As Frank McAvennie is somewhat back in the news I thought I would offer John Lyall's account of how he secured the services of one of the club's most beloved strikers. Reading things like this, especially in these baffling days of the transfer window, makes you realise just how much the game has changed over the last twenty five years. Besides, if you can't wallow in a bit of pointless nostalgia in the dog days of pre-season, then when can you?
I needed a player who could operate just behind the front two of Goddard and Cottee, and score goals, too. The player I wanted was Frank McAvennie. Our Scottish scouts had been tracking him for a long time. Several other clubs were interested, notably Luton Town. I had watched him myself and knew that he could play either as a striker or as a midfield player attacking from deep positions. I called my pal Jim McLean, the manager of Dundee United, and described the type of player I was searching for.
'The best in that catagory is McAvennie at St Mirren,' he said without hesitation. I spoke to another friend, Alex Ferguson, then manager of Aberdeen, and he confirmed all that Jim had told me. The two Scottish managers agreed that McAvennie had charisma. The crowds loved him and there was always a buzz when he had the ball at his feet.
I called the St Mirren manager, Alex Miller. He was resigned to losing McAvennie, and we agreed a fee of £340,000. There was a problem, though. That day, McAvennie had travelled south for talks with Luton. There was little I could do but wait for the outcome of those negotiations. That evening I sat at home waiting for the telephone to ring. At 10 o'clock Alex Miller called to say they were still talking. An hour later he called again to report there had been no change in the situation. Then, just after midnight, he told me: 'Frank's decided he's not going to sign. Do you still want to talk to him?'
'Yes, of course,' I replied.
'When?' Alex asked.
'Now,' I said, and we arranged to meet at the Toddington service restaurant on the M1 motorway an hour later. I got into the car, drove to Toddington and went into the cafeteria. The place was practically deserted at that time of the morning, apart from a waitress, a lorry driver and two policemen. I sat quietly in a corner until four gentlemen dressed in suits arrived by mini cab. They were Alex Miller, a St Mirren director, Frank and his adviser, Bill McMurdo. I joined them and we talked over cups of tea. By 4 a.m. it was all agreed. What impressed me about Frank was his sense of independence. He obviously had an excellent relationship with his adviser, but he stressed continually that the final decision would be his and his alone. It was light as I drove home past Woburn Abbey. The deer were playing in the park. I felt quite pleased with myself.
Frank and his entourage flew back to Glasgow early that morning, and I arranged to meet Alex at the Excelsior Hotel opposite the airport later in the afternoon to complete the formalities. When I arrived at the hotel, Frank and Alex were waiting for me. The signing of the forms took no more than a few minutes. We all shook hands and I walked back into the airport and boarded the shuttle to London that I'd flown up on. As I ducked through the airport door, the stewardess looked at me with a puzzled smile.
'Didn't you just come up on this plane?' she asked.
The following day Frank flew down to London and I picked him up at the airport. We drove back through the centre of London, because he wanted to see the King's Road. I was to learn that he was a fashion-conscious lad, very concerned about his appearance. I could tell that he was thrilled to be in London. We drove through the City, where the traffic was particularly heavy. Passing us on the opposite side of the road was a convoy of black limousines with police motorcycle escort. Sitting in the back of one of the cars was Princess Diana. She passed within a few feet of us. Frank was impressed.
'This is London, Frank,' I said.