Derek Stillie - the interviewSunday, 31st Jan 2016
Pars Pars goalkeeper Derek Stillie was the club's guest in the Purvis Suite at the recent cup tie versus Ross County
Derek joined Dunfermline Athletic from Wigan for season 2002-03 when Marco Ruitenbeek was the established first choice keeper. Derek went on to make over 100 appearances for Dunfermline including the Scottish Cup Final and in European competition. He recalled the November day he was first selected for a league match:-
"When I got my chance it was against Hearts. I think they were possibly top of the league. We had a good result against them, and then I stayed in for the next three years."
Derek's first game was against Cowdenbeath at Central Park, a Tuesday night league cup tie on 22nd September in front of a crowd just short of 3000:-
"I had only ever played there in the East Reserve League for Aberdeen when I was about 18 or 19. It hadn’t changed any."
At the start of season 2002-03 Derek was part of the squad that had an extensive pre-season taking in New Zealand and Holland.
“Somehow New Zealand with the stopover in Los Angeles on the way sits more in the memory. It brought home to me just where Jimmy was taking the Club, how professional it was and how meticulously pre-season had been planned. It reinforced to me that I had the right decision to come”
That season Dunfermline finished fifth in the league and it was the season that ended with controversy as a result of Rangers and Celtic battling over the title right up to the final match.
“People still talk to me now about that game against Rangers. They have a view on it which is totally unrepresentative of how it went. Celtic had a great season, they had just come back from the UEFA Cup Final on the Wednesday night to then play their decider down at Kilmarnock, while we were at Ibrox.
“The place was excitable to say the least. Jason Dair scored a cracking goal and I watched it recently on a clip on Facebook. I wondered how did I actually do that day? I looked closely at the goals and I don’t think there was much that I could have done about any of them.
“Everyone would say the same. Rangers were going to do whatever it took. The message was coming from Rugby Park into the stands and you could see them lifting a gear again. I think everyone who played for us that day has an absolutely clear conscious.
“In the dressing room afterwards there were a few raised voices because some of the things that happened – the penalty they got, they were given a back pass and I remember Jimmy Nichol and I having a bit of a discussion because Gus MacPherson passed it back using his knee. That was fine, I picked it up but Stuart Dougal in his wisdom gave a free kick in the box to Rangers which was ridiculously the wrong decision. Jimmy’s view was that was putting us under pressure and I should have kicked it up the park, but I was expecting the referee to apply the rules.
“We were incredibly disappointed because people still look at that bad result for us that helped Rangers to win the league. Everyone of us was hoping the opposite – we wanted to be the party poopers that day”
In season 2003-04 Derek was in the team that won through to the club’s first Scottish Cup Final since 1968.
“The game that sticks most in my memory is the semi-final down at Hampden first of all when we didn’t play particularly well. We were down 1-0 and then big Craig (Brewster) scored an equaliser. We “dodged the bullet” there and we went to Aberdeen to play the replay against Inverness. That didn’t go to plan either. It went to extra time and I made a save from Paul Ritchie in extra time and we went up the park and score the goal that took us to the final.”
When Derek was at Aberdeen he had been in the squad for the League Cup Final but the 2004 Scottish Cup Final was the highlight of Derek Stillie’s career:
“We went into it quite confident. I remember being nervous but I made a save early on that settled me down. We were confident at the back and we scored just before half time and we were comfortable with that.
“At half time 1-0 up and in the dressing room, I got a sense that not enough of us believed that we could go on and win the cup. Amongst you you try to generate that belief that we should be 1-0 up and we should be coming back in here after with the Cup. We went out started well. We got a corner and when it came in Bobo Balde went up and knocked it away with his hand. No penalty. When was one of the Old Firm down 1-0 in a cup final and had a penalty awarded against them? Probably a long time! So from Balde knocking it down with his hand they came up the park and Henrik Larsson scored the equaliser, then they scored again and that was that. It was very, very disappointing.
“The Dunfermline support was unbelievable, we had the whole of the west stand at Hampden covered in black and white. It gets a wee bit tingly up the back even thinking about it now. It was incredible."
Defeated cup finalists, Dunfermline Athletic finished 4th in the SPL – their best ever – but Jimmy Calderwood left to go to Aberdeen and it was rumoured that Derek was going to leave as well, He explained:
“I had spoken to Jimmy about a new contract and had joked “what if you are not here”? Of course Jimmy was very professional and said nothing like that was happening.
“Aberdeen were around the bottom of the table and of course I had started my career at Aberdeen. We had just been in the cup final, we had finished fourth. This was the best place to come and work. It was wonderful so I was not thinking about leaving. I was in the Scotland Squad and thought that we were at the top to stay at the top”
The next season under David Hay however was totally different. Results did not go Dunfermline’s way and Jim Leishman took over and the Pars avoided relegation with a remarkable escape act.
“We lost at Livingston with four games to go and that seemed to be that. We were having conversations about what was going to happen – we were really in a mess. Jim came in and the guys responded to that. We got a result beating Dundee 5-0. We almost messed up down at Kilmarnock on the last day but we digged deep to survive”
The players had not changed much but Derek Stillie felt the big difference was the departure of the “two Jimmies”.
“It wasn’t just Jimmy Calderwood, the two Jimmies were always going to be a difficult act to follow. Davie Hay’s experience was unquestionable, everyone without question respected him. I can only put it down to our mentors leaving us”
Derek was a member of the Pars squad that was full of characters, he recalled
“When I came there were about four or five of us all joined at the same time. We went to New Zealand via the States and then to Holland. We had over three weeks together and we just gelled instantly. By the end of that time we were quite a tight unit. That just carried on through my time here. It was great, I know it is a cliché but it was a great bunch of guys. Lots of different characters. Nipper Thomson was the guy who led all that forward – always up for a joke but could be serious too. It was a good dressing room, a good bunch who got on well but when Saturday came we knew our jobs as well."
When Derek left it was to Dundee United and on to Gillingham before becoming a full time lawyer. Pars fans were well aware that their keeper was studying more than just defending goals.
“It was always my intention to do that. I went to United and spent a couple of years there. I had finished my degree by then and I was going to Law School in London. I thought that was my football career finished but when I was down there Gillingham got in touch and asked if I could come and help them. I said not really because I had Law School every day, but they accommodated that so I spent the last season of my career at Gillingham which was great.
“My last game was at Elland Road against Leeds United which was a great place to finish your playing career and from there I went straight into legal practice down in the City. I was there for 8 years before coming back up north in May 2015.
“I am now doing something very different but having just spoken about my times at Dunfermline – cup finals and games – legal practice doesn’t quite cut it!
“I played for Aberdeen, Wigan, Dunfermline, Dundee United and Gillingham. Aberdeen was a great grounding – I learned so much that set me up to have a career in football. I was most successful at Dunfermline, I was in the Scotland Squad, we got to the Cup Final, we finished 4th. So I look back most fondly on my time with Dunfermline. I think it is fair to say that I had good times everywhere else, all for different reasons but I was definitely most successful as a player at Dunfermline."
Watch this interview at Dunfermline Athletic Heritage Trust website
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