Luxury item

Between acting, punditry and chat shows, does Ally McCoist have the time to score goals for Kilmarnock? Graeme Jamieson reports

Is the fairytale over? Breaking his leg against Rangers in October may have been Ally Mc­Coist’s last act in football. Those cheery souls in the Scottish press suggested that the Kil­marnock striker, who will retire at the end of the season, would never play again. The offic­ial line is that he’ll be back after the winter break. The question is, should he bother?

His one league goal this season has looked a poor return, especially considering that it was a penalty. Then again, he didn’t start a game until mid-September, which mystified fans who had been told that he had worked hard in pre-season training to shed the excess weight he carried last year.

It seems that in order to see McCoist for 90 minutes a week you need a TV licence rather than a season ticket. As well as being a team captain on A Question of Sport, he co-hosts a chat show on BBC1 and pops up as a pundit on ITV’s Champions League coverage. One night, he appeared on both channels simultaneously, as deft a one-two as I’ve seen. While this exposure is good for Ally McCoist and, tenuously, for Kilmarnock, many fans have begun to wonder if he spends any time playing football any more.

Matters came to a head while McCoist was shooting his role in Robert Duvall’s alarming football film, The Cup. His comments be­fore an away match at Dundee United revealed the extent of the problem: “I’m not involved in Sunday’s shooting so I will be available if the manager wants me.” Oh, thanks. McCoist has never hidden his love or loyalty towards Rangers, but Kilmarnock pay him a healthy salary so he’s not playing for them as a fav­our.

The fans, feeling let down, have made their feelings clear, booing McCoist from the pitch in the UEFA Cup defeat by Kai­serslautern. He had mis­sed several chances to give a shred of res­pectability to the 5-0 agg­regate defeat and the crowd were not impressed with his contribution. Affecting deafness, he claimed not to hear the supporters.

When interviewed about his other work, McCoist has never defended himself, but then he has never had to. The Scottish media is ex­ceptionally supportive of him. He sells news­papers. Very few negative words are ever writ­ten about him, despite his obvious failings as a TV presenter. In fact, Kilmarnock fans have been vilified for booing “Scotland’s favourite son”. Apparently they are spoiled with success.

The media has certainly got a lot to do with perpetuating the McCoist legend. At 37 years old, his pace has gone, his waistline has thickened and his goalscoring instinct seems to have deserted him. Con­versely, when­­ever a cross goes beg­ging and he isn’t on the pitch, there is a con­sensus of opinion that McCoist “would have been there” had he been playing. Quite why he hasn’t “been there” all season remains a mystery. It certainly seems that McCoist has had his cake and eaten it. And then come back for more.

There are few people work­ing in football with as much TV exposure, al­though Big Ron’s second spell at Shef­field Wednesday ran him close, but to blame Mc­Coist alone for the sit­uation would be unfair. After all, he is near­ing the end of his foot­ball career and be­sides, Kil­mar­nock all­ow it.

It’s hard to see this being tolerated at most clubs. Yet Kilmarnock ev­en encouraged fans to turn up at Rugby Park to film sequences for The Cup only four hours before the team kick­ed off in Dundee, cutting it fine for a lot of fans to make it to the game. Maybe Kil­marnock thought a little glamour would ben­efit the club and that McCoist’s TV com­mit­ments were the price they had to pay for sign­ing him. In which case, it’s a situation of their own making.

Just occasionally, the starry-eyed foot­ballers of today need to be taken aside and reminded what that white, round thing in the dressing room is for.

From WSC 156 February 2000. What was happening this month