Nicholas back to haunt auld enemy

John Arlidge meets the ex-Celtic striker with a last chance to settle an old score
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Tomorrow night - blizzards permitting - live television will come to Broadwood, the Cumbernauld home of the Scottish Second Division strugglers, Clyde. For a club whose links with the satellite age are usually restricted to a snow-covered dish on the roof of the main stand, it is a novel experience. The official reason? Rangers' fourth-round Tennent's Scottish Cup tie. Unofficially, however, the broadcasters' interest is a little more romantic.

Tomorrow's match marks the return of two auld Glasgow enemies. Charlie Nicholas, who scored a dozen goals in derby clashes when he played for Celtic, will take the field against the Ibrox side for last time. For a man who remembers Paul Gascoigne as a gangly 17-year-old playing for Newcastle at Highbury, it will be a fitting end to his career in professional football.

Nicholas, who joined Clyde last year after languishing in Celtic's reserves, plans to turn his back on the game at the end of this season and devote his energies to broadcasting and the string of pubs and bars he owns in Glasgow. At 34, he says: "The legs are tired and it is getting more and more difficult to get out of bed in the morning."

However, tomorrow he will arrive at Broadwood early to enjoy - just once more - what he calls "the big time".

"I have really missed the apprehension, the thrill that I experienced at Highbury and Parkhead," the man who thrived on the big occasion says. "I can't remember the last time I played live on TV. I certainly never thought I'd get another chance to play against the best team in Scotland. It's great for me and the youngsters here."

The former Celtic, Aberdeen and Arsenal striker - whose good-time lifestyle earned him his "Champagne Charlie" nickname - cuts an unusual figure at Broadwood. While other players cadge lifts home in second-hand cars after training, Nicholas retains all the trappings of Glasgow success: Italian jackets, the diamond ear-ring and pop star haircut. How has he coped with his step down to the Scottish Second Division?

"I am enjoying my football. Clyde are the best footballing side in the division. But I can't pretend I don't get frustrated travelling to places like Montrose and Stranraer on wet, windy nights. I will carry on until the end of the season and then I'll decide what to do. I have signed a two-year contract but I don't think there will be any problem if I want to leave earlier. My life used to be football, football, football. But I am older now, with a wife and two children, and my outlook is different."

Nicholas, who never met the expectations of fans or managers who hailed him as Britain's brightest new young talent when he signed for Arsenal 13 years ago, is at ease these days.

He knows he should have done, and won, more in his 17 years in the game, but he describes himself as "content and comfortable". He has invested his money wisely - in pubs and property - and is delighted to be back in Scotland.

No regrets? He grins. "Oh, yes. There are things I would have done differently. Not so much off the field. Every single man does what I did. No, the main regrets are footballing ones. Perhaps I should have chosen Liverpool over Arsenal when I left Celtic. And when I was at Arsenal I was too slow to react to the changing English game. It started becoming much more physical but I did not respond. Instead of training harder and harder to become fit enough to take on players who were becoming tougher and stronger athletes, I thought I could rely on my ability, my skill. But it soon turned out that I lacked pace and fell behind. Looking back, I know I really did not push myself hard enough."

Nicholas does not want to dwell on the past. He insists his playing days are to end; he is looking forward to "putting my family first". And, as if to prove the point, he apologises and heads for home to prepare his daughter for her first day at school. "Be sure to watch Thursday night," he shouts.