Simon Stainrod on shoe-gate, out-dressing Rangers and once taking a bad touch - in 1976!
After overseeing promotion after replacing Iain Munro, he’s preparing for a season in the Premier League. But first things first.
“What did you think of that Sampdoria strip last night?” he wonders. “S’alright I suppose,” answers the nervous teenager. An upshot of this exchange was that Jim Duffy bounded down the steps at Dens Park at the start of the next campaign looking more like Attilio Lombardo than ever.
Pray forgive the self-indulgence, but that interviewer was this writer – and I always like to think I had some input in that stylish strip Dundee wore for a couple of seasons. It also tells us a couple of things about Stainrod. One, he was willing to give spotty youths the time of day. And two, looking good was always a priority.
It’s exciting, to put it mildly, to be able to catch up with him again just over 30 years later – and he's still looking sharp in a brown leather jacket. Now 63 and based in Cannes, he is becalmed to the extent that he’s grown ever so slightly wistful under the Mediterranean sun.
Otherwise, gratifyingly, it’s still very much the same old Stainrod, as Dundee supporters discovered at a former managers’ extravaganza on Thursday night. Stainrod joined Jocky Scott, Archie Knox, Barry Smith and old pal Jim Duffy on high stools to relay many colourful (mis)adventures – and it’s hard to mention the word ‘stool’ and not think of one in particular, which has been a staple of petty and ill-informed radio shows for decades.
Let’s get it out of the way, shall we? Stainrod now regrets cutting the talented Ian McCall loose after the, erm, faeces-in-shoe incident on a pre-season trip to Aviemore, with the Partick Thistle manager, who faces Dundee today coincidentally, still maintaining the wrong man got the blame. Either way, Stainrod felt he had little choice at the time.
“I just felt things.. piled up,” he says, possibly intentionally. “I refused to back down. How can you explain to directors that this was OK? It’s a shame. He’s had a decent career as a manager. I feel he would have enjoyed playing for me.”
Falkirk fans will have their own opportunity to worship at the feet of someone they still refer to as ‘God’ at an “evening with” show at the Macdonald Inchyra hotel this evening. The event follows Falkirk v Dunfermline, which, remarkably for a League One fixture, is surely Scotland’s game of the day. It will certainly be where the second largest crowd gathers after Celtic Park.
Stainrod, who will be introduced on the pitch at half-time, still can’t get his head around the fact it’s a third-tier fixture these days. “I don’t think I have ever watched a third-tier game before, let alone played in one!” he says.
He might even take a pew in the Kevin McAllister Stand, which begs the question: where’s the Simon Stainrod Stand? “To be fair to him, he is a great player and a local hero. I will allow him to have a stand,” says Stainrod magnanimously, with reference to ‘Crunchie’. He’s even prepared to concede he once got an assist from the little winger – for the goal he scored from the halfway line against St Johnstone.
“Falkirk was a real fairground ride," he says. "One bit of fun to another. The best lads ever in the dressing room. A complete bunch, from the youngest to the oldest, from the worst player to the best, everyone got on.
“A lot of that is down to the management, Jim Jefferies and Billy Brown. It was a joy to go there. This is not being snooty, it was a little bit of a step down for me, like – not playing with the lads, though, that definitely wasn’t a step down. It just got better and better. It was good fun all the way.”
He was given an early indication that he’d made the right move after being left with a choice between two clubs starting with F, Falkirk or Fenerbahce, when he left French club Rouen.
Rather than head to Istanbul, he plumped for Falkirk – and got his first glimpse of what to expect in Musselburgh of all places. His new side were one of the clubs involved in an annual John White memorial five-a-side tournament, which takes place as part of the Honest Toun festival.
“Hibs, Hearts, Dundee United…about eight teams,” he recalls. “And we won it. I got man of the tournament. Afterwards I was asking, what are the senior players like? I thought we were playing against reserves and juniors, you see. They said, ‘no, no, these are the first team players’. I went, ‘well I am going to have a right laugh here’.”
As well as goals from the half-way line and from the corner flag, there was a diving header against Celtic. After signing for Dundee, he was quickly promoted to player-manager aged just 32 and masterminded a famous 4-3 win over Rangers at Dens Park– with the home team kitted out in that distinctive ‘Sampdoria’ kit.
Stainrod seems to draw as much satisfaction from coming out on top in the fashion stakes as from the victory itself, which prompted Rangers to go on a subsequent record unbeaten run of 44 games in all competitions, including beating Leeds United home and away in the Champions League shortly afterwards.
“We looked better than Rangers did in their kit when we beat them,” he says. Memorably, Stainrod also cut a dash on the sidelines in a trench coat and fedora. “I recently watched the game, because I have never watched it since,” he says. “I never watched highlights or the whole game. But as you get older you get a bit more….. nostalgic. I found it and I put it on.
“I watched it and I sent it to a mate of mine who I knew would watch it because he is football mad, has time on his hands and he was a good player himself, Terry Curran. Played for Everton, Forest, Southampton, Sheffield Wednesday... He is a rum lad who will tell you exactly how it is. He is very sure of himself. And he sent me a message back saying, ‘flipping hell Si, you should have stuck at it. It was like watching Manchester City play!'”
Simon Allan Stainrod. SAS. No more heroes? Sometimes, the way football’s going, it does feel that way. His main mission was always to entertain. It’s no wonder that the players he grew up adoring shared this outlook. He can remember his father shaking him awake when he was a boy in Sheffield.
