What are our most vivid recollections now? The crisp, ready supply of goals, or the eager clinch with that new, emerging 80s temptress: celebrity? The voracious womanising, or the bleak aftermath of his career, which was scattered with indiscretions and recurring collisions with the law? Perhaps all of them in a way, as the lines of definition became ever more blurred.

Only now, in the softening comfort of eight years of marriage to a redoubtable woman and a 50th birthday approaching in two months, has a sense of relief finally settled upon Frank McAvennie. “I’m enjoying it,” he keeps saying of the rhythms of his life, as though that is the one quality that might be missing from an existence no longer devoted to the chaotic pursuit of glamour, of hedonism.

He lives in Gateshead, far enough away from London, close enough to Glasgow. He works for an agency that has several young Scottish players on its books. He reveals the self-deprecating and dry edge of his humour on the after-dinner circuit and plans to establish a regular golf tournament in which supporters represent their clubs against each other and former professional footballers, such as McAvennie himself, Ian Rush and Tony Cottee. Being Frank has never been less unruly.

“When I was up in Glasgow recently it was fun, but it takes me a couple of days to get over it now,” he says, with a laugh that seems rich but also well practised. “Don’t get me wrong, I can still drink with the best of them, but it takes me longer to get out of my bed the next day. Last time I saw Charlie [Nicholas], we got pissed. Charlie’s Charlie.”

This is the essential tension that shapes his life: Frank The Playboy is a figure of the past, yet he cannot help but refer back to it, as though it is a keepsake, a touchstone of something forbidden, that feels familiar and re­assuring. He lives a settled life as best he knows how, but still allows a flash of that shining grin and the heady chuckle that seems as though it is formed from the taste of champagne and cigarettes alone.

In part, this is a form of reliance, a fear that without the image – the glamorous conquests, the partying, the devil-may-care attitude – he would be just another former footballer trying to make sense of a cloudy life outwith the game. But it is also a consequence of a guileless sincerity that is a fund­amental part of his nature, an impulse to shrug his shoulders and say, this is me, what of it? Being Frank has always meant being gleefully candid, so a life that moved swiftly from junior football to the nightclubs of London was always accompanied by a rueful twinkle in the eye and an occasionally casual disregard for the consequences.

“Look at the players now,” he says. “They’re big lads and major athletes, but I was speaking to Fergie – Ian Ferguson – the other day and he said, ‘Frank, they’re getting 25 grand a week, even we would have stayed in for that’. We made more money than people who were out working, but we never made amounts that were life-changing. In many ways, I’m fortunate, because now there are all these women going after footballers. We did all right; I enjoyed myself and got away with it. Now, I could have been in serious bother, so I could.”

He laughs, and Being Frank seems, briefly, a sort of emancipation. During his playing days it must have felt that way, a life gluttonously full of promise, of opportunities that would otherwise have been distant fantasies. He was 20 before he started playing full-time, then in 1985 left St Mirren for West Ham, where he scored 26 goals in his first season as John Lyall’s team finished third in the old First Division.

He was thin, wan but handsome in a carefree way, with his blond hair, long at the back, narrow, alert eyes and brassy smile. He became a regular at String­fellows and mingled enthusiastically with Page Three girls.

To a young man from Milton, in ­Glasgow, who had briefly known what it was to work as a road sweeper, it was as though the very air was alive with good fortune. What made him was a refined sense of timing, a kind of instinct for scoring goals. In 1987, he moved to Celtic, the team he supported, and his goals were pivotal as the club, having been stunned by Graeme Souness’s impact at Ibrox, recovered enough self-esteem to win the title in its centenary year. McAvennie also scored the two goals that defeated Dundee United in the 1988 Scottish Cup final.

“It doesn’t get much better, does it?” he says. “If we were getting 30 grand a week, it would still have meant the same to us, because we were all genuine Celtic supporters. Players nowadays are so removed. But at the end of the day, we’re all supporters. You want to be well known, so why start harping on about it if people recognise you and want to talk to you? I accept it.”

He continues to flutter around the edges of the game, still trying to catch some of its marvel on the breeze. He is a season-ticket holder at Celtic Park and when asked if there might have been a time when he wanted something more, he talks of his hopes that his friend John Hartson might one day have become a manager, and offered McAvennie a youth coaching role. And he is still drawn to the players who, like him, carry a flavour of the maverick in their game, a devilishness.

“Up at Celtic, I like Aiden McGeady, he’s a wonderful talent and the only one that would make it in the Premiership,” McAvennie says. “I like temperamental players, they’ve got this thing about them. I didn’t know Scotland had such an abundance of quality players that we can afford to drop people like Barry Ferguson and Allan McGregor, and afford to ignore a goalscorer like Kris Boyd. But that’s just me. We had an abundance of talent [once], but it’s changed days. I was up against Ally McCoist, Mo Johnston, Charlie, Kenny Dalglish, David Speedie, Graeme Sharp. We used to get to the party. And after it, we did party.”

That laugh again, and it begins to sound like a form of persuasion. He was a goalscorer, flighty and knowing, but a valuable asset who might have joined Arsenal when he left Celtic in 1989, but opted instead to return to West Ham. His career became itinerant and eventually, perhaps inevitably, the lifestyle began to sour. McAvennie began to take cocaine and the removal of playing the game from his life exposed an inherent frailty, a weakness. Being Frank, for a time, was something fraught, frightening even.

He has two convictions for possession and was caught up in two trials, one in which money he invested with a business partner was seized by Customs and Excise, who believed it was for a drugs deal, which McAvennie denies. In court, an explanation was put forward that the money – £100,000 of it McAvennie’s – was to be used to retrieve sunken treasure, and it was impounded. On another occasion, in April 2000, while the passenger in a friend’s car, McAvennie was arrested on an allegation of being involved in a drugs deal, which he denies. He spent one month on remand in Durham Prison before being found not guilty.

“It was all after football,” he says of his drug taking. “I didn’t know how to handle it or get over it. Gazza’s done it, everyone’s done it. Looking back, I could have handled it a lot better, but it finished as quickly as it started. Everyone’s by that now and remembers me on football terms, which is what I want.”

Dwelling on these moments, when he might be considered naïve, and the financial strains that followed is discomfiting to him. He acknowledges them, but insists that what matters to people now are the goals, the career and, of course, the send-up by the comedian Jonathan Watson, who perceptively latched on to the essentially harmless and roguishly playful aspects of McAvennie’s character, adopting a gormless grin and catchphrase, “Where’s the burdz?” for his Only An Excuse caricature.

“Let’s be honest,” McAvennie says. “In the five years after football, with the amount of ammunition I gave Johnny Watson, he could have crucified me and to be fair, he didn’t. Johnny and Phil Differ, who writes for him, know that I appreciate that.”

He jokes that his luck is turning, because he was due to attend the recent West Ham v Millwall League Cup tie that was so scarred by hooliganism, but decided not to travel to London the day before. His instinctive reach for humour aside, this is a peaceful time. Frank The Player, Frank The Playboy, Frank The Wayward Son, are all a part of his past, though still within reach for the ­occasional recollection.

“A few weeks ago, Gazza and I were flying to Dublin,” he chuckles. “People were coming over for autographs, we were having a laugh. The two of us have a few stories to tell, as you can imagine.”

Being Frank, what does that mean now? Mostly optimism, irrepressibility – the qualities it always required.

With thanks to Carluke Golf Club