THE news, last August, stunned Scottish football. Jimmy Calderwood, the former Dunfermline, Aberdeen and Kilmarnock manager, revealed that – at the age of just 63 – he was suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s disease. As his phone rings, there is some trepidation over how much of the sharp, good-humoured personality that made Calderwood so popular throughout football in this country and beyond will be diminished.

But there is no need to worry. Calderwood remains in fine fettle, and is in typically cheerful mood, happy to chew the fat over a variety of topics, both current and past, that have shaped his life.

Of course, he is all too aware that the biggest battle of his life may yet be to come, but as things stand, “Jimmy C”, as he is affectionately known, isn’t allowing his condition to impair his life in the slightest. In fact, the biggest bugbear the famously perma-tanned Calderwood has at present, is the lack of winter sun.

Loading article content

“I feel fine,” said Calderwood, in a tone that suggested he didn’t see what all the fuss was about. “The only thing really worrying me just now is this poxy weather, because I’m usually abroad at this time of year. It’s a wee bit too cold for me, but apart from that, everything is going well.

“The only thing that has changed is that I take one wee tablet a day, and finding it all the time is a pain because it’s that small. But that’s it really. It’s just one wee stupid pill, and nothing else happens.

“What can you do? You can go and start crying about it, but I’ve had a great life. I’ve been all over the world and it’s not cost me a ha’penny, and that’s not bad for a Scotsman.

“Everything is great. I keep myself fit going to the gym and obviously I enjoy a lot of holidays. I’m absolutely brilliant.

“You have the odd day here and there when you can kind of forget things, and that can be annoying, but if that’s all it is, then we can handle that.”

Calderwood acknowledges that one of the most difficult things about going public with his condition was the reaction of others. Not because he hasn’t met with universal support wherever he has gone, which he has, but because he feared he might be treated differently even by his closest friends.

He admits to finding the attention he receives as being over fussy at times, but it doesn’t detract from the experience of going along to the football at Ibrox with his pals, as he tries to enjoy the transition from the dugout to the terraces.

“It’s a shock for all of your mates as well,” he said. “You’ve just got to get on with it.

“For my sins I’ve got a season ticket at Rangers, and I’ve got a lot of mates there. I can’t believe I’ve done it.

“All the old boys that go look after me. I’m by far the youngest, and they are always fussing about me. I’ll say to them ‘I’m just trying to watch the game, give me a break man!’ But they’re great, and if I’ve not been to a game for a week or two they will all be asking where I’ve been.”

The reaction Calderwood has had from within the game since revealing he had Alzheimer’s has been overwhelming, and not only from the clubs where he played and managed and is still held in high regard.

“I’ve had a lot of support from within football,” he said. “I was down at Birmingham and I’ve been over to Holland too, which was brilliant.

“The reaction at Rangers has been great, and even from Celtic. I’ve not been at Celtic yet, but I know that if I ever needed anything they would come and help me, and that’s the way it should be.

“I try to get about as much as I can. I was up at Aberdeen a couple of weeks ago with a couple of my mates, and they were absolutely brilliant. It’s a great club, and I had a great time there. Wee Joey Harper was there, and they treated me like a king. They were great, and the supporters were brilliant. Those kinds of things are nice, and the way they handled it was absolutely brilliant.”

There are some things from his time at Aberdeen that Calderwood would rather forget, none more so than his failure to bring the Scottish Cup back to Pittodrie. In particular, the missed opportunity when his side lost out to Queen of the South in a thrilling semi-final in 2008 still haunts him.

“We blew it,” he says ruefully. “A really good team didn’t turn up, and it was so sad. It hurts, it still hurts badly when you hear about it.”

The current custodian of the Pittodrie dugout is still in with a shout of bringing the famous old trophy back to the Granite City this season for the first time since 1990 as Aberdeen travel to another of Calderwood’s former clubs, Kilmarnock, for Tuesday night’s quarter-final replay.

A semi-final against Motherwell is the reward for the winner, but should the Dons tumble out of the competition, then Derek McInnes is likely to come under pressure. A fact Calderwood finds astonishing.

“Derek is doing really well there, and you sometimes wonder how he can be under pressure,” he said. “But if they get beat off Kilmarnock, then he will be struggling, which is absolutely ridiculous. Derek has done a great job, but that’s the way it goes.”

Calderwood will enjoy the game on Tuesday evening as a neutral, having also thoroughly enjoyed his short spell in charge at Rugby Park, steering the club from a perilous position to top-flight safety in 2010.

That was in spite of a very public falling out with chairman Michael Johnston over player budgets that led to his departure after just four months in charge.

Faced with serious debts, Johnston imposed severe financial restrictions, including the sale of Killie’s best players and a reduction in the club’s management team. Calderwood insisted there were better ways to save money.

“I thought it was disgraceful. A disaster. Sometimes you would think ‘come on chairman, give us a break.’ The boys did really well, and we had a good team, but we would go and ask for things and he would say no.

“It was sad. I loved it there, it was a wonderful club with great supporters. It was sad that I went, but that’s the way it is. I can still look myself in the mirror, and I’m not too sure if he can. He probably would, but it wouldn’t be right.

“But Kilmarnock is a magnificent club. At that moment in time when I was there, my relationship was obviously a wee bit dodgy with the chairman, but the supporters and the rest of the club were fantastic. It was brilliant. I’ve been very lucky.”