There’s an old trope on the long-running BBC Radio Scotland show Off the Ball where presenter Tam Cowan recalls an event from Scottish football, winks – I assume – at his cohort Stuart Cosgrove, and bellows into the microphone that it was a genuine “JKF moment”.
It’s a phrase used so often during the programme’s history it now comes with a not so subtle asterisk warning the listener Cowan’s tongue is pressed firmly against his cheek.
Cliches like this – so much a part of our language and life – are the bedrock of the football discourse. Tiresomely so perhaps and regular readers will know barely a match report goes by without your reporter digging one out. “A game of two halves,” you say after another Alloa fightback. “Someone has got to gamble on that,” you shout as a Scott Taggart cross flashes across goal. “Never in doubt,” you boast to your mate when Alan Trouten runs off to celebrate another penalty finish.
Sometimes, however, a moment comes along which is so raw only an old cliche will do. It was around 9pm last night and I’d gotten to that point in a shift where every glance at the clock is in hope it will finally be the one of freedom. Suddenly, my phone buzzed. That wasn’t surprising as, given I get notification every time Alloa Athletic tweet, it had barely stopped all day.
In increasingly weird and wonderful ways – and through reference to the Six Million Dollar Man and Terminator – the Wasps had announced a score of the existing squad had signed on for another year, bringing a reassuring sense of certainty to uncertain times.
One name was missing from the list though. Where was Iain Flannigan? The linchpin to the Alloa identity. A player who could so easily have walked into any other team in the league. A man with hair so fine I’ve often wanted to ask – instead of the cliched post-game questions – just what his secret is.
Surely it was just a matter of time before a picture of a beaming Flannigan appeared on my timeline next to the news we’d all been waiting for.
Then it happened. Glancing away from a screen of Glasgow Times pages to my phone, I smiled as the little blue bird appeared next to the Alloa Athletic name. Rounding a brilliant day off with the best news of the lot? I’m all for that.
“Alloa Athletic announce retirement of Iain Flannigan,” read the tweet from media guru John Glencross. Seven simple words but with a meaning of so much more. A link to the Wasps’ website confirmed the news with a stock quote from the man himself.
Like with any shock, it was the tributes which came next, filling my timeline with a steam of reminders this was really happening. There were tears, yes, and grief. But, one point prevailed.
“A gifted footballer who stood out in virtually every game he played,” wrote Alloa fan Donald Pollock. “We were very fortunate to have him at the Recs.”
“Always a standout, made everything he did look so easy,” said Brian Roach. “An absolute pleasure to watch every week.”
And it wasn’t just Alloa fans who wanted to share their love for Flanny. “Iain Flannigan is a Rolls-Royce of a football player!” beamed the fellas from the Tell Him He’s Pele podcast. “One of the best part-time players in the country, he still had a lot to offer Alloa Athletic and the Championship.”
Perhaps that’s why it all felt so raw. At just 32 and a class act on and off the park, it feels like one of Scottish football’s great pleasures has been snatched away from us without so much as a warning.
Never again will we see Flannigan glide beyond the reach of an opponent, his hair bouncing as he goes, or curl the ball into the top corner from a free kick.
In the melodramatic words of Cowan; this was a JFK moment for Alloa fans.
This article first appeared in the Alloa Advertiser