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Denis Jack
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Denis Jack – Player 1961-71 



This is the story of left-back Denis Jack who spent a decade with his hometown club and made over 300 appearances for Cowdenbeath before ending his time with the club after a season in the top flight. 


I lived as a boy in Hillcrest, Cowdenbeath.  My dad had played at juvenile or amateur level in Kirkford as a full back.  He was absolutely Cowdenbeath daft and went to every home game.  He took my brother Michael and I with him down to Central Park.  Sometimes my mother and my aunt dragged me along to watch Celtic but Cowden were always my team. 


One player I remember watching was John Murphy.  Basher they called him and he was one hard man.  He played for Cowden in the afternoons and then Dunfermline Vikings at ice hockey.  I played against him when he was at Queen of the South.  They beat us 7-1 with Jim Patterson scoring six of them.  Seven breakaways we kept telling ourselves!


My earliest organised football I suppose was either at St Columba’s School back in the days when it was up in Stenhouse Street or with the YMCA Scouts team.  The Callaghan brothers were at St Columba’s at that time.  My brother Michael played alongside Willie Callaghan for the school while I was in the same side as Willie’s brother Tid.  One day Bobby Little came to my house and asked me to sign for the local under-18 side Cowdenbeath Royals.  I assume he had seen me playing for the school or for the scouts.  Bobby worked at the Aitken or the Lindsay up at Kelty and he was a smashing wee guy. 


The Royals were a very successful outfit and we didn’t lose very often.   I can recall though losing in the Fife Cup final and twice we were beaten in the Lady Darling Cup (the Scottish Cup) by the eventual winners.   One year we played against Edinburgh Athletic at Central Park.  Willie Henderson was in the Edinburgh side and ran us ragged.  We were 3-1 up at one time but lost 9-3.


When I was with the Royals I was asked to go down to Huddersfield for a month’s trial.  They were in the top half of the Second Division then.  Denis Law was there and he scored their goals.  I had some training stints with my fellow left back Ray Wilson – Ray of course won the World Cup with England in 1966.  He was a really nice guy and it was a great experience meeting and training with such an all time great.  My own favourite left-back in those days was Eric Caldow of Rangers and Scotland.  I loved him as a player. 


The Royals were a good club and produced lots of players for Cowden.  It was like a conveyor belt of talent.  We played at Central Park and sometimes at North End Park.  Roddy Mill went to Cowdenbeath from the Royals and of course so did Andy Rolland who was a nippy right winger back then.  I eventually had an opportunity for a trial with Raith Rovers who were keen on me.  I was also quite keen to go there as they were a First Division club at the time.  However, my dad said ‘you’re not going to the Rovers you’re going to Cowdenbeath’!  Next thing I was fixed up on an ‘S’ form or something similar with Cowden. 


Harry Colville signed me for Cowden in 1961.  Harry was generally an easy going guy but he would lose the plot every now and again.  He was a big centre-half so he didn’t have much brains!  There were no tactics, the players just had to sort things out on the field themselves.  One of my earliest games for Cowden was in the Scottish Cup at Parkhead v Celtic.  Big Yogi Hughes destroyed us that day.  It was 5-1 going on 20.  John Hughes would hit the ball past you and then just run over the top of you.


Football was a bit different back then, mind you.  Players got away with murder on the pitch.  It needed to be a really bad foul before a referee would stop the game.  If someone kicked you though you knew you would catch up with him later in the season to extract some retribution.  Referees like Bob Valentine or Tiny Wharton would see you kick somebody and say ‘that was a bad one, you’ll no’ get away wi’ that again’! 


Other games I recall from my early days with Cowden were in the Scottish Cup.  In the bad winter of 1962/63, we were drawn to play Dunfermline but the match was postponed many times.  Eventually we played them at Stark’s Park where we lost 3-2.  The year after, we drew 0-0 v Morton at Cappielow when they had won every League game up till then.  It was really a siege though and Alan McGraw should have scored 3 or 4.  McGraw was a good player, a natural finisher. 


