By Colin Byiers
Stranraer assistant manager Darryl Duffy has had one of the most intriguing careers, which has seen him play Champions League football with Rangers, to winning a League title with Falkirk and playing in India for a spell.
Now back in Scotland and transitioning into coaching and management, Duffy has got long term plans to remain in the game and pass on his experiences to the next generation of players in this country.
Darryl, firstly let me take you back to 2003, when you made your debut as a 19-year-old for Rangers.
It doesn’t seem that long ago, mentally I’m still the same age to be honest! The body doesn’t always agree right enough. It was always my dream to break into the first team and be a regular, but to be a regular at a club like that you need to be extra special. I was just delighted to make my debut and play 2 more games. It was quite nice because it was 3 different competitions I played in, the Champions League one being the biggest. I’ve still got my Champions League strip and I’ll be keeping that forever. It was unbelievable. I used to sit and watch Champions League football on the telly and the hairs on the back of your neck would stand up when the music started playing, so to be part of that and sitting on the bench soaking in the atmosphere, I’ve never experienced anything like it or since. It’s one of those nights that will always stay with me. Sitting on the bench, I had no idea I was going to be playing, but we were losing at the time, and I was chucked on to try and get us back in the game, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.
You decided to move on a few months later and joined Falkirk. Did you have the choice to stay at Rangers?
Rangers had offered me a year’s extension, but by that time I had a taste of first team football, and I didn’t see the benefits of taking it other than being a Rangers supporter. That was the hardest decision to make, but from a footballing point of view there was guys like Egil Ostenstad and Nuno Capucho ahead of me in the que to play games and I felt I should have been ahead of those guys at that time playing games. So, I spoke to Partick Thistle, St Johnstone and Falkirk. After meeting Yogi, (John Hughes), it was a done deal. His passion for the game and the way he spoke and how he spoke was the difference. I was aware they had Russell Latapy in their team, and I knew a lot about him from watching him at Hibs and Rangers, and I was excited to be teaming up with him. The facilities, the new stadium, just everything felt right. My girlfriend at the time and I met Yogi, and he was brilliant with her as well. It was things like that, that swung it that way for me.
It ended up being a good decision, as it was a successful first season for yourself and the team.
Yeah, it couldn’t have gone any better to be honest. I played every game, scored 27 goals in all competitions. We won the Challenge Cup as it was called back then. We won the league, got promoted to the Premier League. I was young player of the year. Broke into the Scotland Under 21 squad, and the B squad. It was an incredible first season for me. You always want to do well in your debut season as a first team player, but that went way beyond all expectations.
Back in the Premier League with Falkirk and you started well, but you started getting attention from other clubs. Did you find that to be a distraction at the time?
I’m quite a level-headed person, it never affected me. I was still playing every week for Falkirk and scoring goals, but we were more mid to bottom end of the table. I got 9 goals in 19 games in the first half of the season, and it was going well for me on the pitch. When the move did come off, it all happened pretty quickly, so there was no time for anything to put me off.
Peter Taylor took you down to Hull City. It was quite a big move for yourself, at the age of 20-years-old.
It was a huge decision. I was 20 coming up for 21, and I had only been out of my mum’s house for about a year, so I was still learning how to do everything around the house myself! I went from living in Glasgow to moving to Hull, no family or friends down there, just myself and Claire. The draw of Peter Taylor being the manager was a big thing for me. His reputation of working and developing younger players was incredible. I spoke with Yogi and Russell Latapy and got their advice, and you start to wonder if this kind of opportunity will come round again, and that was a big factor in it. I’ve only got one real regret in my career and that was moving in the January, with hindsight, I probably should have stayed for the remainder of season with Falkirk and then too it from there.
Unfortunately, Peter Taylor wasn’t there long after you signed. Did things go sour for you soon after that at Hull City?
He was the main reason why I went down there, and I think I got to work with him for 4 or 5 months then he was away. They appointed a guy called Phil Parkinson, and my first meeting with him couldn’t have gone any worse. He sat me down and said he was going to cut to the chase. He said, “I don’t rate Scottish football. I don’t rate Scottish footballers. It’s an overrated team and you won’t be playing in my team.” I had never had a conversation like that or since, and you’re left think, “where do we go from here”. I still had 2 years on my contract, and I was determined to stay and make a success of it, but after that conversation, I was always going to be up against it.
