Down Memory Lane with this former Cowden site

Ronnie McHale
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Ronnie McHale – Player 1974-76

 

 

"I was born in Lochgelly and later lived in the prefabs at Lumphinnans.  They were prone to flooding and in due course we moved again to live in Ballingry.  My dad had played a bit of football with Lumphinnans Wanderers and Lochgelly Violet but his career was ended by an accident in the pit when he lost half his knee.  My dad’s uncle Peter McLean was a pro with Reading and East Fife.

 

I played school football for Ballingry.  Then I was with Lochore House under-16’s and Crosshill United under-18’s.  Lochore then was a hotbed of football and Andy Young produced a string of great players at Lochore Welfare.  At one time he had about 6 players all provisionally signed by Celtic.  There were players like wee Bertie Miller, Jim Mackay who went to Leeds, and Fred Aitken later of St Johnstone. 

 

Crosshill used to play their games before the Welfare’s match and we would watch Lochore play afterwards.  I remember the first time I saw wee Willie Johnston playing for the Welfare.  He got the ball and hit it up the wing.  I said ‘who’s that to?’, and next thing he flew past like a greyhound to collect his own pass!  We used to watch Willie at training and were all in awe of him – there were about 40 players training under Andy Young in those days. 

 

Andy Young had a strong connection with Don Revie at Leeds and as well as Jim Mackay, Bertie Miller and I both went for trials at Elland Road.  Bobby Brown at St Johnstone, Aston Villa, Fulham, and a few other clubs were all interested in signing me.  I was going for trials about every week at one time. 

 

Joe Nelson ran the Under-18’s at Crosshill and we played in the Lord Weir Cup (the Scottish Cup competition for Secondary Juvenile Under-18 teams).  We beat Port Glasgow over there 5-1 and were then the favourites to win the trophy.  In the semi final we faced St Mirin’s Boys Guild at Yoker.  Davie Hay who later played for Celtic and Scotland was in their line up.  We ended up losing but it was bit of a farce and Andy Young was furious.  Firstly, Yoker was only about 10 minutes down the road for them so it was hardly a neutral venue.  The pitch was brick hard and they only had a size 4 ball! 

 

Our team included Willie Johnston’s brother Alan, Fred Aitken, Jim Mackay and Peter Oliver.  I think there were about 7 provisional signings for senior clubs that couldn’t get a game for the Welfare then. Bertie Miller only managed to get into the Lochore line up when Willie Johnston went to Rangers.  Of course Bertie is one of that rare breed of players to have been on the books of both Rangers and Celtic. 

 

I was always a winger.  My dad used to take me to see Dunfermline when they had players like Alex Smith, George Peebles, Charlie Dickson and Harry Colville.  Alex Smith was slow but a great footballer.  I liked Alex Edwards on the wing.  He had a bit of devil in him but what ability.  It was the wingers I loved to watch.  I saw Charlie Cooke at East End Park for Dundee.  He was out of this world and absolutely mesmerised me.

 

I had learned to play football with a ‘wee ba’, playing endlessly for hours on end down the field.  That was where I learned to dribble and hone my skills although I was only about 7 and a half stone when I went to Leeds.  A number of sides were interested in signing me but I was a bit of a homebird and wanted to stay locally.  I was invited for a trial with Hearts and played in a match versus an Edina Hearts/Gorgie Select.  I scored two goals in a 5-2 win and Hearts signed me after the game.  I was happy to go to Tynecastle and Peter Oliver from Cowdenbeath was already a provisional signing there.  That was in 1965 just after Hearts lost the League title on goal average to Kilmarnock on the last day of the season.

 

Tommy Walker was the Hearts manager and he was a legend.  He was probably the most influential person in my career and there wasn’t a nicer man in football.  Tommy was always immaculately dressed and insisted on players having their shirts tucked in and high standards.  He was a christian and you would never hear him swear or raise his voice.

