Scottish football legend Gary McAllister knows a thing or two about winning trophies. The classy midfielder was part of the same Leeds United team as Eric Cantona that chased down Manchester United and eventually pipped the Red Devils to the old First Division title in 1992, the last league championship before the formation of the Premier League.
Later in his career he played a pivotal role in Gerard Houlier’s fearsome Liverpool team of the 2000-2001 season which won five trophies including the ‘Treble’ of Fa Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup. The French manager later described McAllister as his “most inspirational signing”.
Now retired, the 52 year old Scotsman has more time to indulge in what was actually his firt love, before he discovered his talent as a footballer – golf.
McAllister will be in Dubai on September 14th to take part in the Swing Against Cancer Golf Series at the DSA Open on the famous Majlis course at Emirates Golf Club, home to the Dubai Desert Classic which has witnessed victories by the likes of Seve Ballesteros, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy over the years.
As well as playing a hole with each of the competitors on the day, he’ll be taking on all-comers in a footgolf challenge and non-golfers can also get in on the fun by joining Gary for a BBQ, drinks and Q&A session when he shares some tales from his football days.
SFME’s Richard Bevan caught up with McAllister to chat football and golf ahead of his visit to the UAE.
SFME: The Premier League season started last month in the UK, what are your top four predictions for this season?
Gary McAllister: As a Liverpool ambassador I might be a bit biased but I’d say that the Reds will finish in the top four. I was on the pre-season tour with them and was very impressed with their form and they’ve started the campaign very well, so I see them competing right at the very top.
Obviously the outlay of cash that Manchester City have made means that they’re going to be strong and they’ll be up there for sure. Liverpool’s eternal rivals Manchester United also deserve a shout, they have started rather well in the league and Jose Mourinho has signed players who possess outstanding physical prowess. So I’d pick those three.
As for the fourth one, the likes of Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal (despite a slow start), will also be there fighting so I’m sure it is going to be a very tough league this season.
But if you’re going to push me to name one of those three for the top four I’d say Chelsea. Even though people have been giving Antonio Conte and his team a hard time I can see them grinding it out.
SFME: It’s not long since pre-season ended for all the teams competing in the main leagues in Europe. Can you share any insights with us about the strictest manager you worked under and what kind of things you dreaded having to do in pre-season?
GM: I think that most of the managers are big fans of discipline but things were different back when I was playing. Nowadays when players are done with the season they’re given a personalised programme to follow during the summer when they’re off so they don’t really get out of shape and everything is planned for them. The wages that players are on nowadays means they really have to protect their bodies and treat them as well as possible. There’s no excuses as they have sports scientists, dieticians etc so they’re all superfit these days and so they should be.
They maybe have a week or so doing nothing right after the season finishes to allow their bodies to rest and recover from any niggling injuries but then they’re back at it.
But back then we did not have that luxury, we ourselves had to find different ways to stay fit and in good condition for the next season. When I was still playing many players struggled with keeping themselves in shape and they would be overweight when they came back from the holiday due to over indulgence during the summer. I remember the time when I was at Motherwell and the manager Jock Wallace – a famous Scottish manager who also managed Glasgow Rangers – used to love to take us to Gullane Sands and he made run up the dunes there until we were sick! It wasn’t very scientific put it that way.
SFME: You have seen Neymar leave Barcelona for over 200 million euros, do you think that the transfer market has got out of hand or do you think it is all relative to the amount of money now in the game?
GM: I don’t think it is relative, it’s quite disturbing when you see those sorts of numbers when other people in different walks of life are struggling. It’s bizarre to me but the demand and popularity of the game just keep getting bigger and bigger every year so the rate that teams need to pay to get the best players is always going to go up. But some of the salaries and the contracts are eye watering. As a player you’re always going to try to get the best you can get but I don’t know how long it can keep rising the way it currently is.
SFME: You had quite a spectacular career, what would you say your standout highlight of your long and distinguished career in the game?
GM: There were a lot of great moments but I would say that becoming captain of Scotland was the most special moment, because that’s something that your friends back home can be proud of as well. Getting my first cap was also a proud moment – I always say that representing your country is the pinnacle of any player’s career.
SFME: You haven’t been involved in football managing for a while now, is that something you think you will ever get back into?
GM: I have tried it but I can’t say that I really miss it. I do miss playing football and I’ve done a bit of coaching and wouldn’t rule out going back in alongside somebody but the management is not something I really enjoyed. I’m still involved with Liverpool as an ambassador and helping around the club is very enjoyable but you can never quite get that special ’90 minutes’ feeling back.
