Friday 11th December 2015

THERE are obvious reasons why tomorrow’s game between Dumbarton and St Mirren, at the Cheaper Insurance Direct Stadium, stood out when the fixtures were announced.

It only takes two words. Scott Agnew? Maybe, but players return to their former clubs all the time.

Those words are ‘Ian Murray’. The man who was Dumbarton manager for exactly two and a half years will be back on the far side of the pitch tomorrow.

But it’ll break a habit he built up during those 30 months. Instead of walking into the home dugout, he’ll be making his way to the away one, in charge of the Buddies.

It’s important not to lose focus on the game. Sons are now under new management and Stephen Aitken will be the one whose decisions matter most as far as the home end of the stadium is concerned.

However, it’s impossible to ignore the returning manager factor altogether.

And there’s one promising sign for Sons. Since the opening of their current ground in 2000, former managers have returned, in overall charge of another team, on five occasions.

Their teams have made it tough. But they’ve NEVER won.

It’s a reason for optimism alright, along with the team’s current winning form. However, when ex-gaffers are back in town, there are reasons for that to be cautious optimism. Here’s how Sons have fared when former bosses have come back in recent times.

Brian Fairley – one game, one draw

Twenty-seven days after his resignation from Dumbarton, Brian Fairley was back on the familiar walk across the pitch to the dugouts. Only this time, it was the away technical area – the one occupied by his new employers, Forfar Athletic.

Having taken it to the very last day of season 2003/04 before Sons officially couldn’t win promotion, Fairley’s stock was high. The following campaign was tougher, and following a 1-0 defeat at Stirling Albion, he left the club, allowing Paul Martin to take charge. The very same evening, he was unveiled as Ray Stewart’s successor at the Loons, making Monday, January 3 2005 a very noticeable occasion.

After a goalless first half, Paul Tosh gave Forfar the lead 12 minutes into the second. Sons, though, were only behind for nine minutes as Andy Rodgers, newly introduced as a substitute, slotted away the equaliser.

Paul Martin – four games, three Dumbarton wins, one draw

Paul Martin’s time as manager at Albion Rovers was hugely successful, with the ex-Dumbarton defender and gaffer overseeing a promotion success which was followed by survival. One place where he didn’t have much success in charge of the Coatbridge club, though, was the home of his former side.

That said, he did take a point on his first visit as Rovers gaffer on Saturday, November 22 2008, with Sons needing a Ross Clark goal for a 1-1 draw after Ciaran Donnelly opened the scoring. On the way to the Third Division title, Dumbarton – whose manager Jim Chapman was also in charge against his former side – beat Rovers 1-0 in the other home game that season, on Saturday, March 7 2009, Pat Boyle scoring.

Three seasons later the teams met again, this time in the Second Division. While Alan Adamson was now in charge of Sons, Martin was still Rovers boss after a promotion-winning 2010/11 season. The first meeting at the Rock was a 2-1 home win on Tuesday, October 18 2011, with Ross McKinnon and Scott Agnew seeing off Steven Lawless’ counter for the visitors.

Martin was not in attendance for Rovers’ other visit on Saturday, February 18 2012 as he recovered from illness. His team were beaten 1-0 by a Bryan Prunty goal as Sons continued their unbeaten start to the calendar year.

Did those managers have any more success on their new ground?

Fairley certainly did. Sons’ first game against his Forfar team at Station Park was an abject 6-0 defeat. As well as the manager and his coaching staff, the Loons had also recruited Steven Bonar after his departure from Dumbarton two months earlier.

Whatever else that and other results did, they didn’t stop Sons staying up in the Second Division to meet Forfar again the next season. The first meeting of 2005/06 was at Station Park in a fixture where Fairley’s men again triumphed, this time by just the two goals to nil. Playing his third game for Forfar that day was a 20-year-old defender, on loan from Falkirk, by the name of Darren Barr.

But Fairley was only in charge of Forfar for one more game – a 1-0 defeat away to Partick Thistle. He then left the club and has not managed at senior level since.

Martin’s sequence of results against Sons at Cliftonhill, meanwhile, is a symmetrical mix. It started with a 3-1 win for Sons, a game best remembered for Ross Clark’s long-distance opening goal. The other visit to Coatbridge in the 2008/09 season ended 1-1, Clark again scoring, this time in injury time to deny Martin against the club he left nearly three years earlier.

The first Cliftonhill clash of 2011/12 saw Rovers reverse the 3-1 scoreline in their favour. Again, the teams drew 1-1 in the other match along the M8. Martin left Rovers at the end of that season after cementing their place in the third tier, and like Fairley, has yet to return to senior football.

Has any former manager come back to Dumbarton’s current ground and won, in some capacity?

Yes. And it’s fair to say that since Gerry McCabe parted company with the club in 2007, he’s exacted revenge when he’s returned.

The Dumbarton hot seat was the only one he has ever held as the top man. However, following his departure from the club, he has since faced Sons as assistant manager to Jim McIntyre and Jim Jefferies at Dunfermline, and McIntyre again at Queen of the South. Not only has his team won on all five visits to the ground, they haven’t conceded a goal in any of them. He is now assistant to Paul Hartley at Dundee, but only went there after they were promoted to the Premiership in 2014.

Back in the stadium’s very early days, Jim Fallon was Hamilton Accies’ physio when they won 2-1 at Dumbarton in April 2001. Paul Martin was also assistant manager to John McCormack at Albion Rovers in season 2007/08 before taking the gaffer’s post himself the following season. However, the Wee Rovers lost 2-0 on both visits to Dumbarton.

So who was the last manager to return to Dumbarton, in charge of another team, and win?

Alex Totten, who did so in charge of Falkirk in August 1997 in a Challenge Cup first round tie. At the start of a season which would see them finish bottom of Scotland’s Third Division, Sons were beaten 2-0 by the team who went on to win the competition. Three months earlier, Totten had also managed Falkirk in the Scottish Cup final, which they lost 1-0 to Kilmarnock, another of his former clubs. He was Sons boss for one season, 1986/87, before joining St Johnstone.

So Ian Murray is aiming to end a record which has existed since day one at the Cheaper Insurance Direct Stadium, and for 18 years all in. But there are quite a few people who are keen to see it stand for some time yet.

Game on.

Andy Galloway

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