 

Peter Oliver went full time with Hearts but I wanted to keep working at Cowdenbeath Workshops so signed on as a part timer training twice a week.  In fact joining Hearts wasn’t perhaps the smartest move as it turned out they had the biggest playing staff of any club in Scotland.  They had 48 pros.  I played in the Combined Reserve League side and we went on to win the title.  The side was run by ex-Hearts player Bobby Parker.  We used to play most matches at Redford Barracks and the first time we ever had a fixture actually at Tynecastle Bobby Parker told us we would play 4-2-4.  We all just looked at each other and said what’s that?  It was never explained.  He just told us it was how the Italians played and I was to play wide.  We never had any tactics at Lochore or with Hearts.

 

It was different then though because every player basically knew his job.  If someone was playing right back or inside right they knew their role in the old WM formation.  The game was attack based and ball players were encouraged.  Both teams went out trying to win and score more goals than the opposition.  That’s all gone now and the flair players have more or less disappeared with teams playing with only 2 men up and playing in triangles or going backwards – going nowhere usually! 

 

My game was about taking on the full back and getting a cross over into the box.  We just played off the cuff, nobody taught me how to run past a full back, dip a shoulder, dummy him, etc.  Nowadays they will talk for 10 minutes about what you are to do on the field.  I had no idea what I would do – I was a winger I just did it naturally in an era where we had wonderful gifted players.  The game now seems to be based on tempo and fitness more than ability – that’s sad. 

 

Hearts had some great players when I was at Tynecastle.  Jim Cruickshank was the goalie.  Cruikie didn’t want to train and smoked like a chimney but he had the agility of a cat.  I admired big Roy Barry who when you were just 17 or 18 would take time out to talk to you and encourage you.  He was a real 100% man at centre half.  Veteran John Cumming too made a real impression on me – he was a Hearts stalwart and a fine character.  Johnny Hamilton, Alan Gordon and Donald Ford were also on Hearts staff then as was Willie Hamilton.  He really was a super player in terms of skill if not in terms of lifestyle and of course he didn’t have a long life. 

 

Willie Wallace the future Lisbon Lion was another big name player but to an extent he ended up costing Tommy Walker his job.  We were all at Dalguise for pre-season training and Celtic were after Willie but Hearts didn’t want to sell.  Willie though spilled the beans to the other Hearts players that he was getting more money than them and the other players revolted.  Eventually Willie was sold to Celtic but Tommy was replaced as manager by Johnny Harvey.  

 

I played in Hearts reserves for most of my time at Tynecastle and I remember in particular a couple of games v Rangers.  One we lost at Barrowfield when they had nine players who were being given frees - boys like Alex Reid and Brian Heron.  They beat us 8-0!  Another time though I scored a hat trick v Rangers when I was up against big Davie Provan at left back.  I also vividly remember our match being called off and watching our first team playing Celtic from the tunnel.  Wee Jimmy Johnstone turned our full back Chris Shevlane inside out.  Shevlane though got a write up in the paper for not resorting to dirty tactics.  Jimmy Johnstone for me was the epitome of the great Scottish player – of course back then every team in England relied heavily on the skills of Scots like John White and Charlie Cooke. 

 

Eventually I was released by Hearts when I was about 21 and I was reinstated back to Lochore Welfare.  Glenrothes wanted me then and a Lochgelly boy Alan Marnoch also wanted me to come out to Australia to play for Hakoah.  There was a job and somewhere to live all lined up for me.  I didn’t fancy it but looking back maybe I made a mistake. 

 

 Anyway I was pleased to sign for Lochore.  I had supported them, was a local boy, and always wanted to play for them.  I could just walk down the road then to play in home matches.

 

At the Welfare, we did well in the Scottish Junior Cup one year and we were 3-1 ahead at Irvine Meadow in a quarter final tie.  Then we had a boy sent off and ended up drawing 3-3.  We lost the replay and Irvine Meadow went on to lift the Cup.  Ian Campbell was playing for us then – that’s when he got his nickname ‘Pink’ – after the Pink Panther because he had such big feet.  I was 5 years at Lochore but had lots of trials and offers to go senior.  Dundee United, Stirling Albion and Dunfermline all asked me to sign.  Bo’ness offered 500 after I played against them in the Fife and Lothians Cup at Linlithgow.  Jimmy Ferguson at Genrothes wanted me and they ended up winning the Junior Cup.  Indeed, I resisted all offers until one day Bert Paton and Bill McTavish came knocking on my door in Crosshill.