I worked hard during pre-season, and he was trying hard to leave me out of pre-season games, but whenever I was coming on I would do well, and I ended up starting the first two league games of that campaign. We had a really tough start. West Brom away and then Wolves at home. We lost both those games and I never featured under Phil Parkinson after that again. I would be on the bench and get 5 minutes which would turn into him saying I wasn’t doing it, which turned into me sitting in the stand.
You had loan spells at Hartlepool and Swansea. Describe how they went.
Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. It was the exact opposite of what it was like at Hull. Danny Wilson at Hartlepool was desperate to get me in. He had seen me at Falkirk and at Hull and it was similar to when I met Yogi. He just wanted me to come in and score goals to get them up the table and that’s what I did. They were League 2 and I ended up scoring 5 goals in 8 games and then my loan was over. They wanted me to stay until the end of the season, but then Swansea came in and they were in League 1. Although I had enjoyed my time at Hartlepool, it was for me the next step to challenge myself at a higher level.
Roberto Martinez took me in, and again, said he wanted me to play in his team, but he a few games to do it, rather than throwing me in at the deep end. They had guys like Adebayo Akinfenwa, Lee Trundle and Pawel Abbott, guys who had been in England all their careers and doing well. I made 3 sub appearances before I started my first game. I then started the 5 games in a row and scored in all 5.
What was it like working under Roberto Martinez at that time and moving to Swansea on a permanent?
I had no idea he would go on to do the things he had done. I was just thinking that training was fantastic, the football we played was amazing and from a playing point of view, the atmosphere in the changing room was amazing also. I ended up singing of Swansea for all those reasons, that summer.
Phil Brown had taken over the job at Hull City, and he wanted me to stay and give me a chance, but because I had enjoyed myself so much at Swansea and built up a really good partnership with Lee Trundle, I decided to move to Swansea. Then 2 weeks later, Lee moves to Bristol City! So, we signed Jason Scotland, and we started the season up front together. After 3 games, I torn my groin muscle and I was out for 3 months. Because Jas was the only main striker at that time, we went to 1 up front to what would now be called a 4-2-3-1, and we went on the most incredible run. Jas was flying and ended the season on 29 goals, and we won the league that year. I was limited to sub appearances, and I never really felt part of that, so it was a bit of a disappointment.
Bristol Rovers was your next club. Was playing games the main reason for leaving Swansea?
Yeah, pretty much. I had a meeting with Roberto about the new season, and he was happy to have me in his squad but couldn’t guarantee me first team football because he wanted to stick with the same formation. At the same time, he said he knew I wanted to play football and if I wanted to go the club wouldn’t stand in my way. Bristol Rovers were the only club that got near what Swansea wanted for me in a transfer fee, so I went down to Bristol, and I loved it. To this day, it’s still the best place I lived in in England. I signed a 3-year deal and done well in my first season, scoring 18 goals. I played with Rickie Lambert, who was bit more unknown at the time. That was him working his way up the leagues. It was a really good partnership. I scored 18 goals and he scored 29.
The following season, the manager brought in two new strikers, and I found myself on the bench again for no real reason. The partnership worked so well last season, why not give it a go again in the new one. So, it was a frustrating second season and after that season, Yogi was at Hibs by this point, so I got the opportunity to go on loan to Hibs with Yogi.
Had you planned on coming back to Scotland or was it purely because Yogi was manager at Hibs at the time?
I actually planned on playing out the rest of my career in England, but how things were going, the end at Hull and the end at Swansea and coming to an end at Bristol Rovers combined with working with Yogi again, it seemed like a no brainer. It was nice to get back up the road again and see family and friends again that I had been away from for so many years, so it ticked all the boxes. Again though, it doesn’t always work out the way you plan. I was doing pre-season, and I was the fittest and sharpest I had felt in a long time. The Friday before my league debut at home against Inverness, and we were doing a bit of team shape, and I had come short at one point and spun in behind and felt a crack in my foot. I had broken a bone in my foot. As easy as that! I had surgery on it and was out for 3 months.
