A Different Kind of Management

The Honorary Ayrshireman, Jim McSherry, Talks to AM

by Iain Ferguson

There are few better known personalities in Ayrshire than Jim McSherry, the former footballer turned publican who played for both senior clubs in the county and whose cheeky chat has endeared himself to many people beyond the world of football.

These days he can be found behind the bar at the Wee Windaes in Newmarket Street, the pub he has run for more than 20 years. But it was on football pitches all over Scotland and beyond where he first came into the public eye.

Jim grew up as a promising young footballer in Larkhall, Lanarkshire and had trials with several English teams before signing for Kilmarnock in 1970. He has been an honorary Ayrshireman ever since having lived in Ayr for more than 50 years.

Breaking into the Kilmarnock first team Jim was given the no. 7 shirt which had been worn for the previous six seasons by the legendary Tommy McLean.

In many ways it was a very difficult transition as Jim explained: “Tommy was a legend at Kilmarnock and an out and out winger. But although I was given his shirt I wasn’t a winger I was a midfield player, so while the fans expected me to jink down the wing that wasn’t how I played.”

Jim played more than 150 first team games for Killie before moving down the A77 to Somerset Park in 1975 to join Ayr who were managed at the time by Ally McLeod. He appeared almost 230 times for the Honest Men and starred for the club in their only two seasons in the Premier League.

Ayr played in the original Scottish Premier League in 1975-1976 and stayed up after defeating Motherwell in the final game of the season at Somerset Park. The following season, though, Ayr were relegated.

When Ally McLeod left to manage Scotland in 1975, Alex Stuart became manager of the Somerset Park club before Ally returned briefly in 1978 only to be replaced by Willie McLean the following year.

In 1982 Jim left Ayr and became player-manager of Berwick Rangers but that move didn’t work out and he joined Stirling Albion before embarking on an adventure with his previous Ayr manager, Willie McLean, and former Ayr United teammate, Eric Morris.

Jim said: “Willie landed a job as manager of Pezoporikos Larnaca in Cyprus and asked me to go with him. That was in 1984. I stayed for a season and it was different for me in a lot of ways. The football was played at a much slower pace than over here, but the fans took to me because although at 32 my best days were maybe behind me, I still ran about and they liked my all action style.”

On returning to Scotland in 1985 Jim had a brief spell back with Stirling Albion and then moved back to Kilmarnock when another great friend, Jim Fleeting, became manager and Jim and Frank Coulston were appointed assistant managers.

Jim recalled: “KIllie were a part-time club back then but Jim’s brother Bobby had become chairman and invested a lot in the club and things were beginning to turn round. I enjoyed being back at Rugby Park.”

Later on he would become manager of Kilwinning Rangers, a role he greatly enjoyed.

“Allan McLuckie was chairman of the Club at the time,” Jim said. “I just loved his enthusiasm, it was infectious. I really enjoyed my time there and we got into the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup.”

When he played with Ayr, Jim doubled up as Commercial Manager and when he returned to Kilmarnock for a third time in the mid 1990s it was in that role. Bobby Williamson was the manager and Ayrshire hotelier, Bill Costley, the Chairman.

He was also a SFA staff coach at Largs for many years alongside Andy Roxburgh, Walter Smith, the late Craig Brown, Willie McLean, Archie Knox and Jim Fleeting. He enjoyed the camaraderie of those days and he recalls putting one now famous manager through his coaching badge.

Jim joked: “I taught Davie Moyes all he knows! But seriously he was in my group and showed even then he had what it takes to be a top manager. He’s enjoyed a rewarding career with a host of clubs including Preston, Everton and West Ham.”

He also dabbled in journalism over the years with the McSherry File featuring in the Ayrshire Post and later the Ayr Advertiser. He also took to the airwaves in 2003 when I asked him to be my co-host on West Sound’s Super Scoreboard, a four-hour Saturday afternoon sports show, and the Ferguson-McSherry double act enjoyed a few good years on the radio.

Jim laughed: “Saturday afternoons were fun and we covered senior, junior and amateur football and we would get into all sorts of arguments with each other, but the listeners loved it.”

At around that time, Jim made a life-changing move when he took over the reins at the Wee Windaes in Newmarket Street and in the 20 years that have followed he has stamped his unique charisma and personality on the pub making it one of the most popular in the town.

He wasn’t a stranger to the licensed trade as he worked as a rep for some years with a number of companies, including Carlsberg and Scottish Brewers in his footballing days, but it was still a bold move venturing to the other side of the bar.

The move to take over the Wee Windaes was set up by Jim’s close friend, John Gilligan, who had been Managing Director of Tennent’s and was also formerly a director of Rangers.

Over the years the Wee Windaes has etched its place in Ayr folklore and raised funds in excess of five figures for local charities including the Ayrshire Hospice and Ayrshire Cancer Support. Sports and entertainment stars regularly drop in and Tam Cowan, a good friend of Jim, has even hosted a night for the Hospice giving his services free of charge.

“The regulars are so generous,” said Jim. “We have organised fancy dress nights, Abba tribute nights, Ladies Nights and much more to raise funds for charity. In June we held a Pie And A Pint, the Cherrypickers Night being named after the legendary team that came from the village of Glenbuck, and we held a Q&A with Joe Fillipi, Peter McCloy and Archie Knox followed by an after dinner speech from former referee, Bobby Tait. Alongside a raffle and donations, we topped £2,200 for the Hospice.”

The Wee Windaes has a reputation for being the pub in town where sports and entertainment personalities can be seen. Scottish comedian, Andy Cameron, took a break from rehearsals at the Gaeity earlier in the year to visit Jim, and the aforementioned Tam Cowan pops in several a times a year, while Simon Neil of Biffy Clyro fame has also featured in the pub’s Facebook gallery as he joins his dad Gordon regularly for a pint.

Wednesday morning is the Cherrypickers Coffee Club which convenes in the Cafe Le Monde across from the Windaes in Newmarket Street. Among those regularly attending include former Scotland, Rangers, Manchester United and Everton assistant manager, Archie Knox, Willie McLean who managed both Ayr United and Motherwell, Scotland goalkeepers Peter McCloy and Jim Stewart, a host of other former footballers including Jim Fleeting, Mark Shanks, Robert Reilly, Neil Hood, George Maxwell and Frank Coulston, plus boxing promoter Tommy Gilmour.

Former Scotland manager, Craig Brown, was also a Coffee Club regular and one of Jim’s closest friends. Jim paid this tribute to Craig who died in June:

“I’d known Craig for more than 50 years. He was a generous, kind, caring man and a good friend to me. His knowledge was exceptional and not only on football. He was a very clever man and great company. His stories over coffee on Wednesday mornings were legendary. He will be missed greatly.”

I started off recounting Jim’s days as a youngster on the football pitches of Lanarkshire to the senior grounds of Kilmarnock and Ayr and he now follows his grandsons Daniel and Marcus in their Saturday morning games for Valspar. The journey has come full circle for Jim McSherry.