Friday 8th December 2017
STEVIE AITKEN could hold the manager of the month award in the palm of his hand.
But if he had his way, it would be more akin in size to the Champions League trophy.
Because it would need to be on that scale to accommodate all the names the Dumbarton gaffer wants to recognise for his latest success.
It might only bear his name, but an engraver would be kept very busy with all the people Stevie wants to credit.
Most of all, the players and staff who, together with him, have helped the club remain unbeaten in six on the spin.
And the secret? Simple. Play the game with a smile on your face.
The Sons squad have done nothing differently over the last 540 minutes of football. They simply enjoy what they do.
Speaking exclusively to www.dumbartonfootballclub.com, Stevie said: “It’s like any award. I’m always delighted to get it but I’ve said it many a time – it’s never about me.
“It’s about the team, players and staff. It’s for everybody after the great run of results we’ve had.
“It might be my name that’s on the trophy but I’m happy for the club that it is associated with people doing well.
“We’ve worked hard since the close season to basically recruit a new team, and we’re getting the rewards for that at the moment.
“For good results to happen, the players need to be enjoying their football, and they are certainly doing that at the moment.
“They’re in a really good place at the moment, enjoying playing and enjoying each other’s company. They get on well and they’re driving each other on.
“Guys like Tom Walsh and Kyle Hutton are in fantastic form right now, because they are enjoying their football again.
“The players are a group who want to do the best they can. There’s another game round the corner against a team near the top of the league (Livingston), and fair play to them for that, but we’ll be confident against them.”
This is the second time Stevie has been recognised with this award in his stay at Dumbarton, the first having been last December, and his sixth in total.
But it’s the first time he’s won a manager of the month prize without Stevie Farrell at his side.
Where the man who is now Stranraer boss sat, now sits Ian Durrant, who is closing in on a year as Sons’ assistant.
And Stevie was keen to give credit to the man who has brought a mentality from his playing days into the Dumbarton dressing room.
He continued: “Everybody is different. Stevie was great with what he did and is now away doing well with Stranraer.
“With Ian, what we got was the name of a guy that’s been at the top all his career.
“He’s brought experience to the club, and also a mindset that we don’t do failure well here. We want to be the best we can be.
“He played under managers like Graeme Souness and Walter Smith, to whom second place wasn’t good enough. He’s now got that mentality through to our players.
“He commands massive respect and the players love him. He’s a character and keeps the spirit going in the dressing room.
“We’re always confident in what we’re doing.”
The latest award could hardly be better-timed. It comes on the one-year anniversary of THAT Scottish Cup replay.
Fast forward 12 months from the game simply known as ‘Bonnyrigg’, and Dumbarton are national cup semi-finalists, and well clear of the Championship’s bottom two.
Stevie said: “On the two occasions (against Bonnyrigg), we weren’t good enough. What that result did do was make us re-evaluate the squad we had.
“Players had to move on, we managed to replace them, and we went from strength to strength.
“Players, managers and supporters at all clubs see good results and bad results – it does happen. However, we got a reaction from the players to that result.”
Sons’ latest eye-catching result was Saturday’s 1-0 win away to St Mirren, who went into the game as league leaders.
The Paisley side had not lost at home in the league since January, but before the game, manager Jack Ross had warned that part-time didn’t mean easy pickings.
And if anybody didn’t know that before, they certainly did when Tom Walsh buried the game’s only goal.
Ross also gave Dumbarton, where he was assistant to Ian Murray, credit for the result after the game.
But Stevie just wishes there was more of that from other quarters.
He told the club website: “I’ve always said that football is simply 11 men against 11. You can fine-tune what you are doing during the week and set the players out as you want to play, but it comes down to who is best on the day.
“Jack was very complimentary about us after the game as well. He’s been at part-time level himself and knows it can be tough.
“We’ve had some credit for recent results, but after the Dunfermline game I kept hearing about the draw being because they were poor – not because we played well.
“Even on Saturday, in some quarters it was about St Mirren being poor. That’s the downside to being part-time – when you beat the likes of Hibs or Dundee United, it’s never about how well you have done; it’s the opposition playing poorly. And that’s the frustrating thing.
“We’ve had a player scoring the SPFL goal of the month and we’re in a cup semi-final. When we look at the bigger picture, things are good.”
The club’s performances over recent times have led some to question why Stevie is not managing at so-called higher levels of the game.
However, speculation over his future workplaces doesn’t bother the Sons gaffer, who is simply focusing on the task in hand.
He added: “Everybody has an opinion, but I don’t bother about it too much. I’m not one for going out there and saying ‘this should be happening or this guy should be doing that’.
“I just do the best job I can do. If you do well in that, great, and people will talk about you moving on. I can’t ensure that doesn’t happen but it doesn’t bother me.
“I’m simply aiming to do as well as I can at Dumbarton. If other clubs want to talk to you, that goes with the territory, but your focus is always on your current employers.
“I tell players that I want them to use Dumbarton as a platform to go on and further themselves in a higher arena, and maybe the time will come when I have a go at that myself.
“But right now, while I hear bits and bobs, my attention is on playing Livingston on Saturday.
“I definitely feel there is more that can be done at Dumbarton – that’s why I signed a two-year deal in the close season.
“I want to be here for the next couple of years and maybe beyond, helping the club continue to build. The Championship is tough at times, and Brechin are finding it tough now, but that can happen.
“I’d like to take Dumbarton as high as I can. Getting them into the top half of the league will be difficult, as we have to bridge the gap between ourselves and the top teams.
“But as far as I’m concerned, the only thing missing here is full-time football. It would be great if that could happen, but we’ll keep trying to achieve as much as we can.”