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'There was the three of us - myself, my pal and Kenny Dalglish - butt naked and singing Otis Redding'

St Mirren boss and Waterford native Jim Goodwin on Celtic, selling Cadbury’s and becoming one of the sharpest young coaching minds in Scottish football.

‘THIS PHONE IS a bloody disaster”, says an exasperated Jim Goodwin.

The Tramore lilt – usually smothered by a kind-of bastardised Scottish brogue – becomes more pronounced as his irritation grows. 

Earlier, the line went dead just as the St Mirren boss started on a story about working in construction recruitment (more on that later) and how it influenced his approach to management.  

Later, when some ominous cracks and pops reappear on the line, he reluctantly raises a white flag.   

“I think we should probably leave it there,” he says, with a laugh. 

“The battery is going. This is not the time of year for your phone to pack it in. It’s probably burnt out, the poor thing. It’s been red-hot the last few weeks’.  

He’s right. The club – currently tenth in the Scottish Premiership – were waiting patiently for the January transfer window to open and have added three new signings last week alone: Akin Famewo has arrived on loan from Norwich while Goodwin has also landed a pair of Irish imports in Jamie McGrath and Conor McCarthy.

It’s a good place to start. 

“I knew about Conor and Jamie in the summer and we tried to get them in during that window but it was halfway through the League of Ireland season so there wasn’t a deal to be done at that time”, he says. 

“But I’m delighted to get them both in. It’s a market that has a lot of very good young players who have to grow up pretty quickly because the managers aren’t afraid to throw them in at any age. I do think it’s undervalued, without a shadow of a doubt. Conor is only 21 but has played over 60 times for Cork City and captained them last year, which tells you about the leadership qualities he already possesses. And Jamie is 23, has played over a hundred times for Dundalk – the best team in the country and with so much European experience. So, for such young fellas, they have a wealth of experience that can only benefit us.”

The volume of competitive first-team games both players have enjoyed is something Goodwin is keen to focus on. Having signed for Celtic in his mid-teens in 1997, he’s aware of the fragility of a young mind and the toll such a seismic transition can have. The likes of McCarthy and McGrath are older and have already tasted substantial career milestones.   

“Given their ages, they’ve already got that maturity about them”, he says. 

“When I came over to Celtic at fifteen, I was only a young boy and a rabbit in the headlights a lot of the time. For the first few years, you’re finding your feet and asking yourself a lot of questions – if you belong there or not and if you’re good enough to be there. But the boys have played a serious amount of League of Ireland games already and have been involved in Champions League and Europa League qualifiers. There’s not too many people in my squad who have the European experience the lads have so I think they’re definitely at an advantage.”

“Not for one minute do I regret going to Celtic. It was a no-brainer for me and my family and we knew we’d be well looked after. But having been there and experienced it and now knowing how difficult it was to make it, if I was advising young footballers now I’d say go somewhere where you believe you’ll get a first-team opportunity. So, it’s been great to see lads in the League of Ireland getting that experience of playing senior football against grown men and then coming over here when they’re ready. Sean McLoughlin, who was at Cork last year, was with us for the first half of the season on loan from Hull and he was outstanding. If he’d been our player, I’d say we’d be knocking back bids in the region of half a million pounds for him right now. And that’s the benefit of the market. It can only be a good thing for the club that we have such good contacts over there.”

Goodwin spent five years at Celtic Park but was restricted to just one appearance for the first team, which came – at the end of a difficult campaign – in May, 2000. He was eighteen and slotted in at right-back for a home clash against Dundee United. That day, seven of the starting eleven were under-twenty and John Kennedy and Mark Fotheringham were still just sixteen. The game ended in a comfortable 2-0 win and was most memorable for Henrik Larsson’s return to action after seven months out with a broken leg.

But Goodwin still talks about the entire experience with a sincerity and remarkable reverence and there are certainly no regrets about not being afforded more opportunities.    

“I’m a Liverpool fan deep down but you always supported an English team and Celtic – that was just the way it was”, he says. 

