FOOTBALLERS are performers, we all know that. But can they tackle a film script? Can they find the head space to turn out a tricky line on a crowded set? And what of football managers? Can they take to acting? We’ve long believed them to have the ego of an oligarch and to make the demands of a dictator. Does any of this suggest those born to kick balls around a park can turn their hand to thespianism?

Billy Reid was a journeyman player with the likes of Queen of the South and Stirling Albion before going into successful management with Hamilton, creating a team that consistently forgot to remember it wasn’t a big enough club to warrant success.

Reid, who picked up a highly-deserved PFA Scotland Manager of the Year award in 2008, is set to appear in a new film, Vindication Swim, the story of Brighton-born Mercedes Gleitze, the first British woman to swim the channel. Glasgow-born Reid, 56, plays the part of a 1920s pub landlord. “I thought it was a bit of a wind up at first,” he says, of following in the bootsteps of football-to-film conversions Vinnie Jones, Eric Cantona and David Beckham. “I told my wife and my two sons and they just laughed at me.”

How did it come about? It transpires Billy Reid’s journey is a one-man exploration of the overlap between the cultural arts and the beautiful game.

Right now, the boy who grew up on the 17th floor of a Springburn high-rise is assistant manager of Premiership club Brighton, having formed a powerful partnership with manager Graham Potter.

He explains the move into acting. “I was approached to appear in the film by a young director – and Seagulls fan – Elliott Hasler. Elliott had become aware of the work I had been doing with [Swedish club] Ostersunds and reckoned I could handle the role of the barman in the film.”

What had Billy Reid being doing with the second division Swedish club to indicate he had the charisma and confidence to take on a film role?

He and Potter had enjoyed immense success with the tiny Swedish club, taking the team from the fourth tier all the way through to the knockout stages of European competition.

But it wasn’t football success that had gripped stirred Hasler’s imagination; it was the fact Reid had performed a dance from Swan Lake, in front of 2,000 people.

Oh, and he’d sung a rap song in front of the same-sized crowd, and taken part in painting exhibitions. “That’s right,” he says, laughing.

Why, Billy? Football managers are signed in order to create tactical strategies, to motivate players, teach them the need to think and pass quickly. And here you are dancing Swan Lake? Did the football world think you were away with the fairies? “No,” he laughed. “It all came about because the chairman of the club really believed in community involvement, and these sort of cultural activities with the players and management on the park performing were deemed a great way of connecting with the fans.”

In 2013 Reid and Potter established a ‘culture academy’ during their eight-year stint in Sweden with Ostersunds. “Just as importantly, it was a great team-building exercise with the player. For example, two boys in the team, Ronald Mukiibi and Gabriel Somi, would not step across the line to sing during the project. They were so shy – and terrified. But we coaxed them along and they revealed themselves to be the most talented.”

Reid adds: “If you can get players to dance Swan Lake – or sing in public with each other – the bonds that creates with each other and the management are incredible.”

Reid and Potter’s instilling of arts into football paid off with a move to Premiership club Swansea, which led to a move to Brighton and Hove Albion, an offer which arrived with a lucrative contract.

None of this was planned. And nor could he have ever imagined appearing in a movie. The closest Billy Reid had ever come to acting was appearing in a couple of shows at primary school. “Life was all about football,” he remembers. “I had a ball with me permanently. I’d be up at 7am kicking a ball before going to school and my mother had to drag me in at night. I wore a football strip to bed and still had a ball by my side. The dream was to become a professional player.”

If acting can be a life-long exercise in handling rejection, football, too, can leave stud marks on the psyche.

At 16, Reid had trials with Kilmarnock, and played “a great game” according to other players at the time. Yet, he wasn’t signed as a professional. “The club said something about me being too small, but the truth was the manager changed at that time, and I was let go.”

Billy Reid could have kicked the dream into the long grass and opted instead for the snooker halls, or the bars. Instead, he revealed the character needed to become a player. Still working as a printer, he stepped down into junior football with clubs such as Petershill and dug deep.

It worked. The platform gave him the chance to work his way back into the pros, with Dumfries outfit Queen of the South. “I was never the most talented, I was not blessed with the ability of the players here, but I would give 100 per cent every game. I tell players now they have to have the desire, the will to make it.”

But it was as a manager he really made his mark. In 2008 he won the Manager of the Year Award with Hamilton.

And he can see the comparisons with acting. Reid admits performance is all too often required in management; delivering a speech, becoming a darker, angrier character. “Yes, there is an element of that. You are always aware you need to lead, but that you are also up against top, top managers. You need that edge.

“But, and I guess acting is like this as well, you also realise that in working with players, who may earn fortunes, it’s about creating a community for them. Convincing them if they work together they can produce something special.”

He adds: “You need to create a bond. And if you can get it right you can achieve great results, as we did with Swansea against Manchester City in the FA Cup.” Then, they reached the quarter final, losing controversially to City.

Billy Reid clearly believes he benefitted massively from being coaxed into performance, first in Sweden and now with the new film. It means having more confidence as a football boss with which to make commands, develop unity. And inspire confidence. “Football success is all about confidence; to take a player on, to not worry about losing the ball,” he maintains.

Clips from Vindication Swim suggest Billy Reid has more than a touch of the Vinnie about him. He’s perfectly natural playing the cocky barman. “I don’t know how my part in the film will be perceived. What I do know is that at 56 it’s great to take on new challenges. And I’m hopeful about this film. I think it can do well.”

And could he see a Vinnie Jones/Guy Richie relationship develop with Elliott Hasler? “You never know,” he laughs. “But the added benefit is the players can see I’ve done it and talk about it. It’s a way of creating that sense of community that’s so vital.”

Right now, Billy Reid is still directing his players, despite the lockdown. He’s had them training four times a week at home, he has them connected for fitness sessions in Zoom, and he’s ‘suggested’ they go on five kilometre runs to stay mobile.

And when they are all back at the club, will he show them the film and say, ‘Look, if a fitba-daft boy from Springburn can become a barman, you can go out there and play like Lionel Messi?’

“I’m not sure that will work,” he says, grinning. “But I’m sure they’ll have a laugh with it all. It will be a talking point and that’s really important.”

Reid admits however his team have had a taste of his performance skills already. “They know I’m not shy. They’ve seen me in pre-season in Austria when I couldn’t keep away from the karaoke.”

But did his reputation as a bold, defiant, charismatic character suffer when they heard his song choices? They may have gone along with his rendition of The Killers’ Human. Yet, he also admitted to a need to perform his favourite Drifters song, Saturday Night at the Movies And the players still look up to him, are prepared to be led by a man who sings Drifters’ songs? “Seems so,” he says, laughing. “They know it’s all about having the nerve to go out there and perform.”

Vindication Swim is scheduled to appear at Cannes Film Festival next year and a cinema release will follow.

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