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Interview: Christian Dailly, former Scotland international

Published on Saturday 8 September 2012 00:00

Meeting Christian Dailly is not recommended if you suspect your own life might be slightly unfulfilled.

Take his schedule for today, which some might have anticipated would hinge around the World Cup qualifying clash between Scotland and Serbia.

One of Scotland’s most fervent patriots, he does aim to watch the action from Hampden Park. However, he must fit it in around supervising fitness tests with the group of athletes he now trains. He is also looking forward to taking in a school football match in which the eldest of his two sons will be playing. Daily, only 38, then expects to be wiping away a tear or two from his eye at daughter Rosie’s 18th birthday party, for which a marquee has already been erected at the family’s Essex home. “I have had to get in bouncers!” he exclaims, wary of the threat of an invasion from uninvited TOWIE-types.

Dailly certainly succeeds in trashing the notion that his existence has got much emptier since retiring from football in the summer. He does, however, let slip that he was due to meet Ronald Martin, the Southend United chairman, yesterday. Southend are the club where he finally hung up his boots. Or did he? Martin, he predicts, will try to persuade him to think again.

“I am going to spend all day writing this up and then read on the BBC website that you have agreed to come out of retirement....” you in turn predict, rather dolefully, having noted that he looks as fit as he did when he made his debut for Dundee United, aged just 16. “You are not going to hear that, I guarantee it,” he smiles, having described the sensation of leaving his football career behind as being “like a release”. That isn’t to say he is relieved to be free of the demands of training. In what is a novel departure from the norm, he is happy because it means he can do more physical conditioning work. He had become frustrated by football’s regimented, slightly dated outlook. “I watch footballers running on TV now, and I turn to my wife and go: I should phone him, he is not running properly,” he says.

Assuming, then, that he is not lining up for Southend United against Dagenham & Redbridge this afternoon, it should be safe to confirm that Dailly has swapped his studs for spikes. He is not prepared to simply live viscerally through the deeds of Christy, his other daughter. Earlier this summer the 16- year-old ran for the Scotland ‘Futures’ team in a 400m event in Aberdeen.

“I think I will compete in the British Masters when I hit 40, I am thinking the 800m event,” Dailly reveals. “I am coming up to 39 now, next year I will be 40. I would like to start competing in the indoor season next year. I am training

anyway, so I might as well. One of my worries was that my body would be so shot that when I stopped playing it would just break down. But that’s not appearing to be happening at the moment.”

He certainly looks whippet lean again, although he does permit The Scotsman to treat him to a pint. “Now that I am not playing, why not?” he says. He is the same weight now as when he played at France ‘98. He was still rangy-enough-looking then, but after a few years in England he began to resemble a muscle-bound boxer. He regrets that slightly, explaining that he bulked himself up in order to survive the hits received at centre-half from increasingly large centre forwards. He admits to having taken the weight-lifting to an extreme for a spell, meaning he “sacrificed” some games in which he played while feeling “terrible”. Typical Dailly. The only occasions he ever gave less than 100 per cent were when he over-did it in training.

He is still giving his all. His schedule is such that you are grateful to be able to catch him in the bar of the hotel where he will snatch a few hours of sleep before boarding the red-eye flight to London in the morning. He is exhilarated after watching Scotland Under-21s defeat

Luxembourg, a game that had turned on a tactical change anticipated by Dailly and relayed by him to the viewers on Sky Sports. He knows his football, clearly, but it doesn’t turn him on the way athletics does.

Like 90 per cent of the population, he was in thrall to the Olympics, and was fortunate to be present at the stadium when David Rudisha won the 800m final. Can he understand the public’s current disdain for footballers? “Oh, completely,” he says.

Dailly himself is adored not only by Scotland fans, who appointed him as their unofficial mascot, but also those of West Ham United, where he is still celebrated in song in the stands. He tells you later that he has few close friends, certainly from within the football sphere where he spent a mere 21 seasons carving out a reputation as a versatile, dependable and sometimes brilliant footballer. But who needs friends when many of these West Ham supporters would happily let him have carnal relations with their wives, as the aforementioned terrace anthem outlines in frank detail before then going on to pay homage to his curly hair, all to the tune of Can’t Take my Eyes off You. West Ham, he says, are the club he would choose to go back to if he could play one final game.

Few could possibly have an issue with Dailly, save, perhaps, those Dundee United fans who once counted themselves among those who worshipped him, particularly after the significant part he played in their first Scottish Cup success in 1994. The decision of the boyhood United fan to join Rangers, with whom he reached a Uefa Cup final, did not go down well in his hometown, where he has recently started writing a column for the local newspaper, The Courier. Some still find the link with Rangers hard to accept today.

“Part of me thought, maybe they would not bother too much,” he says, admitting this had been optimistic. “To be offered to play for a team like Rangers, I was just really interested to see what the whole set-up was like, what the mentality towards winning was like. Part of me was worried in case it did not meet my expectations. When I got there I found that it was exactly like I wanted it to be.

“I was back at the weekend in Dundee,” he adds. “There were a couple of comments, people a bit peed off. I understand it. They have a good team now. They have a lot to look forward to.”

Despite his apparently enviable existence, it was possible to feel glad you were not in Dailly’s boots on 7 September, 2002. Ten years ago yesterday he was among a group of 14 players and one manager vilified by supporters and the media. Worse, he was singled out, along with David Weir, for being at fault for allowing the Faroe Isles to take a two-goal lead.

