MO­BIL­IS­ING ALLY’S ARMY

The late Ally MacLeod, fa­mous for all the wrong rea­sons. But not for much longer

The Herald - Herald Sport - - FRONT PAGE - NEIL CAMERON

LIKE many daugh­ters, Gail Pirie was and is im­mensely proud of her fa­ther. “My hero,” she calls him. Yet, for many years she never re­vealed his iden­tity to strangers be­cause she was afraid of what might be said.

Her dad pro­vided a good life for his flock and yet, and this is us­ing Gail’s words, it was only when her dad’s name was outed at work that she would talk openly about him.

“You should be proud,” most, but not all, de­clared. And she was. But some would bad-mouth this gen­tle­man to her face. It be­gan in 1978 when she was 14 and it con­tin­ues even to this day, some 11 years af­ter his death.

How­ever, Gail is now “a woman pos­sessed”, spend­ing lots of time on so­cial media, mak­ing calls, send­ing emails and putting out the word about her fa­ther, one Alis­tair “Ally” MacLeod, for­mer Scot­land man­ager and one-time hero of the coun­try – who be­came public en­emy No.1 be­cause the na­tional side failed to win the World Cup in Ar­gentina.

She is on a mis­sion to get Ally into Scot­tish Football’s Ham­p­den Hall of Fame, which in her mind would give the man some bet­ter-late-than-never recog­ni­tion for what he con­trib­uted to football in this coun­try.

Mem­o­rably, when asked what he would do af­ter the World Cup, MacLeod said: “Re­tain it.” You’ve got to love that.

He has been nom­i­nated many times since 2004, when the Hall of Fame be­gan, but has never been in­ducted, which will sur­prise many and cer­tainly in­fu­ri­ates the fam­ily who claim there has been bias against him by some mem­bers. Now I will de­clare an in­ter­est here. For many years, although not since 2009, I was a mem­ber of that panel and hand on heart I can’t re­mem­ber the sub­ject of Ally McLeod com­ing up at the vot­ing lunch, although his name must have been put for­ward. I was, how­ever, gen­uinely stunned to dis­cover one of seven men who have taken Scot­land to any ma­jor fi­nals has been snubbed.

“Dad en­er­gised the coun­try in 1978,” Gail tells me. “We don’t want him recog­nised for that two-year pe­riod when he was in charge of Scot­land, but for the 50-plus years of ser­vice given to Scot­tish football. It was two bad games for good­ness sake.

“He has never been in­ducted into the Hall of Fame and it’s some­thing I am bit­ter about. I am told cer­tain mem­bers of the panel are dead against it and one even claimed that as long as he was a part of it then Ally wasn’t go­ing in. I think that’s dread­ful.”

I must ad­mit that this is dif­fi­cult to ac­cept given I know many mem­bers on the panel; how­ever, the fam­ily be­lieve a whis­per­ing cam­paign against MacLeod has tar­nished his name.

The ex­tended fam­ily are not about to let this lie. Ally died on Fe­bru­ary 1, 2004 as a re­sult of Alzheimer’s at the age of 72. He had bat­tled the best part of the last decade of his life with this hor­ri­ble dis­ease.

But this is not why they want him recog­nised. Rather, for what he achieved as a player with five clubs which in­cluded two spells at Third La­nark, Hiber­nian and Black­burn Rovers – where he played most of his football.

And as a man­ager. He was suc­cess­ful at Ayr United and Aberdeen. He also had spells in charge of Mother­well, Air­drie and last of all Queen of the South. He left there in 1992 and that was that for MacLeod and football.

With Scot­land – and, yes, Ar­gentina was a dis­as­ter – he won the 1977 Bri­tish Cham­pi­onship in­clud­ing a fa­mous Wem­b­ley vic­tory over Eng­land. Only Wil­lie Or­mond, whose team went out of the pre­vi­ous World Cup in Ger­many with­out los­ing a match, can boast a su­pe­rior record. MacLeod saw his be­lea­guered squad lose one, draw one and then lastly they beat the Nether­lands, who would go on to com­pete with the home na­tion in the fi­nal it­self.

Jock Stein has ex­actly the same record, which is more than can be said for Sir Alex Fer­gu­son, who didn’t win a game in Mexico, or Andy Roxburgh or Craig Brown.

