True Faith: How to win the First Division

At the top of Dingwall’s High Street lies a fairly unremarkable area of town. Fast food outlets outnumber other types of commercial premises and surround a pedestrianised precinct – it is generally only flooded by school children during weekday lunchtimes but otherwise can be humdrum until the weekend. Beside a Chinese takewaway – and facing across from another – is the local newsagents, which in many respects is typical of any other across the country. At the back of the shop, beyond the rows of magazines, convenience groceries and the Post Office counter, is an out-of-bounds stock room and nondescript office.

The plain, utilitarian look and feel of the hidden part of the building could not better mask the distinction of a playing career of one of the Scottish lower leagues’ most explosive and decorated footballers of the last 15 years.

It is here where I meet Barry Wilson, a partner in the shop and current manager of League 2 side Elgin City. Wilson ended his playing days at Elgin only three seasons ago – at 40 years old – before becoming manager at Wick Academy and then replacing Ross Jack at Borough Briggs in October 2013.

As a winger, Wilson was blessed with brisk pace and a particular eye for goal quite unlike the majority of wide midfielders around Scottish football during his career. After starting at Ross County, Wilson enjoyed success just about everywhere he played, winning league titles and experiencing European adventures with a host of clubs.

It is the Livingston side that won the First Division that we get together to talk about. Wilson arrived at Almondvale in the prime of his career, having enjoyed four successful seasons with Inverness Caledonian Thistle during which they gained promotion through the bottom two divisions. He transferred in the summer of 2000 for a reported fee of £100,000 and won promotion to the Scottish Premier League in his first year with the Lions.

The club’s chairman, Dominic Keane, was driven in his approach to bring in the best playing staff available while being generous with the funds available to Jim Leishman, who was officially designated as general manager. Wilson’s transfer fee had him perceived as the club’s flagship signing in a year of near-constant recruitment.

The Scottish Football League at that time was enjoying at least some relative wealth through the £2m three-year sponsorship deal with Bell’s that the incumbent regime could only hope to dream of matching. Livingston were quite clearly the biggest spenders in the lower leagues in that period and, prior to the advent of the bi-annual transfer window, appeared willing to purchase any player to improve their squad at any given time, which was not an uncommon phenomenon prior to the window’s introduction.

During the relocation and reincarnation from its Ferranti roots to two separate bouts of administration, Livingston might not have benefited from much sympathy from supporters of other lower league clubs, but there is no doubt that the side which won the First Division were thoroughly entertaining in their attacking enterprise.

It was during the title-winning season that we saw the beginning of the transformation of a team, from being able to punch its weight in the basement leagues to worthy contenders in the top flight. Wilson bunks off the shop floor to talk to me about the highlights of the season, during which his own contribution in terms of goals and assists went a long way to winning the title.

 

Early Promise

The first match of the league campaign was against Allan Evans’s Greenock Morton at Cappielow. There was an interesting subplot to the game, with Evans coming across Jim Leishman competitively for the first time since the latter suffered a leg break at Dunfermline Athletic in the seventies before Evans replaced him in the team and went on to earn four caps with the national side.

With Morton starting seven new players including Parfait Medouotey and Karim Boukraa, and the visitors fielding five new signings of their own, the pattern of the match was exactly what was expected: a cagey affair played out by two largely unsettled teams. The game itself was not terribly memorable, at least according to Wilson.

“It was uneventful, but we didn’t really look like losing it,” he remembers. “Mark McCulloch, who joined me from Inverness, scored after an hour. I remember David Bingham scoring from a mistake in defence with seven minutes to go. It was alright, but nothing like how we could play.”

The win instantly took Livingston to second place in the league and it was a position they would not drop below for the entirety of the season. They maintained their unbeaten start with a home win against Caley Thistle and a draw at Clyde, but it was a 6-0 thrashing of Alloa Athletic at the end of August that showed the first major indication of their potential.

It was a 6-0 thrashing of Alloa Athletic at the end of August that showed the first major indication of Livingston’s potential.

