He will forever be immortalised by that image sitting on the shoulders of Dundee United giants.
But here was Jim McLean, on his hands and knees, scrabbling desperately at my feet.
No memory of wee Jim matters more to Dundee United fans than that picture from May 14 1983, when they defeated their greatest rivals 2-1 to win the title at Dens.
However, if you will excuse the sentimentality, the warmest recollection of yours truly – it still burns brightly whenever I think of Jim – came a couple of decades later on a visit to the McLean residence in Broughty Ferry.
“Look Lewis,” he said to my four-year-old, holding an ingot of football gold between his finger and thumb, “This is a good one. Barcelona. Here, take it.”
Moments later: “There’s another one – Werder Bremen. You can have that one too. And Standard Liege. They’re from Belgium.”
On the flawless white carpet in his front room, Jim had emptied a plastic bag of pin badges from his European escapades with United and he and the kid both lay flat out, like snipers in the snow, poring over the booty.
The size of the pile declared with greater authority than the old Rothmans’ year books ever could that United had been serious players, not just participants, at the very highest levels of Uefa competition.
Jim delved into his personal treasure trove time and again as my boy, little more than a toddler, eventually left with a fat fistful of priceless souvenirs.
Ghost writing column for Jim McLean
A few years later, we were in the car when Lewis turned and asked if I could remind him of the name again of the nice football man we had visited that time in Dundee.
Oh, the innocence of youth.
Jim’s act of kindness and generosity stays with Lewis still. Now aged 20, and with a greater sense of Scottish football history, my son was the first person I phoned when the news of Jim’s passing broke on Boxing Day.
We shared in the sadness, but also relief that Jim – and Doris and the boys – are free of the cruelty of dementia.
I was the ghost writer for Jim’s Daily Record column for the best part of a decade. In truth, it may even have been longer because these were months and years that were immune to clock watching, so rich was the material he furnished.
Every Thursday morning, without fail, the phone would be answered on the first ring with a cheery: “What have we got today?”
And over the next hour the Scottish game would be dissected with dry wit and precision.
There are pundits pontificating on Scottish football these days who have played fewer than 250 games and won nothing but a tenner on a lottery scratchcard.
Jim McLean spoke with honesty, authority and authenticity and had earned the absolute right through all he had achieved in management to pillory or praise anyone he liked, from the SPL to the Scottish national team.
Jim was always utterly forthright in his column, even to the extent that his criticism of Eddie Thompson’s running of United in 2006 led to a removal of his privileges at Tannadice.
He would still be welcome, United insisted, but he’d have to apply for a press pass to watch matches and the thought of Jim sitting with the media caused him as much mirth as it gave the media nightmares.
‘Doris was the unsung heroine of all United achieved’
A couple of years later he again rounded on United, this time with Stephen Thompson at the helm, and declared he would be snubbing the 25th anniversary dinner of the 1983 title triumph.
If I remember rightly, he took offence (and quite rightly so) because the letter of invite asked him to attend with his partner (they couldn’t even namecheck Doris).
Furthermore, it was billed as a chance to acknowledge the accomplishments of the players, which Jim took as an outrageous snub to him and his coaching staff. Even after all those years, anger was never far from the surface.
It must be stressed that I enjoyed collaborating with Jim because I never had to work with him at his career peak when he was a manager who inspired admiration and fear in equal measure.
There can be no excusing his excesses, particularly his assault on the BBC’s John Barnes – ‘Digger’ didn’t deserve that – but madness and genius in football, like a referee’s coin toss before kick-off, can land either side up.
The Jim McLean I came to know – and love – was a complex man, but had mellowed by the early noughties and was increasingly contemplative, more aware than ever before of the cost he had allowed the game to extract from his own private life.
On that visit with Lewis, he played with my boy in an undistracted manner I know had been alien to his behaviour with his own sons, Gary and Colin.
He frequently lamented to me – on the record and off – how much he regretted trawling the public parks of Dundee on a Sunday morning looking for the next Davie Dodds when he should have been taking his boys to swimming or ice hockey with Doris.
He wouldn’t have achieved half as much without Doris and even he cackled in agreement when I once suggested she’d make an even more interesting columnist, so much had she witnessed.
Doris was the unsung heroine of all United achieved and although she preferred the kitchen and her own telly of choice whenever I popped up to watch a game with Jim, even the chocolate digestives she plated up with the coffee came in a 4-4-2 formation.
They were such generous hosts.
Don’t tell big Duncan Ferguson, but every Christmas a card would arrive at the office with a cheque for £150 and a demand I used it to take my missus for a slap up meal on the McLeans.
I’m thinking of you at this sad time, Doris.
In later years, as his column was beginning to run its course, it was becoming clear that Jim was happier talking about the past than the present – a portent, sadly, of that debilitating condition to come.
But yours truly was happy to listen as there was education there, still.
Typically, he never quite looked comfortable as he was feted on the shoulders of Paul Hegarty and Richard Gough that glorious day almost 38 years ago.
But you didn’t half deserve your view from the top, Jim. Rest in peace. Every call and visit was an honour and a pleasure.