“Ally did no worse than any of the rest,” says Gail, who of­ten calls her dad by his first name. “And yet he was cru­ci­fied by the coun­try as if it was his en­tire fault. It was an aw­ful time for the fam­ily and one we re­mem­ber well. I found out who my friends were. They all wanted to know us and then they turned their backs. This was 1978 and I haven’t spo­ken to a lot of peo­ple since.

“For years I didn’t want to say who my dad was. Isn’t that aw­ful. I just never knew what some­one’s re­ac­tion would be. I’ve worked in Crosshouse Hos­pi­tal for 21 years now and for a long time I didn’t men­tion him.

“Dur­ing the World Cup, me and my two broth­ers lived with mum and dad in a tiny cul-de-sac in Ayr, just four houses, and we couldn’t get out­side be­cause of the press. We couldn’t get to school some days. My wee granny would come and open the door to re­porters be­cause af­ter a while my mum couldn’t face it.”

This all could have been avoided. Jock Stein told his friend to wait a few years be­cause the World Cup was in South Amer­ica and he was onto a loser no mat­ter what – and any­thing that could go wrong did so to the nth de­gree.

“We lived in Aberdeen and had a great 18 months up there,” Gail re­calls. “Dad had done well [he had won the 1976 League Cup with Aberdeen] and was set­tled. But he felt he couldn’t say no to what he called the big­gest job in the coun­try.

“Yes, he was the man­ager, but at the time it was as if he was the only one to blame.”

From profit to pariah be­cause of some football re­sults. “Dad was a lovely man, very kind.” she says. “He could be quick-tem­pered and also quite in­tol­er­ant, but he loved a laugh and a joke. He was al­ways smil­ing. He was also a man’s man. No mat­ter where he was he had to hold court. He was hap­pi­est talk­ing football and telling peo­ple sto­ries about his life.

“The World Cup broke him. We saw it, but the public didn’t. He al­ways put on a smile but that wasn’t him. Not for a long time.”

The real tragedy is not the Hall of Fame or even Ar­gentina, but that just when MacLeod was con­tent with his life, which in­cluded many grand­chil­dren, he be­gan to show signs that things were not right, as his daugh­ter re­called with a heavy heart.

“Ally was about mid-60’s when he started to for­get things. We no­ticed he was chang­ing and so did he. At the

We don’t want him recog­nised for that twoyear pe­riod . . . but for the 50-plus years of ser­vice to Scot­tish football. It was two bad games

start, he was ut­terly aware of it. He would get an­noyed be­cause he lost his keys and started to write things down so he wouldn’t for­get.

“By the time he was di­ag­nosed, he wasn’t aware. Phys­i­cally he was no dif­fer­ent, but men­tally he was gone. It was aw­ful to watch and we tried to pro­tect him by not telling any­one, or at least keep­ing it as quiet as we could.

“Dad would wan­der off. I would joke with mum that he would end up some cold snot­ter on the street. He would try to get the bus back to Mount Florida where he came from and once he even made it to Glas­gow. Football was his life. He could still re­mem­ber games from years ago and I knew the sto­ries were true be­cause I knew them. He just couldn’t re­mem­ber what he had for break­fast.”

The fam­ily even­tu­ally de­cided to re­veal what was go­ing on to the public, in­clud­ing a very touch­ing doc­u­men­tary about him on the se­ries Foot­baller’s Lives.

Gail said: “That was one of the last things we did, if not the last. That and a news­pa­per ar­ti­cle were the best things we could do be­cause it alerted a lot of peo­ple to what was go­ing on.”

The Ally MacLeod Tar­tan Army and We have a Dream Tar­tan Army, both from Ayr, are com­ing to­gether on 8 Oc­to­ber to walk from Som­er­set Park to Ham­p­den Park for the Scot­land v Poland Euro Qual­i­fier in aid of Alzheimer’s Scot­land. That’s 34 miles.

“The most im­por­tant thing is the Hall of Fame. That’s what we want. I am not go­ing to stop pes­ter­ing peo­ple . . . although you are the first one who has re­sponded.” Any­one in­ter­ested in the walk or the man him­self should go to www.al­ly­macleod.co.uk

FUN WHILE IT LASTED: Scot­land beat Eng­land and Hol­land dur­ing Ally MacLeod’s ten­ure as man­ager

FAM­ILY MAN: MacLeod and fam­ily on hol­i­day, in la ater life and, inset, on the day he mar­ried Faye

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