My team-mates in the Harry Colville era included Tom Dawson, Bobby Wilson, Jim Burns, Stan Vincent and Jackie Sinclair who are all still friends to this day.  Tommy and Bobby were at our Ruby Wedding not that long back. Jimmy Robertson who was to play for Scotland also played for us and he was lightning quick. 


We got nothing when he left us though as he was an amateur.  Andy Matthew played back then along with his pal Willie Benvie.  Willie was a brilliant player but he spent years in the juniors as people thought he was too small to make the grade until eventually he joined Raith Rovers.  Norrie Rattray was another good player who came to Cowden after being with Dunfermline.  He was a product of the Royals. 


Eventually Harry Colville packed it in to be succeeded by ex-Clyde and Scotland star Archie Robertson.  Archie was well ahead of his time, he was one of the first of a new breed of coaches.  The things he taught us were things we had never even thought  about before.  He taught us free kicks, throw ins and how to set up for corners.  He’d keep you training all night until you got it right even when it was pitch black and you couldn’t see a thing.  He was a great coach. 


For example he once came up to me and said he had spotted a deficiency in my game.  He explained I had to think of kicking the ball as being a bit like a golf swing.  He then placed the ball down and also put jackets down inside the touchline.  I had to kick the ball from say 10 yards from the byeline and land it in a five-yard area up the touchline that he had marked out with the jackets.  I had to do that for an hour until I could do it 10 times out of 10.  Bear in mind we were part-time players but Archie focused on something to improve every player.  It was outstanding coaching and he was full of ideas.


I stayed in Foulford Street then and it was a convenient location for anyone who wanted to miss training.  Archie though was wise to this and would be straight up to my door to see if anyone was ‘hiding at Denis’s’.  I remember one New Year, Jim Burns was in the house and Archie knocked on the door.  That wasn’t a good time to play football.  Jim said ‘I don’t mind playing one game at New Year but I’m not playing two’ and said to tell Archie he wasn’t there.   Next thing though he was herded off to Central Park.  Another time Archie came to my door and I got my wife to say I had flu.  Archie just went ‘right Denis, get down to Central Park’. 


The team Archie had included Andy Kinnell, Andy Matthew and Andy Rolland.  There were also Dusty Miller from Kelty and Big Tam Clark who wore the number 10 jersey.  Tam was a big guy but he didn’t put himself about.  His presence in the box though would put defenders off and he certainly could score goals.  He was like another Charlie Dickson. Willie Bostock came in at centre forward and he was of the same stamp as Stan Vincent – a bustler.  You would get a good shift out of Willie.  He would just stick his backside into the centre half and knock them off balance.  He wouldn’t be bullied. 


Jim Burns was a hardy player with a good engine and attitude.   He had a solid all round game and was a good tackler.  Although I enjoyed overlapping up the wing, I was more a defensive style full back.  I was fast but not really a hard player.  My game was built round timing my challenges and that’s a lot easier than kicking the opposition. 


On New Year’s Day 1966, I fractured my ankle in a tackle v Ayr United at Somerset Park.  It was just one of those things although there was talk about me going to Dunfermline at the time.  I was out for a while and Andy Rolland went to left back.  It was the best thing Andy ever did as he found his true position at last as a full back.  He was one of the best overlapping full backs you could wish to see.  He had an engine like no-one else and also had the ball control of a natural winger. 


Cowden then went on a great Scottish Cup run including beating Arbroath in a second replay at Tannadice before losing to St Johnstone in another replayed tie.  Cowden only lost because as part timers they ran out of steam against full-time Saints.  The replay took place just the day after the first game. 


