Scottish Daily Mail
My education was in Holland. That’s where I learned my football I can natter away in Dutch but I seem to search for the words when I speak English
A searingly honest Jimmy Calderwood still has so much to tell despite his battle with Alzheimer’s
ON some days, the phone is answered and in guttural, rapid tones a fluid spiel of Dutch is passed down the line from a home just outside of Glasgow.
This is Jimmy Calderwood talking with one of his mates — easily, fluently — in the gallus tones that one associates with the former manager who was forged in Govan, nurtured in Castlemilk and educated in football matters at Grange Secondary School, through Birmingham until a graduation in the Netherlands.
On another day, though, the speech can be halting. There are pauses where once there were quips. There can be confusion where once there was insight. Dutch seems to come easily to Calderwood. His native tongue can be more difficult to harness.
‘It’s strange, eh?’ he says, sitting in his home in Westerton, East Dunbartonshire. ‘The Dutch is no bother, I can natter away but I seem to search at times for words when I am speaking English.’
It is two years since Calderwood announced that he was suffering from the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. He did this at a press conference, determined to highlight the condition and show others that they were not alone.
The illness seems to have progressed but Calderwood, 64, still retains the capacity to unfurl an anecdote and provide a chuckle at the punchline. He has, in truth, much to tell.
A contemporary of such as Willie Miller and Kenny Burns, he played for Scottish schools and under-age national teams before heading to Birmingham City and then to the Netherlands.
He recounts tales of working under Alf Ramsey and jousting with Johan Cruyff. The malevolent spell of his illness can cast a shadow over some remembrance but he can recall the good days. There were many of them.
‘I love football,’ he says, pointing to the television set high on a wall. ‘I watch it all the time.’
His partner, Yvonne, adds that she has been educated in the game by Calderwood’s gentle but constant explanations of what has just occurred before their eyes and how the game will be won and lost.
‘My education was in Holland,’ he says. ‘That’s where I really learned my football and where I knew I wanted to be a manager.’
After his spell at Birmingham, Calderwood joined Sparta Rotterdam in 1980, moving to Willem II, Roda and then Heracles. Ramsey was the first legend he encountered, Cruyff was shortly to follow.
Calderwood smiles as he confirms the anecdote of standing at a bus stop in Birmingham in the autumn of 1977 as Blues manager Ramsey drove past.
‘Aye, I had the tartan bunnet and scarf on,’ he says. ‘Sir Alf stopped and asked if he could take me anywhere. I replied that I was okay, that I was waiting for a lift.’
It was 10.30am and Calderwood was heading for a pub to meet up with other Scottish players in the Midlands, such as Andy Gray, and travel to the decisive World Cup qualifying tie against Wales at Anfield.
History records that Scotland won and headed to Argentina. Calderwood remembers that he had a particularly hard session under Ramsey the next morning.
‘It was as if he knew what I had been up to the night before,’ says Calderwood with a soft smile. The manager who won the World Cup with England was reputed to have an aversion to the Scots but
Calderwood says: ‘That was c**p. He was a good manager and a good guy. I learned from him.’
He concedes, though, that the bulk of his education came in the Netherlands.
‘I even went back to school when I signed for Sparta Rotterdam,’ he says. ‘I wanted to learn the language so I could speak it fluently — so I went behind a desk after training.’
Classes continued on the park. ‘I played against Cruyff,’ he says. ‘An absolute master. We met up regularly over the years when I was managing and he always said: “Ah, there is Jimmy. He always wants to kick me.” He was right. I did always want to kick him but I could never catch him.’
His assessment of Cruyff is succinct. ‘He was in a different world to the rest of the players,’ he adds. ‘He played for Ajax and the national team and great players alongside him always looked inferior. He was a deep thinker, too, on the park. Lightning, as well.’
Calderwood went on to manage Willem II, Nijmegen, Go Ahead Eagles and De Graafschap in two spells in the Netherlands. He loved the football, appreciated the culture and was always wryly amused by the attitude of the inhabitants, certainly those who earned their life through football.
‘They were not full of self-doubt,’ he says. ‘There was a swagger and arrogance, if you like, about them. Cruyff was like that. You knew when he was in a room. He would tell you the right way to do everything.’
The genius who illuminated the total football of Ajax and the national side went on to set a glorious template for Barcelona as a coach. But Calderwood reveals Cruyff’s knowledge was not just restricted to the beautiful game.
He tells the story of Cruyff taking over a snooker table, claiming that all the other players did not know what they were doing.
‘He was exact in where the balls should be after a shot,’ he says. ‘A genius. He changed football.’
Calderwood shared Cruyff’s thirst for knowledge and his eagerness to travel to sate it.
Asked how a boy from Glasgow ended up as a Dutch football manager, he replies: ‘I was nosy. I always have been. I always want to find out what makes things tick,
what makes them work in football and the Dutch are always thinking and talking about the game.’
Calderwood returned home to manage Dunfermline, Aberdeen, Kilmarnock and Ross County. His conspicuous successes were taking Dunfermline into Europe and to a Scottish Cup final in 2004 and leading Aberdeen to the last 32 in Europe in 2008, where they drew 2-2 with Bayern Munich before being thrashed 5-1 in the away leg.
‘My biggest regret is the 2008 semi-final,’ he says. Aberdeen lost that Scottish Cup match 4-3 against a Queen of the South side from the division below. His face clouds over. ‘That was tough.’ Rangers went on to defeat the
Dumfries side narrowly in the final.
‘Walter (Smith) told me we would have beaten Rangers in the final. They were knackered after the run to the UEFA Cup final,’ he says.
He still travels the world and finds joy and a degree of comfort in football. ‘I still like to go a game,’ he says.
Yvonne points out that a trip to Nijmegen three years ago was revelatory for her son.
‘I don’t think he realised how respected Jimmy was in Holland,’ she says. ‘The roar when he went out onto the pitch was amazing.’
Calderwood smiles at that memory. He is aware, though, that other memories have escaped him, perhaps forever.
Asked about the effects of his illness, he shrugs. ‘I just get on with it. I find some things hard to remember but something like speaking Dutch just comes naturally,’ he says. ‘I just have a sense of disappointment sometimes.’
Does he blame football for his illness, particularly in the wake of the University of Glasgow study published last week that showed that former professional footballers were three-and-a-half times more likely to die of degenerative brain disease than those of similar background in the general population?
The question is given long consideration. Then Calderwood concedes he will watch such reports on the television and say that playing football is what caused his illness. But he adds: ‘The truth is: I just don’t know.’
He seeks to change the subject, shaking his head at the frailty of Aberdeen in last weekend’s clash with Celtic. ‘Did you watch it? Dear oh dear,’ he says.
But after a pause he returns to his condition and the effect it has on him. ‘It’s not great, is it? But I have a brilliant life with the people I have around me. I love life, too. I have been very lucky. Life goes on. I wake up every morning and say to myself that this is a new day.’
He glances out the window where the rays of a weak Caledonian sun stream through the window , then turns back and shrugs. ‘You just get on with it.’