Reaction of players and fans made me realise that this was for real
Darren Young reflects on title win
“I’m just back from holiday,” says Darren Young.“When I was away, people were calling me all the time - about football and selling their houses. I had to say, ‘Hang on, can you call me when I get back? I’m in Portugal just now!’ ”
The Cambuslang resident is a man in demand - as well as being player/ manager of League Two champions Albion Rovers, he’s also working as an estate agent.
The 36- year- old has experienced many highs and lows in his near 20year football career, with Aberdeen, Dunfermline, Dundee, Morton and Alloa Athletic.
But he easily cites the season which has just finished as his favourite 12 months in the game.
“Oh, definitely - it’s been an amazing first season. What more could I have asked for - in my first season as player/ manager, we’ve won the league?
“Deep down,” says the former Cathkin High pupil, “a good first season as player/manager for me was the playoffs. We spoke about it. But once we saw what we had, we felt we had a chance.
“As things progressed, we pulled away from Arbroath and Queen’s Park. We managed to add quality to the squad during the season and were able to kick on and get to where we are now.”
But as for those first few weeks in charge? They were hard – even with the experienced Sandy Clark as his righthand man.
“I was trying to do everything,” Young said. “Coach, speak to the boys on the park, play your own game. I felt it during pre-season training. I was probably getting too worked up.
“I had a word with Sandy about it. He’s been brilliant and come up with things I maybe haven’t even thought about. We both have similar ideas on how to play and get the best out of the squad and say it as we see it.”
When asked to name the most important victory during Rovers’ titlewinning season, Darren thinks long and hard.
“Montrose away,” he replies A glance at the League Two table – with the Gable Endies bottom of the pile – perhaps makes you question why a win at Links Park should rank so highly.
But while each of Rovers’ 21 league wins this term has generated three points, some triumphs are more significant than others.
And on a dark Saturday afternoon in January, at this windswept outpost in the north east, the Cambuslang man and his side started to believe this could be their year.
It had been an eventful match. Montrose were 2-0 up inside 15 minutes but Rovers were level by the break and ahead early in the second half. The hosts then equalised themselves. The clock ticked into the third minute of injury time.
Elsewhere, title rivals Arbroath and Queen’s Park had drawn. An opportunity was being spurned, carelessly, until substitute TJ McCluskey fired home to spark jubilant scenes and light a fire under Rovers’ automatic promotion charge.
“I just remember the players,” reflects estate agent Darren at the EMPS Property office in Motherwell where his boss is Rovers vice-chairman Michael Savage. “The changing room, everybody was buzzing. It was our first game back after a few weeks off.
“It sticks out because it was an injurytime winner. We were still up there in the table. But would the heads have gone down if it had ended in a draw?
“We were dominating the game at 3-2 and then they equalised. We put TJ on for his first-ever appearance in senior football and the rest is history.
“He had been working from four or five in the morning until nine and came over to get the bus up to the game. Not knowing any better, he just got on with it.
“I was at the side but was just about on the park. The goalie came up to celebrate. The reaction of the players and fans made you realise that this was for real.
“I don’t know if the players thought we could really win the league. But games like that...going back down on the bus was great. You could just feel it.”
Darren replaced James Ward as boss last summer. He had spent three seasons working under Paul Hartley at Alloa Athletic and was part of back-to-back promotions with the Wasps.
Parallels were quickly drawn. Could the former Dons captain achieve what Zico had and win the League Two title in his rookie manager season?
Rovers made their best start to a season since 2002 and won four of their opening five league matches. There was a three-month spell which produced 10 victories in 13. A four-game losing skid was followed by seven wins in nine. That last run of form secured the title.
“It has never been about any other team,” insists Young. “Other managers and clubs have said this and that. We stuck to our guns. We spoke about ourselves and what we were going to do.
“We’ve never come in – at least until the last couple of weeks – and wondered what the results were elsewhere. It has always been about us.”
Did he learn anything at Alloa which he has put into practice at Cliftonhill?
“We had a really good squad there,” he says. “A great togetherness. I’ve probably used some of the training methods from there along with introducing one or two of my own ideas.
“When we went four games without a win, nothing changed. Training was intense, it was still of a high standard and the boys were laughing and joking.
“We knew Arbroath were ahead but were confident they would have a blip at some point.
“We wanted to be in a position to cash in on it. We stayed with them the whole way. It was a case of heads down. We got on with it and produced.”
Young’s debut in the dugout back in July could not have gone better and perhaps, in its own way, helped shape the season to come.
Rovers prevailed on penalties at Airdrieonians in the first round of the Challenge Cup – not only was this the club’s first win across Monklands in 41 years, it was their first victory in the competition since 2009.
“It probably gave us the belief,” Young acknowledges. “The boys were buzzing. People were then telling me that we had made our best start in 12 years and all that. It was great.”
Rovers continued to blossom. Consistency in team selection was key, the side fine tuned only when necessary. Arbroath’s advantage was whittled away and they faltered badly, alarmingly. Queen’s Park were drawing while Young’s men won.
“The big week for us was beating Montrose at home,” says Darren, “winning at Arbroath on the Wednesday night and then beating Queen’s Park. Three games and three wins. We were then in a strong position.”
It was not relinquished. The title would be won with two games to spare - and a first championship in 26 years. It was only the third in the club’s history.
“It’s some achievement,” he smiles. “The players might not realise just now but in years to come they will see how amazing this is for a small club.
“Right now, I’m planning ahead. I’d like to think we’d be wanting to do better than just surviving. We went to grow and consolidate, and look to kick on.
“We’ve got a good and strong enough squad, and if we can go on a run and climb up the table, we’ve got nothing to be afraid of, from any of the other teams.”
Darren Young led Albion Rovers to their first title in 25 years after winning League Two
Top man Boss Darren Young