Soon after Bobby Wilson was transferred to Dundee I recovered from my ankle fracture and began partnering Andy Rolland at full back.  In 1966/67, we were playing Queen of the South and our keeper John Ritchie broke his thumb.  Yours truly was the one who then ended up volunteering to play in goal for the last half hour.  I was diving around all over the place.  I was the only one daft enough to take the goalie’s jersey – mind you I’d have played anywhere to get a game.  A bit after that I also had a spell at left half in a double centre half role alongside Andy Kinnell.  That was even easier than being a full back – there was no need to run up and down the touchline!


In 1967, I was honoured to be picked to play for the Fife Select v Sunderland in the Michael Colliery Disaster Fund benefit game at East End Park.  George Farm was the Fife manager.  I came on as sub at half time and that let Andy Rolland move up into the forward line.  I remember when George Farm told me I was to go on he said to me ‘See that Bobby Kerr that’s causing us trouble – boot the hell out of him’.  It was supposed to be a friendly! 


What a game Andy Rolland had that night.  He scored a cracker but what I most vividly recall is a 35-yard free-kick he took.  Rollie blasted it and the ball smashed into the bar before rebounding about 100 feet up in the air.  It was about 30 seconds before the players caught sight of the ball again.  Subsequently, of course, Andy left Central Park and signed for Dundee United. 


Another memorable match was when we drew 1-1 v Celtic in a friendly to celebrate the floodlights being installed at Central Park.  There was an unknown youngster by the name of Kenny Dalglish in the opposition line up.


Archie Robertson then left us to manage Clyde and his replacement was Andy Matthew.  Andy was a good guy and a motivator.  He had enjoyed a good career playing for all the Fife teams and Rangers.  He was well respected and gave good advice.  Andy also had lots of contacts and got good players to come to Cowdenbeath. 


I had played alongside Andy for years before he retired - me at left back and him on the left wing.  I think he shortened my career by about 12 years as I had to do all his running for him!  Often we would be advancing up the left and Andy might lose the ball.  I then had to chase all the way back and Andy would slap me on the backside as I ran back past him.  Andy wasn’t a tactician though.  It was Andy Kinnell the captain who used to make the tactical decisions, mostly before we went out onto the park.


Off the field I of course recall the directors like Charlie Gronbach and Horace Demarco.  Watty Glancy was our trainer then and he was a sprinter.  He always wanted me to run in the sprints at the various Highland Games in the close season but I would say ‘I do enough running during the season’.   It was good way of keeping fit in the summer though. 


Jock Gilliard was unforgettable.  He and his pal, Chalmers the policeman, were lovable rogues.  Once we were playing against Raith Rovers and he came into the dressing room when we were 1-0 down at half time.  He said ‘Right boys you’ve done me proud.  I forecast we would be losing at half time the day and my other 3 selections have come up trumps as well.  I’ve got us down to win 2-1 after 90 minutes though so there’s £20 each for you all if we win 2-1 the day’.  Well I would have kicked my granny for £20 back in those days.  At the end of 90 minutes, it was indeed 2-1 to Cowden. 


As I said, Andy Matthew knew a player and he brought in a number of new players to Central Park.  Dougie Moran who had won the Scottish Cup with Falkirk in the 1950’s was one of them.  Dougie was an outstanding player but a right lazy so and so.  Dougie didn’t know what he would do when he was on the pitch but he was a fine footballer if a wee bit past it.  Andy Matthew’s technique was to blend some veterans together with youngsters who would do the necessary running on the pitch. 


Goalkeeper Alan Wylie was another old head who we signed from Motherwell where he had been for years.  In fact it was bit aggravating that folk started saying Cowden had a young side apart from two old guys – me and Alan Wylie!  I had been at Central Park a long time but was hardly a veteran at that stage. 


Big Billy Mullen took on the number 9 jersey and he was a really nice guy.  He paired up front with John Dickson and they were a super partnership in the 2/3 years they played together.  Roger Sugden and Ronnie Sharp alternated on the wing.  Mind you what can you say about Ronnie – he was a nutter and up to everything.  A great talent but not much sense. 


