Ally McCoist recalls first job in EK foreign aid office on its 40th anniversary

Footballing legend Ally McCoist has paid tribute to civil servants in his home town of East Kilbride whose work has had an impact across the globe.

The Rangers and Scotland hero was one of 350 staff recruited when the then Overseas Development Administration (ODA) first opened Abercrombie House in 1981.

The building was officially opened by then-Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington 40 years ago on November 23 – and now houses almost 1000 employees as the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s (FCDO) joint HQ.

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Although Ally only worked there for five months before his football career took off, he is full of praise for the former colleagues he worked with when the building first opened.

Ally, playing part-time with St Johnstone in 1981, said: “It’s amazing to think that 26 of the people I worked with when Abercrombie House first opened are still there today. If you ask me, they all deserve a George Cross in recognition of that service.

Ally McCoist recalls first job in EK foreign aid office on its 40th anniversary

“It was a massive boost for East Kilbride that building opening. I still remember my first day, getting off the No77 bus from Calderwood, and walking into this amazing new place as a civil servant.

“My mum and dad clearly knew what I wanted to do with my life, but they’d made sure I’d kept up with my schoolwork and were proud as punch I’d got the ODA job.

“I was a clerical assistant. Wee Brian was my boss and I used to sit next to a girl called Louise, who was the biggest Celtic fan you ever met in your life and we used to have great fun.

Ally McCoist recalls first job in EK foreign aid office on its 40th anniversary
McCoist in his early playing days at St Johnstone

“There was a cracking group of people there at the time and I loved the camaraderie. One of the best things was that there was a pub on site.

“The lucky thing was that at ODA, at that time, we worked flexi hours, which was brilliant, as I could work my football around it.

“So, I could go in early, do my shift, and if I needed to get the bus up to St Johnstone then I was able to do that.

“Sadly, I was too far down the pay scale to be given any foreign assignments. They obviously sussed me out straight away and wouldn’t let me out of East Kilbride.”

Ally’s civil service career ended when Sunderland signed him for £355,000 from St Johnstone.

The 59-year-old went on to enjoy football success with Rangers and Scotland before becoming a popular radio and TV pundit.

Ally McCoist recalls first job in EK foreign aid office on its 40th anniversary

But he said: “You can never say how life might have panned out if football hadn’t worked out, but I wouldn’t have been desperate to leave Overseas Development.

“I’m deadly serious because I really enjoyed my work there. There was no way I was dying to escape.

“You never know, if I hadn’t joined Sunderland, I might have been one of those who have served the full 40 years.”

Abercrombie House generates an estimated £30million annually to the local economy and it was recently announced that a further 500 jobs are coming to the East Kilbride site by 2025, as part of the UK Government’s levelling up agenda.

Ally McCoist recalls first job in EK foreign aid office on its 40th anniversary
Staff are celebrating four decades since Abercrombie House opened in 1981

Like Ally, who played all over the world for Rangers and Scotland, proud members of ‘The Full 40 Club’ can boast no shortage of foreign adventures.

Rutherglen-born Jackie French said: “I will always remember my first day. As the 77 bus approached Hairmyres, three smartly dressed young people stood up and we all looked at each other and said ‘ODA’. One of them was Ally McCoist.

“We were sent for training in the registry department and it was set out in rows, just like in school, which made us laugh.

“Unlike school, there was a bar on site and many a party was had. These were happy times when people worked hard and enjoyed chilling out together.”

Ally McCoist recalls first job in EK foreign aid office on its 40th anniversary
Former International Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan with the commemorative plaque at Abercrombie House

Jackie – currently senior programme manager in the Girls’ Education Department – added: “I’ve since worked in International Development Secretary Clare Short’s private office and was a programme manager in Afghanistan in 2009 and 2011-2014 and then Sudan for a year. I’ve also attended World Bank meetings in Washington.”

Hamilton-born Jim McAlpine, 60, is currently serving as the FCDO’s Deputy Development Director in Bangladesh.

He’s recently helped secure a £120million COP26 pledge to tackle climate change in the country and a further £54million from the UK to support girls’ education there.

Ally McCoist recalls first job in EK foreign aid office on its 40th anniversary

He said: “If someone had said to me, on my first day, that any of this lay ahead of me, I would have thought they were mad.

“Lots of us started in our late teens or early twenties, and lifelong friendships were formed.

“When Abercrombie House opened, everything was paper-based – there were no computers or mobile phones. Email was the stuff of science fiction. We sent letters, typed in a typing pool or – if it was really urgent – a telegram.”

Gordon Saggers’ 46-year career has seen him represent the UK Government in numerous countries including the Pacific, Bangladesh, DR Congo, Indonesia, Jamaica, Malawi and Zimbabwe.

The 65-year-old said: “I’ve helped with responses to many rapid onset disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, tsunamis and droughts, as well as managing several anti-corruption programmes.

“There can’t be many jobs where you spend part of your lunch break with a gun pointed against your head.

“We were early for a visit to Jamaica’s Ministry of Finance and the armed guard was confused as to why we were eating sandwiches in the car park but was eventually satisfied we meant no harm.”

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: “Our 1000 staff in Scotland can proudly celebrate 40 years of Abercrombie House having been at the forefront of making the UK a world-leading diplomatic and development superpower.

“I’m looking forward to building on Abercrombie House’s impressive history, as we position the UK at the heart of an unrivalled global network of economic, diplomatic and security partnerships to deliver for the British people.

“The commitment to redeploy a further 500 jobs to our joint HQ by 2025, as part of the UK Government’s levelling up agenda, ensures Scottish voices will play a pivotal role in using our £10billion aid budget to combat climate change and bounce back from the COVID pandemic.”

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