The match was remembered as much for the circumstances leading up to kick-off as for the number of goals scored by Leishman’s side. John Anderson was fully expected to start in defence and it was as the teams lined up when it was noticed he had been replaced by Sean Sweeney. It became apparent after the match that he had been involved in a car crash near Lenzie when driving team-mates Allan McManus, Grant Smith and Gordon Smith to Recreation Park.

The Sunday Mail reported that McManus’s father was following Anderson’s car and so was able to take the latter three to the match, but Anderson was delayed slightly by police questioning.

“It was just a wee bump but I’ve got a bit of whiplash,” Anderson said at the time. “I only got the car in midweek as well!”

Brian McPhee starred up front in a midweek League Cup win away to Dumbarton due to injuries to Scott Crabbe and Marino Keith, but the Edinburgh Evening News reported that Leishman couldn’t guarantee a place for the forward against the Wasps. As things happened, McPhee kept his place in the team but there was a slight tactical switch to get more out of an underperforming Wilson.

“I played up front that day,” Wilson recalls. “The manager changed things about and put McPhee on the right. I probably had a slow start to the season, for whatever reason. I scored against Caley Thistle but that was the only goal in the league for me at that point. David Bingham, from the other flank, was the one on fire at the start of the season and must have had about 12 or 13 goals in all competitions by Christmas.”

It was clear through the interview that Wilson enjoyed playing alongside Bingham, whom he partnered up front on that day. Wilson didn’t score against Alloa but felt that he had a good rapport with Livingston’s in-form forward.

“We didn’t play as a partnership as often as I would have liked,” he states. “Bingy would come short, he was a clever player and maybe had a better touch, but I was a lot quicker.

“I would give the threat to go in behind, so the defenders would drop off and that would give Bingham the space to turn and play, which he did really well. You need differences and a mix in play and I think we had that.”

Mark McCulloch was the driving force in the centre of midfield that season and scored a couple in the win against Alloa.

“Teams need a mix in play and I think we had that.”

“Once we knew everyone was all right, the car crash didn’t affect us,” McCulloch said to the Sunday Mail after the match. “It was good to score two. The first was a nice finish which I’m delighted with and the second one took a deflection. I got my first goal against Morton in the first game of the season, so that’s three and I’ll continue to make these runs forward.”

Wilson was a big admirer of the work that McCulloch got through at the heart of the team. “Mark was probably one of the most underrated players,” he considers. “He was fantastic in his two seasons at Livingston, he really was. He just got on with the job and was as strong as an ox. He knew his capabilities and his limits and he had a thoroughly good season then.

“Mark was probably second top goal-scorer at that point and everyone was saying they spent all the money on the wrong player!”

The next notable result was a home win against Ayr United, who were considered to be one of Livingston’s potential title rivals both at that point in the campaign and, as it would materialise, later on in the season.

“David Bingham scored an unbelievable goal that day, he beat about six or seven players, rounded the goalie and slotted it in,” Wilson reminisces.

Wilson himself scored a good opening goal, which he describes as, “a left foot swinger off the underside of the bar from about 25 yards.” He arguably put in his best performance of the season and the feedback from the press was full of praise.

“Wilson continued to be the focal point of some slick and incisive passing movements,” the Scotland on Sunday judged. “Only a header off the Ayr line by David Craig denied the former Inverness man a second goal after a superb forging run and cross by David Hagen down the left.”

Wilson knew that Ayr would prove the biggest challengers that season due to the quality they had through their side. “They signed some good players,” he notes. “Eddie Annand, James Grady, John Hughes – they had players like that. They were throwing a bit of money at the championship as well and they’ve probably not recovered from that. But after Bingy scored that wondergoal in the second half, they lost a bit of discipline and it then ended up as a comfy win.”

Ayr weren’t helped by Hughes having to leave the field with an injury very early in the match. He was replaced by French trialist Mohammed Benlaredj, who suffered the ignominy of being substituted himself in the second half after Glynn Hurst’s red card.

“If Gordon Dalziel’s men are the closest challengers to the West Lothian side, then, on this evidence, the title race looks a foregone conclusion,” the Scotland on Sunday reported. “Don’t be deceived by the score-line, there was not so much two goals between these sides as a chasm in class. Livingston were quick-thinking, eager and penetrating and reduced their hitherto high-flying guests to a lumbering and lethargic looking crew who reacted to events rather than dictating them.”

