STEP aside “the Ginger Pele”. Take a bow the man they call “Midge”.
There was a passing of the baton at Pittodrie last Saturday as Michael Gardyne made his 307th club appearance for Ross County, surpassing the total amassed by fellow servant Scott Boyd – now at Kilmarnock.
Setting the modern-day appearances record in this, his third spell at the club, only served to emphasise the great input the naturally-gifted Gardyne has had as an integral part of County’s success story.
Since first arriving on loan from Celtic in 2006 he has featured in most of the significant successes: from the November 2006 Challenge Cup final triumph over Clyde to (old) First and Second Division titles, the Scottish Cup semi-final, beating of Celtic, and of course a vital goal in last season’s remarkable League Cup-winning feat.
He arrived as a likeable, lippy young lad – the type a schoolteacher might immediately order to the front of class – and has never lost that keen sense of mischief.
Growing maturity off the field has been mirrored on it with some of the best football of his life produced in the last couple of years. And as fit and sharp as ever at 31, there seems to be plenty more to come.
Gardyne’s character and part in County’s finest endeavours has made him a huge favourite, both within the club and especially among the supporters.
So it seems everyone is happy at seeing him cement his status with the club record tally.
Asked if his pal Boyd had been in touch to offer congratulations, Gardyne couldn’t resist a wee wind-up.
“I’ve actually not heard a word from him...I’m so disappointed", the winger dead-panned.
“I was going to text him on the group chat the other night but he’s obviously fuming.
“I was obviously always going to take his record – I’m a much better player than him!”
All spoken in jest of course, but Gardyne was deadly serious as he relayed just what the appearances record meant to him.
“It’s a great achievement in football these days. You don’t normally get players staying at the same club for a number of years,” he said.
“I know I’ve had three or four spells but it’s obviously nice to get that record along with the goalscoring one I already have.”
When Gardyne first checked in at County on loan from Celtic, he could hardly have imagined that almost 11 years on his imprint would be so marked at a club winning major trophies and established in the top flight.
“I came up for a season on loan from Celtic and I never thought anything past that,” he recalled.
“I came back up and seemed to enjoy it. I went away and back again a couple of times, and I’m enjoying it more than ever. It was a far cry from Celtic when I first arrived. That was the season we got relegated from the First Division.
“But it was my first stint at first-team football and there were some big characters in the dressing room. I learned a lot from the lads such as Craig Samson and Sean Higgins.
“It was a great eye-opener for me to get into the first team. When I went back to Celtic I was back in the reserves, so I left straight away because the taste of first team football made me want more. That’s when I signed for Morton.”
From there Gardyne returned in 2008 for a four-year stint that established his status as a County great. In more than 100 appearances during that spell he helped County bounce back to win the Second Division while winning a nomination for First Division player of the year the following season.
But it was the magnificent Scottish Cup victories over Hibs, then Celtic at Hampden Park, amid unforgettable scenes that elevated Gardyne in the supporters’ eyes.
“The fans have taken to me, maybe because I have always come back,” he said. “There’s that wee love affair with them. I’d like to think I’ve done quite well here, winning a few cups and reaching the Scottish Cup final (in 2010) and winning the First Division.
“It has been a great time for me here and long may that continue. I still have a year and a half left and we’ll see what happens after that.
“I’m 31, I’m as fit as I’ve ever been and playing week in, week out. I’m sure, given the way we are training every day, the results will turn for us and we will climb the table. I’m enjoying it and that’s the most important thing.”
Gardyne certainly strikes you as a man more engaged with the present and the future than achievements of the past.
“We have some big games coming up,” he acknowledged. “The lads know what we need to do to get into the top six. That’s still not out of reach.
“We have six games left before the split against teams around us. I’m looking forward to the rest of the season and to kicking on next year too.
“We are definitely still looking up, but the reality is that you have to look below.
“There are teams around us picking up points and we haven’t in the past couple of weeks.
“It’s been so tight throughout the season, from the bottom up to top six – it’s incredible.
“We’re a confident bunch and I’m sure we’ll get to where we want to be.”
County secured a second top six finish of their history last season, but Gardyne feels repeating it with Rangers back in the top flight would make this season the greatest in league terms.
“It was always going to be harder this season,” he stressed. “After winning the League Cup and getting into the top six, it was always going to be hard to better that, but we do have a great bunch of lads and we are confident.
“Even looking at the Aberdeen game last Saturday, we deserved a point from the game – we just didn’t get the rub of the green. Hopefully that changes in the next few weeks and we will get what we deserve from our performances, as we did at Tynecastle.”
Dundee have shown that a couple of wins can shoot a team up the table in double-quick time and Gardyne added: “That’s all it takes. There are six games left and everyone is focused on getting the results we need to make it a memorable finish.”