took it personally and I, for one, would never have blamed him. Quietly over the next couple of years, those players were shipped out, Jocky Scott among them. But, being the forgiving sort of guy that I am, I brought him back when he lost his place at Aberdeen to, of all people, Gordon Strachan. Jocky could play alright. He was stocky, good on the ball and could score a goal or two.

By the way, Scott and his pals must have discovered something that had eluded the rest of the universe – that Jim McLean was a fun guy to be around. I often thought his idea of happiness would be sitting in a swamp at midnight reading War and Peace. He always gave me the impression that he believed they were going to slap a tax on smiling. He wouldn’t have been my first pick to get stuck in an elevator with. I have to admit I was surprised when he had to undergo heart surgery some time back. Surprised the surgeons found a heart!

Wee Jim’s nickname, among others, was ‘Beano’. Why Beano? It may have baffled some. At one stage he played in the same Dundee attack as a guy called George McLean, the former Rangers striker. His nickname was ‘Dandy’ after a fictional detective character that used to appear in the Sunday Post. The Dandy and Beano were two of the most popular children’s comics that were around at the time and, of course, they were both produced by Dundee-based DC Thomson, the giant publishing empire who, along with the Sunday Post, gave us the Weekly News and magazines such as the People’s Friend. So we had a pairing of Beano and Dandy in the forward line. Bet you didn’t realise Dundee was the epicentre of humour!

That leaves another place  up for grabs in our midfield three and another fairly easy choice here is Bobby Robinson. He was known as Trigger to his team-mates and it had nothing at all to do with any resemblance to Roy Rogers’ horse, I’m glad to say! No, he was so fast he was like a shot out of a gun. He was an athlete and ideal for a role in any midfield. He was a very popular lad and we were all delighted when he won his four Scottish international caps.

He made his debut alongside Erich Schaedler in West Germany in 1974 where my old Celtic mate Davie Hay, still a pal to this day, skippered Scotland. Unfortunately, we lost 2-1, but, by all accounts, Willie Ormond’s team gave the team that would go onto win the World Cup in their own country later that year more than a run for their money. Bobby Robinson wouldn’t have looked out of place in that company.

Up front, there would have to be a place for Eric Sinclair, a willing workhorse if ever there was one. He was a real, honest grafter who was totally unselfish. He was no Bobby Lennox when it came to jetting all over the place, but he had great enthusiasm and was never slow to chuck his weight around. He was also known to knock in a goal or two, as well, which helped. The fans loved him, too, and that was important. They identified with him and he became a cult hero with the support.

Billy Pirie joined from Arbroath and he certainly knew how to hit the ball into the net. He was also a lazy so-and-so. Bone bloody idle. Billy just didn’t want to know about work outside the box. He was a goalscorer and he wasn’t interested in the poor sods who had to go and win the ball, fetch it, bring it forward and then deliver it to his toes. Mind you, what a good job he made of tucking them away. He was a natural goalscorer and sometimes it was simply impossible to criticise him. He would do virtually bugger all in a game and we would win 1-0. And he would get the goal. He might have only one kick at the ball, but he was the player who made all the difference. I have to say I was impressed by the way he always worked the goalkeeper. He rarely missed the target and guaranteed you goals and, naturally enough, he was worth his weight in gold. But he was still a lazy beggar. The headline writers wouldn’t have had too far to look for material with him. How about, BILLY IDLE?

I took an immediate shine to Ian Redford when I helped out with the Errol amateur side in 1976. As a player, I had some spare time and I thought I would do my bit for the locals and I’m glad I did because it brought £210,000 into Dundee’s coffers in 1980. In between, we got four years’ sterling service from a very clever left-sided player. I wasn’t surprised to see Redford linked with a whole host of clubs and it was only a matter of time before we would receive a decent offer for him. It duly came from Rangers manager John Greig.

Was I surprised about a bid from Ibrox? Not really when you consider I had previously been informed the player had been tapped by them! So, it was just a question of when that call would be made. My old adversary didn’t disappoint. I was ready for him. The conversations were a bit like this:

GREIG, ‘I like the look of your young lad Ian Redford.’

ME, ‘I’m not surprised, John. There are a lot of teams who like the look of him. I don’t blame them, he’s a very good player.’

GREIG, ‘What are you looking for him? How much will you be willing to accept?’

ME (getting ready for the transfer game to begin), ‘Well, he’s not for sale, John, but you know the policy at this club. We’re fairly healthy at the bank at the moment, but we are always open to a reasonable bid for any of our players.’ (I knew my chairman would bite the hand off Rangers if they offered anything close to six figures for a player.)

GREIG, ‘We can go to £100,000. What do you think?’

ME, ‘Nope. I wouldn’t let him go for that. No chance.’

GREIG, ‘Maybe we can take it up to £110,000. Does that sound reasonable?’

ME, ‘I don’t think my board would be interested in losing our best player for that sort of figure, to be honest, Greigy. If you want, I’ll put it to the chairman and get back to you, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up. I know the chairman is a big fan of the lad. He won’t want him to leave.’

The Rangers manager agreed to give me a telephone call the following morning to get a progress report. Greigy didn’t know it, of course, but I was comfortable in this game of bluff and double-bluff. For a start, they had contacted the player, so they had shown their hand. They had targeted him and I was going to push them all the way. I took a chance at this point that might have backfired. I didn’t bother to tell Ian Gellatly of Rangers’ interest or their £110,000 bid. The following day Greigy made the call.

GREIG, ‘Have we got a deal, Tommy?’

ME, ‘Sorry, old mate, it’s a no from my board. They would prefer to keep the player. They accept they will have to let him go at some point as he keeps making progress, but not at £110,000.’