It was at that stage of the season that Wilson thought that Livingston had as good chance as anyone to win the league. “I think we looked around,” he says, “and you get to the point where you’ve nearly played everyone, around six or seven games into the season and you go: ‘Yeah, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t do it’.

“We knew that Ayr were going to be a threat. Falkirk were another side that were there or thereabouts, but, again, we signed Scott Crabbe and David Hagen from them in the summer and I think part of the plan was to weaken the rivals. Caley were never going to win the league that year, they didn’t have the players to sustain it.”

 

The Bump

Maybe the campaign was going just too well for Livingston at that point, but their first visit to Stark’s Park that season was a chastening experience as Raith Rovers tore them apart in a 4-0 win at Almondvale, inspired by two goals from Marvin Andrews.

Rovers manager Peter Hetherston took a slightly different approach than usual in that match, deploying a loose 4-3-3 that had Stevie Tosh playing off Alex Burns and Jay Stein; Livingston couldn’t cope with the home team’s physicality and movement and duly wilted.

“I thought Livingston were bloody awful,” said Jamie Ross from Leith in the Fans’ View section of the Evening News. “The defence was all over the place and the forwards were second to every ball. We were lucky it was only 4-0.”

Wilson was one of the few Livingston players that day to get pass marks from the local newspaper, which commented on his performance as finding himself “having to help out the defence and consequently couldn’t make much of an impression at the other end of the park.”

Wilson’s own memories of that game were largely of the performances of three Raith Rovers players. “Big Marvin battered us, we couldn’t cope with him,” he says. “Alex Burns cut us apart, then there was Stevie Tosh who still managed to go box-to-box. So we pretty much went and signed them all the next week! I think Leish knew of Raith’s money troubles and I think he bought them all for £100,000.”

The six-figure sum was widely reported and was commonly perceived as another example of Livingston simply buying out the opposition. However, it wasn’t quite as clear cut as that: Raith Rovers rode the crest of success through the mid-nineties without ever properly managing their finances and, having returned to the First Divsion after a couple of seasons in the top flight, they had issues with maintaining their cash flow. It was suggested that the three Rovers players were among the club’s highest paid staff and, knowing that Livingston were always looking to improve their squad, the Raith board approached the Lions to negotiate a deal.

It soon turned out that Livingston didn’t need to pay £100,000 as a transfer fee at all, rather it was £22,500 paid for the Rovers’ board to happily release the players from their books. Indeed, John Litster in Always Next Season: The 125 Year History of Raith Rovers stated:

“The fans were furious. The directors claimed that £100,000 was being raised, but that dubious figure was arrived at by adding in the players’ wages to the end of the season. What they didn’t calculate was the loss of 500 admissions at every home match, which was (at least) the consequence of their actions.”

Livingston capitalised on their opponents’ misfortune, then, but they cannot be blamed for taking an excellent opportunity to acquire some of the division’s best players under market value.

Livingston cannot be blamed for taking an excellent opportunity to acquire some of the division’s best players under value.

I take the opportunity to talk about Marvin Andrews with Wilson. The two might not have shared the same personality traits but Wilson could always empathise with Andrews as a footballer who made the most of his abilities.

“What was it Davie Hay used to say to us…” Wilson recalls. “‘Under no uncertain terms are you to pass the ball to Marvin!’ Goalkeepers were told not to throw the ball out to him as well. He was a great lad though, a diamond of a guy. He was just a colossus, anything in the air he would win and you wanted him on your team rather than the other way around.

“We used to travel together. Andrews and Stevie Tosh were in Kirckaldy and used to come through for me at Dalgetty Bay and then we’d go through to the football together. He was obviously deep into his preaching and fair play to him. Toshey and I were probably not the most clean cut pair he could have taken a car with, but he wasn’t in your face with it and he always liked a laugh and a joke.”

