Danny McLennan

International football coach
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The Independent Online

Daniel Morrison McLennan, football player and coach: born Stirling 5 May 1925; married (two daughters); died Crail, Fife 11 May 2004.

The extraordinary career of the football coach Danny McLennan spanned four decades and took him all across the globe, often to places where those with fainter hearts might have feared to tread.

Daniel Morrison McLennan, football player and coach: born Stirling 5 May 1925; married (two daughters); died Crail, Fife 11 May 2004.

The extraordinary career of the football coach Danny McLennan spanned four decades and took him all across the globe, often to places where those with fainter hearts might have feared to tread.

Iraq, Iran, Libya and Zimbabwe were just a few of the teams he guided. Possibly no man has managed so many international teams - 10 in all. McLennan also had stints with the Philippines, Bahrain, Malawi, Mauritius (twice) and Fiji, not to mention club sides in Kenya, Tanzania, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Palestine, Norway and Malta.

Born in Stirling in 1925, he started out as a 17-year-old apprentice left-back with Glasgow Rangers, later moving to Dundee. It was at East Fife after the Second World War that he enjoyed his most successful spell as a player, helping them to a famous Scottish League Cup victory over Partick Thistle in 1953.

McLennan launched his coaching career in the late Fifties, first as player-manager with Berwick Rangers, then as manager of Stirling Albion. Stirling were bottom of the Second Division and on the verge of bankruptcy, but he quickly helped them to promotion and even, in 1962, for the first time in their history, to the semi-finals of the League Cup. But soon after, boardroom machinations saw him inexplicably sacked.

He was then recently married, and his wife Ruth advised him: "Just pack your bags, and knock on someone else's door." When Sir Stanley Rous, president of Fifa, asked him if he would like to coach the Philippines national side, McLennan needed little convincing. Within a matter of days, he was on a plane.

With Zimbabwe in 1970, and then Iran in 1974, he almost achieved World Cup qualification, but lost each time in the play-offs. In 1975, he moved to Iraq, forming a close friendship with Ammo Baba, Iraq's finest ever footballer. In the Gulf Cup semi-finals of 1976, his side thrashed the regional powerhouses Saudi Arabia 7-1.

Saddam Hussein, although not then installed as Iraqi president, was already making his presence felt. "Before we played Bahrain in the final play-off [of the 1976 Gulf Cup], word reached the players that Saddam was going to give each player a new house if they won. It clearly unsettled them," McLennan recalled.

One of his proudest moments came in 1984 with Malawi. Though they had no significant pedigree, McLennan took them into the African Nations Cup finals for the first time, and had it not been for a blatantly rigged drawn game between Nigeria and Algeria, to ensure that both teams qualified, Malawi might have progressed further.

Ever-broadening cultural horizons taught McLennan to expect the unexpected. "Many of the teams I worked with had witch-doctors," he said. "You just learnt to accept they were important. It's not so different from football in these parts really, is it? All the teams use psychologists these days - and they are just witch-doctors under a different name!"

Ruth McLennan did not content herself with playing the ex-pat wife indoors. A trained opera singer, in Zimbabwe she made several recordings with the state orchestra; in Jordan she revived early ambitions to be a tennis pro and became the national champion.

Had the dice landed differently, the McLennans might have stayed in Scotland. Danny McLennan was once asked to manage Dunfermline, but when he turned up for an interview, the club chairman had already offered the job to a rookie by the name of Jock Stein, later Scotland's most famous manager.

In the early 1970s, McLennan was also sounded out by the Scottish FA about taking on the newly created role of director of coaching, but refused, wary that it had been ill thought-out. And three decades on, he remained dismayed at Scottish football culture. "There just seems to be a lack of real vision at the top," he said last year. "There is still no proper attempt to develop skills at grass-roots level, and not enough investment in youth. You've got guys becoming millionaires just for sitting on the bench."

McLennan had a genuine passion for the game, and Scotland's loss was the rest of the world's gain. "When I worked in Palestine, they said it would be dangerous, but I was convinced by their huge love of the game - for so many people it was the only thing they had. When there is such enthusiasm, coaching is a joy."

In the second half of the 1990s, McLennan spent several seasons in India, managing the Goan side Churchill Brothers, before finally retiring in 2000, in his mid-seventies.

Danny and Ruth McLennan settled in the fishing village of Crail in Fife, although he admitted that it was hard to develop a taste for the quiet life. "Every place I worked was fascinating in its own way. I've had some incredible experiences; I don't think I'd trade them for anything."

Dan Brennan

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