Airdrie owner's Spanish colony

Steve Archibald has brought his Barcelona experience to bear on a Scottish football outpost

Steve Archibald must have given a wry smile when he heard there was a private plane waiting on the tarmac at Glasgow airport for Ronald de Boer on Wednesday evening. It only seems like yesterday that the Scot was the one who was stepping on to a Learjet.

Steve Archibald must have given a wry smile when he heard there was a private plane waiting on the tarmac at Glasgow airport for Ronald de Boer on Wednesday evening. It only seems like yesterday that the Scot was the one who was stepping on to a Learjet.

Rangers ensured that their new £4.5 million signing from Barcelona was flown back to Holland to rejoin his international team-mates as De Boer complained that Barça had put obstacles in the way of his departure. Such is the shrewd Archibald's favoured status, that he can still call in favours from the Catalan city any time he likes.

Archibald, who to this day has a home in Barcelona, still travels first class but these days his ambition is simply to upgrade Scottish football's equivalent of the bucket shop: Airdrieonians Football Club. The financially ravaged First Division team lost their entire playing squad when they went into liquidation in May, only for Archibald to appear at the 11th hour with the £2m which rescued the club.

New Broomfield is hardly the Nou Camp, yet as Archibald, 43, sits in one of the executive boxes still clad in his training kit, he has a sense of pride as he looks around the trim all-seated ground, before joking: "Some people said that the only reason I bought this club was so that I could get a job in football again."

He may be the owner, but he is still in charge of the side until he can find a head coach. It's hardly the glamour Archibald once enjoyed. Two FA Cups and a Uefa Cup success at Tottenham Hotspur were eclipsed by the Spanish title and European Cup Final he savoured at Barça. "The scenes after we won La Liga will never leave me," reflects Archibald. "I should have reported for an end-of-season Scotland international match, but Juan Gaspart, who was then the vice-chairman, told me I had to stay for the celebrations.

"He said he would have a word with [the late] Jock Stein. He was persuasive, and told Jock he would put the club's private jet at my disposal to get me back to Britain. I'm glad he did, because it was a magical occasion. The parade took five hours to go from the airport into the town hall."

Gaspart - whom Archibald refers to as "my Spanish brother" - even paid for the Scot's wedding and the pair have remained friends ever since. Archibald helped Gaspart become elected as Barcelona's president this summer, and the pair are even involved in a hotel venture. Yet, it is the rebuilding job in Lanarkshire that consumes him.

Like Terry Venables, his Nou Camp mentor, Archibald has his eyes on the bigger picture and believes his ownership of the side which reached the Scottish Cup Final in 1992 and 1995 can revive the troubled club. "I have ambitions which are much bigger than simply being manager or coach, of this or any other club," declares Archibald.

"The world has changed and so have footballers. Peter Schmeichel has just bought a team in Denmark. Some of us enjoy taking the major decisions. Airdrie is my project but I have to make the whole thing work, on and off the park, and if I was the manager then I would not have time to do other things which need doing," he adds.

The man to whom Archibald delegates the administration to is Peter Day, the former secretary at Spurs. "I would still be there if it hadn't been for Irving Scholar," points out the mild-mannered Englishman. "Peter was always the man the players turned to at White Hart Lane and we've kept our friendship going since then," explained Archibald. "I trust him and couldn't do it without him." While Day deals with creditors, Archibald has been recruiting an entire team. It's been like Auf Wiedersehen Pet, except in reverse. The workforce is Spanish.

Archibald used his knowledge from his time as an agent and director of football at Benfica ("another club in the red," he smiles) to scour for new players, though his seven Iberian imports' wages would not even pay Ronald de Boer's tax bill. "I didn't want the same old faces who have been around the Scottish lower league scene," says Archibald. "It was a good chance to start afresh." One, Jesus San Juan, was on the bench for Real Zaragoza in 1995 when they beat Arsenal in the Cup Winners' Cup Final.

"They are all good players and can play with style, and I have no no fear that they can't handle themselves. San Juan played at Wolves for a while, so he knows the British game." Yet while results have been poor so far, the Spanish colony - who are all billeted in a country club where Airdrie train each day - has a curiosity value for the locals.

Home gates have doubled to 3,000 and fans have come kitted out in sombreros and holding stuffed donkeys.

"I was shocked when I took the club over because it had been so badly run," says Archibald. "The fans had been messed about, but the town is now behind us because they can see we are trying to do something.

"The Spanish lads are good professionals. They get English lessons three times a week, but football is a body language. I could not speak to anyone at first when I was at Barcelona, but once you get half a dozen words, you are away."

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