Demon master leading Saints revival

Tom Hendrie's temper is shaking up Scottish Premiership
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The Independent Football

The decor in St Mirren's reception area makes waiting for Tom Hendrie a nervous experience. The wood panelling and deep carpets evoke the purgatory that existed outside every headmaster's room three decades ago, and it is not a pleasant memory.

The decor in St Mirren's reception area makes waiting for Tom Hendrie a nervous experience. The wood panelling and deep carpets evoke the purgatory that existed outside every headmaster's room three decades ago, and it is not a pleasant memory.

When Hendrie appears, the smile and the handshake are disarming. So too are the clothes, training kit which he is still lean enough to do justice to instead of a suit. The voice is more gentle than growling and you begin to wonder if this is the same person who has been dubbed football's demon manager.

Hendrie is the man who swapped the classroom for the training ground, yet applied the same principles to guide St Mirren back into the Scottish Premier League after an eight-year absence. He is also the one who has so irritated his rivals that he has a queue, longer than at any parents' night, of managers wanting a word with him.

When Sky's television cameras scan the dugouts during tonight's live match with Rangers, Hendrie will not be there. He will be in the stand, serving a seven-match ban inflicted by the Scottish FA as punishment for his behaviour, and proving that even teachers have their masters.

Yet the viewing public will certainly be the loser. Dick Advocaat is rarely far from a tantrum in the technical area and the Rangers manager might have met his match from the new boy in the SPL playground. "Other managers seem to feel that I have been responsible for getting their players sent off," reflects Hendrie. "All I want people to do is follow the laws of the game. If I see a bad tackle, I'll comment on it. I have strong views on football and one is that players should behave. I am not saying I practise what I preach. I will shout at my own players, but I will never shout at the opposition bench or manager.

"I don't have the power to influence the referee, but other managers seem to think I have. I have no problem with other managers complaining to the referee about my players but they don't seem to think it's my prerogative."

Perhaps the antipathy stems from professional jealousy. In football terms, Hendrie, 39, is simply not old school. He never played for a top-flight club and does not belong to the coterie of ex-pros who have become managers. He was too busy pursuing his career as a mathematics teacher. Management was simply a part-time role he changed into at Alloa for two nights' training and one afternoon a week. Yet St Mirren saw enough potential in Hendrie to choose him in the winter of 1998 ahead of a list of the usual suspects.

Yet, in a business which has never been good at getting its sums right, few are better suited to manage a club like St Mirren then Hendrie. Even if his heart had been seduced by celebrating promotion with a spending spree, the maths teacher in him would have taken over. "The last time we were in the SPL, the club incurred massive debts which it is still trying to pay off. Running up another debt is not even an option that is open to me."

In the early Nineties Steve Archibald and his former Barcelona colleague, Victor, were picking up £5,000 aweek at Love Street. Present player salaries are pegged at £50,000-a-year which is what Andrei Kanchelskis, the Rangers winger, will bank every fortnight.

Even Ibrox's cast-offs are too rich for Hendrie's blood, with a move for free transfer Gordon Durie now dead. "It was simply down to finance," he said. "I cannot afford transfer fees, and in many cases I cannot even afford the wages of players that interest me. That is the financial reality of the situation and there is nothing I can do about it. We have to remember that we are an infant club just now and the only way we can progress is by surviving this season. You cannot develop into a top flight club by being outside the SPL, so the players I have will have do it for me."

Hendrie compares players to pupils, in the respect that "you only have to show the gifted ones something once". St Mirren's more limited squad required constant tuition, but they learned the lessons well in a First Division title success that recaptured the spirit of 1977 when a fiery young manager called Alex Ferguson achieved the same feat.

Friends told him he was mad to give up his job as principal of maths in an Edinburgh school for the insecurity of football and at a club where even Fergie was not immune from the sack. Yet, he is thriving and slowly he sees a manager and not a teacher when he looks in the mirror each morning. "I've got over the feeling that comes at this time of year when the holidays come to an end and term starts, although I was aware that the exam results came out on Thursday because I was tutoring for a family friend. But I realise now how important the decisions I take in my job are to the family's future. This is my livelihood. If I had a defeat when I was manager of Alloa, it would last until I went to school on Monday but now it stays with you all week."