People were probably wondering what on earth I was smiling at. Gone was the usual solemn facial expression more suited to this late November bus-catching traverse from streets Sauchiehall to Renfield. In its place was a grin akin to a Cheshire cat, present on my dial largely due to an unfortunate but amusing tale I’d just been told about a dog. But we’ll get to that later.
The other main contributor to this sizeable cheeser was enthusiasm – infectious enthusiasm that had rubbed off John Richardson and onto yours truly. Animated and interesting, the new Pollok FC manager had just provided me with easily the most absorbing conversation of my week. Actually, my month.
Sat in the café of Waterstones book store, the latte he ordered was in more danger of being knocked over by his lively arm movements than it was of ever being drunk. There was far too much to talk about to waste time sipping beverages.
Truth is, since leaving Kirkintilloch Rob Roy earlier this year, John – here dressed in jeans, a navy blue fleece top and New Balance running trainers – was not actively seeking a return to the managerial fraternity.
“From March until now has probably been the longest period that I’ve been away from football and, believe it or not, I actually enjoyed the break. When I stepped away from it, it was just like a breath of fresh air – total relaxation. I did bits and pieces on Saturday that I hadn’t done for ages; painted the shed – everything! The million household jobs that are ‘never done’ have been done!
“It was a nice easy tempo compared to my years gone by in management where I would run in from work and run out again with a cup of tea and half a dozen digestive biscuits, trying to juggle everything about.”
Over the last six months, bit-part roles of scouting for Hamilton Accies and youth coaching at Stenhousemuir had failed to entice him properly back into the game (not to mention several notable enquiries about his availability for official managerial/coaching roles elsewhere).
He light-heartedly conceded that his wife Jackie began to wonder if she faced a future of him being in the house with her every weeknight. Battling over control of the TV remote was getting past tiresome.
But that was all soon to change when ‘Lok came calling, whom John candidly declares as “a different kettle of fish”.
“My feeling about Pollok is, and will be until I die, regardless of whether I get sacked tomorrow, that they are the absolute giant of junior football. Pollok, as an all-round package, are the biggest name in the juniors.
“That’s not just because I’m the manager, it’s my genuine belief. You only need to listen to hear what it means to any club that comes to Newlandsfield and happens to get a result. Watch them as they walk off the park, listen to them in the changing room, listen to their supporters – what it means for them to take points off Pollok. That tells you how big Pollok are.”
John’s respect and admiration for his new club’s reputation is unquestionable. Yet it would be lacking of me not to acknowledge that his appointment may jar with a minority of Pollok’s more seasoned supporters. For in the 1998/99 season, in his brief stint as a Pollok player, an incident occurred where John left the ground at half-time during a match at Petershill.
To his credit, John was eager to offer an explanation.
“My regret is that after so wanting to get to Pollok as a player, it ended up being an anti-climax. At the time I blamed my leaving on everybody bar myself. I had a cracking playing career. At every club I was with I had a successful time – bar Pollok. When I look back at it, part of the problem was that my form was just terrible, I had two left feet. That wasn’t my make-up as a player.
“I also wasn’t happy with the way certain areas of the dressing room dealt with a previous manager (Andy Dailly), and instead of me dealing with it the right way and saying to the new management team – ‘listen, this is not happening for me, I’m not happy’ – I thought I’d persevere with it, and I did that in the wrong way by rebelling unprofessionally after things accumulated.
“I blame myself for my unprofessionalism, now. When I was unhappy, the way I should have dealt with it was to just go and ask to leave the club rather than do what I did. That’s the way I can look at it now that I’m 47.”
Clear signs of openness, decency and sincerity featured frequently from John’s side of the table in the two hours I spent with him. Hopefully any tentative fans can embrace the attitude of one humorous Pie & Bovril comment in relation to the aforementioned episode: “he only went oot for a bag o’chips, that’s him back noo.”
As he has been employed at East Kilbride based company ‘Central Box’ for the last 20 years, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised at John’s repeated desire “to start putting some sort of structure in place” at Pollok.
“First and foremost, the goal is to steady Pollok this year. Consolidate, make sure things are safe, and while we’re in the cup, you never know. A structure can help get us back to being a club again, to have that stature again, and where clubs begin to fear coming to play Pollok again.
“Just now the style of football is ‘get points on the board’. That’s the most important thing and everything else around that will slowly but surely kick in.”
By this stage John’s excited gesticulations were being supplemented by an occasional small, single clap. The impression was given that drills would be anything but mundane at Glasgow Green midweek training.
“I want to create a strong dressing room bond – I said that to the guys. On training nights, the manager’s there to have fun poked at him to a certain extent and nobody should be scared to have a laugh at anybody, as long as we’re all doing it together.”
One of many tangents then allowed me to become privy to the encouraging story of how his assistant John Mitchell recently found a purse on the street containing £400. Rather than hoover up the money for himself, he used a laundry ticket found within it to track down the elderly lady it belonged to and return the lost cash. Reassuring integrity.
Conversation then turned how much transfer activity is on the horizon.
“It’s alright people looking in and saying we need to bring in four or five players – we could do that but would they have the quality to kick things forward? Everybody wants to strengthen but with limited finances we’re not really in a position to strengthen. I think there is good quality here, but I’ve still spoken to every senior club I know to see what I can possibly bring in that’s not going to cost Pollok any money.”
Latte still virtually untouched, John was at pains to highlight the importance of The Lok’s supporters over the coming period: “The battle cry is for Pollok fans to come and support us, not just me but the club – all help from every direction is what we need.”
And John himself has someone to add to that number: “My father-in-law follows my football so there’s a wee buzz with him too. He takes in the games so at least that’ll be another fiver in the pot for Pollok!”
That just leaves Tyson, John’s pet dog of yesteryear, whose desperately unlucky demise was the origin of my smirking. It’s okay, I was allowed. John prefaced the anecdote with the words “you’ll laugh”. Roaming freely and innocently during ‘walkies’, the cherished two year old Toy Poodle met an untimely end via an exocet Titeleist from one of his loving owner’s skewed golf drives in Bellahouston Park. What a way to go, eh?
By Kenny Crawford