Ayr United: Ian McCall retains ambition - but only for Honest Men

By Martin DowdenBBC Scotland
A fan takes a selfie with Ayr United manager Ian McCall
Ian McCall (right) is back in the spotlight following Ayr United's promotion

We all harbour our own perceptions and opinions of characters in Scottish football. Often they're deeply inaccurate; based on any number of factors that amount to distorted fiction.

I'm guilty of it. For some reason, I'd formed a view that there was arrogance about Ian McCall that hindered his playing and managerial career. Maybe there was, maybe it did, but it's missing now if it was ever there.

My confession comes from the realisation that he is a deeply intriguing figure. I've just enjoyed editing an interview, conducted by my colleague, Kenny Macintyre, which will be broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland's Sportsound on Saturday.

It's littered with honesty and refreshing self-awareness.

After three-and-a-half-years out of the game, McCall steered Ayr United to promotion to this year's Scottish Championship.

His personal stock is on the rise once again. You'd think it's all going to plan as he charts his rise back to top-level management.

"Oh no," he sighs. "Are you kidding me on? I've been through all that, I'm not really interested. My life's completely changed.

"If you have the experts and pundits saying that's a lack of ambition, well okay, I'm cool with that, that's no problem. I'm very, very ambitious for Ayr United."

There's no hint of falseness in those words. He credits new Hibernian manager, Neil Lennon, as the man who helped him back into football by arguing his case to Ayr chairman Lachlan Cameron.

Ian McCall leaves Dundee United in 2005
McCall was sacked by Dundee United in 2005

He's grateful for what he has and is making the most of it.

The height of McCall's managerial career to date, in terms of size of club, was a spell at Dundee United after then chairman Eddie Thompson made a third approach to take him from Falkirk.

"I was pulled kicking and screaming out of there," he said. "I found it so hard to leave.

"There's no point in lying about it. I left because I was offered the third-highest paid manager in Scotland and I was 38.

"That doesn't mean it was my big chance. My big chance was at Clydebank getting a job."

It initially went well until Thompson asked for significant wage cuts to be implemented. Results dipped and, after two years, he was shown the door.

"I don't question being given the sack," said McCall. "It was the right thing to do at the time.

"I did the wage cuts, but I sort of lost control of it. I recognise that, when Eddie sacked me, it was the right thing to do."

There's a reason McCall applies a dose of realism to how he views his past. He's battled personal issues that he doesn't wish to detail, but they've clearly defined the man he is today.

"Rehabilitating myself was a very personal issue that I had to sort out myself," he said. "It went on over a five-year period.

Ian McCall in action for Rangers
McCall joined Rangers from Dunfermline Athletic in 1987

"I don't really talk about it. I find it a very personal thing and I managed to do it.

"I firmly believe that a person that hasn't got any baggage, I think they're the ones you've got to worry about.

"I had some baggage, but I would defy anybody not to have some of that.

"I came through a lot. I came out the other side and am very proud of myself and the people close to me I think are proud of me."

McCall values professionalism in his players - something he feels let him down as a player. His application at Rangers in the late 1980s under Graeme Souness is a good example.

"He demanded a level of professionalism that I just didn't show," he admits. "I showed sometimes but not very often.

"To play at a club like that or that type of level, you've got to devote everything.

"There's no art to getting yourself the fittest you possibly could be. That doesn't involve talent.

"He was right about that. I got on well with him at times, but other times he didn't like me and probably rightly so."

Ian McCall celebrates with Falkirk
McCall has some regrets about walking out on Falkirk

His contemporaries at Ibrox were the likes of Ray Wilkins, Terry Butcher, Trevor Steven and Richard Gough, a glittering array of top-level footballers.

"When I was living my life well, I could play with them no problem and I wouldn't look out of place," suggests McCall. "At other times, I couldn't.

"I maybe lacked a certain mentality to make it at that level. Ability and talent is not enough. Mentally, you need to be switched on.

"Away from the pitch, at times I didn't always conduct myself the right way as a professional athlete should, but I would never have given a minute's problem at the pitch in how I trained."

His players surely benefit from McCall's reflection on his own approach. You sense he won't let them make the same mistakes.

McCall's contentment at Ayr seems genuine, but what if a job at a bigger club was offered? Could he resist?

"My answer would be 'no' for certain," he insists. "I was asked to apply for a couple of jobs recently and the chairman knows that.

"I already did it to Campbell Christie [at Falkirk], albeit he understood.

"How could I do that to Lachlan Cameron, who's given me this opportunity? Not even to re-establish myself as a football manager, re-establish myself as a man?

"I'm not going to do that. I might have done it years ago."

Kenny Macintyre's interview with Ian McCall will be broadcast on Sportsound on Saturday on BBC Radio Scotland 92-95 FM & 810 MW, online and on digital radio from 15:00 BST.

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