Wednesday, 14 February 2007

Face To Face: Frank McAvennie (parts 2&3)

Frank McAvennie became notorious as the one-time roadsweeper who swept through some of the toughest defences in English and Scottish football.

As a teenager he struck nobody as a football star of the future. He wasn't playing regularly, hated training and spent Saturdays on the terraces rather than honing his skills.

His talent was only noted by chance when he appeared in a game where a posse of scouts were watching another player. A career as colourful as any ever witnessed was about to unfold.

"I was a road sweeper for about 20 minutes," insisted McAvennie. "My dad was getting me a job with the council and I thought it would be on the lorries but when I turned up they got out a brush and one of those long-handled shovels. Some of my mates were sitting on the bus when it passed and burst out laughing so I legged it down to the social. I was banned from receiving dole for six weeks because I'd walked out of a job.

"Next I joined a firm that distilled whisky. Me of all people. Actually, I tried it and it made me aggressive when I was drunk so I never touched whisky again. Normally I just go soft in drink."

Frank's early footballing activity consisted of "jumping over the fence to play 21-a-side on the playing pitch at the local school" and watching his beloved Celtic with his dad on a Saturday afternoon.

So how on earth did he become a paid footballer.

"One day the Celtic match was iced off - they had no underground heating in those days," McAvennie explained. "A couple of mates persuaded me to go with them to a game they were playing. The manager asked if I was any good and next minute I was in midfield.

"The kid I was playing opposite was being watched by five scouts but by the end of the game they wanted me. Honest, if I'd known I'd have made the kid look good.

"I wasn't playing regularly but Johnstone Burgh, one of the best junior sides in Scotland, said I could play for them and go on trial to League clubs. They offered me £500. I asked, cheekily: 'Is that cash?' When they said yes I couldn't sign quick enough. I was unemployed."

Still McAvennie wasn't obsessed with making it into the big time - until he was snubbed by one of his heroes.

"As an avid Celtic fan I loved Bertie Auld - you know, the Lisbon Lions and all that," explained Frank. "He was manager of Partick Thistle at the time and after I'd had a trial for them Auld told me I wasn't good enough. It was at that moment I decided I was going to make it."

McAvennie had three trials matches for St Mirren and was sent off in the last of them, a derby against Morton. That should have been that - but instead it was the reason he was signed.

"The manager said he knew I had the skills but that proved I had the bottle as well," said Frank. "A fortnight later he was sacked.

"But I went from strength to strength. In the space of 18 months I went from being a kid on the dole to playing for Scotland Under-21s. We played in Italy, won 1-0, and I scored the goal. They were chucking bottles, the lot. It was like a Saturday night in Glasgow!"

While at West Ham over two periods Frank McAvennie played for a manager he loved and one he hated.

John Lyall takes the plaudits and Lou Macari gets the bouquet of barbed wire.

It was Lyall who first made him a Hammer when McAvennie was actually supposed to be signing for David Pleat at Luton Town. Lyall met him after the clock had struck midnight at a service station which was closed and in pitch darkness. And picking up the bill were, yes, Luton!

"I'd become St Mirren's top scorer from midfield and clubs started taking notice," McAvennie said. "David Pleat got hold of our phone number and was always talking to mam and dad. Eventually a deal was done between Luton and my club but not with me.

"I had to fly to London to meet David - we were on first name terms by now - but when he introduced me to his chairman, a Tory MP, he clipped me on the back of the head and said 'welcome'. I didn't like that and wouldn't sign.

"I was then told by St Mirren they had also agreed terms with West Ham. They had conveniently forgotten to mention that. There were six of us down from Paisley including directors and we were staying in a hotel at Luton's expense but a phone call went in to Lyall informing him of the situation.

"He met us all at Toddington Services at quarter to one in the morning. They were closed, of course - God knows what we all looked like skulking around in the dark. Lyall said he'd give me 10 grand signing-on fee but I was tired and a cheeky blighter and said unless I got £15,000 I was up the road home.

"John phoned all night and the next day flew up on the morning flight and signed me. He was a great guy and was good for me.

"I flew down to London early and went to the Live Aid concert at Wembley with two of my mates. We got a knockback at Stringfellows as well. I never let Peter forget that."

When McAvennie returned to Upton Park from Celtic in 1989 it was Lyall again who signed him but he was quickly sacked and Macari became Frank's new master.

"I only left Celtic because they owed me money but West Ham got relegated and then I broke my leg, so looking back it probably wasn't the best decision I ever made," admitted Frank.

"It was still good to go back to West Ham because of my love of the place but if I'd known Lou Macari was going to take over I'd never have gone. Me and Lou didn't get on at all.

"He haunted me. I didn't think he was a very good manager and he had about as much charisma as I have in my big toe. He set me back three months by forcing me to train when I clearly wasn't fit.

"I had to do a three-mile run on Christmas Day, for God's sake! Macari shouldn't have done that. On the road as well. I wasn't ready."

Taken from the Newcastle Chronicle

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