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‘John Lambie swore when he realised I wasn’t 6ft’ – Former Aberdeen forward Andy Gibson recalls swapping the Dons for Partick Thistle

Andy Gibson in action for Aberdeen in a match against Falkirk in 1992.  Image: DC Thomson.
Andy Gibson in action for Aberdeen in a match against Falkirk in 1992. Image: DC Thomson.

Aberdeen take on Partick Thistle on Wednesday night with a place in the semi-finals of the Premier Sports Cup up for grabs.

One man with a foot in both camps is former Dons and Partick player Andy Gibson.

The striker spent five years at Pittodrie before joining the Maryhill Jags in 1993 under legendary Firhill boss John Lambie.

He later enjoyed spells at Clyde, Forfar Athletic and Peterhead before a successful five-year stint in charge of Aberdeen juniors Culter FC.

Danny Law finds out about Gibson’s memories of playing under Dons boss Alex Smith and his Partick counterpart Lambie, how he almost became Cove Rangers manager and clears up one of Scottish football’s urban myths.

How big an impact did Alex Smith have on your early career? 

It was massive as I was really disillusioned with football. I was very close to signing for Rangers on a YTS scheme when Jock Wallace was the manager.

Jock was sacked and there was a hitch with the deal. The youth manager Stan Anderson said I would need to wait as the new manager Graeme Souness wanted a different approach.

It fell through and I went back to playing boys club football at under-18s for a local team in Falkirk.

Alex Smith, who was manager of Stirling Albion at the time, was one of these guys who was always at games at any level.

He knew everything that was going on in youth football. He saw me playing and asked me to sign for Stirling Albion after the game.

I wasn’t sure because of everything that had happened with Rangers.

He turned up at my house the following night and he was so convincing I thought I’d give Stirling Albion a go. It was the right decision. I was only 16 and playing in their reserves but before I knew it I was in the first team.

So how did the move to Aberdeen materialise? 

Alex Smith left Stirling Albion for St Mirren in 1986 and then joined Aberdeen as manager in 1988.

At Stirling, we’d played Dundee United in a pre-season friendly and I did really well. Norwich City had someone at the game and I was invited down for a week.

I’ve still got the programme from the reserve game with Crystal Palace that week – Gareth Southgate and John Salako were playing for Palace and Ruel Fox was in the Norwich team.

Alex Smith, who had a brother who was still a director at Stirling, got wind of this and he was on the phone and urged me not to make a decision on Norwich before coming up to Aberdeen.

I went up to see him at Pittodrie and again Alex convinced me the Dons were the right club for me. I signed on 21 December 1988 which I’ll always remember as it was the same day as the Lockerbie bombing.

Andy Gibson who signed for Aberdeen in 1988.

How did you adjust to life at Aberdeen? 

It was hard.

There were some great young lads at the club – Eoin Jess, Stephen Wright, Graham Watson, Gregg Watson, Stephen McAnespie.

When I signed you still had Willie Miller and Alex McLeish in the team, Theo Snelders was in goals and you had players such as Stewart McKimmie, David Robertson, Jim Bett, Robert Connor, Charlie Nicholas and Davie Dodds.

Hans Gillhaus signed not long after so the calibre of player was different class.

Drew Jarvie was one of the coaches and he had a big influence on a lot of the young players.

Drew and Jocky Scott would take you out on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and work you so hard.

They instilled a discipline in you. I had so much respect for Drew and he had a big influence on me – even in terms of the attitude you should approach life with.

In those days you only had two on the bench. It was difficult enough to get a game for the reserves, never mind the first team.

I had to find my feet and it took me time to settle. I only played eight to 10 games at the Dons and I probably stayed there too long but it was such a good club and you were so well looked after it was hard to leave.

I signed a three-year contract with Alex Smith and Jocky Scott and then Willie Miller took over. I had a great relationship with Willie and he gave me a two-year contract.

Craig Robertson (left) meets new Aberdeen signing Andy Gibson on the week of his £30,000 move from Stirling Albion.

When did you realise it was time to leave? 

I went to Stockport County on loan and when I came back I knew it was time to move on. I had been at Aberdeen for five years. I was getting chances here and there.

We won 4-1 against Dundee United at Tannadice in Jim McLean’s last ever game in 1993. I scored, Scott Booth got a couple and Brian Grant scored.

Scoring at Tannadice gave me the taste for wanting to play regularly. I was in my early 20s.

Gregg Watson, who I was in digs with, was really friendly with this guy from Glasgow called Struan Marshall.

He went on to be a very successful agent to Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Gary McAllister, Dion Dublin, Robbie Keane and quite a few more.