In Marvellous Marvin: The Life, Football and Faith of a Soca Warrior, the Trinidadian made it clear he was taken by Livingston’s ambition and particularly by the club’s man management style. One section of his biography depicted a scene not unlike something from the Blues Brothers film:

“Jim Leishman, who had spoken very persuasively about his vision for Livingston and the part I could play in it, said he knew I would play it straight down the line with him and left it to me. He was so supportive that he came to one of our prayer meetings at the church in Lochgelly and and heard an American gospel choir.

“Jim said later: ‘I was at the back while Marvin was up front with his fellow worshippers, and I thought it was tremendous. What a faith and belief to have. Most people will say they believe in God, but it was really humbling to be there. Some people may say it is a false belief, but big Marvin has true belief, and I really admire that’”.

When Andrews left Livingston and was playing for Rangers, he suffered a cruciate ligament injury that would have curtailed the career of most footballers. We discuss the implausibility of Andrews’ ability able to carry on playing professionally without the need for corrective surgery.

“Some people may say it is a false belief but big Marvin has true belief, and I really admire that.”

“He was lucky with his physique and his stature because you just can’t carry a cruciate injury on its own,” Wilson asserts. “Marvin had thighs like tree trunks, his quad muscles were so huge. If you’ve got a knee injury but strong quads then you’ve got half a chance of playing on.

“Whether it was that or his belief that God would look after him that helped him, I don’t know. There is no doubt that God looked after Marvin though, because he was a player with limited ability but who had a great career, so who is wrong?”

 

The Cup Ties

Airdrieonians were another club who recorded a notable victory against Livingston that season and another club with financial troubles which the Lions benefited from. The teams met at Broadwood for the Bell’s Challenge Cup final where Livingston ran to a 2-0 lead after 11 minutes with goals from Marino Keith and Alex Burns, before Airdrie levelled the scoring by 66 minutes and took the game to penalties.

“I didn’t take a penalty because I was taken off in extra time,” Wilson remembers. “We huffed and puffed that day but I think we were the better team, while Airdrie had some pretty good players as well. They had David Fernandez, Antonio Calderon and two or three other quality players. Fernandez caused us a lot of problems and it wasn’t that long after that when we ended up signing him as well.

“There were big problems there with their administration, the league was quite imbalanced in that way. Ayr, Falkirk and Livingston were pretty healthy and the rest had money issues to various degrees. Part of the reason I ended up at Livingston was that Caley Thistle had money issues as well and couldn’t refuse the offer.”

Another soon-to-be Livingston signing, Javier Sanchez Broto, had a telling contribution to that match. He told the Daily Record: “I had been thinking about the possibility of penalties the night before the game and I decided I would do something different, so I psyched out the Livingston players as they stepped up to take their kicks. There was a lot of jumping around on the line and waving my arms and legs and it seemed to work.”

That was Wilson’s second Challenge Cup final loss in two years, after losing on penalties to Alloa with Inverness. It was a detail that escaped Wilson during our interview, but shortly after the defeat to Airdrie he was more philosophical:

“When I was at Inverness last season and we lost the final, league-wise there was nothing left for us to play for,” Wilson told the Evening News after the defeat. “But now, there is everything to look forward to with Livingston. We’ve always seen the cups as a bonus, with getting promotion to the Premier League the main thing. My loser’s medals from the last two years won’t mean much if I get a First Division winner’s medal in May.”

Jim Leishman was typically magnanimous in defeat. “Hopefully Airdrie have turned the corner as we need as many strong teams as we can in the First Division,” he commented. There was some irony to be found in Leishman hoovering up the opposition’s brightest talents but there was no doubt that those players were keen to play for him.

“I absolutely loved playing for Jim Leishman, but we knew that Davie Hay was the real brains behind it.”

“Motivation was his thing,” Wilson tells me. “Tactics; no. Davie Hay did the tactics with John Robertson. Leish was about getting you motivated, he had you playing for him. I had known him for years, he was one of my dad’s pals. He tried to sign me for Dunfermline Athletic and eventually got me. I absolutely loved playing for him, but we knew that Davie Hay was the real brains behind it. It’s about playing to your strengths and not being ignorant to hold back an assistant who has got really good ideas.”

