Changing pace

Manager of St Johnstone, former Scotland intemationalist and ex- striker for Dundee United but Paul Sturrock’s career was almost cut short recently when he collapsed at a match. He tells Tom

Gorham how the event has changed

his attitude to the game.

Of all the clichés surrounding football, perhaps the only one that retains any real cunency is: ‘It only takes a minute to change a game.‘ Paul Sturrock. the St Johnstone manager who collapsed in his dugout with a suspected heart attack during a derby match against Dundee United in November, will be only too aware of the near-fatal metaphor it provided for his life.

‘For 60 seconds.‘ he says. ‘1 thought I was going to die. ljust lay there staring up at the sky, waiting for the second jolt, the big one that would kill me. All I could think of was my son watching from the stand. I didn‘t want him to see me like that.’

While medical examination subsequently cleared the Perth football boss of coronary worries, there is no doubt that the incident has deeply affected him. He has now gained reluctant membership of a select group including Graeme Souness and Allan McGraw of Morton who have been forced for medical reasons to reassess their role in this often punishing sport.

As part of the re-evaluation package forced on him by his collapse. Sturrock has promised to spend less time at the club and more at home with his family. ‘1 was often working at the ground from eight in the morning until eleven at night.‘ he admits. ‘and ljust ignored the warning signs. But l‘ve resolved to take things easier from now on and give the coaching staff more of an input at the club.‘

Perhaps prompted by rumours surrounding his future at McDiamiid Park. Sturrock also took the opportunity afforded by a club-enforced recovery period in Spain to reassess his professional outlook. While his implacable. almost bovine features now give no signal of the stress that he was under two months ago. the effect ofthat shock at Tannadice has been marked by some inventive thoughts on the Scottish game.

Sturrock‘s revolutionary attack has been on the training methods employed at St Johnstone and. within days of his return to the game. he had introduced all-day training. For players unsurprisineg content with the less demanding two- hour workout that existed before. the move has prompted some discord. yet it is only the first step towards a complete overhaul of Saints' training system. Next month. five ofthe older members of his first team squad will sample working life down

Paul Sturrock: manager of St Joh

Monktonhall colliery. crawling along tunnels three

miles underground. in another bid to shake things Up.

the manager plans to introduce his players to strenuous hill walking in the spring.

Such tactics certainly aren't the product of a conventional manager. but Sturrock advances some hard opinions to back up his thinking. ‘Footballers are bloody lucky to be doing the job they do,‘ he says. ‘There are players here who don't seem to appreciate the life they lead. so putting some ofthem

‘When I was out on the park, I put a shift in, and I don’t think you can say that of some of the players now. Fans all over the country can name players

in their team who just aren’t trying.’

down a pit for a day will help them realise what real work is like. Since we introduced nine-to-frve training. I've had players in my office wanting a move because they couldn't afford to have a babysitter in the afternoon. I've even had one who was unhappy because afternoon training was interfering with his business.

‘People will say that I‘m applying double standards here. and that i wasn't the tnost committed oftrainers when l was a player. but there's a big difference. When I was out on the park. I put a shift in; and i don't think you can say that of some of the players

now. Luck of effort isn‘t a problem particular to Saints either. i’ans all over the country can name players in their team whojust aren't trying.‘

His record as a player with Dundee United certainly amplifies his argument. Sturrock was arguably the most effectiye Scots—based striker of the early 80s. with a cupboard full of international caps a suitable testatnent both to his talent and unambiguous endeayour. (iiyen Sturrock's total commitment to the ’l‘annadicc club and his close relationship with its tacitttrn chairman Jim McLean. it was a surprise to many when he left the club he had represented for twenty years and took the short road to Perth. But the manager sees it in simpler terms: ‘1 could have stayed at United. but there was a chance to build something up at St Johnstone. lt's a family club. but it has enormous potential and I wanted to be part of that.‘

According to the Saints boss. the coming weeks will show this potential is at last bearing fruit. The weather-induced Christmas shutdown has meant that the teatn faces a condensed series of arduous fixtures this month. but they're still in with a shout for the First Diyision title. and the engagineg optimistic Sturrock is promising his team will give its all. ‘lfwe can be six points off the pace by the end of March. we're in with a chance.‘ he claims. The man has bounced back from one setback this season. Who's to say he can‘t inspire his team to a similar recovery?

St Juli/tslone play Hamilton at Fir/till Park, Glasgow on Sat [3 Jan.

The List 12-25 Jan 1996 73