Football: Return of the prodigal Son

Once Britain's most expensive footballer, Ian Wallace has gone back to his roots to manage Dumbarton. Phil Shaw met him at Boghead Park on Saturday
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The Independent Online
You could picture Brian Clough, wearing a green sweatshirt and a superior expression, jabbing a finger and cautioning Ian Wallace: "Hey, young man - you've achieved nothing yet."

True, but Wallace, whom Clough used to lump in with Justin Fashanu and Peter Ward as proof that he was hopeless at buying strikers, could be excused for beaming broadly after Dumbarton snatched a 2-2 draw against Clyde in stoppage time of his first match as manager.

It was not simply the brinkmanship which delighted Wallace, who became Britain's costliest footballer when he joined Nottingham Forest for pounds 1.25m in 1980 (or "pounds ! million" as a Freudian slip in Saturday's programme put it). In Dumbarton's position, which is once again perilously close to the foot of the Scottish Second Division, actually avoiding defeat represented a good day at the office.

The programme also carried nostalgic reminders of what Wallace, now 40 and running a newsagent's shop 20 miles away in Glasgow, achieved as a teenaged flier with "the Sons". There was a run to the Scottish Cup semi- finals, and a goal in a draw with Celtic, with 10,000 crammed into Boghead, which clinched his move to Coventry.

Dumbarton's greatest days were already sepia-tinted by then - they would have made the Champions' League in the Victorian era - but Wallace is determined to restore respectability. It will not be easy. On a day when another all-seater stadium was inaugurated at Inverness, the terraces of Scotland's oldest ground, opened in 1879, were strewn with scarcely 700 souls.

The surprise was that the faithful numbered as many as they did. Dumbarton do not, as yet, have bus loads of English anoraks patronising them like Cowdenbeath and the late Meadowbank Thistle. And eight points from a possible 120 was the kind of sequence to test the most fervent fan.

They began and finished well. The problem was the 85 minutes in between Billy Wilson's debut goal, made by Colin McKinnon's fine run, and the latter's equaliser. Clyde, the only team Dumbarton have beaten in the past 13 months, dominated after drawing level through Miller Mathieson's header.

Paul Brownlie, son of the former Newcastle and Scotland defender, John, then put the Cumbernauld side ahead with a 30 yard volley Mark Hughes would have killed for. All that could be seen of Wallace above the dug- out parapet was the familiar thatch of ginger hair.

Seeing anything in Clyde's goalmouth was becoming difficult, Dumbarton's floodlights making Estonia's look like the Blackpool illuminations. Out of the gloom, McKinnon loomed to head a soft goal which brought Wallace and his new coach, the splendidly named Ringo Watts, jumping on to the track.

Like Clough, who played him in the youth team after paying the record sum, Wallace said he planned to use "the pat on the back and the kick up the backside" as applicable. The commitment of his players, if not their class, suggested he had already struck a chord.

Success would be "finishing one place above relegation"; pressure was "something you bring on yourself - the game's there to be enjoyed." As for playing the transfer market, Dumbarton's hands are largely tied, despite the public-address announcer's claim that the winner of the half-time draw had scooped pounds 2m.

In fact, Wallace had already made his first signing overnight, lining up the impressive Wilson from Ayr at midnight and registering him minutes before the midday deadline. How much did he pay? "Don't know," replied the prodigal Son, adding in a manner Clough would have admired: "I just told the directors I wanted him and left it to them."

Goals: Wilson (5) 1-0; Mathieson (14) 1-1; Brownlie (67) 1-2; McKinnon (90) 2-2.

Dumbarton (4-4-2): K Meechan; Davidson, Marsland, J Meechan, Sharpe; Wilson, Mooney (Glancy, 80), King, McKenzie; McKinnon, Ward (Dallas, 74). Substitute not used: Goldie

Clyde (4-4-2): McLean; Ferguson, Brown, Knox, Prunty; McEwan, Gillies (Campbell, 56), Brownlie (Carrigan, 83), Gibson; Mathieson, Annand (Michael O'Neill 50).

Referee: A C Gemmill (Linlithgow).

Bookings: Dumbarton Mooney, King.

Attendance: 724.

Man of the match: Brownlie.