Livingston fared well in the league through the winter, winning their next match after the Challenge Cup loss away to Ross County to regain first place from Falkirk. Livi enjoyed a 13-match unbeaten streak in the league – including six wins on the bounce – but began to falter around March 2001 with Ayr United on their tail.

The period between January and March saw the Lions progress in the Scottish Cup through to the semi-final, but there could have been an early shock. Livingston entered the competition in the third round and faced Third Division East Fife at Bayview. Wilson remembers the match well. “We were a goal down after five minutes and Stevie Tosh was sent off after ten,” he says.

“It was really looking like we were going out of the cup and it would have been a big shock. Bingham equalised and I scored a couple to put us ahead. In the end Gerry Britton got one to finish the tie as well.

“The result pulled us out of the hole a bit, it was just around that time that we had a couple of sticky results around January. We drew away to Airdrie and lost away to Falkirk, so things were looking to be just turning around then.”

 

The Distraction

Premier League side Aberdeen followed in the next round, with a forgetful 0-0 result at Almondvale taking the tie to Pittodrie for the replay. Livingston had knocked Aberdeen out of the cup in the third round as a Second Division side just two seasons previous, which made the occasion quite tense for Ebbe Skovdahl’s team.

“They were half-decent,” Wilson comments, “but it wasn’t the best Aberdeen team, that’s for sure. They had some good players, obviously, such as Jamie McAllister, Phil McGuire and Robbie Winters. Those were two dull, really dull games. In the replay we just ground it out. Crabbe scored one late on and it was a great result, if not a memorable performance.”

After the match, Leishman was asked to compare the two victories and had no doubt which he thought was more important. “This is even better,” he told the Daily Record. “I’m not taking anything away from what we achieved back then but this time they knew our strengths and we still came up here and got the result.”

The quarter-final was a comfortable 3-1 win at home to Peterhead, which took them to Hampden for the semi-final against Hibernian. Pre-match preparations for the match were not ideal, with Wilson going in to challenge for the ball with Neil Alexander in training and breaking the first choice goalkeeper’s finger.

Ian McCaldon was therefore drafted in against an accomplished Hibernian team that included Franck Sauzee, Russell Latapy and Mixu Paatelainen, as well as John O’Neil in the best form of his career.

“We just never got going,” Wilson rues, with O’Neil scoring inside a couple of minutes. Hibs cruised to a 3-0 victory, with Wilson lamenting that the neutrals never saw the best of his team that day.

The Lions failed to win any of their four matches in March, which included another deflating defeat to Raith Rovers.

The tie against Hibernian took place in the middle of April, but there is little doubt that the Scottish Cup run hindered Livingston’s league prospects. The Lions failed to triumph in any of their four matches in March, which happened to be their longest streak of games without winning during the whole season. That run included a draw and a loss to rivals Ayr United, and another deflating defeat to Raith Rovers.

“There’s something about Raith Rovers which seems to bring out the worst in Livingston,” Mark Croser reported in the Evening News. “The Lions have produced their two poorest displays of the campaign against the Fifers, but if they’re not careful, Saturday’s 2-0 defeat could have far more serious consequences than the 4-0 reverse suffered at Almondvale back in September.

“As Mark Jones’s two goals handed Rovers the points at the weekend, Livi lost pole position to Ayr United and while the Somerset Park side are enjoying their best form of the season, Livi have now taken a solitary point from their last three games.”

 

The Title

However, the Scottish Cup semi-final apart, April brought different fortunes.

In the week leading up to Livingston’s home match against Inverness Caledonian Thistle, league leaders Ayr United were told that they would not have been allowed promotion to the top flight due to Somerset Park not meeting the SPL’s elitist stadium criteria. From the First Division that season, only Livingston, Raith Rovers and Airdrieonians had the facilities to comply with the SPL’s regulations. The SPL’s Chief Executive Roger Mitchell might have expected the Ayr board to approach him with a plan to share Airdrie’s New Broomfield stadium, but there were no proposals in place for the March 31 deadline.

