The Last Word: Terry Butcher, the archetypal Englishman, is making waves by the tip of Loch Ness
This is not shoestring, this is a bucket holiday flip-flop budget
Friday 30 August 2013
They are spotted as often as Jose Mourinho's sense of humility or the Loch Ness monster but, beyond the northern shores of the loch, at the top of the Great Glen that slices through Scotland, one has been located. It is that rarest of current breeds, a successful English manager.
It is fast approaching the rutting season in those parts, when nature compels stags to roar and assert their manliness if, to be blunt, they want to get any. Last Saturday Terry Butcher bellowed his delight as he strode down the tunnel at Celtic Park. His Inverness Caledonian Thistle side had just held the champions to a 2-2 draw to keep their place as Scotland's early-season pacesetters. Tomorrow afternoon they host Hearts as unbeaten league leaders. Butcher may have been consigned by many south of the border to football's history books but the old fires still burn.
Butcher, described on the Football Association's website as the commander-in-chief of England's defence in the 1980s, has not been entirely forgotten back home. In January Barnsley and Doncaster Rovers pursued him. Barnsley offered Championship football, and the chance to double his money. The expectation in Scotland – as well as Yorkshire – was that he would leave; that's what happens in Scottish football. Instead Butcher chose to remain at one of football's chillier outposts – the Caledonian Stadium sits on the shores of the Moray Firth and on winter days there is little to interrupt the attentions of a wind with roots in Siberia. The archetypal Englishman, the man who spent blood in the Three Lions cause, has found an improbable home.
When Butcher first arrived in Scotland in 1986 to play for Rangers it was at the grasping height of Thatcherism and an accompanying wave of anti-Englishness – four years later even Scotland's middle classes folded up the tartan travelling rugs to stand up and boo the National Anthem at Murrayfield. Butcher played for Rangers, the "loyalist" club, a club that outside its support is disliked more strongly within its national locality than any in Britain. He ticked the boxes of reasons to be detested (in that, as Donald Rumsfeld might put it, rational irrationality of the football fan).
But Butcher liked what he saw, and put down roots. When he hung up his boots there was a return south for ultimately unsuccessful managerial roles at Coventry, Sunderland and Brentford. Those southern sojourns seemingly did enough to end his hopes of making a mark in management in his home country and the Englishman went back to Scotland to think again. Four years ago he took the job at Inverness and what he has achieved deserves recognition although, given the beleaguered Scottish domestic game's failure yet to find a title sponsor for the rebranded Premiership, there may not be any manager of the month bauble heading north. This is a small club with a budget that would not cover the laces to do up one of Gareth Bale's boots. This is not shoestring, this is a bucket holiday flip-flop budget.
Last season's average attendance – when the club finished fourth, the highest placing in their history – was around 4,000, on a par with AFC Wimbledon, Exeter and Leyton Orient. Butcher's men won at Celtic Park days before Barcelona were beaten at the same venue. Only a last-day defeat denied them third and a Europa League place.
This season they have started well and should have beaten Celtic again last weekend – they were two up, but Butcher's roar was an acclamation tempered by reality. His side are a mish-mash, trawled from the cast-offs of England's lower reaches. Butcher's chief scout, another Englishman, Steve Marsella, a former Halifax goalkeeper, travels 60,000 miles a year. A Norwegian Under-21 striker released by Brighton and a loanee goalkeeper from Luton (who admits he thought Inverness was somewhere around Glasgow) were among this summer's arrivals.
What Alex Ferguson did at Aberdeen, having worked out his basics at East Stirlingshire and St Mirren, remains pound-for-pound arguably the most impressive part of his CV. Success at lower level, especially in this time of parsimony for those outside the golden cabal at the top of the Premier League, should not be overlooked by clubs higher up the ladder than Barnsley.
The Scottish game reminded its noisy neighbours it is still about at Wembley two weeks ago, even if that reflected how far England have fallen rather than any looming Scottish revival, and within its confines there is an Englishman reminding his own that he has a future as well as a past, even if Scotland would be sorry to see him go.
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