The Thinking Man's Alternative

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Post by samsami »

The story of Samsami Sungo's career: Part 3

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The thinking man's alternative

Despite my initial reluctance, on 1st Jan 1999 I was appointed the new manager of Partick Thistle, the football club regarded by some as the thinking man's alternative to Celtic and Rangers.

If you want to know the events which led up to this decision, please read the final chapters of Part 2 of my story, which is called Faltering Steps.


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And I must say, the Board - and particularly chairman Brown McMaster - were very honest with me.


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What made me change my mind was the challenge the club was facing and the incredible Save the Jags campaign and when I asked about the squad and who should be part of the first team and who sold be sold, I was assured that I would receive carte blanche in the matter, also when it came to finding assistants, like the Mad Scientist!

I had read up on the club's history, of course. In Rotterdam we knew of Celtic and Glasgow Rangers. Especially Celtic. Back in 1970 Feyenoord had beaten them in the European Cup Final. But nobody in Rotterdam had ever heard of Partick Thistle - or Partick Sizzle, as they called the club after they found out where I was going.

So I did some research and I discovered that in 1971 the club had achieved their most famous result against Jock Stein's Celtic in the League Cup final at Hampden Park, Glasgow, with their shock 4–1 victory. Apparently, before the match, former BBC sport broadcaster Sam Leitch had stated that "In Scotland, it's League Cup final day at Hampden Park, where Celtic meet Partick Thistle, who have no chance!"

Thistle's fortunes on the pitch declined during the 1980s. Their 1982 relegation led to the club's first sustained period outside the top tier since the late 19th century. Although this period of exile ended with promotion in 1992, mounting financial problems threatened to put the club out of existence and in 1998 the club was close to going bankrupt and was only kept afloat by the fan-organised "Save the Jags" campaign.

As Partick Thistle chairman Brown McMaster said: "We now have a platform to try and take the club forward and we're looking forward to the future. The club has now joined the pack and is on the same footing as the rest of the first division where money is tight. But the important thing is that we must, absolutely must, have 3,000 people at our home games. If that doesn't happen then we'll have problems again. We still have a debt of 1.7m which has to be serviced, so the Save the Jags campaign might have to keep going for a wee while longer to service the interest on that."

The good news was that since that meeting of early 1998 the debt was already slowly getting paid off...


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So why did they appoint me as manager? Once again I found out that my reputation had traveled ahead of me. At Gillingham, back in 1993, I had been associated with Feyenoord. This time it was my stint with Gillingham which had given me a reputation for being a successful young manager. And being Dutch, like Dick Advocaat, also helped...


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So yes, there was the debt. But we had a fine squad and a number of outstanding players, including 16-year-old Liam McVey and 18-year-old Martin Launchlan, both of them wingers!


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The Board expected more of us than merely battle against relegation. They expected us to attain a respectable league position. And our first challenge was an away game against Ayr United on the 4th January 1999 ...
Last edited by samsami on Thu Jul 29, 2021 6:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Kingsley »

I had to look up McVey. He only played 3 senior games, over 3 seasons for the Jags.
"Archie" (on ODB) is a beast of a left back if you can hold onto him. He is something of a club legend, tarnished slightly by a bad final season to his tenure as manager
Lauchlan was a workman like forward who scored 6 in 45 games, but at a very difficult time

Looking at that table, 8 points from Raith is not insurmountable. Very tough with just 1 promoted
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Post by samsami »

Kingsley wrote: Thu Jul 29, 2021 8:39 am I had to look up McVey. He only played 3 senior games, over 3 seasons for the Jags.
"Archie" (on ODB) is a beast of a left back if you can hold onto him. He is something of a club legend, tarnished slightly by a bad final season to his tenure as manager
Lauchlan was a workman like forward who scored 6 in 45 games, but at a very difficult time

Looking at that table, 8 points from Raith is not insurmountable. Very tough with just 1 promoted
Yeah, McVey is only 16. I guess we shall have to see how that first game goes tomorrow and then I'll post the squad on Saturday with their stats for the first half of the season.
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Post by Redknapp69 »

A big challenge but no better man to take it on!