That winter was the Breast from the East, so the training ground was covered in snow and frozen over. I couldn’t do any of my outside rehab. Most of my rehab was in the gym, and because of that, I developed an Achilles problem. I was told to have complete rest. By the time I had come back from all the injuries, Yogi had been sacked. Colin Calderwood came in and said he wanted to overhaul the squad and bring in as many of his players as possible. I think I played 6 games under Calderwood from the January to the end of the season. It was a season that was full of optimism but was one that showed how quickly things can change. I genially believe that if I had stayed fit and started that season, I would have had a successful season and Yogi would have stayed longer.
Your final 2 years in England were spent at Cheltenham.
I had interest from Dundee United after I left Hibs, but they were waiting to sell David Goodwillie to Blackburn at the time, but they were waiting for the outcome of his court case. It was a move Dundee United wanted to happen and it was a move I wanted to happen, but again, it was out with my control. Until Goodwillie moved to Blackburn United couldn’t sign me. The season then started, and nothing was happening, and I ended up moving to Cheltenham for 2 years.
It was a similar story there. I had started well first season, scored 16 goals and played at Wembley in the play-off final. Unfortunately, we lost that game and then 2nd season, I hardly played. After that I had had enough. I wanted to try something different, and I always wanted to play abroad.
How would you sum up your time in England?
Probably a mixed levels of success and mixed levels of failure and frustration. I got numerous player of the month awards, won League 1, played and scored against some really big clubs, so maybe failure is not the right word, maybe mixed levels of disappointment.
India was a surprising move. How did that one come about?
It was my mate Alan Gow, who I had played with at Falkirk and played against numerous times down south. He was one of the guys I had kept in touch with, and he had played 6 months out in India, and when I spoke to him, he recommended it. I had only planned on being out there for a year but ended up loving so much I stayed there for 4 years!
What was the level of football like over there? What would you compare it with?
I’d say bottom of League 2 in England, or bottom end of the Championship in Scotland. It’s hard to directly compare because the weather alone makes it so hard to compare. It’s so hot and humid, I would lose 3kg in sweat each game! Technically they are probably further ahead than a lot of British players. Their agility makes their technique so good and that surprised me as to how good they were. Back then it was the tactical side of the game that let them down, that was the side of the game that they were behind British clubs.
The managers I worked with over there, I spent a lot of time with. They would pick my brain about stuff. That was the first time I had experienced the management side of things, and I enjoyed it and that’s what got me interested in that going forward.
Was it easy to adapt to another culture?
No, it wasn’t. I was there for the first 6 weeks myself, until my wife could get visas sorted. We had two young kids by then, a year old and 3-years-old. In that first 6 weeks when I was over, I thought the whole thing was horrendous, and I wanted to come home. I was on the phone to my wife telling her I was coming home, but she said to hang in and they’d be over soon. Once they were over, the situation changed, and I completely relaxed but I was then more worried about how they would settle in.
Honestly, my wife and kids adapted so quickly. I would go to training for 3 or 4 hours in the morning, then the rest of the day was ours. We’d go to the beach, dipping in and out of the ocean. If it got too hot, you’d go to a hotel a relax by a pool. You could have a big buffet dinner for the 3 of us for £30, which had steak and lobster! What a life it was.
Sadly, the club I was playing for Salgaocar, had an issue with the new ISL (Indian Super League). A few of the teams in India weren’t happy with the new league because they were demanding a “franchise fee” to join the league. It got to the point where Salgaocar were so stubborn that they folded in protest. So, here’s me wanting to stay in India but the club I played for folded! I joined Mohun Bagan, but it was a city club in Calcutta, with a population of 16 million. Very different to the beach life in Goa.
The boys were at school for the last couple of years and they settled in well. They were like wee celebrities, with their milky white skin and blonde hair and blue eyes. They had never seen someone with white skin in the flesh before, and it was proper Scottish white skin too! It was a great experience, and I wouldn’t change anything about my time in India. I was quite successful too. I won Foreign Player of the Year in my first season, top goal scorer in my first season, and won the cup with Salgoacar. So, overall, it’s a time I look back on with fond memories.
You came back to Scotland in 2017 and joined St Mirren, but things didn’t work out for you though.