Billy McLaughlan came in to partner me at full back and what a great ability he had.  As everyone knows, Billy died tragically young when he was electrocuted in an accident in 1971.  He was only a laddie but Rangers were already watching him.  I think he would have been an internationalist if he had lived.  That team bonded and effectively grew up together.


In 1969/70, we won promotion and I won’t ever forget the epic tussles we had with Falkirk who accompanied us upstairs.  They were a full time outfit stuffed with good players.  Alex Ferguson and Andy Roxburgh were playing up front for them while Alex Scott was still a flying machine on the wing.  Cowden were top of the League most of the season but eventually Falkirk pipped us by winning so many games that they had in hand.  There was a huge crowd when we beat them at Central Park by 2-1.  There were only a couple of minutes left when Billy Bostock scored our winner.  It came off the back of his head, over the keeper and into the net.


Winning promotion to the top flight was amazing.  It was fantastic for Andy Kinnell and I being local boys.  Neither of us went to work for a week!  We were asked to go here, there, and everywhere in the town.  We were ‘social butterflies’ with drinks for us in every pub.  There was a great team spirit then and every player would go for a pint at Wee Jimmies when there was a match or training, even if only for a shandy.  We all got on and looked after each other on and off the park. 


When we won promotion there was a big celebration at Lochgelly Town Hall where Provost Willie Anderson presented awards.  Later on there were about 10 players and their wives staying overnight with Charlotte and I in our but and ben house in Foulford Street.


As for the promotion team, well Andy Kinnell was rock solid.  Andy and I were great buddies.  He was a Kirkford boy and we roomed together on away trips.  He was the captain and the spokesperson for the players.  Big Alan Wylie in goal gave you a lot of confidence.  He was good at shouting and if he came for the ball you’d better get out of the way.  Mind you sometimes he missed it! 


John Dickson was the most talented player.  He had it all and absolutely could have been top notch if he’d applied himself when younger.  John could score goals and he was also such a clever player.   Billy Mullen partnered John up front and he was brilliant with the head.  He could stay up there hanging in the air above defenders.  He was the perfect foil for Dickson.  He reminds me a bit of big Oné.  Mind you Billy’s game fell part if you asked him to play football. 


We of course went to Spain as a reward for winning promotion and had a great time.  The real truth of what went on over there though can never be told!  The club really treated us excellently.  By the second week, we were all skint and we got Andy Kinnell to ask the directors for more spending money.  Jock Gilliard doled out more money and we were told it would come off our wages. 


They never did take it off our wages though.  In the top flight we had a lot of misfortune with injuries and so on.  We were good enough and played good football.  However, being part time was a problem as was the state of the Central Park pitch.  We lost so many games by the odd goal scored in the last 10 minutes of games.  The pitch was heavy to start with and was heavily sanded which made it even worse.  Our results were much better away from home. 


We beat Falkirk in the quarter finals and were drawn to play Rangers at Hampden in the League Cup semi final.  The club decided to take the players away to Dunblane Hydro for a few days to prepare in a full time manner.  All the players were there apart from me.  I worked for Elliott’s factory then up at Woodend.  They wouldn’t give me time off.  I wanted to be away with my mates at Dunblane. 


Andy Matthew went up to see Elliott’s but they wouldn’t budge.  He told them he’d make sure it was spread all over the papers that they were treating me like this.  Eventually I had to be picked up from work and driven through to the match.  The Daily Record pictured me attending my work that day and arriving at Hampden.  That was the end for me at Elliott’s.  I’d worked in the Dockyard at Rosyth before that and was supervisor in the stores by the time I was 21. 


However, I had a fall out with my gaffer about holidays and time off for playing football.  I got more playing for Cowden than I did at the yard so left and got the job at Elliott’s.  I was fed up with Elliott’s though after the Cup semi final situation so my brother got me a surface job at the Pit.  Then I went down the pit at Comrie and I enjoyed that.  It was the most satisfying job I ever had.  After the strike I left and worked for TK Valves as foreman in the stores until that finished.  Since then I’ve been working at Leith docks.