I wonder if anyone from Gillingham is interested in heading north of the border?..........
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Post by samsami »

Redknapp69 wrote: Thu Jul 29, 2021 8:15 pm A big challenge but no better man to take it on!

I wonder if anyone from Gillingham is interested in heading north of the border?..........
It's a long trip.....
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Post by bloominada »

My ChampMan alter ego - Jack Stein - is in honour of my Great Uncle Jack and Jock Stein. Uncle Jack was a lovely Glaswegian printer who took me at age 9 to my first football match at Highfield Road when he was visiting us. He was also bowling chums with Jock Stein.

Looking forward to another good story samsami. I can't see the league table mentioned.
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Post by samsami »

bloominada wrote: Thu Jul 29, 2021 9:40 pm My ChampMan alter ego - Jack Stein - is in honour of my Great Uncle Jack and Jock Stein. Uncle Jack was a lovely Glaswegian printer who took me at age 9 to my first football match at Highfield Road when he was visiting us. He was also bowling chums with Jock Stein.

Looking forward to another good story samsami. I can't see the league table mentioned.
Those are such great memories to cherish! I was also 9 years old when I was taken to my first football match :)

ps) I removed that table because it had a Gillingham background, but Ayr United were in 4th place.
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Post by samsami »

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Not a very memorable debut match

On the 4th of January 1999 we played Ayr United. This was my debut match as the new Partick Thistle manager and we played the usual 4-4-2 formation. This was what the lads had been used to. It's what all the clubs played in those days!

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I still remember that I felt rather strange. I had only spent a few ways with them and I barely knew my new team. But I was just as excited as I had been when I first arrived at Gillingham. I had also started a new diary, so let's see how my debut game went...


Monday 4th January 1999

"Well, my first match in charge of the Jags against Ayr United at Somerset Park was not a huge success. We played in front of a crowd of over 8,000 (!) and some of our younger lads were a little too keen to try and impress their new manager."

"It started well enough, though. Lauchlan (18) scored a fine strike with the assist from Connell, but our left winger picked up an injury soon after scoring that opening goal. Robert Apiliga replaced him."

"So we were 1-0 up at half-time, but the second half had barely started when the overzealous Graham Connell angrily kicked out at his direct opponent and was sent off!"

"We continued with ten men and sure enough, before we had recovered from that setback Mark Duthie netted the equaliser and it did not take long before Alain Horace scored Ayr's second goal..."

"Hardly a dream start for me as the new manager. Nor for the lads, for that matter. Our striker pair were quite anonymous - we were absolutely toothless - while Howie and Caughan played like amateurs."

"I was impressed with McKeown, Archibald and Lauchlan, though. Connell also played well enough, but he shall have to work on his aggression. Obviously I am used to James Pinnock as midfield playmaker and it's clear enough already that Connell and Howie are not in the same category as James. Or at least, not yet."


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"One thing is certain, we have a lot of work to do and this is going to take time, but for now we shall have to do a whole lot better against Greenock Morton on Saturday, not in the last place because this time it is my first home game."


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Post by Kingsley »

Not the best of starts with that red card. 3 points there would have made the league more interesting
It sounds like you were the better team when it was 11v11


There are some decent players there. I suspect that "Archie" is the best, but

Kenny Arthur - Quality keeper who was unlucky not to get a cap. He was in 2 Scotland squads, but never played. He is now GK coach and has his own brand of GK gloves - https://www.just-keepers.com/goalkeeper ... er-gloves/
Des McKeown - very decent at left back who should do fine until you get to the SPL
Willie Howie - another who is certainly at the top end of championship players. Probably quite young at this point.
Robert Dunn - A great poacher who knew how to lead the line

Most of the rest, I don't recall

A couple of names that I expected to see were Chic Charnley, Stephen (Slippers) McConnalog and Scott (Trigger) McLean
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Post by samsami »

Kingsley wrote: Fri Jul 30, 2021 12:57 pm Not the best of starts with that red card. 3 points there would have made the league more interesting
It sounds like you were the better team when it was 11v11