It is uncertain whether or not that news had a direct effect on the Livingston’s prospects but in any case, the team issued a statement of their own with a midweek 4-1 win at home to Inverness and took a two point lead ahead of Ayr with another game in hand.

Wilson enjoys remembering that match as he “did my usual, scoring against my former teams.” He scored two that day, with Davide Xausa getting the others. Wilson is quick to remember his 30-yard lob over Jim Calder for the fourth. “Although I was wearing number 9 that day, I was on the right wing – it was more because I had scored something like five in seven games around that point.”

That match was the first in which David Fernandez and Davide Xausa started up front together, with the Evening News describing the pair as “an exicting combination with a good blend of skill and strength.” Wilson was a fan of both forwards.

“We used to say that David Fernandez liked a sook of the ball.”

“We used to say that he liked a sook at the ball,” he says of Fernandez. “He liked to keep it, but fine, we would all benefit from it, because he was taking two or three players away and when he released the ball you were clear.

“I definitely benefited from that. If you see my record since we signed David, I probably scored about eight goals in the last eight games or something like that and he definitely had something to do with it. That and I had moved on to taking the penalties by then! David was a phenomenal talent and the next season he was even better.”

Davide Xausa was another player to arrive from Inverness and Wilson enjoyed working alongside him. “Xausa was enigmatic,” he says. “He was a bit marmite, you either loved him or hated him, he was that type of person.

“I loved him though, I thought he was a great lad. He was cocky, arrogant, full of ability, with one of the hardest shots I’ve ever seen and he could move the ball too. If he didn’t fancy it one day though, forget it. He might as well have been in the stand.”

Livingston followed up the win against ICT with a second victory in Dingwall against Ross County. “I scored an absolute sclaff of a goal,” he jokes. “It was a left footer from about 20 yards that trundled into the corner and we hung on that day.

“County battered us. I got dog’s abuse left, right and centre from the County fans, as I always used to get for going on to play for Inverness, but we held on. I thought those were the three points that really made the difference.”

Darren Jackson was another striker who signed in the second half of the season. “We were loaded with forwards!” Wilson exclaims. “Jackson was about 33 at the time because he went to France ’98 as a 30-year-old. He only must have played seven or eight times, he had a few injuries but he was great around the dressing room. His experience probably helped us over the line to be honest.”

Wilson goes on about closing out the season. “We beat Morton, hammered Falkirk and as luck would have it, we were away to Inverness on the third last day of the season to win the league. It was on a Saturday and we came up the night before.

“It was a tight game, I scored a penalty and I know that David Fernandez got a goal as well.” Paul Sheerin scored a couple of penalties for Inverness but it was a Stuart McCaffrey own goal, from trying to block Darren Jackson’s shot, that clinched the championship.

“We reckoned our reserve team probably would have come second in the league that year, the squad was so strong.”

“Our squad was unbelievable in the end,” Wilson continues. “We reckoned our reserve team probably would have come second in the league that year, the squad was so strong.” When signings such as Alex Burns, Scott Crabbe and David Hagen barely featured in the last quarter of the season and with Davide Xausa and Marvin Andrews missing a significant amount of matches due to playing in World Cup qualifiers, it is difficult to argue against.

Jim Leishman was ecstatic after the title win. “What a lift,” he said to the Scotland on Sunday. “I feel like I could walk across the River Forth now and if I drowned it wouldn’t matter.

“There are thousands of people who have been made redundant in West Lothian,” the manager continued, referring to the news of the local Motorola factory closing. “This will not help them to pay the mortgage, but hopefully we have cheered them up.

“The chairman has invested a lot of money. Davie Hay and I knew that if we failed, we would be destroyed. Some people said we had bottled it when we lost to Raith Rovers, but we have won every match since. It was not bottle that affected us, it was the distraction of reaching the semi-final of the Scottish Cup.”

 

The Next Season

Paul Forsyth from the Scotland on Sunday reclaimed the term “The West Lothian Question” when contemplating Livingston’s prospects in the SPL.