He was starting out and had a few of the younger boys at Aberdeen on his books. He was touting me about and Motherwell were interested as were Partick.

Andy Gibson joined Partick Thistle in 1993.

So why did you opt for Partick? 

Motherwell kept saying they were interested but no bid came in. The Partick manager John Lambie agreed a deal with Aberdeen of £50,000 and it happened very quickly.

I hadn’t even spoken to Lambie. I travelled down and met Struan at Firhill and went in to speak to Lambie which was certainly memorable.

Chic Charnley wrote in his book that Lambie had signed the wrong player when he bought me but that wasn’t quite true. His opening line to me was ‘F***ing hell, I thought you were 6ft.’

I was 5ft 10in with my boots on so I was thinking this isn’t a very good start.

What was life at Partick Thistle like?

John Lambie was a very old school character and it was very different to Aberdeen. You were so well looked after at Aberdeen with everything from the kit to your lunch to the standard of training.

I signed for Thistle on the Friday and I turned up on the Saturday and we were playing Dundee United at Firhill.

Forty minutes before kick-off, John Lambie still hadn’t named the team. He stormed in and introduced me to the team. All he said was “This is the new boy, I thought he was 6ft but he’s f***ing 5ft 10in.”

He named the team but didn’t go into anything in any detail, such as set pieces. I asked what he wanted to do for corners and he just replied that I wasn’t 6ft so it would be better to stay up the park.

And that was it! It was completely different to what I was used to. We ended up winning the game and I had a reasonable start as we also beat Celtic a couple of weeks later.

The report in the Evening Express following Andy Gibson’s winner for Partick against the Dons in 1994.

And you returned to haunt your former side by scoring the winner against Aberdeen in 1994… 

Someone sent me the link to that one recently. Billy Dodds scored for Aberdeen, Albert Craig equalised and I got the winner. I hit the post just after that but that was one of my high points at Thistle.

I did celebrate the goal but that was probably more relief than anything. I had always wanted to play in the middle of the park. You can get pigeon-holed in a position and that was what happened to me.

I was never an out-and-out goalscorer. I could run the channels, hold it in half-decent and I could score a goal.

But I always preferred facing the goal rather than having my back to goal. I remember playing Aberdeen at Pittodrie and we got a 1-1 draw. The Dons were in a transitional period then.

You left Partick for Clyde in 1996 – how was that experience?  

Murdo MacLeod replaced John Lambie at Partick in 1995 and we started really well under him but went on to get relegated, losing to Dundee United in the play-offs.

A heap of players were released at the end of the season and I was one of them. I probably enjoyed my time at Aberdeen more but I learned a lot at Partick Thistle.

Clyde was great for me as that was the first place I got to play centre midfield. It was dropping down the divisions but it was still full time.

I didn’t realise how big the rivalry was between Partick and Clyde.

Some fans didn’t take to me initially because I was from Partick, although I think I won them over because I stayed there a few seasons and played pretty much every week and even captained the team for a wee while.

There were spells at Forfar and Peterhead before hanging up the boots. You had a successful time in charge of Culter FC, winning three Superleague titles. Did you enjoy being in the dugout? 

I really enjoyed my time at Culter. Man-management is vital. It is so important to know people’s strengths and weaknesses and know how to get the best out of them.

Some people need a cuddle, others need a boot up the backside. At Culter, we had a good bunch of players and we gave them a bit of belief.

We drew 1-1 with Partick Thistle at Crombie Park in the Scottish Cup in 2011 and it was close to being one of the biggest ever upsets.

It went the other way in the replay and they battered us but the home tie was probably the biggest game that a lot of those players will have played in.

Thistle were going well under Jackie McNamara at the time. It just showed what you could do if you got belief into players.

And you almost ended up as Cove Rangers manager…

I spoke to Cove a couple of times. I spoke to Keith Moorhouse and a couple of directors there.

At that point I wasn’t enjoying Culter as much. It had been five years and we were very successful but I wanted to spend more time with my daughter.

Cove was going to be a big commitment and I felt taking a break from football was right for me.

It was the best thing I did and it worked out perfectly for Cove because John Sheran came in and they won the Highland League a couple of times and promotion to the Scottish leagues.

I’m at every home Cove game now, working for Stats Perform. I enjoy going to watch them on a Saturday and not having to do all the training and travelling that comes with being involved in football.

Finally, how do you see the cup tie going between your two former clubs? 

I would fancy Aberdeen at home as they have been playing their best football at Pittodrie.

Jim Goodwin took a lot of players in over the summer and they need time to settle.

Partick will try to frustrate them. They are going well in the Championship but if Aberdeen get a good start then you would expect them to be too strong.