And it was a wonderful five years. I loved every minute of it. I was fortunate enough to get on the hallowed turf and make my debut, though they were giving debuts away with packets of crisps at the time because the league was over. But I was just delighted to get on the pitch. I got a heads-up on the Friday, called the father and he caught the first flight over on Saturday morning. And he was sat there in the main stand watching me. It was a very proud moment for me and my family and for all the coaches who helped me back in Tramore. But following that, Martin O’Neill came in and the whole structure changed. The finances changed. There were really limited opportunities for kids like myself to come through the academy because they were bringing in world-class players and spending vast amounts of money trying to compete with Rangers.”

The reference to standout personnel leads Goodwin to reminisce a little. He mentions the quality of both Old Firm squads when he first arrived in Glasgow – Pierre van Hooijdonk, Paolo di Canio, Jorge Cadete, Paul Gascoigne, Brian Laudrup. But there was one player in particular who left a significant impact.  

“The King”, Goodwin begins, with a long sigh – almost unsure of where to begin.  

“The thing about Henrik Larsson was that it wasn’t just the fact he was a phenomenal sports person and athlete. It was the way he carried himself on a daily basis around the club. He had no big ego. He was polite, well-mannered and respectful of everyone, whether you were a sixteen-year-old, a first-team player or working in the tea room. We were both injured, him quite seriously, at the same time and were with each other a lot during our rehab so I got to know him pretty well. We worked alongside each other consistently for two or three weeks and he was just a great man. He could have easily had the biggest ego in the world and he didn’t. And it’s great when you meet guys of that ilk who are as good as they are but are even better people.”

There’s one story about Goodwin and Larsson that I’m desperate to hear and as I prod him for the details, he lets out a giggle. He’s probably told it many times at this stage but he’s giddy recounting the memory. It still excites him that much. 

scottish-soccer-scottish-premier-league-celtic-v-rangers Source: Michael Steele

“I’ll preface this my saying my wife is from a mad Celtic family”, he says.

“We were down in England at the time because I’d left Celtic but we’d gone back on a trip. We were on a night out in Glasgow, had gone for dinner and ended up in a bar. Henrik was over in the corner with his wife and some friends and my brother in-law, Paul, who’s obviously Celtic-mad, was egging me on and saying we should go over to get a picture. I said, ‘Look, let’s leave him alone. He’s out with his family and he probably won’t even remember me anyway. The last thing I’m going to do is go over and disturb him.’”

A little later, I went up to order a round of drinks and I get a tap on the shoulder. It was Henrik, who’d walked the length of the bar to come over and say hello. He was just brilliant. He knew I was at Stockport and the games I’d been involved in – stuff you wouldn’t usually get from superstars, or from anyone else for that matter. Sometimes you leave a business and that’s it. You’re not expecting people to take an interest in your career path. But he told me I was at Stockport before I had to tell him. It goes to show the type of man he is. Needless to say, my brother in-law was doing back-flips around the bar and telling everyone to leave Henrik alone. He became his bodyguard for the night because Henrik came over and sat down for a drink with us. Paul thought he had to look after him, that they were best pals. It was a lovely moment and we have the pictures to prove it, just like Paul wanted!”  

As a lifelong Liverpool fan, Goodwin was floored when John Barnes arrived as head coach in the summer of 1999, with Kenny Dalglish as director of football operations and Terry McDermott part of the coaching staff. But the dream ticket rapidly turned sour and Barnes was gone by the following February, the infamous Scottish Cup defeat to Inverness Caledonian Thistle (which led to a headline for the ages in ‘Super Caley Go Ballistic, Celtic Are Atrocious’) proving his Waterloo.

scottish-soccer-friendly-stirling-albion-v-celtic-under-21s Goodwin spent five years at Celtic but was restricted to just one appearance for the first-team. Source: John Walton

Dalglish stayed on in temporary charge and was responsible for handing Goodwin his debut, much to his disbelief.  

“My older brother used to have these video collections of Liverpool in the ’80s and we watched them over and over again”, he says. 

