A man who is so well known within Scottish football is Bobby Williamson, having played at Clydebank, Rangers, West Brom, Rotherham and Kilmarnock as a striker scoring over 140 goals in his professional career. He then turned his hand rather unexpectedly to management where he went on to have a 20-year career, before taking the helm at Scottish sides Kilmarnock and Hibernian, English sides Plymouth and Chester City, and embarking on a fascinating adventure across Africa.
This is the first in a series of pieces taken from an interview with Bobby where we talk about his playing career, managerial career, and of course the truly unique experience of international and club management across the African continent. First off Bobby’s managerial career — how he got into the industry and won the Scottish Cup in his first year of management with Kilmarnock.
Coaching was something that Bobby had never really considered as a player but when faced with the options after retirement he couldn’t see himself doing anything outside of football, so considering this, was Bobby surprised by how long he did end up managing in the game?
“It does still, it does still surprise me to this day but when I was offered a place at Kilmarnock a team that I knew so well. They were a good bunch of players, I knew the club upside-down, I knew the players and the ones who were ready to make the step up from the youth academy so for me it was a no-brainer.
But then I remember the disappointment of losing my first game in charge against Dundee United, but I remember on the Monday after saying to the players ‘Look you’re disappointed and you’re grieving but that is what it’s all about.’
I essentially told them that unless they wanted to feel like this every week then they have to be able to make that step up, the level that is required to play in the first division because I was going to be bringing young lads through that I know can challenge for their spots. And I think they took note of that, which I am very happy about, because obviously, we went on to have a fantastic season.”
Bobby’s quick transition into an unexpected coaching career couldn’t have really started any better, a high-placed finish in the league, European football and best of all winning the prestigious Scottish Cup! A feat that had only been achieved by the club twice before and over half a century ago! What was that cup run like as an experience for Bobby?
“Well, they were all really tough games in the lead-up to that final, the players had worked hard and really enjoyed it. But then for the final itself, we had a fortnight to prepare, so the week before the final we had a big get-together and a few drinks were consumed, I was still close friends with a lot of the players in that squad, but in the end, we won because of the work we put in on the pitch and on the training fields beforehand. But it was absolutely tremendous and the day itself was fantastic.”
But a whole other layer to this final was that not only was this a massive occasion for the club, who had finished runners up in five of their previous final appearances, but also for Bobby as the manager who faced off against Falkirk who were now managed by Alex Totten, the man that Bobby had just replaced at Kilmarnock! Had this caused any tension or piled more pressure onto Bobby beforehand?
“To me, there was no extra pressure, a cup final is a cup final, there is enough pressure as it is. But if anything, maybe it was felt more by Alex than it was by me. He was the one who had developed the team who I was coaching, I had only really brought through a few kids. I never really brought any new players in.
But the young players I had brought through were showing fantastic enthusiasm and they helped some of the players who had become slightly disillusioned earlier in the season and had their heads down. And it was those lads that I brought in who helped push on the rest of the team to the season we had. But no from my perspective there was no added pressure because of Alex being in the other dugout.”
But what then is it really like to win a major trophy as a manager? Having gone through the training and preparation for weeks, the pressure and fan anticipation on your back, to then have it all work in a cup final where it matters most, you might never get to experience those emotions ever again.
‘To be honest, it’s relief more than anything else, and the enjoyment comes a bit later. But obviously, I know Alex very well so it was very disappointing for him in his career, so I went over and shook his hands straight away because you know that both of you as managers may never get that opportunity again, so for as relieved as I was, I was also aware that it was an upsetting time for Alex.
But then after that, I go over to our guys, I praise everyone and started celebrating and I’m more than aware that this was going to carry on for a while anyway. But I never took a step back from any of the celebrations, you have to remember I had just finished playing, so a lot of the players who had just won that trophy were also players that I had actually played with! You know a lot of the core of that team were still there from my playing days so you can’t help but feel a part of that, even as the manager.”
Bobby ended up staying at Kilmarnock for 6 years. He led Killie to four top-four finishes, a League Cup Semi-final and Final. But then in 2002, Bobby, after 12 years at the club as a player and a manger, left and went on to manage Hibernian. His story there and many more all still to come.
By: Callum McFadden / @Callum7McFadden
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Barrington Coombs – EMPICS / PA Images