I have to take my manager of the year, from the lower leagues, partly due to them serving up honest and true competition unlike the Premiership and also because it takes real guile to win anything there. Budgets are similar, players of a similar standard and expectations and excitement for fans are on a level playing field. Kenny Sheils may have got it right that even his granny would have won the league for Celtic this year as manager â€“ must be some granny to manage one half of the Auld Firm â€“ but down the leagues we have some cracking managers.
Let me start with three areas â€“ mainly flippant â€“ from which I would draw my short leet. The Lazarus Award for the manager who got the team from being close to dead to survival has a number of candidates. There is League Twoâ€™s Jim Weir of Elgin City who took over when they seemed dead and buried and got them close to the playoffs. In League One we have Gary Bollan who took Airdrie into their typical bad start to the season and then took them out of it and again within a whisker of the playoffs. In the Championship even Alan Stubbs who had a more horrendous start than Gary Bollan ended further up the table than the ever fancied Rangers is in with a shout. However my nomination from this area of managerial expertise has to be Mark Burchill of Livingston. If only because he got from the bottom, took on board a 5 point penalty and had a highly experienced manager to follow in John McGlynn all whilst the club was going through some form of internal/external warfare.
My second area is the The Shoes Werenâ€™t All That Big Award for managers who took on tasks many thought they would fail in â€“ but didnâ€™t. It starts with Darren Young in League Two who took over Albion Rovers and as a rookie manager led them to the title. In League One we have Jim Duffy of Greenock Morton who took over at Cappielow and it took a long time to get the fans onside. Even now there are some who think the winning of the title was a fluke. Finally the Championship has Robbie Neilson who took over from Gary Locke and many thought it a massive mistake. With Craig Levein upstairs it was mooted as madness but Neilson has got my vote for simply being the guy who proved everyone wrong.
Finally we have The Did We Really Expect Them to Win Anything Award which goes to managers who have been real surprises in cup and other competitions â€“ there were many who started the season with the burden of expectations upon them. Whilst Barry Ferguson has not been the manager we had expected, Peter Houston is in a national cup final. Mark Burchill, again, is a guy who got Livingston the Petrofac Training Cup, John Hughes could lay claim because he also has got a Cup Final and a European place for Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Honourable mention should also go to Steve Aitken as he took Stranraer, on what is the smallest budget of the season, into the playoffs. Mention must also be made to Ray McKinnon who claimed three manager of the month awards for Brechin City as well as a 17 game unbeaten run during the season. This award tends to be fought over by managers at the top of the game and so it goes, for me, to James Fowler who may have taken the work of Jim McIntyre who built on the work of Allan Johnston and made good but it did take effective management to keep them in the playoffs and give us two great wins against Rangers at critical times during the season.
Winning the league by 21 points and taking the Championship away from other pretenders means, for me it is a no contests and the winner is Robbie Neilson.
Player of the Year
This is a really difficult one as there are too many candidates to mention. I am, however, going for one guy who has proven, as the top goal scorer for the season, that your career can be evergreen; Peter Weatherston of Annan Athletic.