 

Bert Paton was manager at Lochgelly Albert and he tried to get me to sign for them from Lochore but I said no.  However, after he took charge at Cowdenbeath, he and Bill McTavish visited me at home and asked me to go senior again at Central Park.  I was 27 then and in my prime as a player.  I wasn’t sure but decided to join Bert who had just replaced Andy Matthew. 

 

Unfortunately for me Bert only spent 28 days at Cowdenbeath before then moving on to become Raith Rovers manager!  Most of my team-mates at Cowdenbeath were still virtual strangers to me when Bert left as I had only really known Jimmy Seath from Lochgelly.  He had once played for the Albert. Dan McLindon then came from Alloa as the new manager with Frank Connor accompanying him as trainer.  Dan was some boy, a comedian like Billy Connolly. 

 

I had been in the side under Bert and done ok but was never being selected after Dan came in.  I eventually went in to see Dan about this and it turned out he hadn’t picked me because Bert hadn’t added my name to the list of players he handed to Dan when he left!  Dan had seen me at training but didn’t realise my name wasn’t on the list! 

 

Dan was incredible.  He was a great gambler and you’d find him away to the bookies at 20 to 3 to put his line on.  Once we were at Meadowbank and when we were leading 1-0 he wandered off to watch the trampolines.  Later on he was saying well done to us in the dressing room and we had to tell him the game had actually finished as a draw.  I knew Andy Campbell who was at Alloa with Dan.  He told me that Dan and Frank organised them to take turns at getting stuck right into the opposition.  At Palmerston once, Dan was walking along the corridor at half time with Willie McLean the Queen of the South manager and Dan smacked him and then ran off laughing as they parted to enter their respective dressing rooms. 

 

You would never see Dan at training, he would sit in his office until eventually you would hear a ball bouncing – that meant Dan was coming out and wanted a game.  Frank Connor was the trainer and he certainly got you fit.  He had great enthusiasm though neither he nor Dan had any real tactical finesse – they liked a hard physical game. 

 

Frank though was like a sergeant major and he was the man who could get 110% out of you.  After his training sessions I could have run a marathon.  I couldn’t sleep when I got home from training I was so pumped up. 

 

Dan and Frank had a systematic approach to the danger men on the opposition side and our players too were instructed to take turns in getting in about them.  I remember winger Ronnie Duncan of Raith playing against us.  He was a tricky player but every time he got the ball somebody blootered him. Being a winger myself I didn’t appreciate that approach – ‘the kick the skill out of them’ method.  Dan and Frank brought in some tough defenders like Mervyn Jones and Billy Simpson.  Billy was certainly a player who liked to give the opposition a real dig. 

 

Already there when I joined Cowden were big Rab Russell at centre half, Duncan Reid who had been at Hearts with me when he was just 16 and was a big laddie even back then, a young Andy Harrow, Alan Kinnell, Zeb Stewart, Geordie Hunter, and Alex Rae.  Willie Callaghan was just finishing up.  Billy Laing was still there but he moved on to Dunfermline.  Davie Cairns also moved on and he joined Raith Rovers – next time we played them Davie kicked lumps out of me.  Jimmy Pryde liked the sauce a bit and was a little overweight but he was a wonderful footballer. 

 

Bobby Morrison also joined us and you could always rely on him for effort and enthusiasm.  Then there was Davie Ross, a winger I really admired.  He had one trick that really impressed me.  He would run through on goal and look to shoot.  Once the keeper set himself though he would come down hard on the ball, trap it under his studs and then chip it past the helpless goalie. 

 

Raymond Allan was also at Cowdenbeath at that time but he lost his place to the old Hibs goalkeeper Willie Wilson.  Frank and Dan preferred an old head but I didn’t feel they treated Raymond that well as he was good, young enthusiastic keeper while Willie had been a good goalie in his day but hardly even trained by then. 