“My memory has it that just Kenny and Ian Rush scored all of the goals. And the fact he ended up giving me my debut was quite incredible. When you see him getting interviewed he might seem a bit grumpy or a bit doom and gloom but that couldn’t be further from the truth. He always enjoyed the banter in the dressing room and always took part in our five-a-sides and was still probably one of the best players on the pitch, even on the cusp of turning fifty.”

There’s another great story about Kenny. I remember one day, myself and one of my old team-mates, Liam Keogh, were in the away dressing room, which is where we had to get changed at Parkhead after we finished all of our duties. So we were in taking a shower and singing our hearts out. (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay. A bit of Motown. And in walks Kenny Dalglish, with a towel around him, and he starts joining in. I’m eighteen years old at the time, with my pal, just having a laugh and a joke. And in comes King Kenny. And there’s the three of us, butt naked and singing Otis Redding. It was absolutely brilliant, man. I couldn’t wait to get out, get my clothes on and call my brother. I said to him, ‘You’re not going to believe what’s just happened – Kenny Dalglish has just come and had a singsong in the shower with me and my pal’. Just some brilliant memories. I could never have envisaged it happening when I was growing up…or getting to know Kenny so intimately either.” 

There was a collection of young Irish talent at Celtic during Goodwin’s spell there. One photograph has them all together, caught in time: Jim Gallagher, John Convery, Colin Healy, Gerry Crossley and – crouched down in front – a baby-faced midfielder in a tracksuit called Liam Miller.   

“Myself and Liam travelled over together”, Goodwin says. 

“We’d meet at the airport and his mother and father, Billy and Bridie, became quite close with my parents. Our mothers were on the phone to each other for hours at an end, chatting away and missing their boys who were across the water. We lived in digs together for about three or four years in the same house and he was a great guy. The career he went on to have was just incredible. He was one of the fittest guys I can ever remember. We’d do the bleep test every summer when we were back for pre-season and nobody could outlast him. It got to the point where [youth coach] Willie McStay just turned off the tape because Liam just wasn’t going to stop. For anyone who’s done a bleep test, it’s a horrible, horrible run. You make the bleep until you can’t make it anymore. And Liam kept on going. I’ll never forget Willie just turning off the tape and calling it a day. To lose him so young…”

Goodwin trails off before picking up again. 

soccer-uefa-champions-league-second-qualifying-round-second-leg-celtic-v-kaunas Goodwin was close to Liam Miller, the pair sharing digs for a number of years during their time at Celtic. Source: Matthew Ashton

“In 2018, I was with Alloa, managing them part-time and working a day job too and John Kennedy, who was coaching at Celtic by that stage, dropped me a text out of the blue. He said, ‘We’ve booked a plane to head over to Liam’s funeral – do you want to come with us?’ And it’s an example of what Celtic are like, really. I was in the process of sorting out my own travel but they had a place on the plane for me. They thought about me. They didn’t have to do that. But they knew I’d grown up with Liam and had spent a lot of time with him. And they invited me along with them to pay our respects in Cork.”

“I’d never seen anything like the send-off Liam got that day. Members of the government were there, all kinds of stars from the world of sport. I’m from Tramore where we have a pretty big chapel and when people pass away the whole town comes out and it’s a very big deal. But, the turn-out for Liam was something else. It was so nice that he got that type of farewell…”

Goodwin pauses again, just to reset himself. 

It’s quite hard to talk about it, to be honest. I’m not the most emotional guy in the world anyway but that day was a tough one for everybody, I think.” 

While Goodwin never got a high-profile move like Miller, he had three excellent seasons at Stockport. It was where Carlton Palmer switched him from the middle of defence to midfield and later he was appointed skipper. From there, it was off to Scunthorpe where he won a League One title in 2007. There was a stint at Huddersfield before he returned north of the border in 2010.

