You started your career at Motherwell and made over 250 appearances for the club over a nine year period. Tommy McLean was the manager for most of that time. What was he like to work with?
“I was young player who Tommy put faith in at an early age and I was given the captaincy at the age of 20. That was a massive show of faith in me even though I do not think I was ready for the captaincy at that time.
“We had a high turnover at players at that time which is part of the reason why I think he wanted to name me as captain. It was a big responsibility but one that was a great honour.
“I enjoyed working under Tommy as he transitioned Motherwell to full-time football and raised standards at the club.”
You are known to most football fans as a right back but that was not always the case at Motherwell was it?
“I played sweeper for an extended period of time until I got a stress fracture injury which kept me on the sidelines.
“Then, upon my return, I was pushed into midfield for a season and a half. It was not for me to be honest. I am a natural defender and I wanted to get back to a defensive role.
“So, due to him strengthening the centre of defence, he moved me to left back to get me back into a more natural position.
“I had to learn the position fairly quickly being a predominantly right-footed player. At times, I felt a little awkward when taking the ball from the left but in time that feeling went away so much so that fans would say they could not tell the difference between me playing right or left back. Now, I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing (laughs).”
You captained Motherwell to Scottish Cup glory in the 1991 final against Dundee United. That game is considered one of the greatest finals of Scottish football history. What was it like to play in it?
“That game had everything. Ally Maxwell’s injury that day had a major influence on the game and I believe that is the reason that extra time was needed.
“Ally suffered a damaged spline due to a challenge from John Clark. We did not know that on the pitch at the time as he carried on so when Darren Jackson scored the late equaliser for Dundee United, I was screaming at Ally for not coming out his goal quicker without knowing just how severely he had been injured.
“However, it was superb day overall because winning any cup final is a great feeling but to win 4-3 in a game that had it all is an even greater feeling when I look back on it now.
“To lift the Scottish Cup trophy was a special feeling because Motherwell were not in a position to compete for major honours when I arrived at the club in the early 1980’s.
“Tommy McLean deserves great credit for getting us to a point that it was possible. He brought in better players like Davie Cooper, Bobby Russell, Craig Paterson and Chris McCart among others which helped us progress.
“We did not necessarily compete consistently but it was an unbelievable moment for us all that day. If you watch the footage back, you can see me shaking my head as I get handed the trophy because it was just an unbelievable moment for us as a team.
“To lift the trophy for a club like Motherwell who have not had too many of those types of days at Hampden was special. It was a great day and a fitting way to leave the club. I will always be grateful to the club for giving me my start in professional football.”
You swapped Lanarkshire for London by signing for Chelsea in 1991. That must have been a big adaptation to make. Was it?
“The adaptation in footballing terms was not too bad but the culture shock was the sheer scale of London as a city.
“However, whether it was Motherwell or Chelsea, it was still football albeit at a different venue. Stamford Bridge was a different venue to Fir Park in terms of the fanbase that Chelsea had in comparison to Motherwell but I had played in front of big crowds at Celtic Park, Ibrox and Hampden prior to joining Chelsea so it did not overly faze me.
“I was also a Scotland international when I went down there and looked forward to the challenge of playing against better teams and better players on a regular basis.
“I was not at Chelsea for a long time. Just one year and I was in the team for a prolonged period at the start of my time there then out for a while. However, my last game for Chelsea was a win at Anfield against Liverpool so it did not end too badly.
“I also had the chance to play with some talented players such as Steve Clarke, Andy Townsend and Paul Elliot. I planned to be in it for the long haul at Chelsea until circumstances at the club changed suddenly.”
You mention that circumstances changing suddenly ultimately lead to you leaving Chelsea for Celtic in 1992. As a boyhood Celtic fan, how did it feel to be joining the club that you love?
“I was shocked that I was leaving Chelsea considering that I was back in the team and that we had just won at Anfield.
“However, I was asked to report to Stamford Bridge in the days after that game which I thought was strange as we trained in Harrington.
“I did not know what it was for as I was a good wee boy (laughs). It was completely out of the blue.
“I was told by Ian Porterfield that Tony Cascarino would be coming to Chelsea and that as part of the deal that I was going to Celtic. Many fans of both clubs think that move was pre planned but I can certainly tell you that I knew nothing about the Celtic move until that moment.
“As soon as I heard the name Celtic, my heart skipped a beat and I could not get home quick enough. It was a dream come true to play for the club that I love.
“When Celtic coming calling for a supporter of the club then you cannot turn it down. I would have joined Celtic at any opportunity in my career prior to the move.”
