Window Shopping in The January Sales- The Hits And Misses
by Russell Gordon
Since its inception in 2003, and introduction for what in Morton's case was the fateful 2003/04 season, the January Transfer Window has been part of the game in a similar way to pies, bovril and penalties to Rangers. Brought in by FIFA in an attempt to bring stability to clubs' squads in the post-Bosman era, it's been a period when we've seen them get shot of dead wood, strengthen their title challenges and desperately try and save a sinking ship. And of course, Morton being Morton, we've seen examples of all in the last couple of decades.
But how have we benefitted or lost out in the winter window? In recent years, the window, or at least the approach to deadline day at the end of August or January always feels like a frustrating time as a Morton fan, watching clubs like Partick Thistle or Raith Rovers hoovering up our own personal targets whilst Morton seem to sit on their hand and count what pennies they can afford on a loan signing. But it's not always like that...
Chris Templeman, 2005
Back in 2004/05, with the window in it's infancy, the SFL allowed clubs two transfers a season out with the designated windows, and in a season that Morton were really pushing the boat out in their attempts to return to the First Division, it would be remiss of me not to bend the rules and mention Chris Templeman, such was the significance and timing of the signing. After the disastrous collapse of the previous season, manager John McCormack had been belatedly relieved of his duties with Morton toiling in midtable. His successor Jim McInally had endured a difficult start to his time in charge when Chairman Douglas Rae decided to get his cheque book out to the tune of a reported £100,000 for Brechin's talismanic striker, Templeman in December. With Brechin and Stranraer holding commanding leads over Morton in the chase for the two promotion places, it was hoped that by weakening the leaders and adding goals to our squad we'd squeeze past one of the two and into the First Division before big spending Gretna arrived in the division the following year.
Templeman's finest hour came in the Scottish Cup defeat of Kilmarnock in 2007 (Photo- Getty Images)
For a man of his height, he certainly wasn't the Duncan Ferguson type that we might have hoped for, preferring the ball played to feet. In spite of his undoubted skill, he was an awkward type with a languid playing style whose game really relied on confidence. He was to finish the season with a medal, but unfortunately that was as a result of his previous club getting over the line with Stranraer, and ahead of ourselves. Templeman himself was to score seven league goals for Morton that season, including a hat trick against Forfar at Cappielow. Not an appalling return, but for Morton's investment, not exactly earth shattering.
The following season was to prove a nightmare for the affable front man, as he was caught up in Rowan Alexander's mind games ahead of the visit of Gretna in September 2005. Alexander questioned why McInally continued to pick Templeman ahead of fellow forward Jason Walker ahead of the game- really none of his business, but it was enough to get folk talking about the subject and unsettle Morton ahead of a 2-0 win for the visitors. Templeman would score only two goals before being packed off on loan back to Brechin for the second half of the season, as Morton were to suffer more promotion heartbreak.
Templeman, and Brechin were back in the Second Division the following season and there was to finally be a happy ending. The title and promotion were delivered, and one of the best individual performances Cappielow has seen in the modern era was produced by the returning striker as SPL Kilmarnock were unceremoniously bodied out of the cup 3-1, thanks in no small part to Templeman's double.
The following season was to see his opportunities at the higher level restricted before he eventually moved onto East Fife and eventually Forfar and Montrose before going junior. It's difficult to assess his time at Morton without alluding to his transfer fee, but I always remember a mate comparing him to the Hot-Shot Hamish cartoon character. He was comfortable playing in front of small crowds and with lesser expectations, but the fee was like a noose around his neck which never really allowed him to become the player we'd hoped.
Brian Wake, 2008
As one door closed, another opened. With Templeman heading off the the Fifers, and Morton toiling at the wrong end of the table in their first season back, under fire manager McInally brought in striker Brian Wake from league leaders Hamilton Accies. We'd already benefitted from the implosion of Gretna, with Allan Jenkins and Ryan McGuffie coming in as part of the fire sale.
But Wake was to have the most immediate impact. That said, the initial signs weren't encouraging as he failed to find his feet and McInally was replaced in the dugout by Davie Irons. There was one narrow win against Stirling Albion, when, late in the game and through on goal, he decided to square the ball instead of shoot only for it to end terribly, which summed up his start in his new surroundings.