There are some decent players there. I suspect that "Archie" is the best, but

Kenny Arthur - Quality keeper who was unlucky not to get a cap. He was in 2 Scotland squads, but never played. He is now GK coach and has his own brand of GK gloves - https://www.just-keepers.com/goalkeeper ... er-gloves/
Des McKeown - very decent at left back who should do fine until you get to the SPL
Willie Howie - another who is certainly at the top end of championship players. Probably quite young at this point.
Robert Dunn - A great poacher who knew how to lead the line

Most of the rest, I don't recall

A couple of names that I expected to see were Chic Charnley, Stephen (Slippers) McConnalog and Scott (Trigger) McLean
Thanks for that info! The complete first team squad will be posted tomorrow.
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Post by Redknapp69 »

Never heard of any of them players!

A good start but things unravelled quickly!

Tight 'ol table

How many games in this league in total?
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Post by samsami »

Redknapp69 wrote: Fri Jul 30, 2021 9:14 pm Never heard of any of them players!

A good start but things unravelled quickly!

Tight 'ol table

How many games in this league in total?
It's 36 games in total - 4 times 9 games.
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Post by samsami »

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Players statistics

When I took over the manager's job from Tommy Bryce I was given a team photo which had been taken five months previously, at the start of the 1998/99 season when I was still working at Priestfield.

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Back Row: Robert Dunn, Alan Archibald, David Kennedy, Kevin Gaughan, Alex Martin, Graham Connell, Scott Archer, Mark Donaghy, Jamie McKenzie
Middle Row: Dr Robertson, McHarg (Coach), Liam McVey, Craig Day, Stevie Ross, Scott Houston, Kenny Arthur, Chris Edwards, Willie Howie, Walter Cannon (Physio)
Front Row: Martin Lauchan, Alan Morgan, Tommy Bryce (Player Manager), Des McKeown, Sammy Johnston (Assistant Player Manager), Willie Callaghan, Tom Callaghan.



Now it did not take long to find out that the squad needed a manager who could first of all mould them into a properly effective football team. To start with there were a lot of unhappy players. When talking with each of them individually it soon became clear that their concerns were partly about the club's league position and partly about players contracts.


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I also asked the staff for the players stats for the first half of the season so that I could make a spreadsheet to keep track of each first team player's progress. And fortunately I made entries into my diary as well, so I can quote from these again.


Wednesday 6th January 1999

"I just finished updating my spreadsheet - I am using MS Office 97 now - and our defence looked rather decent. Kenny Arthur is a young, but talented goalkeeper and our central defenders are also very young - too young, my scientist mate will undoubtedly say - but they do show some promise. I am particularly impressed with 21-year-old Alan Archibald."


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"Our central midfielders seem to lack quality - certainly compared with Pinnock and Carpenter - and Graham Connell shall have to work on his temper! Willie Howie (16) could well develop into a midfield playmaker, though. Howie does remind me somewhat of James Pinnock, who was just fourteen when I first started my career at Priestfield."


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"Our wingbacks are decent enough players and Steven Bonar has good crossing skills, but I am even more impressed with our wingers! Martin Lauchlan and Liam McVey will undoubtedly become key players in our team, if not this season then certainly the next."


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"And then there's our forward line. We have no shadow striker - or 'number 10'. There's simply no player like Scott Huckerby or Stuart Irvine at Gillingham."

"We do have three good strikers, though. Alan Morgan (24), who is out for about 5 months with damaged cruciate ligaments, has very good finishing, but Robert Dunn (19) is actually the club's top scorer."

"However, young Scott Houston seems to have what it takes to become a complete striker! I might be wrong, of course, but Scott already has superb heading skills and good finishing and off the ball movement. Now complete strikers are rare and worth their weight in gold, so we shall have to nurture Scott as a potential world class player."