“Celtic were playing in Europe and he made me watch Jimmy Johnstone,” he says. “And then Jimmy Johnstone ends up going to Sheffield United and I end up playing with him. I used to train with two of the best players in the world: Tony Currie and Jimmy Johnstone. Neither one of them has ever miscontrolled the ball, and I’ve only done it once.”
Ah, vintage Stainrod. He claims to remember the occasion too. “It still stings,” he says. “I took my eye off the ball. And it went under my foot. And I was like, have I just done that? It’s burnt in my memory. I was about 17. It never happened again.”
The book he says he won’t ever write would be titled ‘Megs. He settles on that after a few seconds’ thought, in reference to his preferred way of beating a defender. It’s hardly a surprise, therefore, to hear where he stands on the Antony controversy of a couple of weeks ago when Manchester United’s Brazilian star pirouetted twice with the ball at his feet before launching a pass out of play.
Bores such as Robbie Savage were outraged. Even Paul Scholes, who rarely took the obvious passing option, reacted with prissy indignation.
“My understanding of football is that people go in to watch something that is entertaining,” says Stainrod. “He was pretty spontaneous. And it is a trick I have not seen anyone do ever before. It put a big smile on my face. The defender just stood off him. In my time, I don’t think he would have managed two circles before someone would have gone straight through him!”
Four broken ankles underline how Stainrod suffered for his art. He is recovering from an operation to insert a replacement metal one and now swears by restorative daily 5pm swims. But he doesn’t regret angering lumbering centre-halves as well as top class ones. Indeed, nutmegging the likes of David Moyes at Dunfermline and pal Kevin Ratcliffe at Everton, who he met while on holiday one year, was his raison d’etre. “It’s a bit naughty, like,” he says.
“(But) when I hear people like Paul Scholes saying that what Antony did was clownish, and other people saying it is a lack of respect for the opposition.. since when was it important to respect the opposition?” he continues. “I thought you had to rip the opposition to pieces. Make them look as stupid as you can, rip their throats out and score as many goals as you can in making them look stupid. It seems to have gone mad, football.”
He cites Neymar being yellow carded for performing a rainbow flick in France. “He got booked for provoking the opposition. It is a joke. And he’s the best player playing football today, by the way. Whatever anyone else says.
“Anyone who criticises him for diving does not know what it is like to be a player of that quality,” he adds. “People are trying to kill him! It is the only way to stop him. I truly hope that Brazil win the World Cup and he is the star man.”
He once told Shoot! in one of those ‘miscellaneous dislikes’ profiles that his greatest ambition was to win the World Cup as manager with England. He’s given up on that dream now and won't go out of his way to watch the current side. “I think they will do OK (in Qatar) but they are systematically boring,” he says.
It’s fair to assume a maverick like Stainrod would struggle to get a cap nowadays. “I didn’t get a cap back in my day either!” he exclaims, truthfully. It seems almost heretical that an under-pressure Bobby Robson took Stainrod, then with Queens Park Rangers, all the way to Brazil, to the Maracana of all places, and left him on the bench, likewise for the two other 1984 summer tour games against Uruguay and Chile.
He did at least get a good view of John Barnes’ wonder goal. It was as close as Stainrod came to a game for England. Years later, he bumped into Robson, by then manager of Newcastle, at the club’s training ground.
“We were in the big canteen at the training ground,” he recalls. “Shearer was there, all the star men. Bobby walks in. He was like: ‘Simon! How great to see you!’ He gets a glass and taps it with a knife and says, ‘Everybody, this is Simon Stainrod. He has more skill in his little finger than you lot have all together’.
“I said to him: ‘Well, how come you never played me then!’ He was like, ‘Oh Simon it’s been so good to see you, I have to go’.”
Back in the present day, Stainrod is conscious of the time too. He has a Falkirk podcast to record and the photographer for The Scotsman is waiting. He’s loving being "on tour", as he calls it, in Scotland alongside wife Christine. The bright Autumn weather is only helping lift spirits further, as is reliving memories of an enjoyable chapter north of the Border.
“It was a different vibe. I loved it,” he says. “And my son, Jack, loved it too. Scottish people, you’re more fun than English ones!”
Just over a year ago, Jack Stainrod was scoring two goals for East Kilbride in a 4-0 win over Stirling University in the Scottish Cup. The 21-year-old has since quit the game, temporarily at least, after a successful trial period at Barnsley was brought to an abrupt end due to a change in manager. He now works as a trainee financial adviser in Covent Garden. “He doesn’t mention football,” says Stainrod.
Questions certainly need to be asked if the game cannot accommodate Strainrod Senior, who hasn’t worked in coaching since a spell as player-manager at Ayr United. He is still involved in the capacity of agent though Brexit has hit his business hard. It’s now nigh on impossible for a young up-and-coming French player to get a move to the UK.
He was, though, involved in the purchase of Troyes, a French Ligue 1 side, by the City Group Partnership, who also own Manchester City and numerous other clubs.
He has to make a living, but such deals aren’t why he will be remembered. Stainrod considers his greatest triumph to be his six children: Charlotte, Georgina, Rebecca, Minnie, Jack, the resting footballer, and stepdaughter Sarah. And who’s going to argue with that?
“All bright, fit and healthy and they enjoy themselves, they’re a good crowd,” he says. “If I did one thing right then it is this lot. They are a credit to their mothers!” It seems fitting he should sign off with the doff of a hat.
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