Jim Fleeting tasted the pain and joy of Ayrshire derbies – as skipper of Ayr and then the manager of Kilmarnock.
But he insists he wouldn’t swap the experience for anything and says his days at the fierce rivals were among the best of his life.
Fleeting, now 66, will sit on the fence when the teams lock horns before the BBC Scotland cameras at Rugby Park on Monday evening.
“A draw is always what I wish for,” says the ice-cool sweeper who began his playing days with Knockentiber and Kilbirnie before earning a move to Norwich City.
He jokes he was the best reserve player Norwich ever had as the Canaries sent him out on loan to Tampa Bay Rowdies after only one first-team appearance.
In the North American Soccer League, he enjoyed great times alongside luminaries such as Rodney Marsh, Franz Beckenbauer and George Best, playing in a final before a 79,000 crowd.
A £10,000 fee took him to Ayr where Willie McLean soon handed him the armband.
Fleeting was on the losing side when Killie beat their oldest foes 2-1 in a third round Scottish Cup tie in 1981, Ayr paying dearly for Gerry Christie’s saved penalty.
Fleeting recalls a still debated 1-1 draw when Derrick McDicken’s hotly contested last-minute equaliser cancelled out Alan McInally’s opener for United.
He told the Ayrshire Post: “The players were raging because we felt we got a raw deal. The ball had hit the wall behind the goal before entering the net – it was the goal that never was.”
Freed by Ayr in 1983, Fleeting had spells at Clyde and Morton before managing Stirling which won him the top job at Killie in 1988.
He recalls: “I told them at my interview that I would take Kilmarnock out of the division, which I did – I got them relegated. Fortunately they hung in there with me and we got back up the following season.”
January 3, 1989 is a day which remains etched in Fleeting’s mind as Ally MacLeod’s men ran riot in a 4-1 win at a boisterous Somerset Park.
The rout was so convincing that a group of fans even launched an Ayr fanzine – named Four-One – on the back of it. Fleeting and his management team of Jim McSherry and Frank Coulston, were distraught.
Fleeting sighs: “I have never forgiven it to anyone. I’m in the dressing room beforehand laying it down to the players, telling them to calm down, play passes and we’ll be comfortable.
“What happened? Ayr ran over the top of us and it’s still sore to this day.”
Tommy Walker and Henry Templeton swept Ayr ahead at the break although a Gary Faulds goal offered Killie hope seconds after the restart.
However, Ayr were again flying when John Sludden – later signed by Fleeting for Kilmarnock – headed home a Kenny Wilson cross. Templeton then raced clear to fire a killer fourth.
Ayr repeated the feat two months later when they won 2-1. Stevie McIntyre, playing as an emergency striker, nodded against the bar and Ian McAllister headed the winner past Alan McCulloch.
Ayr retained the Ayrshire Cup that season thanks to a Templeton double and Killie dropped into the Second Division despite thrashing Queen of the South 6-0 on the final day of the season.
The huge army of travelling fans were jubilant at the end only to be rocked when news came through that Colin McGlashan – later to be an Ayr player – had scored a stoppage-time winner for Clyde at Firhill to send them down.
Fleeting brought Killie straight back up and quickly plotted victories against the Honest Men, winning 3-1 and 2-1 in 90/91.
But a 3-1 home defeat from Partick Thistle in April ‘92 saw Fleeting axed and replaced at the helm by Tommy Burns who had made a huge impression after signing from Celtic.
Ironically, it was his Jim’s brother, Bobby, who masterminded the 18,000 seat rebuild of Rugby Park, who was chairman at the time.
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Jim was later to joke: “My brother paid me off, which was strange, but my mother sorted him out when she got hold of him. I enjoyed myself at Kilmarnock and met so many fantastic people who were the heart and soul of the club.”
Fleeting was recruited by the SFA and only retired three years ago from his role as director of coaching where he helped mould some of the world’s top coaches.
Among the graduates at Largs were Jose Mourinho, Fabio Capello, Andre Villas-Boas and Nuno Espirito Santo.
Football also runs in the Fleeting family.
Daughter Julie MBE, now a BBC pundit, is Scotland women’s record scorer with 116 goals while son Barry was a title winner before becoming assistant manager of Kilwinning Rangers.
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