National service, Aston Martins & Goodwillie: Danny Lennon's life in Scotland's lower leagues

By Jamie LyallBBC Scotland
Danny Lennon in action for Clyde
At the age of 50, manager Danny Lennon featured for Clyde in last month's Glasgow Cup tie against Celtic Colts

This morning, Danny Lennon woke at 04:00, booted up his laptop, and began dissecting Clyde's weekend opposition, a twilight swotting routine that speaks to his insatiable hunger for football. His is a part-time job but management is an all-consuming, inescapable obsession.

When the analysis is done, he'll dote on his wife and boys, head to morning Mass, then wreck himself in the gym, probably going back for seconds later on. Family, football, faith, fitness - they are life's sustenance in the lower leagues of Scotland.

"You've got to be a counsellor and a great tactician," he says. "You've got to have a solution for everything. You never, ever switch off, even at part-time.

"Somebody said to me, 'To be a successful manager, you need three things: a top-quality centre-half, a loyal dog and an understanding wife, but not necessarily in that order'."

Lennon is 50 now, but still lithe enough to pull the boots on, still sharp enough to hold his own against players more than three decades his junior. In August, he brought himself on as Clyde began the Glasgow Cup by beating Celtic Colts, then joked he'd be holding contract negotiations with himself in the mirror.

Here, he talks bringing back national service, Aston Martins at Gretna, and giving controversial striker David Goodwillie the Clyde captaincy.

National service & an island of kids

Lennon has always derived immense pleasure from helping young talent flourish. He says too many kids are spoiled by the opportunity and technology of the modern age, fuelling a chronic lack of discipline. His solution? "I would bring back national service," he says. "There you go.

"As a parent myself, we've only got ourselves to blame. I'm not saying we've brought our kids up badly, but most kids want for very, very little.

"There's no respect or discipline for people of authority now. You can even see kids, when the police stop them, actually videoing the police questioning them. It's incredible.

"With the way you handle younger players now, there are very, very little that can take constructive criticism well, it's just the soft generation we have. As long as you're honest and can back criticism up, the players have got to come round to your way of thinking and you find a solution together. It's not us and it's not them; it's we."

If Lennon can't convince Boris Johnson to add the reinstatement of national service to the Conservative manifesto, he's got another scheme up his sleeve to deliver a batch of players capable of ending Scotland's heinous decades in the footballing doldrums.

"Give me 20-25 kids, and I would take them away to an island for five years where nobody could get access to them and then bring them back," he says. "Discipline, total football, no outside influence, and work with them daily. I would love somebody to invest in that for three years to see where it could take you.

"In Spain, they do that to a certain degree. The infrastructure and housing clubs have for kids from all over Spain, they have them in there as footballers and give them that education. We've got technically gifted players, as good as there are in Spain. The difference is, I find foreign players are more aware before they receive the ball of what's in and around them.

"If you watch a wee sparrow on a fence, its head's on a swivel, it's always watching for predators coming. It always knows where the defender is, where team-mates are. It's that awareness we've got to improve."

'He put a cigarette burn in the Aston Martin'

Brooks Mileson with the Scottish First Division trophy
Brooks Mileson helped Gretna achieve three promotions and reach the Scottish Cup final

In the autumn of his playing career, Lennon was appointed head of youth development at Gretna by Brooks Mileson, the straggly-haired eccentric who piled millions into the club and took it from the fourth tier to the top flight before falling seriously ill.

With his ailing health and death in 2008, the egregious money stream stopped. Gretna crumbled inexorably into liquidation.

"I was privileged to know the man," says Lennon. "Brooks said, 'Nobody bats an eyelid, Danny, when they see millionaires buying £4-5m yachts - Gretna is my yacht'.

"Every player had a club car. I was going to be the head of youth, so he got me one of those big Chrysler people carriers. His vision of my job was driving these kids about. Two weeks after, he saw it was only ever me in the car and told me to go and pick myself another one. He didn't even give me a budget. I ended up getting one of these Chrysler Crossfires, the wee sporty ones.

"I went from a seven-seater to a two-seater. I loved it that much that even when I was dismissed, I came to a very, very good deal with him to keep the car.

"Brooks was big on his cars. I remember him telling us this new Aston Martin was coming out - £120,000 he'd paid for it. He brought it up to the club that morning. He was a mad smoker, a chain smoker. And the very first thing he did when he got into it was put a cigarette burn in the roof. All he said was, 'That's it, it's mine now, that's it trademarked'. He was mad, but a lovely, lovely man."

'Goodwillie is getting life back in order'

Danny Lennon and David Goodwillie celebrate Clyde's promotion to Scottish League One
David Goodwillie joined Clyde following his rape conviction in 2017

Lennon loves Clyde and its people and how it extends second chances to those who have done wrong. He doesn't say it, but he is alluding to David Goodwillie.

The former Scotland striker was ordered to pay a woman £100,000 in damages after a civil court ruled that he had raped her and, in the space of three years, plummeted from the riches of England's Premier League to Scottish League Two.

He has been productive at Broadwood, with 66 goals in 104 games and 13 in 14 this season, including a five-goal blitz in a 6-1 thrashing of Stranraer.

Giving a man with his past the captaincy this summer sparked an angry reaction and, while Lennon will not speak about Goodwillie's case, he talks in the most glowing terms about his attitude and impact.

"He's a perfect professional. He's taken on everything - hearings, he's attended courses, done talks and he's managing to get his life back in order," Lennon says.

"He's had a flavour of what it's like at the high end down at Blackburn making loads and loads, and he's coming to the real world. But you wouldn't know that, we still see the same effort and quality from him.

"The way he's got his life back in order, happily married, wee baby girl, and doing an electrician's apprenticeship. He's now club captain and that's because of the qualities and character I see in the man.

"It's important you see that and give people that opportunity to get their lives back. Not just in football, in any walk of life."

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