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YOU can hear the steel in Mark Fotheringham’s voice. It’s apt because he comes from a family of scaffolders. He was helping his dad with the family business this week before jumping in his car and driving the 240 miles from his house in the Forfarshire countryside to Elgin City's Borough Briggs ground and back again.
He was there to watch a young full back on loan at the Highland club from Aberdeen. Football consumes Fotheringham’s life. He is without a job at present since calling time on a successful spell in German football as assistant manager to Tomas Oral at Ingolstadt 04 but Oral's phone has started ringing again recently and, in any case, Fotheringham is never done doing his due diligence.
“I can't chill out,” he says. “I just watch football 24/7 and I'm not scared to admit it. Yesterday, I was helping my dad, I had a meeting and then I went to watch St Johnstone against Dundee. The day before I was up in Elgin watching them against Kelty and got home at two in the morning. I'll take in a German game in midweek on InStat and then I'll probably watch a Premier League game at the weekend – and that's just how my life is. I think I have watched over 50 games since I came home. There is a lot of driving, a lot of flying.”
“People always ask me 'what are you doing at these games?' Well, I want to know the ins and outs in all the leagues. Leaving no stone unturned is continuing the work ethic that I have learned from being out in Germany. I know that if I get a chance to be a manager in my own country then I want to know not only the Premiership and the Championship, but every league.”
It's clear there's a resilience to Fotheringham that's as strong as the girders on the Tay Bridge. He says it's always been there but that it is partly reinforced from leaving Celtic at 20. It had been his dream to make the grade at Parkhead. His family were Celtic daft, he'd picked them as much as they had done him – foiling a string of suitors across Britain who wanted to sign him as a kid. He played three games for the first team and was the club's youngest ever debutant at the start of the century, a time when Kenny Dalglish hailed him as the next big thing. It didn't quite work out as planned, however.
“It broke my heart to leave Celtic. When you come in at 16 and Kenny Dalglish is telling you that you have a really big future and everyone rates you really highly it gives you great confidence. The biggest, most important person at Celtic for me was Tommy Burns. He really looked after me, he changed my life, I loved the man.”
“Tommy told me I was a player to play in Europe. He said 'you're a technical player, the environment will suit you, you'll go away from Scotland and mature as a man and a player and you will start to understand systems and the tactical side of things.”
His first move was to hometown club Dundee, where he played more than 50 games, then two years later he found himself heading for his first stint in Germany.
“There are not many Scottish lads at that age who would have gone to the Bundesliga to play for Freiburg. I was in a team full of internationals, who went on to play for the biggest clubs in Germany. Boys that went and played Champions League. That was the environment that I was in and I really learned from that."
When he returned to these shores it was with Norwich City and thereafter an itinerant career followed which took in spells in Cyprus, Switzerland and England.
It was at Fulham that he met Tomas Oral, who was then Felix Magath's assistant at Craven Cottage. The German took an immediate shine to Fotheringham recognising leadership qualities in him that marked the Scot down as a future coach. Then in his early 30s, Fotheringham was leading by example in a squad that contained big characters such as Scott Parker, Moussa Dembele and Paddy Roberts.
“Because I played abroad and had so many different managers I always used to make dossiers of the training methodology. I used to continually document it, having a coffee with my wife on the balcony, I'd start writing and drawing diagrams of systems of play, what I had learned from the session, what I would do differently. Tomas saw that when I was at Fulham. He just said, you're really good and I think if you go into coaching it would be a great progression for you.”
If his time at Fulham brought him into contact with the man who would later make him his assistant at Karlsruher and Ingolstadt, it was his year-long spell at Notts County where he played with loanees Callum McGregor and Jack Grealish, that demonstrated to Fotheringham he had a gift for working with younger players.
“I was kind of like the big brother to those types of players. It just came naturally to go to coaching. They were always willing to listen, they showed great energy in their training and I loved having young players around me. So when I moved into coaching, I said that was definitely the key because young players play without fear, they have energy, they have intensity and it is easy for them.”
It was a theory Fotheringham and Oral took to Ingolstadt. Today, aged 38, he is now a very well-respected figure in German coaching circles courtesy of his work in tandem with Oral with numbers for those such as Magath, Jurgen Klinsmann, Thomas Linke and Michael Hencke on speed dial.
For a man who played for 14 clubs, he says it is Ingolstadt who still has his heart having guided them to promotion to 2. Bundesliga in a play-off against Osnabruck in the final game of last season. The club hierarchy backed by Audi wanted to go in one direction and Oral another, and so both men left before they had the chance to set about tackling a higher level of competition.
“They are now on to their third manager and they have only two wins in the whole season out of 20 games,” says Fotheringham ruefully. “It's hard to watch from the outside because it is a club I dearly care about and it was a very successful period for us. We broke all Ralph Hasenhuttl's records from when he was there, wins at home, 22 games unbeaten in the whole season, we had the record for the most clean sheets. Ingolstadt is going to be a club that is always in my heart, especially because we got them promoted,” he says. “It was emotional to leave there because it was a home from home. My boys [Mason 7, Conor 4 and Robin, six months) have been back and forth from Germany for a long time now. That's just part of their growing up. Bavaria is a brilliant place to stay, a beautiful place. I'm dead proud to say that I lived there.”
As much as he is part of a double act, he says he envisages going it alone one day as a head coach in his own right. He was linked to the Dunfermline Athletic job when Peter Grant was sacked by the Fife club in October but says it was little more than idle speculation.
“I think people were putting two and two together because Thomas Meggle is in there. What I said at the time was I am open to speak to any club. I'm not in any great rush to be a No.1. We [Oral and him] are very close, he's like a big brother to me, but he also knows that I am very ambitious and I want to be my own guy one day.”
Until then, he'll keep putting the metaphorical scaffolding in place for when his time with Oral comes again.