Alex McLeish has spent the last year on a roller coaster.
From the moment he agreed terms with his Birmingham City board exactly 12 months ago today, the former Scotland manager clambered on to English football’s equivalent to the Big Dipper.
Working for any football club is a rough ride but when you’re at Birmingham City Football Club you have to cling on for dear life because this is a carriage that is capable of swerving from drama to crisis in an instant.
Steve Bruce had held on for almost six years and saw it all but when the likeable Geordie eventually let go, it was time for McLeish to pick up his ticket and climb on board.
McLeish had conquered the game north of the border but he was about to take on a different beast altogether when he decided to leave behind the comforts of the Tartan Army as November 2007 drew to a close.
The former no-nonsense centre-half may have been a battle-hardened Scotsman but when he first stepped into the St Andrew’s arena he quickly became a fresh-faced rookie in the dog-eat-dog world of the English Premier League.
There was no doubting that the Barrhead-born braveheart could talk the talk from the moment he confidentially greeted the nation’s media sat in a St Andrew’s conference suite. Now a year later, the Blues’ supporters are still waiting to see whether he will ultimately prove to be able to walk the walk.
It began at White Hart Lane on December 2, 2007, an inherited star pupil picked the ball up 25-yards from goal and unleashed a beautifully-directed shot into the top right-hand corner of his opponents’ net.
Seb Larsson’s sumptuous strike had just won McLeish his first game in charge, 3-2 at Tottenham Hotspur, but the white-knuckled, hair-raising, stomach-churning rollercoaster was just getting moving.
There were further highs on the horizon and bizarrely most of them appeared to be geographically-linked with north London. Consecutive score draws with mighty Arsenal, 1-1 at the Emirates Stadium and 2-2 at St Andrew’s, and the 4-1 thumping of Tottenham at home were moments to savour for McLeish. Not forgetting the transfer coups of James McFadden, Lee Carsley and Quincy Owusu-Abeyie – three players who could easily be plying their trade in the top flight as I write this.
However the highs are merely humpbacked bridges compared to the lows that McLeish has endured as manager of Birmingham.
The list is long, very long, compared to the highs. Let’s begin – a 2-1 FA Cup exit at Huddersfield Town, last season’s defeats to Reading, Sunderland and Fulham, a local pride-shattering 5-1 loss at Villa Park, oh and not forgetting relegation from the Premier League.
Activities away from the field haven’t been plain-sailing either. In the last year McLeish has had to defend one of his players (Martin Taylor) from a baying mob of Croatians and Gunners led by Arsene Wenger, put up with the occasional lingering spectre of Carson Yeung, watched a minority of supporters verbally abuse his board and even deal with the odd petulant strop from his players (Mauro Zarate and Owusu-Abeyie).
At that point, if McLeish was a child that had filled his face with sugary sweets then some poor chap sitting in the carriage in front of him would have felt the force of his giddiness across their back.
Fortunately, with his backside firmly nestled in the hot-seat, the second half of the year has been less bumpy for the smooth-talking Scot, despite the fact that his team went from underdogs to top dogs virtually over night.
Having clung on to his star names, a best-ever start to a season followed for Birmingham’s richly-talented squad.
It’s been an impressive introduction to life in the Championship for McLeish with the only blots being defeats to Blackpool, QPR and Coventry – but you can’t win everything.
However, the truth is that McLeish will only be judged, and will judge himself, a success if he leads Blues back to the Premier League at the first time of asking – certainly not a forgone conclusion.
Yes, McLeish has spent the last year on a roller coaster but he had better buckle himself in because the ride is far from over.