SFME: You’re coming to Dubai to support the Swing Against Cancer Golf Series at the DSA Open at Emirates Golf Club on September 14th, what made you want to get involved in the event?
GM: My wife Denise had breast cancer which she sadly passed away from in 2006 so it’s a cause very close to my heart. It was a really tough time in my life and whenever there is an opportunity to raise some money and awareness for cancer charities I always try to support. My manager Simon Hurd is an old friend of Steve Kelshaw, the managing director of DSA Architects who are the title sponsor of the event, who I’ve got to know myself and when I heard about the DSA Open, I wanted to get involved.
SFME: You’re a keen golfer – how did you get into the sport?
GM: I started playing golf even before I started playing football. All my family played golf and were members at the local club, Bellshill, just outside Motherwell in Scotland. I got down to a decent handicap fairly early on as a youngster – I was off 1 at age 12 or 13 and used to hit 300-400 balls every day on the range.
SFME: That’s a very good handicap, what sort of level did you reach in terms of tournaments?
GM: I was beaten in a play-off for the Scottish Boys title which was a bit of a blow and I was a reserve cap for the Scotland golf team but my real passion was always football. The thing that really hit it home for me was when I went and played in the British Boys. I was pretty good in my own little area of Lanarkshire but once I went out further afield and saw how good some of the other boys were. Jose Maria Olazabal and another Spanish player called Jesus Lopez and they were just on another level completely. I think I made the right decision to concentrate more on football but I’m still a frustrated golfer.
SFME: What handicap do you play off these days and where do you play most of your golf?
GM: I play off five these days so the handicap is drifting up ever so slowly but I still love the game. I play at Moortown in Leeds which is very tough course, it was the first club in Britain to host the Ryder Cup in 1929! I tend to score better when I play away but my home course is very tough.
I started playing golf even before I started playing football. All my family played golf and were members at the local club, Bellshill, just outside Motherwell in Scotland. I got down to a decent handicap fairly early on as a youngster – I was off 1 at age 12 or 13 and used to hit 300-400 balls every day on the range.
SFME: What’s the biggest strength in your game?
GM: My short game has always been the thing that kept my scores down, getting up and down, it’s pretty crucial isn’t it! I think footballers have generally got quite good hand eye coordination which is obviously pretty helpful on the golf course.
SFME: There are plenty of good courses in Dubai, what do you think of the emirate as a golf destination?
GM: I think it’s second to none. The quality of the courses, especially when you consider the dry hot weather, and the investment in the game over there is phenomenal. I’ve played pretty much all of the courses and they’re all fantastic, the clubhouses are all pretty spectacular as well.
SFME: The DSA Open is to be played on the famous Majlis course at Emirates Golf Club – give us your thoughts on that venue?
GM: The Majlis is a brilliant course and of course very iconic with its history of hosting the Dubai Desert Classic. When you play a course like that you tend to recognise a lot of the holes from the TV and some of the great shots you’ve seen over the years. I always find it interesting to look at some of the lines you’ve seen the pros take on certain holes and wonder how on earth they manage to get the ball to land where they did! The 18th is a wonderful hole and we’ve seen many great players hit amazing shots to win the tournament there, and a few fall victim to it too, so it will be a lot of fun playing the course in the DSA Open.
SFME: You’ll also be challenging the Swing Against Cancer players to a one-hole footgolf competition – have you been keeping your hand in with the football?
GM: The body is not as willing as it used to be put it can still manage to kick a ball around. I’ve played footgolf and its good fun so I’m looking forward to that. There’s a footgolf course near to where I live so better get some practice in.
SFME: The event is open to non-golfers too as you’ll be sharing a few drinks with fans and sharing stories from your football days in the evening too won’t you?
GM: Yes, I was very fortunate to play with some great players over the years and enjoyed some fantastic moments during my playing days. It’ll be a very relaxed evening and people are welcome to ask me any questions they like.
Full golf day tickets for the DSA Open at Emirates Golf Club inclusive of BBQ and drinks: are available for AED 745 for Emirates Golf Federation members; AED 795 non-EGF, Emirates Golf Club members: AED 345.
For non-golfers, evening only tickets to have a drink with Gary and enjoy his Q&A are priced at: AED 350 or AED 3,000 for a table of 10 inc BBQ and drinks:
To book: firstname.lastname@example.org