Cowdenbeath helping Nicholl to be himself again as a manager
“I hope, after the week Scottish teams have had in Europe, people realise what a fine job Jimmy Calderwood [pictured] did at Aberdeen”
LIFE without Jimmy Calderwood has understandably proved tough for Jimmy Nicholl to get used to. The pair had become almost inseparable, at and away from the training ground, during spells at Dunfermline, Aberdeen and Kilmarnock.
“It was just as well started out at Cowdenbeath with some pre-season, not league games,” explained Nicholl, now the Fife club’s manager. “I had to get into the habit of talking again, basically being a manager because it is night and day from what I had become used to as an assistant.
“I’ll hook up with Jimmy next week for a few days. I hope, after the week Scottish teams have had in Europe, people realise what a fine job he did at Aberdeen in getting them into the group stage of the Europa League.
“It defies belief that he is not involved in football just now.”
Nicholl has no such issue, his decision to break an association with Calderwood which had lasted more than a decade a brave one in part. Nicholl managed Raith Rovers in Scotland’s second tier earlier in his career but, by his own admission, it has been a huge culture shock in returning to the First Division with Cowdenbeath.
“I’ve really had to rely on other people giving me information about other teams, how they play and who their players are, during the early weeks of the season,” Nicholl admitted. “The
Iplayers have probably taught me more than I have taught them. I’m battling my own inexperience, really.
“Even though the team has just been promoted, I’ve found all the boys know those around them in the league so that has been a big help.
“We only had three pre-season games and I could only get the boys away briefly, to Ballymena, because the majority of the squad have full-time jobs. But their fitness levels have been good, the team spirit is good and every one of them is willing to work hard.
“All I wanted was to get off to a decent start, get the first nine games by and find my feet a bit. We are just about the relegation places just now. Put it this way, I’d rather be there with four games played than with four games to go.”
The loss of key players to St Mirren, where former Cowdenbeath manager Danny Lennon is now in charge, hasn’t even irked the amiable Northern Irish- man. “It’s funny, you know, but I never had these players to start with so it hasn’t really bothered me at all,” said Nicholl.
“You can’t miss what you haven’t got so I haven’t even given it too much thought. Gareth Wardlaw was the only one I knew, briefly, because he was still training with us when I arrived. He’s a good lad so I wish him all the best.”
The man fulfilling Nicholl’s former role as an assistant is Colin Cameron. The experienced midfielder, who left Dundee in joining up with his former Raith boss in the close season, has also been an invaluable presence thus far.
“He has certainly got an opinion,” said Nicholl of the man universally known as ‘Mickey’. “He is always willing to pipe up, which I like, but I’ve admired his training methods as well. He has been exactly what I wanted alongside me.
“Added to that, he is an experienced presence on the pitch and is well capable of contributing there. Players give him extra respect, I think, because of that.”
Another who was never renowned during his playing days for being a shrinking violet was Ian McCall. Nicholl will come face to face with the Partick Thistle manager when their respective teams meet today; more than two decades ago, the pair were at Rangers together.
“I remember Ian scoring a terrific goal for Rangers against Hibs,” said Nicholl of what, by McCall’s own admission, was the finest moment of his Rangers career.
“After that, I was coaching the reserve team and Ian was more often that not playing in that.
“He was a pest, a nuisance, in the nicest possible sense who would tell me every week that he was playing well enough in the reserves to be in Graeme Souness’ first-team.
“When he wasn’t put into the firstteam, I was the one who got the blame for apparently not telling the manager how good he was. I met him the other week at a game, and we had a good laugh about it.”
The serious business relates to pulling Cowdenbeath away from the relegation zone. “We haven’t gone ahead in a league game yet, so that would be a start,” said Nicholl. “We have been punished for every bit of slackness and every bit of poor marking so that’s an early lesson to the players.”
Back in the hot-seat, every day is a school day for Nicholl as well.
There has been no sitting around for Jimmy Nicholl since taking charge of Cowdenbeath. The job has reminded him of being a manager in his own right