“Peppered with familiar faces on and off the pitch,” the journalist commented, “Livingston have also handpicked the best of the First Division in their quest to win promotion. But if reaching the Premier League after just six years in their current incarnation is something of a fairytale, a nightmare could be in store unless their standards rise to new heights. Heartwarming though the post-match celebrations were, the unquestioning assumption that Livingston are destined to test the big boys needs some perspective.”

Forsyth clearly couldn’t know quite the impact that Livingston would have in their first season in the Premier League, finishing in third place behind the Old Firm and getting into Europe. David Fernandez was the only player not with Rangers or Celtic to be nominated for the Player of the Year award that year, before he signed for Martin O’Neil’s side for a £1m fee that likely paid for Livingston’s expenditure during the title-winning campaign.

“It will probably never be done again, for a club to finish third in the top flight after promotion.”

Wilson could recite Livingston’s line-up in the opening 2-1 win against Heart of Midlothian without a flinch. “We should have been three-down after ten minutes,” he claimed. “Gary Bollan cleared one off the line, an unbelievable one. We then had Rangers and Celtic shortly after, which were two 0-0s.

“All of a sudden we had five points against Rangers, Celtic and Hearts and the other teams didn’t fancy their chances against us as much. I got my first SPL goal against Dunfermline in the eighth game of the season at East End Park. David Bingham and I came off the bench, we were one-nil down and came back to win 2-1 and the season went on from there. It will probably never be done again, for a club to finish third in the top flight after promotion.”

Wilson’s time at Livingston was a success but it was clear that he didn’t enjoy his last days at the club after Marcio Maximo arrived as head coach.

“We were just about to start the fourth season when Jim Leishman became director of football and Dominic Keane brought in Maximo,” Wilson remembers without much fondness. “It was just plain to see that he wasn’t a coach.

“After one training session I had a meeting with Jim Leishman and Davie Hay, saying this guy was an imposter. I remember chapping their door, telling them that this guy couldn’t coach bairns. They said to give him a chance but I said ‘I’m telling you now, he cannot coach.’

“John Robertson was manager at Inverness at the time and we kept in touch. He knew I wasn’t happy. I looked at the squad that Inverness had and I knew that Davie Bingham had moved up, so I thought: ‘Yeah’.

“My only regret on that front is that I had to leave early because of the transfer window deadline, before Livingston won the League Cup that year. But then I went to Caley, we won the Challenge Cup and then the league so it worked out alright, when Livingston were eventually relegated a few seasons after.”

Maximo, meanwhile, lasted eight league games at Livingston before he resigned on 14 October 2003.

 

The Rest

Having discussed Barry Wilson’s time at Livingston, he was then in the mood to reflect on the rest of his playing career. I ask if he had any regrets at all.

“I probably made the most of my career out of the ability that I had,” he says as a matter of fact. “When I started off at Ross County I was really, really quick and I could score a goal, but that was about it. I definitely developed as a player as I grew older.

Wilson is comfortable in talking about his spell at Southampton. “I haven’t really spoken about it to be honest, no-one’s ever asked me about it before,” he reveals.

“The one regret in my career was that I didn’t stick it out when I moved down to Southampton.”

“It didn’t work out there. The one regret in my career was that I didn’t stick it out when I moved down to Southampton. I was about 19 and had never been away from home, I had been living with my mum and dad until that point. I had been going out with my girlfriend for about a year-and-a-half, so there were strong feelings there already, but I felt I had to take the chance to go down there.

“When I moved south, they put me in lodgings with a family with two teenage girls, who were 13 and 15, so there was no male company. Even the man of the house worked away in London and came home for the weekends. After training I was basically locked in a room. The English lads didn’t really take you in – it was fine at training and on the park, that was great, but they didn’t invite me over to theirs afterwards. There was nothing like that.

“Their manager at the time, Ian Bradfoot, didn’t want me to leave,” Wilson continues. “He felt that I had the ability and even offered to play me in the first team, because I was playing in the reserves at the time. He said he would do that just to make me stay, but I couldn’t.

“Funnily enough I left and then Paul Sheerin went down. Paul actually stayed in the same digs as I did and, had I stuck around for a couple more months, we probably would have been fine, I would have probably stayed on.

