Gerry Britton: Criminal defending is a whole new bar game

IF YOU hear the phrase "briefs dropped up north", do you recount the recent allegations of Dons fans towards Rangers' Nacho Novo? Or do you immediately remember a butterfingered Advocate under instruction at the Aberdeen High Court of Justiciary? Does your understanding of being "called to the Bar", equate to a summons from your drinking partner to get them in, as opposed to an invitation of legal promotion?

For 39 years my answers to the preceding questions would have been the former. However, my lifelong belief in football as the epicentre of the universe is about to be reassessed. In a fortnight's time my current daily garb of initialled training kit will be replaced by a tin flute from Slater's and a M&S shirt and tie combo as I forego the familiarity of the Firhill dugout for a new career as a trainee solicitor with Liam O'Donnell's Criminal Defence Company.

My decision to leave the "Neverland" of professional football, and embrace the harsh reality evidenced in our country's criminal courts has been met by bemused grimaces of the kind normally reserved for deluded elderly relatives. A career in the beautiful game as opposed to offering legal representation to those "on the game" is a no brainer to most of my coaching contemporaries. They regard their continued employment as a privilege to be revered and maintained at all costs. Even after 22 years of professional involvement, the strength of feeling I have for our national sport has not diminished. However, the opportunity afforded by my move into law has left me in a state of anticipation not personally experienced since a balmy Hampden evening, when Andy Cameron serenaded me and another 30,000 tartan-clad fundamentalists at the fervour-packed send off for our national team en route to our impending global domination at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.

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Fortunately, my current employers at Partick Thistle have been extremely understanding of my redefined employment trajectory. With the Firhill board of directors boasting a number of figures from a legal background, I have been offered a plethora of pointers to ease my assimilation into this intriguing new world of robes and rascals. Our chairman, Allan Cowan, is an experienced solicitor whose testimonies have provided priceless insight into the functioning of a working court practitioner. Finance director Tom Hughes is also legally educated and an invaluable source of enlightenment to a novice in law.

Team manager Ian McCall has also been generous in offering advice, particularly in reference to workplace politics and the correct protocols to be adhered to in an office environment. He specifically warned me against the practice I indulged in when our erstwhile playmaker Simon Donnelly was invited to the manager's office for contract talks not long after I had been installed as Ian's assistant.

The exploding bangers I had inserted in Ian's cigarettes – which went off each time he tried to light one of the rogue tabs – rendered further serious discussion redundant. Well, at least until Simon had ceased to roll around the floor laughing uncontrollably and Ian had removed the cinder residue from his cheeks and forehead. (NB for police officers and procurator fiscals: the previously described incident took place before the Smoking, Health and Social Care Scotland Act 2005 became law).

Though defending was never a strong point during my playing career, I hope to repay the faith shown in me by my new gaffer Liam, and demonstrate that I can be a valuable addition to his legal squad as he endeavours to ensure his clients obtain the correct result.

I am sure the malicious whispers that I became a transfer target of Liam's firm in order to bolster his amateur football side are uncorroborated and lack sufficient evidence. I was initiated into the ongoing vendetta running between the Glasgow Bar Association football team and Liam's Legends Soccer Squad when invited to take part in the most recent instalment of this blood curdling grudge fixture at the Firhill Football Complex last Friday evening. Not even guest appearances from Neil Lennon, Tommy Sheridan or me could stem the recent run of reversals that Liam's side have experienced at the hands of their rivals, who boast former Alloa and Ayr striker and crack defence solicitor Graeme Brown as their star attraction. While Tommy's ongoing proceedings may have given him reasonable cause for a substandard performance, my own failings in a heavy defeat are sure to be remembered each time I encounter a member of the victorious Bar squad in the corridors and common rooms of the various Glasgow courthouses.

Daunting yet exhilarating, the new year heralds a new lifestyle and a new chapter in my ongoing lifecycle. Thankfully, I will be able to take up Thistle's offer to be their youth development director, so I will still be able to continue to feed my football addiction as I acquire experience of the legal profession. The ideal scenario? The best of both worlds? Now I wonder. Do you think a solicitor's robes have to be black, or would it be possible to appear in court in red and yellow?

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