The eternally controversial former Rangers goalkeeper took the high road to Elgin in the autumn – but, as Dan Brennan relates, the low road would have led, amazingly, to Brazil
For all its merits, Elgin is not Rio. Ask Andy Goram. This summer, the 39-year-old former Rangers goalkeeper appeared close to an improbable move to Brazilian top-flight side Botafogo, after a chance encounter with the club’s representatives in Selkirk, where he was organising a six-a-side tournament.
Released by Queen of the South in May – the culmination of a gradual descent into obscurity on both sides of the border – the keeper had been contemplating throwing in the towel altogether when the Brazilian lifeline was proffered. A follow-up meeting with the club’s representatives in Texas, where Goram was attending a Rangers convention, seemed to confirm that the South Americans were serious. But then it all went quiet. The jilted keeper was none too pleased. “I’m just going to go away, get as far away from football as possible,” he grumbled to Scotland on Sunday. “It’s pissing me off just now. There must be some fucking good goalkeepers out there, that’s all I can say. Botafogo were supposed to ring and I’m still waiting.”
They never did call. Thank heavens, then, for the Ibrox old boys’ network. After several months sitting by the phone, Goram heard from Elgin City, managed his old team-mate Davie Robertson and stuck in the lower reaches of the Scottish Third Division.
At the beginning of October, the Copacabana just a dream, Goram made his debut for the Highland side against Albion Rovers. For a club deprived of celebrities, even faded ones, there was a frisson of excitement amongst the 600-plus crowd at Borough Briggs, as Goram (aka “the Flying Pig” and “Bullneck”) took to the pitch, thighs bursting out of a pair of blue lycra supports. The joy was short-lived. Within two minutes, the Flying Pig had contrived to let in a header from pint-sized Rovers striker Paul McManus. By the final whistle, he had conceded five – the first two clear gaffes on his part. He cut a forlorn figure as he trundled off. Asked if he wouldn’t rather be keeping wicket, the former Scotland cricketer still found it in him to pull off a self-deprecating one-liner: “Problem is, if I can’t catch a ball the size of a football, I’ve no chance at cricket.”
His debut was put down to a lack of match practice, but it has become increasingly difficult to find excuses. In his first five games he conceded 15 goals, helping the club cement their place second from bottom with a sequence of two draws and three defeats. The nadir came when they lost 3-1 to East Stirlingshire, the only team in Scotland below them, who had not won in their 29 previous outings.
It is a far cry from the days when he was a revered figure in Scottish football. One of Goram’s biggest fans, Archie Knox, once said: “There are a few players you come across in your career with that phenomenal temperament, that winning mentality. Willie Miller, Bryan Robson, Richard Gough... Andy is right up there with the best of them.” Knox was presumably unavailable for comment after Goram’s last-minute withdrawal from a Euro 96 qualifier because he was not “mentally attuned” and his similar exit from the 1998 World Cup squad. Goram’s reputation was still such that Sir Alex Ferguson saw fit to draft him in as deputy to Fabien Barthez during the tail end of the 2000-01 campaign – and he even managed two appearances.
Infuriatingly for Celtic, Goram always raised his game for Old Firm derbies. Former Hoops manager Tommy Burns once said he wanted “Andy Goram broke my heart” inscribed on his tombstone. And few Old Firm protagonists have done as much to inflame sectarian passions. When Celtic won the 1998 title, all the players changed into T-shirts emblazoned with the legend “smell the glove”. Though the name of a Spinal Tap album, it is understood to have been a riposte to Goram, who allegedly once entered the Celtic dressing room before a game and threw down a goalkeeping glove previously wiped on a certain body part. Goram’s biggest sin came in 1998, when he sported a black armband. His claimed that he was in mourning for an aunt who had died three months earlier, but it was generally perceived as a tribute to the murdered Loyalist terrorist Billy Wright. A year later, Goram’s wife provided tabloids with a photo of him posing with the flag of a banned Loyalist group.
Latin America has a tradition of providing sanctury and a new identity to the politically misunderstood. At present, Goram could be forgiven for wishing he was there right now. Maybe the Brazilians will come calling again in the summer. Pigs might fly.
From WSC 203 January 2004. What was happening this month