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Post by luke_21 »

Wishing you luck as you get into this. Seems all your best players are teenagers, bodies well for the future certainly!
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Post by samsami »

luke_21 wrote: Sat Jul 31, 2021 11:07 am Wishing you luck as you get into this. Seems all your best players are teenagers, bodies well for the future certainly!
Thanks! And I hope you're right!
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Post by Kingsley »

That was a truly awful Thistle side. You’ve got a lot of work to do to get anything from this lot.

Much will depend on Arthur, Archibald and Dunn
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Post by samsami »

Kingsley wrote: Sat Jul 31, 2021 12:49 pm That was a truly awful Thistle side. You’ve got a lot of work to do to get anything from this lot.

Much will depend on Arthur, Archibald and Dunn
Well, and since we have a debt of 1.3M or so we're stuck with what we've got.

Still, I believe in some of the youngsters, like McVey and Howie. And Scott Houston, perhaps?
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Post by Kingsley »

Howie was OK, but the other 2 I have no memory of.
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Post by Redknapp69 »

Christ - have some VERY good youngsters there!

A long road ahead though
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Post by samsami »

Redknapp69 wrote: Sat Jul 31, 2021 10:55 pm Christ - have some VERY good youngsters there!

A long road ahead though
Absolutely. Those youngsters will make mistakes. They are still learning. Gary Breen is a good example. He played poorly in my first year at Gillingham, when he was 19 or 20 years old. We sold him and when he returned to the club a few years later he was a valuable player for us.
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Post by samsami »

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The Wim Jansen experience

Perhaps you have read the first part of my memoirs, how I grew up during Feyenoord's dark years and how they battled against relegation until Wim Jansen took over as manager from Gunder Bengtsson and gave the players new confidence?

I was reminded of this many times during my first weeks at Firhill.

Jansen had a shaky start in March 1991. Feyenoord had to play Willem II at De Kuip, the near-perfect scenario for a good start for Jansen, but after a scrappy game the match ended in a thoroughly disappointing 0-1 loss. The following months Feyenoord played a little better. They drew six games and lost just one, before the run of fifteen League games without a win came to an end and the tide finally changed.

Well, I had just had my own shaky start with Connell's red card and the lost game at Ayr United and now it was time for my first home game against Greenock Morton, who were two places below us in the League table.


Saturday 9th January 1999

"I now know how Wim Jansen must have felt after his first match as Feyenoord manager..."

"As a team we played better than we did on Monday. Especially Gaughan, Howie and our strikers, who all played well below par against Ayr United five days ago. But at the end of the day we were left empty-handed again..."

"Of course we had to play without the suspended Graham Connell and the injured Martin Lauchlan - who scored our only goal on Monday - but when you play a team below you in the league table and it's a home game, you expect at least a draw - and you are hoping for a win, of course."

"So this was our second disappointing defeat - in front of a crowd of 3,270 - and we lost McKeown to injury into the bargain."


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"A one-point gap is all that remains between us and Morton after losing this relegation six-pointer. And next Saturday we will play Hamilton, also at home. A must-win game!"


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Monday 11th January 1999

"I am really annoyed that Robert Dunn was criticised so severely this weekend. After all, the lad is only nineteen and he is still the club top scorer, so he really did not deserve this."


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Post by Kingsley »

Horror start to your tenure
Dunn wasn't even the worst offender
Got to beat Accies
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Post by samsami »

Kingsley wrote: Mon Aug 02, 2021 11:06 am Horror start to your tenure
Dunn wasn't even the worst offender
Got to beat Accies
Yeah, Dunn had 3 out of 4 shots on target whereas Houston only had 1 shot on target from 4 attempts on goal.
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Post by bloominada »

Is the older goalkeeper leaving? Kenny Arthur has a worrying 14 for injury proneness so you need some decent backup there or your season could fall apart.
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Post by samsami »

bloominada wrote: Mon Aug 02, 2021 6:14 pm Is the older goalkeeper leaving? Kenny Arthur has a worrying 14 for injury proneness so you need some decent backup there or your season could fall apart.
Good point!

Kenny Arthur (20) stayed at the club until 2007 but Stevie Ross (33) is indeed leaving soon. It's something we cannot ignore!
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