When I came back, I had been training with Ayr United for a week and they had offered me a deal, but I got an offer from Jack Ross at St Mirren. I had known Jack from my time at Falkirk when he had signed. I went there to train, and done well, signed with St Mirren, but never really played. I played East Kilbride in the cup and then made two 3o second sub appearances, and that was the total sum of my opportunities at St Mirren. I went to Airdire on loan for the second half of the season, then made that permanent.
The manager changed, so it was new ideas and that was it for me as a full-time player. I found that hard to transition from full-time football, where you’d go out to training every morning, but I found myself in the house all day then training 2 nights a week. So, I started doing other things, I became a fully qualified personal trainer and try and work in gyms during the day. That made me start to really think about what I wanted to do after I was playing and that I wanted a career in football after I finished playing.
You dropped down to League 2 with Stirling Albion for a year. Had you wanted to continue playing part-time?
I had spent a year and a bit at Airdrie, and their Astro pitch had done a number on me, so I was looking for a team that played on grass and Stirling ticked the boxes. I also wanted to go somewhere where I’d be the senior figure of the team and pass on my knowledge to the younger players.
You are now at Stranraer, with a year under your belt last season. How disappointing was the end of last season for the club?
We had an up and down season to be honest. We’d go through fits and starts where we’d be really good then be really disappointing. Made the play-off and we ended up being poor over the two games against Dumbarton. We never really got going and Dumbarton ended up just scraping by us. So that was a disappointment, but nothing compared to the rollercoaster in the summer!
I had spoken to Stevie Farrell about an extension at Stranraer, and by this time I wanted to be a player/coach somewhere. He already had an assistant and Jamie Hamill as his first team coach, so he just wanted me to chip in with stuff now and again. As we were only part-time, I was going to be limited to the amount of time I would get, if any, during the 2 nights training, so I started looking around for options to be an actual player/coach.
During that process, Stevie Farrell left and joined Dumbarton. Jamie Hamill asked me if I wanted to be his assistant manager and have Scott Robertson as coach. That’s us 6 months into it now and I absolutely love it. I don’t miss the playing side of things, which I guess is the biggest compliment I can give the coaching.
How do you see the future for you now that you are in a management position?
I had a roadmap in my head of being a player/coach where I would still be playing now and again but mostly doing the coaching side of things, then become an assistant for a year or two. Maybe be an assistant at a full-time level, then look to progress into becoming a manager myself. I’ve skipped the player/coach part and jumped right into the assistant manager bit, with a little bit of playing. I’ve taken to the assistant manager role well I think, but one thing I have learned about being an assistant manager at a part-time level is that it’s not part-time at all! You’re paid part-time and your hours are part-time but it’s 100% full-time.
Hammy had never been a manager before, I had never been an assistant manager before and Scott Robertson had never been a first team coach before, so we thought we’d just learn it as we go, and I think we’re still learning.
We all chip in with our ideas for training, for set-pieces, tactics, man-management, days off. Hammy gets the final say on everything obviously, but we’ve thrown ourselves into it. I take charge of the kit, footballs, bibs etc, and Robbo takes charge of the mini goals, the cones, the hurdles, so we literally do everything ourselves. We’ve had so many learning curves thrown at us this year, like on 2 separate occasions we’ve had no goalkeeper even though we had 2 on the books.
We lost our chairman a few weeks back completely out of the blue, so we’ve had to deal with that. Two separate covid outbreaks and not being able to get games postponed, literally just having 11 players. We’ve had a lot to deal with this year and as we are a first-time management team, I think we’ve handled things quite well. We’re going to go into next season a bit more prepared. This season we only had 7 players at pre-season so we’re scrambling to get the squad filled with trialists just to get through friendlies, but we’re going to give it a right good go next season.
What’s your thoughts on the final part of this season?
We want to get into the play-offs, that’s the ultimate goal. Our remit was to stay in the division, because of our budget and the small amount of players we had at the start, the club just wanted to stay in the division. Between the 3 of us, we wanted to push on and make the play-offs. That’s still the aim. We are making it as difficult as we can for ourselves, which seems to be the way! If we can get to the play-offs after everything we’ve been through this season then it’ll be worth it. It’s been so quite the introduction into management.