Wake's unlikely goalscoring exploits saved Morton's skin, cementing his cult hero status years on. (Photo- Getty Images)
But it was all to change as the season reached its climax. A goal that was to prove vital in spite of a 2-3 defeat in Perth got the ball rolling, and another in the 3-0 hammering of Dunfermline on the penultimate day set up a nerve-wracking trip to Firhill, in which Morton had to match Clyde's result at home to already relegated Stirling. Step forward Wake, whose magnificent double helped keep Morton out of the play-off place by the narrowest of margins and sparked celebrations that were perhaps more exuberant than those the previous year when Morton had won promotion.
Wake was to stick around another year and a half, scoring goals fairly regularly, and often from the bench. There are many who will look back on his time at Morton and point out to his limitations as a player, but on that day, a cult hero was born, and he thoroughly deserves to be remembered so fondly for those heroics.
Colin McMenamin, 2013
One who won't be looked back upon so fondly was Colin McMenamin. An utterly bizarre signing that was funded by our club's sponsors at the time and was completely unnecessary. Morton were in a title race with Partick Thistle and Dunfermline Athletic and after beating both over the festive period, were going into the new year in a strong position. They were scoring goals for fun, and had the added bonus of the return of the quite magnificent Peter MacDonald, who had missed the first half of the season through injury, to compliment Archie Campbell and Peter Weatherson, both of whom were enjoying fine campaigns to that point. Added to that, with Michael Tidser and Martin Hardie chipping in from midfield, surgery on the backline was arguably more urgent. Hindsight's a wonderful thing, but with Mark McLaughlin not getting any younger, and little cover in the full back positions, there wasn't much need to bring in a further attacking option. One wonders if it was more of a commercial than footballing decision to sign a goal scorer (a term I'll use loosely) than what was actually required.
Perhaps the most memorable moment of Colin McMenamin's time at Morton was when Douglas Rae got his name wrong in introducing him to the crowd. (Photo- www.alamy.com)
As it turned out, he went onto score twice in fifteen appearances- one being a penalty, and both being in routine victories over the eventually relegated Airdrie. The defence would go on to struggle, with Thomas O'Ware thrown in far too early in his career as Partick gradually pulled away, with a little helping hand from the Cowdenbeath fog.
As cost-cutting measures came in the following summer, Morton's big hitters all moved onto pastures new. Whilst the departures of MacDonald, Hardie and Tidser were painful, McMenamin's went under the radar somewhat. Such was his contribution, he wasn't missed, even considering how bad the following season was to be.
Garry O'Connor and Rowan Vine, 2014
There could be a book written about that disaster of a season, and Kenny Shiels' scattergun approach to signings saw an already horrific season go from bad to worse. This pair were by no means the only gutless failures to come in that winter, but were certainly the most high profile. Anyone remember much about Ben Sampayo? No, me neither.
If ever a photo summed up a season... (Photo-SNS)
O'Connor was a Scotland international, and Vine a £3 million player at earlier points in their careers. What we got was nothing of the sort, and Chairman Douglas Rae was prompted to bemoan the return on his investment on the overweight former Scotland striker, who delivered one goal in eleven really grim appearances for Morton. It was undoubtedly a sign of desperation from Rae, who had already dabbled in the has-been market by signing, and subsequently punting Spanish striker Nacho Novo earlier in the season after a similar return. Rae described O'Connor as "hopeless and unfit" in an interview with the Greenock Telegraph as the season from hell approached its inevitable conclusion.
Vine on the other hand contributed four goals from twelve games, notably scoring the goal that effectively killed off Falkirk's title aspirations and celebrating in front of their fans, so it's not all bad, but in all honesty, he really wasn't great either. Had he converted his penalty in that final day hammering at Hamilton it wouldn't have made a great deal of difference, but his lazy effort epitomised his time at the club.
A rare moment of joy in 2014, as Rowan Vine celebrated a goal in a late season 3-0 win over Dumbarton, as the fat lady was tuning up her vocal chords (Photo- SNS Group)
It was no surprise to see neither player ever make a league appearance after leaving Morton, and thankfully the policy of signing high profile overpaid and over-the-hill duds seems to be a thing of the past. The next year's window was to prove more fruitful.
