In a special treat for prize winners in the Keep Scotland Active campaign run by Youth Football Scotland, Owen Coyle sat down with Dr David Duke MBE, founder and CEO of Street Soccer Scotland, for a live Q&A over Zoom.
The chat was also open to those who have benefitted from Duke's philanthropic social enterprise; that uses football to create positive change in the lives of socially disadvantaged adults and young people across the country.
Owen Coyle scored 297 career goals for 12 different clubs in his time as a professional footballer and has taken charge of 468 games as a manager across 3 continents. Yet, 35 years on from his professional debut, where he replaced his older brother as a substitute to dispatch a winning penalty for Dumbarton, Coyle has not forgotten where it all began.
The ex-Premier League manager attributes most of his success to his upbringing in the Gorbals, where he was one of nine children in a working-class Irish immigrant family. Dominating the dusty ash pitches of St Francis Primary School seems an impossible stretch away from netting a goal in a play-off final in front of 64,000 at Wembley to promote Bolton Wanderers to the Premier League. But nothing was impossible for the young striker.
The story of his rise to football prominence provided inspiration and entertainment for the audience as Coyle and host Duke discussed the intricacies of how he made it as both a player and manager.
At 16, he turned down the opportunity to play for Jim McLean’s Scottish champions Dundee United to follow in his two older brothers’ footsteps and pull on the yellow and black of Dumbarton. Coyle would go on to command £1,000,000 in transfer fees in the 90s with moves to Clydebank, Airdrieonians, Bolton Wanderers, Dundee United and Dunfermline Athletic.
The forward’s £175,000 transfer to Airdrieonians in 1990 was a Scottish First Division record at the time, but the now fans’ favourite tells of how he was not always so popular around Airdrie:
“Two weeks before I signed for Airdrie, I played there for Clydebank and I scored twice, and we beat them! On my way in (to the changing rooms), this Airdrie fan was giving me dog's abuse, calling me everything under the sun. So, the police officer had to say to the guy ‘Listen, settle yourself down, that’s enough of that’.
"Anyway, two weeks later, I made my debut against Ayr United and I scored a hat-trick. I was coming into the pavilion and this guy shouted ‘Hey Coyle’ and I thought to myself ‘Oh no, not again’ so I turned round and looked at the guy and he said “By the way son, I’m sorry - you’re the best thing since sliced bread!”
In his first season at Airdrie, Coyle then won the top goal scorer award on his side’s journey to promotion to the SPL as well as reaching the Scottish Cup Final. As a result, Airdrie gained automatic qualification to the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup where they would narrowly lose out to Sparta Prague the following season.
The audience were also greeted with a bonus special guest as former Rangers full back, Ally Dawson, joined the call, after a series of technical difficulties, to chat with Owen about their time together at Airdrie.
Coyle spoke fondly of his playing career which included winning promotion to the English Premier League and a run to the Coca-Cola Cup Final (currently known as the Carabao Cup) with Bolton to face Liverpool.
He first entered the field of management with Falkirk as he and John Hughes led the side to promotion to the SPL as co-player/managers in the club’s farewell season at Brockville Park, where Coyle would also finish as top goal scorer and player of the season.
However, his transition to full time management did not follow the same theme as his fairy-tale ending as a player. When approached about the St Johnstone managerial position, Coyle told the audience of how his career could have wen very differently after inviting the Club Chairman, Geoff Brown, to his holiday lodge in Dunkeld:
“I wanted to make a good impression so I asked if he’d like a tea or coffee… and he said ‘yeah, I’d love a coffee’ and that threw me because I don’t drink coffee. Anyways, I found the coffee, added milk and sugar, and brought it through to him. We spoke for an hour and the conversation couldn’t have went any better and he said I’ll be in touch sooner rather than later. So, my wife comes back in and she says ‘I hope that was worth it’- and I said ‘It couldn’t have went any better, but, the only thing was he threw me at the beginning as he asked for a coffee. Anyways, I eventually found it,’ and she says ‘Owen, we don’t have coffee’ and I said, ‘yeah we do’ and she said ‘That’s bisto gravy you clown!’ So I picked the phone up and phoned Geoff to tell him and apologise and he said ‘Oh yeah, I thought there was a funny tang to it, anyway, while I have you, I’d like to offer you the job’ and that’s how it came about”
Coyle preceded to promote St Johnstone and Burnley to the top flights of their respective nations before managing Bolton Wanderers, Wigan Athletic, Houston Dynamo, Blackburn Rovers, Ross County and now Chennaiyin in the Indian Super League. Along the way he has played a role in the development of players such as Jack Wilshere, Daniel Sturridge and Gary Cahill to name a few.
He finished by chatting to another special guest, Andy Hook, Director of Football Development at Slum Soccer, about both of their experiences of working in Football in India. Coyle said he is excited about the future of Indian football and believes with the right infrastructure there is no reason as to why the nation cannot go on to produce world-class players for clubs in Europe.
Coyle’s fascinating career, as told by the man himself, helped to provide inspiration and entertainment in these tough times for Street Soccer Scotland’s members and for Youth Football Scotland’s ‘Keep Scotland Active’ campaign prize winners.