“I’ll be honest, the boys were all absolutely devastated when that happened,” he says. “The core of that side – players like Martin Allan, Stevie King, Ivo den Bieman – were all Doug and Chic’s players. I had a huge respect for both guys and felt a great deal of loyalty to them. There was a sense of disbelief in the dressing room.”
Leishman came in and with morale low and results drying up, the club plummeted down the table. “I remember we won at home to Forfar on New Year’s day,” Wolecki remembers, “and after that, the club didn’t win again until April, I don’t think. Leishman decided that he wanted experience in the squad and all of a sudden, there was huge upheaval in what had been a settled group of players. Guys like Cammy Fraser, Stuart Forsyth, Jim Smith and Stevie Logan were all signed.”
This turmoil was bad news for Wolecki. Dropped from the first team, Leishman relegated him to the reserves for the rest of the season just as his Montrose career had been on the point of settling down. The player was scoring freely in the reserves but a recall was not forthcoming, despite the fact the first team were struggling to find the net
“The writing was on the wall,” he says sadly. “I just wasn’t getting near the first team again, for whatever reason. Maybe Leishman felt that I was too much of Chic and Doug’s player to be trusted. I still don’t really understand it, as an explanation from the manager was never forthcoming. I had to get out.
“Then there was some exciting news, I was called one night by then-Forfar physio Andy Bell telling me that Paul Hegarty wanted to sign me for Forfar. I quickly told Andy I would go to Station Park.
“At the time, Forfar were direct rivals for Montrose in the relegation battle, and I knew I would be going straight into the first team. I was really excited at the prospect of getting going again under a new manager and a new training regime.
“A week later, Andy called me to inform me the club had priced me out a move. Apparently they had quoted Forfar a £25,000 fee, even although the manager had no intention of playing me himself.”
There’s still an element of anger and disbelief in Wolecki’s voice as he recounts the incident. “Of course, the deal collapsed as that was an awful lot of money for the early nineties and few, if any, part-time clubs had that available for transfers. I went in and saw Leishman. He shrugged and said: ‘I would let you go, but I dinna want you coming back to haunt us.’
“What a terrible way to work, by the way. He simply point blank refused to sell me on. I wasn’t playing, but I wasn’t going to be sold either. Well, not to a direct rival.”
A move was coming – but, unexpectedly, to the Highland League. Deveronvale asked about Wolecki’s availability and received a positive answer. In the space of a few weeks, the he moved from being a First Division footballer on the up to the Highland League player.
“When Deveronvale asked about me, I’ll be honest, I just wanted to play even though I didn’t know where Banff was!” he laughs. “A big attraction for me at the time was that Joe Harper was the manager, so I signed. I was also really surprised at the financial offer they made to me. Here was a Highland League club offering me four times the money I was on at a First Division club, so I really couldn’t turn it down.”
Still a few years before the entry of four Highland clubs to the SFL (Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Ross County would join in 1994, while 2000 saw the entry of Elgin City and Peterhead), the league back then was a tough and difficult competition that perhaps didn’t get the respect it deserved from football league teams. This was a league with two powerful Inverness sides – the pre-merger Caledonian and Thistle – as well as County, Peterhead, Elgin, Huntly, Cove Rangers, and Deveronvale amongst the front-runners.
“When I started training there, I couldn’t believe the standard of players that Joe had brought in,” Wolceki says. “There was the likes of John Hewitt, John Holt, Bradley Kerr and Stevie Dolan in the squad. We had good players and initially, we gelled really well and we started the 1992-93 season on fire. Unfortunately Joe Harper got the bullet halfway through that season after a bad defeat at Cove. John Holt then took over the manager’s job. I was scoring a lot of goals, and I began to be mentioned quite a bit in the media as a player that some of the SFL clubs were looking at.
“Thanks to John’s connections, I trained at Dundee United for a week during the holidays and was invited back again in the autumn for a few days. I trained with the reserves and players like Alec Cleland and Gary Bollan. Gordon Wallace was in charge of the reserves at the time. I managed to impress them that week, and John told me, once I’d gone back to Deveronvale, that I was to be invited back there for pre-season. He made it clear I was being given an incredible opportunity and that I had to work hard towards the pre-season.”
A delighted Wolecki resolved to play to very best of his ability for Deveronvale for the rest of the 1993-94 season, but fate once again took a hand. In a table-topping clash against Elgin at Borough Briggs on 13 March 1994, Wolecki was crudely tackled by the opposition full-back. “I took a throw-in to feet and turned and as I did a tackle came in from the side,” he says. “I knew straight away it was a bad one. Looking back, it was a career-ending injury. The chance of doing pre-season and winning a contract was gone just like that.
“I spent that summer feeling very sorry for myself,” he admits. “During that period, Leishman had been sacked as Montrose had had a terrible season in the Second Division. John Holt got the job, and he immediately invited me for pre-season at Links Park. John really, really looked after me then and I feel that I really let him down. I was still upset at missing the opportunity with United and I had a half-hearted pre-season.
“I was neither mentally nor physically fit to pick things up again. I played a few times that season, scored only a few goals, then John was sacked in the Swallow Hotel car park in Dundee, just as we were on the point of winning promotion. Andy Dornan took over, but I moved on that summer – just as well, as the following season was a total shambles for Montrose. Every time in my career when I was moving on, Dundee United and Montrose were the fixed points.
“I have a real affection for Montrose and they really are my club. I still always look out for the results. But I decided that playing under Andy Dornan wasn’t for me and went back to Deveronvale.”
After a final season in the Highland League and suffering from further niggling injuries, the career of a promising player seemed to have ended early and unfulfilled. Unexpectedly, a new coaching phase in Wolecki’s career was to open, in 1996-97.