York City skipper Manny Panther is a man on a mission inspired by his Scottish roots and the happiest' person he has ever known - his dad. DAVE FLETT reports.

MANNY Panther might be a lifelong Glasgow Rangers fan but it's a green-and-white hooped hero that provides his role model as York City captain.

As a teenage midfielder, Panther twice played in front of 60,000 fans at Celtic's famous Parkhead stadium.

In only the 12th and 15th appearances of his professional career, he tasted defeat against the former European champions with St Johnstone and Partick Thistle.

But he still cherishes the memory of both occasions and admits the attitude of ex-Northern Ireland skipper Neil Lennon remains an example when he leads City out on match days.

"I came on as a substitute the second time for Partick and came up against Neil Lennon," Panther recalls. "They were leading 3-0 but he was still screaming at his players to bury us - even in injury time.

"I thought to myself Why are you so mad?' but he was a total professional and demanded the same from his team-mates. He was their captain and I try to learn from every game so, as York City captain, I remember what he was like in that match.

"You must always demand the best from your players and, when I'm playing for York, I try and drive the boys on to score as many goals as we can. You can relax at the end of games and the manager (Billy McEwan) tells us at least once a week that he missed out on promotion by goal difference as a player so it is important."

The wide-eyed Panther also played on the same pitch as Swedish legend Henrik Larsson during that second trip to Parkhead and was equally as impressed, adding: "His movement and awareness was different class.

"He sometimes looks like he's out of the game for long periods and just pops up with a goal but I asked the Partick defenders about him afterwards and they said he was a nightmare to play against because he was always on the move."

Rangers, though, remain close to Panther's heart in a love affair that was ignited when Paul Gascoigne blazed on to the Scottish Premier League scene 12 years ago.

"It was amazing to see that type of player sign for a Scottish team and he was great up there," Panther enthuses.

"Playing at Parkhead in front of 60,000 fans was unbelievable and it's somewhere any player would want to play but I never played at Ibrox which is a great shame and still one of my ambitions."

While Lennon and Gascoigne might have left lasting impressions on an adolescent Panther, the player's lifelong inspiration has been his father.

Cyril Panther was a Nigerian light-middleweight boxing champion in the 1960s before moving to Britain on the advice of his manager.

Cateract problems, however, left Cyril blind and the 23-year-old midfielder's admiration for the manner in which his father has led his life since is obvious.

"My dad is my biggest inspiration," a proud Panther said.

"He's been blind since I was born but he's still a fit and strong man and nothing gets him down. He's the happiest person I know.

"I come from a sporting and athletic family. My brother and I did some boxing training when we were young and I was always first at school in long-distance running but I was football daft and it was my number one passion."

Panther's passion led to a call-up for the Scotland Under-15 schoolboy team where he played at right-wing-back and lined up alongside a highly-rated midfielder who became a Premiership champion last season.

"I played for Scotland schoolboys with Darren Fletcher," Panther revealed.

"Everybody knew about him at that age and every club in Britain was after him but he ended up signing for Manchester United in Sir Alex Ferguson's home.

"After that, it was crazy. We went to places in Europe with Scotland and people would be coming up asking for his autograph especially in Ireland where they are Manchester United daft."

Panther remains a hugely patriotic Scot while maintaining an allegiance with his father's homeland.

He added: "I enjoyed Nigeria becoming Olympic champions in 1996 but I've always been a strong Scotland supporter and, given the choice between the two countries, I'd play for Scotland. It's my culture and I always try to get home to watch their games."

Despite his loyalties north of the border, though, Panther has no regrets following his move to Yorkshire two years ago.

Money problems and managerial changes had seen his career stall in Scotland and, after being loaned out to second division Brechin City, Panther decided it was time for a new challenge.

He said: "I was offered a new contract at Partick but I wanted to get my career moving in the right direction. When my agent said What about the Conference?' I thought No way'.

"I wanted to go to England because that's the place to be as a footballer but I wasn't too sure about Conference football.

"My agent said Just go down, have a look and have a word with the manager'.

"I did and was impressed with the ground, the training ground and the whole set-up. I knew it was the right club.

"The manager also made me feel wanted which I needed at that time and I could relate to him because he had made the same move from Scotland as a player.

"I was still living at home in Glasgow but it was one of those decisions you have to make in life and I think it's paid off.

"I love Yorkshire people and York's a lovely place where anybody could settle."