ANOTHER pre-season is here in the lower leagues and at 32 years old I’ve never felt better. I’m probably in better nick now than I’ve ever been.

I’d like to say it’s due to my love of the game but when you see yourself on camera looking like Pat Butcher after a buffet at the Queen Vic and the only exercise you’re getting is going to Domino’s three times a week you know it’s time to change.

Here’s a wee tip for you if you want to get in shape: do what I do – make your daily route Stepps to the town via Ruchazie, Provanmill, Riddrie and Dennistoun. You’d be surprised at how quickly the young team can chase you when you’ve got a chookter twang and designer gear on.

For me, though, times have changed. When we were kids getting the train back from training with Celtic we had to walk through the Barrowfield scheme.

On a number of occasions you’d find yourself bolting away from the scheme boys with a heavy kit bag lumped over your shoulder thinking that if you lost your Celtic kit and boots you’d need to go and buy them back at the Barras that Sunday. I still, on a very rare occasion when driving about Glasgow, see “Ferry 53” gear on a local.

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If you were quick enough to get a good lead you could usually spare a few seconds to look back and admire Paul McGowan square-going a couple while using his bag as a shield/chib. Wee Gowser wasn’t one for running and had no problem taking on two or three.

But now, at 32 years old and with no Gowser to protect me, surprisingly I find myself safer than my sideward and backwards passing.

While running back through Riddrie during the summer I was approaching a group of young men fully bammed up with Berghaus and Staffy dugs in equal measure. But looks can be deceiving! Instead of “geez your dinner money!”, I was met with a full rendition of Paul Slane’s “Where’s all my good girls?” I’m pencilled in for a bottle of Bucky and a sing-song with these gentlemen once it’s safe and legal to do so.

Pre-season was never really my thing in my younger days. I was the kid who would rather spend 500 quid on a stinking Armani jacket than buy a pair of 60-quid running shoes. Guys like John Hartson were my heroes. What a player! He had played at the very top level.

“Don’t be a busy bastard and don’t do any more than what you’re paid to do,” was usually big John’s advice in a “l’ll fling you about if you make me look stupid here” kind of way.

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As you lapped the big man for the second time he would remind you of a) the number of goals he’d scored in his career; b) that he’d probably get another 40 next season; and c) that you can run as fast as you want but you’ll be s**t when the balls come out. What a guy! I hate to say it, but John was right. It was usually the better players like John at the back of the race and the terrible ones like me up the front.

Paddy McCourt was another genius who resembled a slug on crutches with asthma. I used to enjoy finishing a couple of hours before Paddy and watching his epic battle with Danny McGrain for the wooden spoon. Fair play to Danny, he was always very gracious in victory.

To further prove my point, Paul Telfer was probably the fittest guy I’ve ever seen. At 38, he could have Gordon Strachan gushing like he’d just found 11 genetically big, tall, fast Scotsmen at just how easily Telfer could stroll a pre-season. It wasn’t always quite the dander when the season got started though.

Players have arrived back heavy this season at both the big Glasgow clubs, but it is uncommon in this day and age. I’ll leave you with my favourite story.

Paul Cairney came to Peterhead a bit heavier than he would have liked, but he had amazing ability and was as funny as they come.

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He had endless excuses as to why he couldn’t shift the weight and our fitness coach Stuart Hogg was pulling what hair he had left out.

We trained at a leisure centre, and Stuart had given Paul a diet plan and extra sessions to do. One Tuesday, we were travelling up to Peterhead and Stuart was in the front of the minibus telling us how well Paul had been doing on his diet.

Paul was making his own way up to training so wasn’t on the bus. Hearing this, I went up the back and phoned Stuart from a withheld number. All the boys scrambled to the front to listen.

“Hi Mr Hogg, it’s Kevin Miller from Grangemouth Leisure Centre.”

“Hi Kevin, how can I help you?”

“We’ve had a complaint about one of your boys.”

“Oh no, what about?”

“Staff spotted one of them shaking the vending machine trying to get chocolate bars after you left on Thursday night. The staff seem to think his name is Paul.”

“Oh you’re f****** kidding me on, he was doing so well, too,” Stuart tells Kevin.

Stuart comes off the phone and immediately phones our manager Jim McInally to tell him.

When Stuart says he was shaking the machine, the full bus burst out laughing and Stuart knew he’d been done a belter.