Anyway back to the Cup semi final.  The game seemed to go by just like that.  It was a hard game and we held out to the stroke of half time.  Then John Dickson put in a forward’s tackle at the edge of the box and they got a penalty.  Wee Willie Johnston scored from the spot and Rangers ended up winning 2-0.  Other games I remember from that year were when we won the derby match 2-1 at Dunfermline and the hammering we took by 5-0 at Ibrox. 


A personal highlight for me came when we went to Celtic Park.  I was the only survivor from the Cowden team that had visited to play Celtic in the Scottish Cup 9 years earlier in 1961.  There was a big article on this in the Celtic View and Jock Stein presented me with a set of green and white striped gold cufflinks to mark the occasion. 


Sadly they were later stolen from my house in a burglary.  Jock was a nice man and we were all in awe of him.  He was big but quietly spoken and all the Celtic players were great guys – except Bertie Auld who struck me as a bit of an idiot! 


I suffered a bad leg gash though and lost my place in the team halfway through the season.  It was gashed right down to the bone but it was an accident involving two players going for the ball.  Davie Cairns took over from me and he deserved his chance as he was a good young player. 


I then played in the reserves and I enjoyed that helping bring the youngsters on.  I remember we drew 1-1 v Aberdeen who were top of the Reserve League and we played really well that day.  Guys like Colin McCullie and Robin Thomson were in that side. 


At the end of that season, Andy Matthew gave me a free to allow to perhaps get a bit of money from a signing on fee from another team.  Forfar persuaded me to sign for them but I didn’t make much from the move.  I had no car and it was a long way to Forfar in those days!  Robin Thomson’s brother though played for Forfar and he would give me a lift. 


When we came to play Cowden at Central Park I had to go off injured and Forfar were beaten 7-0.  I was getting £15 a week plus expenses from Forfar which was more than I ever made with Cowden.  Eventually I had enough of the travelling and training.  I had offers to go junior but decided I didn’t want to go backwards and that I had enjoyed a long enough career so I packed it in.  It really had been too much of wrench leaving Cowden and my heart always lay at Central Park. 


Looking back, I had a good career and enjoyed playing at a decent level.  That Celtic team of 1970/71 was the best side I played against and Celtic should have won about 3 European Cups during that era.  Mind you Rangers weren’t far behind them and had a great side as well.  Jimmy Johnstone and Willie Henderson were perhaps the finest players I was directly up against. 


Wee Johnstone was superb and he could run rings round you.  Henderson though exploded past you and if he beat you were dead.  With Jinky when he beat you he would come back and give you another couple of goes at tackling him.  With Henderson there was no second chance. 


Mind you, I wasn’t the only player that Jimmy Johnstone and Willie Henderson made a mug off.  They did that to the best in the world and I think I did not too bad on that basis.  Alex Scott too was a lightning fast winger while Johnny Doyle of Ayr United gave me quite a hard time. 


Another pacy winger was Andy Matthew.  He was devastating off a standing start and could leave younger men floundering behind – by the time he was playing for Cowden though you could chase him and catch him up over a few yards.


I enjoyed playing at Ibrox although the crowd was bit too close for comfort.  Hampden was huge before it was revamped.  I wasn’t too keen on Stranraer though where there always seemed to be a hostile crowd. 


I saw a few games when Cowden won promotion back in 1991/92 and was at the game to see them win promotion at Alloa.  I saw a few games last season as well and hope they do well in the Second Division.  I live in Rosyth now and also sometimes go along and see Rosyth Recreation in Junior Cup ties. 


On the last day of last season when Cowden won the title I went down to my local pub in Rosyth after the game.  It’s a Rangers pub really.  I went in and took off my jacket and underneath I had on a Cowden strip that I had got for my sixtieth birthday.  On the back it has my old number 3 and the name ‘Jack’.  There was uproar and cheering all round. 


Cowden Conversations with David A Allan