In between, there was even a solitary senior cap for the Republic of Ireland – a well-deserved reward for many, many underage appearances which included an Under-16 European Championship triumph under Brian Kerr and Noel O’Reilly in 1998.  

jim-goodwin-15102002-digital 'The proudest days of your life', is how Jim Goodwin describes his Republic of Ireland appearances, which included a solitary senior cap. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

“They’re the proudest days of your life, really”, he says.

I remember waiting for the letter to arrive at Celtic Park, informing me of my first call-up and it was a real butterflies moment. Your heart skips a beat. And when it happens, you want to make sure you’re in the next squad and then the next. Being part of the team to win Ireland’s first major international trophy was a little surreal. I think it came a bit early in my career to properly appreciate it and I didn’t understand the magnitude of it. But then it came to the moment in Finland and I’d played for the Under-21s a few days beforehand. Mick McCarthy told me I was going to be on the bench for the senior team but never for one minute did I think I’d get on the pitch. And then to come on, replace one of the best players to ever play for the country in Robbie Keane and get those twelve minutes was unbelievable. It was really  emotional, actually. It’s what you dream about as a boy, playing for your country. And it breaks my heart and makes me really angry when players pull out of international fixtures – whether in Ireland, Scotland or England. They just don’t seem to have the passion and desire. We’d have all walked over broken glass and swam the English Channel to play for the Under-21s at the time. I can’t get my head around lads who don’t want to represent their country. And it’s the pinnacle for me. It’s what I want to do. If I can be successful in management, one day – hopefully – I’ll lead the country out. That would be incredible. A dream come true.”            

Where was he happiest as a player? Easy question. 

“The longest I ever stayed at a club was five-and-a-half years, which was at St Mirren”, he says.

“I’d had eight seasons in England and had a little bit of success but nothing major. I enjoyed it everywhere, I have to admit. At some clubs, I played a little bit more than at others and in certain places I was captain, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I’ve been blessed, really, and I’m very grateful. I’ve known many footballers who had far more ability than me but, for whatever reason, never quite got the breaks. I think I made the most of what little ability I had. I relied heavily on fitness and my ability to run all day and being a nuisance for the opposition. But when I came back up the road to St Mirren, life off the park was better than it had ever been. My wife – being a Glasgow girl – wasn’t hundreds of miles away on her own, my kids were closer to their grandparents and relatives. And if the family are happy, you are too. That’s been a big part of my happiness up here, I suppose.”

“But the club is also well-run. A great location – Paisley is a lovely town and you’re only fifteen minutes into Glasgow city centre. And our infrastructure is decent too: a nice training ground, a fantastic little stadium, a great fanbase. And I probably had my most memorable moment as a player here when we won the League Cup in 2013 – at Hampden Park on St Patrick’s Day, would you believe?”    

soccer-scottish-communities-league-cup-final-st-mirren-v-heart-of-midlothian-hampden-park Goodwin proudly hoists the Scottish League Cup in 2013. Source: Danny Lawson

It was three years later when a career based on an uncompromising, aggressive and combative style finally caught up with Goodwin. He was 34 and St Mirren, by then in the second tier, weren’t renewing his contract. There were other offers but for significantly less money. His objective – having started his badges at Stockport when he was only twenty – was to coach but there were no opportunities. He looked at the options, dropped down  division to sign for part-time Alloa and searched for a day job.

“I tried my hand at car sales initially and lasted about three months”, he says.

Then I went into recruitment for the construction industry and stayed about six months there. Finally, I went to work for Cadbury’s, selling chocolate. That didn’t help at all. By that stage, the legs were going, the fitness levels were dropping and then my waistline was getting bigger because I had a boot-load of chocolate in the back. The kids were happy, at least. So it had its perks.” 

Goodwin admits it was a tough transition. As a player, he had always prided himself on his physical conditioning. Now, he was training two evenings a week and frustrated with his overall contributions come the weekend. In his mid-thirties, he needed the consistency of sweat equity more than ever. But shoehorning football into a new schedule of business dealings and family commitments was a struggle. Then, an opportunity fell from the heavens.

“I owe Alloa a lot”, he says. 

