The white-water rafting trip is on hold. For now, Jim Duffy is relieved simply to immerse himself back into the depths of his beloved Scottish football.
A little over three months on from suffering a heart attack – “a blow to my ego as well as my health” – the 61-year-old Dumbarton manager has a renewed vigour for life.
The date of 20 June, when he was given a visceral reminder of his mortality, is forever etched in his memory. But then, that has been the case for the past four decades.
“It’s an easy day for me to remember – it was my 39th wedding anniversary,” says Duffy.
“It was Father’s Day that weekend as well. My son and daughter had bought me a white-water rafting voucher. They know I like to do things that are adrenaline fuelled.
“I would still like to do it, but I’ll need to check if allowed. You want to get back to normality, but it’s ice-cold water, so I don’t know if that’s the best thing for me at the moment…”
‘Trying to accept it was a big thing’
Duffy had little inkling of the seismic shock to come. A teetotal non-smoker, he prides himself on keeping in shape, a legacy of a playing career that lasted until age 36.
And having reluctantly thrown himself into DIY, as well as stepping up his exercise regime to while away the downtime amid football’s Covid-enforced suspension this summer, the warning signs went unnoticed.
“I didn’t feel unwell, but I’d been out walking the dog a couple of times at night the week leading up to it, and had an uncomfortable feeling, a bit of a dull ache, in the muscles around my shoulders and neck.
“I thought nothing of it. Then on the Saturday morning I was getting out of bed and had the same feeling, but much more intense. Right in the middle of my chest there was a searing pain – as if somebody had punched me full force.”
Even then, he took convincing that something serious had happened.
“I was a bit sceptical about phoning NHS 24, because Covid was at the forefront of everyone’s mind and I didn’t want to bother them. By that time I felt okay, it had only lasted five minutes or so and then subsided.
“But my wife told me I’d better phone, so I did, and they got me in for tests, which revealed I’d had a heart attack. It was a shock – you see yourself as resilient and don’t imagine these things happening to you. Just trying to accept it was a big thing.”
‘I didn’t consider retirement for a second’
As he recovered at home after having two stents inserted, Duffy had plenty of time to think.
After a management career spanning more than 30 years, was it really still worth the bother, or did the prospect of retirement creep into his mind?
“No, not at all, I didn’t think that for a second. Because we’d all been in lockdown since March, I’d already had four months of sitting in the house doing nothing. I was itching to get back.”
That commitment was mutual. Dumbarton handed Duffy a new one-year contract and he was back working from home within weeks, with a return to the training pitch following in August.
With third-tier Dumbarton kicking off their season in the League Cup against Dunfermline Athletic on Tuesday, Duffy is planning a few tweaks to his usual routine for the campaign ahead.
“I can’t be going tonto on the touchline any more. I’ve always stood on the sidelines, but I might have to take a wee seat for 10-15 minutes – the players will enjoy me not barking at them for the full 90 minutes.”
‘Still bluffing it as a boss’
The determination of Duffy to get back to football’s frontline should came as no so surprise. As a player, his career was prematurely ended by a knee injury, leading to him being parachuted into the Dundee job at 29.
“I didn’t have my mind set on management, it came up and you give it a go. Some parts of it are just adrenaline and enthusiasm. The rest of it is is flying by the seat of your pants – you don’t have a clue. You’re just trying to bluff your way.”
The pain in his knee remained constant, but two-and-a-half years later he made an on-field comeback and performed in the top flight with Partick Thistle and Dundee despite being “only 75% of the player I was before”.
He has since managed in all four divisions of the SPFL at clubs including Dundee, Hibernian, and Greenock Morton. Promotion, relegation, administration, cup finals, Europe, sackings – he’s experienced the lot.
And having worked under some of the Scottish game’s most eccentric characters – from being part of John Lambie’s Thistle squad to a stint as director of football for Vladimir Romanov’s Heats – nothing can phase the affable Duffy, who plans to hang around for a while yet.
“I’m still bluffing it and winging it. I think a lot of managers are. You need to convince the players you know all the answers, but it’s impossible.
“You don’t get as frustrated and uptight about anything now, because when you’ve been over the course as often as I have, you’ve pretty much come across everything.”