“Obviously I then got stick at home for being a mummy’s boy, but it wasn’t like that, it was the circumstance down there. I didn’t leave Southampton to go home to my folks, I was just down there, alone, a young lad in a big town when I came from a smaller place. My girlfriend came down to see me and my parents did too, but of course they always had to leave. I just wasn’t enjoying it. I wasn’t getting the best of myself on the park as a result, as much as I loved training.”

“I played with Alan Shearer, Matt Le Tissier, Tim Flowers and Terry Hurlock at Southampton. The training was unbelievable.”

Wilson unquestionably picked up some good experience from his short time there. “Training was unbelievable,” Wilson enthuses. “The players that were there included Alan Shearer, Matt Le Tissier, Tim Flowers, Terry Hurlock… The names just roll off the tongue. I came back three months later such a better player, so what I could have done, I don’t know.

“My dad brought me back to County and then I was on trial at Hearts for six weeks,” he continues. “Joe Jordan couldn’t make up his mind, so at the end of the six weeks I decided to make up his mind for him. I was back at County for six months to a year and then moved down to Raith Rovers.

“I had two great seasons at Raith and loved it.” Wilson still speaks with a Kirkcaldy accent and it was clear that he had at least some affinity with the club that his father, Bobby, managed in the early-to-mid-eighties before taking charge at Ross County.

“I picked up so much experience there,” he says. “From the Scottish Cup semi-final to Europe. (I was cup-tied for the League Cup win though.) Jimmy Nicholl left and I didn’t get on with the next manager, Jimmy Thomson. He was the youth coach and they just promoted him. It was the cheap option and such a bad decision. I didn’t really see eye to eye with Jimmy or like his ideas on the way to play, so they freed me.

“At the same time I got married, so I moved back to the Highlands and trained with Caley just to keep fit. Steve Paterson asked me to sign and he said to me: ‘Look, if we win this league in a year we’ll be full-time next year’. So I took a chance and went part-time again. I went back to the council for a little while, where I used to work in council tax and then in the benefits section. My career progressed just as Inverness’ prospects did.”

Finally, we talk about Wilson’s longevity in the game, which was remarkable for a winger and was a feat not achieved since Kevin McAllister’s perpetual wizardry at Falkirk and Albion Rovers.

“There were two major factors in helping me prolong my career,” Wilson starts. “The first was when I was about 28 or 29 at Livingston, I started doing my coaching badges, which helped me understand the game more. I learned it wasn’t just about playing as a right winger, but it was about how other players saw me as a player. I didn’t need to just keep running. My legs couldn’t do it anymore, so I became more tactically aware. That was a big reason why I ended up playing full-time until I was about 36-to-37 and continued to play part-time until I was about 40.

“The second thing was Craig Brewster,” he adds to a little surprise. “It was well documented that Brewster dropped me when he first came in at Caley for six weeks. We didn’t always see eye to eye. At this time I was learning the game and although I was never any problem, I gave my real opinion rather than what sometimes managers just want to hear.

“I suppose I was a big name at Caley at the time and Brewster probably wanted to set a precedent, that if he could drop me he could drop anyone. He said I needed to lose half a stone and got me fit. But he added two years on to my career without a doubt. I’ll always be thankful to Brew for that.

“I battled back and I was pretty proud of what I did by the end. I won titles with Livingston and Caley and played in Europe. I had 83 goals at Caley and was the second top goal-scorer, while I probably got close to 150 in my career.

“I’m pretty happy with that.”

 

The sources used in the research for this article were:

  • Various editions of the Daily Record, Edinburgh Evening News, Scotland on Sunday and Sunday Mail from throughout the 2000-01 season (many thanks to David Stoker for lending the resources)
  • Marvellous Marvin: The Life, Football and Faith of a Soca Warrior by Marvin Andrews and Tom Brown
  • Always Next Season: The 125 Year History of Raith Rovers by John Litster
John A Maxwell

John A Maxwell

John is a Ross County supporter whose care for the lower leagues is just as thoroughgoing as when Billy Ferries tore down the wing. His footballing favourites include Fernando Redondo, Gordon Connelly and André Hainault.

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