Football: Scotland is only for the bravest

Simon Turnbull says a manager's life north of the border is not an easy one
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The Independent Online
There was a time when humble Hibs were too much of a match for the might of Barcelona. They drew 4-4 in the Nou Camp, then crushed the Catalans 3-2 in front of 54,000 at Easter Road. The Barcelona players were so upset they rioted on the pitch, battering the referee and kicking the police who attempted to rescue him.

Joe Baker can recall those days. He has good reason to. He scored twice in the Nou Camp and headed the opener in the return leg of that Fairs Cup quarter final in the 1960-61 season. Fifty-six now, Baker was back at Easter Road eight days ago when it was the Hibernian crowd doing the calling for blood. They got their wish two days after a 3-1 derby defeat against Hearts - Alex Miller resigned after 10 years as Hibernian's manager.

In doing so he became the 17th British manager this season either to jump or receive the boardroom push. That nine of those casualties have occurred in Scotland suggests it takes true William Wallace bravery to take charge of a club north of the border.

"Managers up here are on a hiding to nothing," Baker said. "They can't live with the money that's floating around. If Rangers need a midfielder, it's a case of, "Nae bother. Here's pounds 9m to buy one." The others spend pounds 150,000 here and there. It's a losing battle for them. There are two leagues up here. There's Rangers and Celtic. Then there's the rest.

"Rangers have spent pounds 27m on players and Celtic are trying to catch up. No one else has got a chance. The money the other clubs are generating just doesn't add up to the big transfer fees, never mind the wages the top players are asking. They can't work miracles."

Baker, the Scot who played for England (because until 1967 international footballers were only qualified to represent the land in which they happened to have been born), has felt life at the sharp end of the Scottish management game himself. These days he works as a corporate hospitality host for Hibs, the club that sold him to Torino for pounds 65,000 in 1961. But for nine years, until 1991, he was manager, assistant and coach with Albion Rovers. "I told them to stuff it," he said, "when I found out they were selling players behind my back. Believe me, it's harder to run Albion Rovers than Rangers."

It is hard to run Hibs too. Miller, Craig Brown's assistant with the Scottish national team, did not exactly have the albatross of a glorious past around his neck. Hibernian have won only two trophies in the last 44 years. And the 1991 League Cup success they achieved under Miller matched the 1972 triumph in the same competition by the team managed by Eddie Turnbull and captained by Pat Stanton.

Yet the one-time Rangers full-back was never going to make a serious impact on the Ibrox trophy juggernaut. The gulf between the haves of Glasgow's west end and the have-nots on the east side of Edinburgh was evident on the day of Miller's last stand. The side he sent out to face Hearts had the 40-year-old Ray Wilkins at its hub and in 31-year-old Keith Wright a striker at its sharp end who had struck just twice since January. Wright cost pounds 420,000 when he moved to Easter Road from Dundee five years ago. He remains Hibernian's record signing.

Even Celtic, with their millions, are struggling to close the gap on Rangers, who this season stand to equal the nine successive championships Celtic won under Jock Stein from 1966 to 1974. Celtic had the pounds 3.5m Alan Stubbs in defence and the pounds 2m Paolo Di Canio in attack in the Old Firm match at Ibrox eight days ago, but they still failed to stop their rivals opening up a five-point lead at the top of the Scottish Premier Division.

Tommy Burns will doubtless pay with his job if the Glasgow gap is not reversed between now and May. Second top in Scotland would, in all probability, not be deemed good enough: not if the Celtic greats lost their unique place in the record books.

And Walter Smith's days would not just be numbered but up should the new-age Rangers fall short of title number nine. There is no such thing as a safe job on the managerial battleground north of Hadrian's Wall.