You made your Celtic debut against Airdrie two days after signing your contract. What are your memories of that?
“I was very nervous. Running out in front of the jungle was amazing. I knew quite a few fans in there because I was one of them in my school days and many of my family stood there.
“You can only imagine what it must be like as a Celtic supporter to run out wearing the Hoops. It was the stuff of dreams and thankfully, my debut went smoothly and to hear the fans signing my name was a surreal feeling and a special moment for me.
“I would have been happy to play for Celtic once but to be able to do it on a many more occasions was a blessing. “
Your early years at Celtic in the early 1990’s saw managerial changes and financial challenges. How did you handle those times when success was hard to come by due to circumstances outwith the players’ control?
“It was an interesting start as you say with the circumstances at the club on and off the field
“It hurt not being able to win more in that period because as a fan I had watched Celtic win league titles and cups and I desperately wanted to do that myself as a player too.
“Playing a season at Hampden was also difficult however winning the Scottish Cup in 1995 felt like a turning point after Fergus McCann came in and we got back to Celtic Park, thing changed for the better.
“We could truthfully say from that point in that we could compete for the title.
“Everyone wanted to be a part of Celtic from then. It was just unfortunate that we couldn’t win a title under Tommy Burns despite having a top side but thankfully, we wouldn’t have too long to wait until we won the title that we so desperately craved.
“You were the Celtic captain as the club stopped Rangers winning 10 titles in a row in 1998.”
You were considered massive underdogs going in to that season. Was it the team spirit that helped galvanise the team and the fanbase to get over the line that season?
“Absolutely. Without any doubt. I know you have spoken to Paul Lambert – who was a European Cup winner with Dortmund – and Craig Burnley and they were pivotal in that season.
“Wim Jansen bringing in Henrik Larsson was another obvious decision in hindsight that helped us progress to becoming title winners. You only have to see what Henrik achieved at Celtic, Barcelona and Manchester United to know that he was a world class footballer.
“Being captain that season meant that I felt the responsibility to get the boys together when we could and have a tight knit unit. We would go out go-karting, paintballing or on the golf course as a team and it helped foster a strong team spirit between the homegrown players and the players from abroad.
“That strength in unison between the players, staff and with the fans is definitely what helped us get over the line in the end. “
You were on the ball and, as a result, the last person to touch the ball when the referee blows the whistle to crown Celtic as Champions after nine years without a title. Can you sum up your emotions at that moment?
“It was a feeling that I honestly did not want to end. It is hard to put in to words just how good it felt.
“Sadly, Wim left back that game and the feeling ended quite shortly after the success but even now, I look back on it and it was a day of magnitude in the club’s history given what was on the line.
“As a captain and as a supporter to stop them from winning the 10 which meant we protected the Lisbon Lions legacy of being the first team to win 9 in a row was massive.
“There was so much joy and relief that day. It is a day that will live with me forever.”
John Barnes then Kenny Dalglish replaced Wim Jansen in the next season which did not go well. However, Martin O’Neill arrived in 2000 and transformed the club from runners-up to treble winners in one season. You were the first captain since Billy McNeil to lift a treble at Celtic. How proud are you of that achievement?
“Another unbelievable achievement. Unfortunately, Scott Brown made a habit of winning trebles during his time at the club that it feels like second nature for Celtic to win a treble now but it certainly was not at that time.
“It was only the third treble in Celtic history at that time when we won it.
“There are times and circumstances in football that a manager and a club are the right fit at the right time and Martin O’Neill was that for us.
“Martin has a massive impact on the club. He signed top-class players from England such as Chris Sutton, Neil Lennon, John Hartson and others who helped us progress.
“It was an outstanding season and my last season as team captain before Paul Lambert took over which was special too.”
Last but not least, I have to ask you about your international career. You are the 6th most capped Scottish male player of all time with 72 caps. You played at three major tournaments (two European Championships and one World Cup) as well. What were those major tournaments like to play in under Andy Roxburgh and Craig Brown?
“Andy was good and had Craig as his assistant before Craig took over from him.
“For me, I am a proud Scotsman and I was so proud to pull on the Scotland jersey. I gave my all for Scotland and for every team in my career no matter whether I played in the opening game of the World Cup or away to Albion Rovers.
“I had some great experiences with Scotland and we had a good group of players which enabled us to qualify for major tournaments regularly.
“It was a shock that it took over 20 years for Scotland to get there again under Steve Clarke but hopefully we can be back more regularly now.”