“Three months after going in, the manager left and I was offered the job. Now, the title might say part-time but it’s not. What I do now, I don’t think of as work. I get a decent wage but it’s doing something I love. I can dedicate 24/7 to football and not have to worry about filling out spreadsheets or answering emails – those things you do in a regular job that I had to get used to for a while. People involved in part-time football roles and juggling 40/50 hours of work every week on top of that have got it so much more difficult than I have right now, that’s for sure.” 

celtic-v-alloa-athletic-betfred-cup-quarter-final-celtic-park Goodwin pictured playing for Alloa against Celtic in a cup clash against Celtic in September, 2016. Source: Jeff Holmes

But the toil was worth it.

Under Goodwin, Alloa reached the promotion play-off final in 2017 only to lose in a shootout. But they went one better the following year, beating Dumbarton in remarkable circumstances, to return to the Scottish Championship. And last term, he performed miracles to keep the part-time group in the second tier, putting himself in the shop window as result.   

In June, St Mirren came knocking and Goodwin couldn’t turn down the opportunity to return to the top-flight.

He’s enjoying every second.

The common narrative in Scottish football is that outside of the Old Firm, there’s nothing worth talking about. But owing to the financial and economic resources of the Glasgow giants, other clubs have to be different in how they do business. Goodwin has leaned on his past life for inspiration.      

“I remember the training that the recruitment company put me through when I was working for them”, he says. 

In football, whenever I’ve been doing my contracts with clubs, the main question has always been, ‘How much am I going to get?’ But when you go to building sites and talk to site managers and quantity surveyors and contractors, the money is irrelevant. They want to know how they’re going to be treated on site, what the conditions are going to be like and what’s expected of them. They were questions I never asked a chief executive or manager. I think footballers – nine times out of ten – are the type who’ll go anywhere to chase a buck. But in the real world, everything needs to be right. That taught me a great lesson. I ask questions of players now: ‘What do you want from us? What are you looking for?’ And being honest and upfront about what I expect from them. Inevitably, you take a job when somebody hasn’t been truthful with you and three months later you don’t want to be there anymore.”

“We were talking earlier at the club about the small things we can do that don’t have to cost a lot of money, even if it’s the environment the boys are coming into every morning and making sure it’s immaculate. If there’s a mark on the wall, let’s get it painted. Players appreciate those little things. We try and cater for them the best we can. The bigger clubs can pay them more money but if we can add a personal touch and have people here that are always approachable, it can make life easier. Particularly with young lads who’ve travelled to be here – from different countries, sometimes – and who are, maybe, doing stuff they haven’t done before. It’s important for us not to take for granted that they’re going to settle in and everything’s going to be fine. We need to get all the details right. When the Irish boys arrived in the last few days, I wanted to go and pick them up at the airport. I didn’t think it was right for another staff member to do it. After all, I’m the one asking them to give every drop of blood and sweat for this shirt. So I think it’s important that the first person they meet after coming off the plane is me. The bottom line is making sure everyone enjoys coming to work. You can be paid thousands and thousands of pounds but be miserable. And if you’re not getting paid nearly as much as those guys but coming into an environment where you’re appreciated and where you’re looked after and where people have your back, I think it can make a big difference.”

celtic-v-st-mirren-ladbrokes-scottish-premiership-celtic-park At 38, Goodwin has already accomplished plenty as a manager. The objective with St Mirren is to stay in the top-flight but make a push for a top-half finish. Source: Jeff Holmes

“This season, our objectives before a ball is kicked is the similar to about seven other teams, which is retaining our top-flight status. But with the infrastructure and support – our fans are incredible with five or six thousand at home games and we bring at least a thousand to away games, which is quite incredible for a town the size of Paisley. We’re never going to be able to compete with Celtic and Rangers but I genuinely believe if you make the best from what’s available and get the right people in the building – people with the same drive and motivation as myself – and have a little bit of a dream, then we are capable of forcing our way to the top half of the table. That has to be our main goal. Whether it happens this year or not remains to be seen. We’re still in with a fighting chance.”                                       

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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