Jimmy Crease could never have planned this. When he agreed to take over as Berwick Rangers manager following the resignation of Allan McGonigal in November 2008, he did so on the understanding that it was on an interim basis, for one month only. Crease, after all, was an associate director.
A month later he was agreeing to carry on until the end of the season. Two years after he had agreed to just fill in on a temporary basis, the former Berwick player is preparing for the biggest game of his life at the age of 61.
“As a player or a manager I cannot remember being involved in a game as high profile as this,” said Crease ahead of Sunday’s plum Scottish Cup fourth round tie. “The players, the fans, the media... everyone is showing an interest in the match and it’s just great. It gives Berwick their 15 minutes in the limelight and I can’t wait for it to come.”
Crease played for Berwick and Albion Rovers before his first spell as manager at Shielfield between 1992 and 1994. He then took charge of Albion Rovers, but resigned in December 1995. Following a spell managing Arniston Rangers, Fauldhouse United and Linlithgow Rose in the juniors, he returned to Berwick in 2005 as general manager.
Following the resignations of John Coughlin in October 2007, Michael Renwick in April 2008 and McGonigal in November 2008, he acted as caretaker boss. The then caretaker, who runs the Black Bitch Tavern in Linlithgow, is now very much the man in possession and he is relishing every minute.
Preparations have been far from ideal, Berwick having played just one game since winning at Cove Rangers in the third round of the cup seven weeks ago. If the lack of competitive match practice made the size of the task facing his rusty part-timers intimidating enough, it will seem even tougher now following Celtic’s morale-boosting victory at Ibrox in the Old Firm derby.
“The only fear I have is that we freeze and we do not give a good account of ourselves,” says Crease. “The last time the clubs met was at Tynecastle 13 years ago and that’s exactly what happened. Berwick were beaten 7-0 that day and I don’t want that to happen again.
“Celtic are a good side, there is no doubting that. Neil Lennon has started to turn things around there and it will be a very difficult game for us. But I don’t think the pressure will be on us. Celtic have had some poor results in the cup over recent seasons and the pressure will be on them to win. I will be telling my players to go out and enjoy themselves, but not to be overawed.”
Not conceding an early goal is the key. But Crease is also allowing himself to dream about the prospect of Berwick scoring first.
“Could you imagine what it would be like if we scored first? That would make for a great game, and with the Sky TV cameras being there as well it would make a great sense of occasion,” he says. As for the chances of actually avoiding defeat, Crease knows it will take a massive performance and probably a slice of luck.
“All of the players in our team will have to play at their best, there is no question of that,” he says. “We need a good performance from the goalkeeper, a solid defence, plenty of fight in midfield and hopefully something special up front. I will be looking for someone like Darren Gribben to provide us with a bit of magic. He is more than capable of doing that, but of course this is not just about Darren, it is about the team as a whole.”
The club’s professional approach to their third round fixture away to Highland League Cove has certainly paid dividends. “It’s a long way up to Aberdeenshire and we went about things in the right way,” he said. “We had the backing of the board who let us travel up the night before and now it has paid off big style.
“Ever since the draw was made I have had reporters phoning me up looking for stories. It’s been hard work, but it’s all part and parcel of the game. As a club we have done everything right to ensure that this game is a success, that the day goes without a hitch.
“Within minutes of the draw being made plans were being drawn up and I am confident everything will go smoothly. The directors have done a fantastic job. There have been meetings with the County Council, police, stewards and of course Sky and Celtic.
“All the lads have been looking forward to the game ever since the draw was made and it’s really been great for the club. Some of the players are Celtic fans, so it will be great for them to go out on the pitch and play against their heroes.
“The additional money the tie brings in will certainly help us financially, and hopefully some of that will filter through to the team in terms of enabling us to bring in extra players.
“We have a small squad at the moment, we still have a chance of winning the league, which has to be our priority, and if we can strengthen up so much the better.”
With so much attention on the cup tie, and such inactivity on the league front, it’s easy to forget that Rangers are involved in a chase for the Third Division championship. They are one of half a dozen clubs currently still in the mix and with so many games still to go it is effectively still all to play for. Crease is naturally not letting himself get too carried away.
“As I’ve said before, we are unlikely to win the cup, but we can still win the league. We have had a lot of games called off recently, which hasn’t helped, but it’s been the same for everyone. Our form really isn’t all that bad.
“We have had a lot of draws recently, but the fact remains we have only lost one league game so far this season and we have to use that as the base from which to build in the second half of the season.”
But for the time being ,the focus is on the cup and Crease added: “This is all about the glamour of the cup, and for us it really couldn’t get much bigger. I just hope everyone at the club has a good day, and keep your fingers crossed for the result.”