Ross Forbes, 2015
Incredible when you think back, but at the time, we didn't actually enjoy the month of January 2015. Morton were clinging on into the title race behind Stranraer and Forfar, had recently been knocked out of the Scottish Cup by non-league Spartans, and had lost top scorer Declan McManus, who returned to Aberdeen from his loan spell. Manager Jim Duffy addressed the loss of McManus by signing Hibs' Ross Caldwell, and to much fanfare, the returning Peter MacDonald from Dundee. Unexpectedly, McManus would also return at the end of the month to play his part, but that was only a side note to the story of the 2015 window.
But there was better to come- we often see players returning to Cappielow, but the return of Michael Tidser from Rotherham really got the juices flowing, with fans of clubs higher up the food chain criticising the ambition of the former Morton midfielder who openly admitted he wanted to return to a club where he had spent his happiest days instead of trying his luck in the Premiership or Championship. There had to be a snag though, and a brief loan spell from Rotherham at Oldham, with two appearances, meant that Tidser had represented two clubs that season, so subject to what at the time was a little known rule, wasn't actually eligible to play until the following season and couldn't contribute to Morton's title challenge. Amidst all the furore, it was a good thing that Jim Duffy had managed to engineer a swap deal with Dunfermline for Ross Forbes, with 'Ton striker Andy Barrowman, a Pars hero from a previous spell heading in the other direction.
Whilst the Dunfermline fans would have been happy to drive Forbes down the M8 themselves and take Barrowman back up the road with them, there was only one winner in the deal. Barrowman would continue where he left off, with Dunfermline finishing seventh in what should've been a two horse race, and Forbes playing a starring role in Morton's title charge. His injury time winner against Ayr at Cappielow in the run-in resulted in absolute bedlam, with Morton eventually sneaking over the line.
Carlsberg don't do swap deals, but if they did... (Photo- m7sport.com)
It was far from the end of Forbes' contribution though, as he would go on to play a vital part in a Morton team that surprised many over the next two seasons- his wonderful goals against Hibs in an incredible 3-0 win in the capital in our first season back, and against St. Mirren in a 3-1 derby win the following season, which should've been about six or seven and smashed their 17 year unbeaten derby record, were particularly memorable, and his contribution to Thomas O'Ware's incredible goalscoring record at the time can't be ignored. There was a time that opposing managers knew exactly what was coming, but could do absolutely nothing about it.
He would be nominated for the Championship Player of the Year in 2016-17, losing out to some bloke at Hibs called John McGinn (no idea what became of him), and as well as his ridiculous number of assists, knew how to find the net too- scoring 12, including brilliant free kicks against Hamilton in the League Cup and Raith in a 1-0 league win at Cappielow, a double at Somerset Park and a brilliant solo goal in a narrow win against Queen of the South.
Forbes would eventually depart in January of the following season as injuries began to catch up with him, but what a star. I was too young to see the days of Andy Ritchie, but have seen many Morton teams and had many heroes, since. When hearing tales of the Idle Idol, who had the reputation of appearing lazy, but producing a moment of absolute genius, it's difficult to argue that Forbes is the closest we've seen to Ritchie since those heady days.
The Notable Mentions
He's been mentioned elsewhere of course, but Michael Tidser was another January transfer window signing from Swedish club Ostersunds in 2010, and in terms of longevity, perhaps our most successful when you take his two spells at the club into consideration. Certainly not a high profile signing at the time though, unlike Lawrence Shankland, who came on loan from Aberdeen, but immediately after a loan spell with St. Mirren. Shankland was supposed to propel us to play off success with Hibs' title win inevitable, but had a largely forgettable spell at Morton, before getting a wake up call, signing for Ayr and eventually having a sterling career which included international honours, alongside another January window signing, Stuart Findlay- who came in in 2014 and was one of the very few successes of that season.
Last year was perhaps the most frustrating of windows since their inception, with Morton's form falling off a cliff, no sign of a managerial appointment to make any signings and no inward movement until the club decided to tease us about the potential signing of a Champions League player- who turned out to be Tottenham striker Kaziah Sterling, who got a run out for a few minutes of a dead rubber a few years back, was chased out of Southend and on arrival at Cappielow, contributed absolutely nothing before being sent back down the road as soon as Gus McPherson actually got a look at him.
What the end of this transfer window brings we don't yet know, and a midfielder and reserve goalkeeper would be nice, but our most important signing this winter is arguably in the dugout as opposed to on the pitch anyway. We do, however live in hope for some late excitement. Please, no Star Wars GIFs on Twitter, though!