DEREK Whiteford was arguably the best bargain that Airdrieonians ever made. Without expenditure they got a player who, over more than 10 seasons, played more than 400 games for them. Moreover, a player who for much of his career was revered as a defensive bulwark managed before he put his boots away to score more than a century of goals, 110 to be exact.

He played for a club that could command the affection and regard of its playing staff. Derek Whiteford operated for almost all his career in an 18-club first division and, in that kind of league, Airdrie could do two things. They could attract good players and they could survive. They had a quirky little ground, all corners and angles, and at Broomfield fine players played out all or nearly all of their careers. Derek Whiteford was long-serving but Paul Jonquin and, later on, goalkeeper John Martin were even more settled.

The general impression of Airdrieonians of that time, was of a big, heavily-built, slow and almost ponderous team on occasions. When the spectator looked more closely it was to find that this seemingly lumbering side was first to the ball a surprising number of times.

Derek Whiteford had a positive attitude towards the game. Many a youngster, handed a free transfer in his teens as he was from Hibernian, would have decided that professional football was not for him.

He took the more combative route of proving the Edinburgh club wrong over the next half score of years.

He played in an Airdrie side which, on occasions, scored four goals against Rangers, and, in the 1975 cup final,

he captained a Broomfield

side that ran Celtic a good

bit closer than most judges

had predicted.

He always recognised that Airdrie had rescued his

footballing career and he

cherished the title of captain

of Airdrieonians Football

Club rather as a sixteenth-century French nobleman would have coveted the title of Constable of France.

On the field he cut a formidable figure in those rather quaint V-necked jerseys, that always seemed to exaggerate physique rather than technique. He was an imposing presence at set pieces (although he would have called them free kicks) and his well-developed ability to read a game compensated almost entirely for a certain lack of pace. He used to say to me: ''When the legs go the brain takes over.''

When he stopped playing he joined Dumbarton Football Club where he enjoyed two years as coach before succeeding

Alex Wright.

He started as a manager with Albion Rovers and with a stop on the way at Dumbarton it was no great surprise when he was offered and took the Airdrie manager's job in May 1986. There were still smoke signals from the awkward time just before when many Airdrie supporters were of the opinion that the job had been offered to and accepted by Danny McGrain of Celtic.

His tenure of the Broomfield chair lasted less than a year. It was in keeping with the character of the man that he resigned.

He said at the time: ''For the first time in my career I am getting no enjoyment out of football. I have found it impossible recently to divorce the football from my full-time job as principal physical education teacher at Coatbridge High School and that is not good enough for either job.''

I taught along the road from Derek and met him not infrequently on educational occasions. I used to tell him, only half jokingly, that had there been a transfer system for teachers as there was for footballers, I as head (the manager in other words) would most certainly have made a bid for Derek's services. Had I been successful I would have gained a thorough professional and most gentlemanly colleague. The early onset of his cruel illness deprived us of one who at the age of 54 still had much to give football. He will be missed and not only in

the Monklands.