Although the visitors rallied to draw 2-2, it was memorably described as the “worst performance by a Scotland team since 1872” in a headline on the pages of this newspaper. The centre-half pairing was not expected to survive such withering blasts of opprobrium and so it proved. Weir’s response to Vogts’ criticism was to withdraw his services for a period that spanned the rest of the German’s time in charge. Dailly, though, battled on. It did not enter his head to end a love affair that has grown so strong, despite the setbacks, since he was a teenager.

“I played for Scotland before I played for Dundee United,” he points out. Scotland are the team he has always supported. He admits his two sons, Harvey and Bobby, have a more well-rounded view. “You know what, they are growing up with a much more mature attitude than I have,” he says. “They say: I like England, I live down here, I don’t see why I can’t want them to do well. And I am like: I hear what you are saying, but...”

Dailly starred for Scotland Schoolboys, only just missing out on a World Cup adventure with the under-16 side in 1989. “I was a year too young and I didn’t get in, but I was in the last 26, or whatever it was. I didn’t make the final cut. I was devastated. But I dusted myself down. After that, I just wanted to be good enough to play for my country. That is what I loved. That is what made my decision to retire easier. Because the biggest thing was playing for Scotland and I wasn’t doing that anyway.”

There was, he confirms, no lingering issue with Vogts, despite Weir’s own stance. He describes the German as “a great guy”, whose one fault is that he went a “bit too extreme” in friendlies when it came to blooding new players. Although he himself was criticised by Vogts, Dailly describes the flak the manager received after the Faroes as “outrageous”. Dailly’s own performance was not as bad as depicted, he contends. “The team that played that day was probably not as good as it could have been,” he says, with some considerable understatement. “There were a lot of players who you were trying to cover for, who you were trying to look after.”

Dailly recovered well following the Toftir debacle, scoring in the next game against Iceland. “That was handy,” he says. Although unseen, he was a central character in a piece of memorable television footage following a fractious 2-1 defeat to Germany later in the campaign. He is the hero heard kicking open the dressing-room door, loudly announcing to all those in earshot – a number which included a few hundred thousand people sitting in their living room at home – that the Germans were “cheats”. And then “f*cking cheats”. And then, finally, in what was a delicious coup de grace: “f*cking diving cheats”.

Few would have known who was responsible for the outburst had it not been for Vogts admonishing Dailly: “Christian, Christian!” he calls out, like a father scolding a son. Indeed, a deep bond did grow between the pair, confirmed by Vogts’ surprise attendance at Dailly’s 30th birthday party shortly afterwards.

“It was down in my local pub in Toot Hill in Essex, in the middle of nowhere and where I lived at that time,” recalls Dailly. “We were having a party and all of a sudden Berti came in. Stewart McMillan [a long-serving member of the backroom staff] had brought him down. He had got me a present, so I opened it. It was a Bayern Munich strip with ‘To Christian, from your diving, cheating friend Ballack’ on it. That is what he was like. He liked a laugh.”

Dailly made the last of 67 international appearances while playing for Rangers, where he enjoyed a trophy-laden bonus spell. Such was his dedication to physical conditioning, he believed he improved even after leaving Ibrox in his mid-thirties. He certainly felt that he was playing as well as when he was being capped regularly for Scotland, but the currently topical question of whether a player can make the step up from lower-league football – Charlton Athletic were in League One at the time – to the international arena was not one George Burley, who handed Dailly his last cap in a friendly against Czech Republic in 2008, felt compelled to address.

“Once you were out of it, you were not going to get back in,” he says. “I had two of my best seasons ever at Charlton but I was not going to be brought back in. I could have played, easy. Easy. I was flying.”

He won the club’s player of the season award aged 37. His team-mates asked him: what’s your secret? He credited his longevity to an absence of fear. He had nothing to prove any longer. “I am at an advantage to you because I have been playing for 20 years and if I make a mistake, I don’t care,” he told them. “I am going to get the ball and I am going to take a striker on. If I give it away, I don’t care. The difficulty for you is that you care more, you want to get into the team, and you want to stay in the team.”

Dailly is obsessed by the question of performance; why do sports people excel, and when they do, what did it take for them to do so? He has been searching for answers for a long time. More often than not he found them. “I come from an academic background,” he says. He is currently halfway through a sports science degree at Manchester Metropolitan University, where he is a distance learning student.

In a Dundee United dressing-room crammed full of strong characters he got it in the neck for being the swot, the inevitable consequence of having gained four highers and eight O grades. He even began a course in advanced mathematics while at Tannadice but understandably had to put these studies to one side as the equally onerous chore of pleasing Jim McLean became his central concern.

But, like McLean, he has high standards. Recalling a press conference days after the notorious boozegate affair and when Dailly, then at Rangers, said that he had some things to say on the matter but now “wasn’t the time”, you ask him whether he is prepared to go on record on the matter. He is, though his thoughts on Barry Ferguson and Allan McGregor do not surprise, in truth.

“I don’t know which member of SFA staff gave the green light, but there is absolutely no way on earth it should be OK for players to come off the plane and go for a drink when there is another game coming up,” he says. “I am sorry, from a physiological point of view, you are not going to recover. But in football you can hide behind your team-mates. If you are an athlete and if you had a race on that Wednesday, then you are already beaten. That’s why I love the sport. You can’t hide.”

Taken from the Scotsman

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