GREIG, ‘I can take it up to £120,000, Tommy. Would that do it?’

ME, ‘No, I don’t think so. Maybe £150,000 might be of interest to the board. I can’t promise, but that will get them listening.’

GREIG, ‘I’ll phone this afternoon. Okay? I’ll go back to my board.’

At some point before five o’clock, as I was tidying up things to go back to the hotel, the telephone shrilled. I had a fair idea of the identity of the caller. On came the Rangers boss.

GREIG, ‘My board will stretch to £150,000. I don’t think we can go beyond that. Will you get back to me tomorrow?’

I said I would and now I was in a bit of a quandary. I realised only too well what Ian Gellatly would say if I told him Rangers were offering £150,000 for one of his players. I had to tell him, I couldn’t leave him in the dark any more. I put a call into him. ‘Take it!’ was his expected response. ‘Tommy, don’t hesitate – take it!’ I told him I thought we could still get more. Our chairman often smoked a pipe and I could just about hear the excited puffing coming down the line.

I duly telephoned Ibrox the following day. I was probably putting my job at risk, if not my entire career in total jeopardy. I took a chance.

ME, ‘Greigy, sorry. but they’re not interested at that price, either. Any chance you can add to it?’

The Rangers manager was obviously hell-bent on getting his man. Equally obviously, was the fact he had already had a pow-wow with his directors.

GREIG, ‘We can offer £160,000. How about that?’

ME, ‘Look, Greigy, this could be a right good player for you. I know that and so do you. How about £180,000?’

GREIG, ‘Christ, Tommy, are you joking? I can’t go to that. Look, you better deal with one of our directors. I’ll let him take it on now. Okay?’

I said that was fine and he gave me the telephone number of Jack Gillespie. Actually, I knew Jack personally. He was a garage owner in Lenzie and our paths had crossed on several occasions. As you might anticipate, our chairman was eager to be kept in the loop. When I told him I had knocked back £160,000 he said, ‘Good God! Do you know what you’re doing, Tommy? That’s a lot of money.’ I could hear the furious puffing of the pipe in the background.

‘Leave it with me,’ I said with more confidence than I should have possessed. I just had a feeling Rangers were so keen on the player that I could push them that little bit further. I put a call into the Rangers director. I knew he had a vast personal fortune and was used to dealing in high figures. The game was still afoot, as Sherlock would have said.

GILLESPIE, ‘What’s happening, Tommy?’

ME, ‘You want one of my players, Ian Redford, and we’re willing to sell – but only at the right price.’

GILLESPIE, ‘What’s the right price, Tommy? John Greig mentioned something like £180,000. Is that the figure?’

ME, ‘It’s an offer I would put in front of the board, Jack, but I still can’t promise anything.’

GILLESPIE, ‘Okay, we’ll bid £180,000. Will you get back to me?’

Just like that. In a space of a few days and several phone calls, I had managed to get Rangers to add £80,000 to their original offer. Deep down, though, I was convinced there was more to come. ‘Take it!’ said Ian Gellatly. ‘Take it! We’ll not get any better than that. Take it!’ Once more I got the impression the frantic smoke signals must have been engulfing the entire Gellatly household. ‘Leave it with me, chairman,’ I said. I was on a roll and I believed Jack Gillespie wouldn’t want to be seen backing down in this situation.

ME, ‘Sorry, Jack, they’ve said no again.’ (Okay, I lied there.) ‘They’re looking at all the big dosh that is being paid down south at the moment and they believe it’s only a matter of time before they get a massive bid from England for Redford.’

GILLESPIE, ‘I’ll go to £200,000, then. Will you put that to your board and get back to me?’

ME, ‘No problem. I’ll talk to them tonight.’

‘Take it!’ was the predictable echo of a response from my chairman. In his mind the money had already been banked. ‘Take it!’ I got the impression, with all that manic puffing of his pipe, that the Gellatly spread now resembled a scene from Victorian London. The following day the Redford Saga was about to come to a halt. I telephoned Gillespie.

ME, ‘You’ll not believe this, Jack, but they want more.’ (Okay, I was being extremely economical with the truth at this point.)

GILLESPIE, ‘How much more? What are we talking about now?’

ME, ‘I think they’ll settle for £210,000. I’m pretty sure that will get the deal done. I don’t see them knocking that back.’

GILLESPIE, ‘Okay, we’ll go to £210,000, Tommy, but that’s the end of it. There’s no point in asking for more. This is our final bid. Absolutely final.’

I duly got in touch with my ecstatic chairman. He cried, ‘What? They went to £210,000? Well done, Tommy. Great job. I never doubted you.’ There wasn’t such puffing activity on this occasion as his heartbeat obviously got back to normal. There were no instalments or anything like that. The money went in as a lump sum. Mind you, I never saw a penny of that cash. A couple of quid would have helped me bring in some new players to freshen up the squad, but, as I had already guessed, that money was heading straight into the bank account of Dundee Football Club. Such is life.

I was grateful for Dundee giving me the opportunity to manage their club. Sitting behind the manager’s desk certainly added to my football education. I was also fortunate that the Tayside club only had three directors. There was Ian Gellatly, Graham Thomson, the Managing Director of Timex, and Willie Lyburn, a farmer from Blairgowrie. It helped if you needed a swift decision from the board. It wasn’t a Cecil B De Mille job with a cast of thousands. It was three guys who could make a few phone calls and get things done in jig-time. There was no animosity when I was relieved of my duties after three years in 1980.

We were relegated from the Premier League after starting off with two seasons in the First Division. It was all a massive learning curve. Words from Cloughie came back to me. He said, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day, young man. But, then, I wasn’t on that particular job!’

TOMORROW: My last-gasp goal that won the title during nine in a row.

 
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