 

It wasn’t too long before Alex Ferguson left East Stirling to become manager of St Mirren.  The Shire was closer to home for Dan and he was appointed Fergie’s replacement.  He got a surprise though when Frank didn’t go with him this time.  I guess Frank had been tipped the wink as he got the Cowden manager’s job.  Now if I’m honest Frank and I never hit it off.

 

We fell out big style after a game v Stranraer.  It was 0-0 at Central Park and near time up I chased a ball through.  The keeper came out and gathered it and I jumped over him.  Frank was furious after the game and accused me of not trying and told me I should have followed through and hit the keeper.  I told Frank then if he wanted to kick goalkeepers he should do it himself.  The referee was there and I was drinking a cup of tea at the time.  Next thing Frank kicked the cup out of my hand.  I then took a swing at Frank but slipped on the tea on the floor and ended up hitting Mervyn Jones instead! 

 

Matches I remember from my Central Park days include a friendly v Celtic when a young Tommy Burns was playing for them.  Then there was the famous 3-0 win over Fergie’s St Mirren in the Scottish Cup.  Central Park was frozen brick hard that day and Davie Fowlis brought us a box of black and white trainers down from his shop on the High Street.  They did the trick while Saints struggled.  At the end Davie had the trainers back up to the shop.

 

I was privileged to play too against an 18 year old Davie Cooper who was part of a fine Clydebank outfit that included players such as Joe McAllan and Mike Larnach.  Cooper was ghost like at Central Park – a level above the rest and we couldn’t get near him. 

 

I liked playing at Hampden because I always seemed to score against Queen’s Park although the pitch was heavy.  Wet and muddy were what I liked but I didn’t like windy conditions.  Another match I recall was when Frank Connor played in goal for us at Alloa in emergency.  We couldn’t believe Frank was going to play.  We got beat 4-0 and ended up with 9 men.  At one point Frank crashed into the post trying to make a save and me and Mervyn Jones couldn’t help but laugh.  Next thing though Frank was carted off and Tam Breen had to go in goal.

 

1976 brought the parting of the ways for me and Cowdenbeath.  I was reinstated to the juniors and went back hoping to join Lochore Welfare again.  However, a guy called Davie Cook was in charge then and he said he had no place for me as he already had a winger. 

 

I was really knocked back by that and at a low ebb then.  Jimmy Miller though signed me for Sauchie and the team there included Jimmy Seath and ex-Cowden forward Alex Guthrie.  Jimmy and I subsequently joined Halbeath and we played in the team that got through to the quarter final of the Scottish Junior Cup in 1979.  Halbeath drew Pollok but I feel they slipped up by taking the tie to Central Park in Cowdenbeath rather than playing it at Halbeath.  Sure we got a bigger crowd but we ended up losing. 

 

Eventually though I did find my way back to my first love and turned out again for Lochore Welfare.  I took over as manager at Lochore then with Andy Campbell as my assistant.  Then when Andy went to Alloa to be assistant there Ian Darroch stepped in to aid me. 

 

There were a few lads from Cowdenbeath with the Welfare then - Gordon Foster, Gary Meldrum and Alex Fiddler who was a real gentle giant at centre half for the Welfare for years.  One day I was asked to give a trial to a young 15 year old.  This slim youngster turned up and I asked him what position he played.  He said he was a sweeper but he certainly didn’t look like a centre back to me.  Anyway we gave him a try out.  Right away he was chesting the ball down in the box and bringing it out.  Only 3 or 4 minutes had passed when I said to my assistant ‘Go and get a form’.  That was Craig Levein.  He was an exceptional talent.  So was his brother Paul but sadly he wasn’t keen on training. 

 

For a couple of years at Lochore though we were struggling for players.  There was an argument and I decided to pack it in and leave.  It was big wrench and it took me a long time to get over. 

 

I’m afraid I’m not too impressed with football now.  I went along to Dunfermline once to see Larsson play and was saddened by the inability of the home fans to appreciate his talent.  In fact some of them were shouting for someone to break his leg.  Dunfermline scored and because I didn’t leap out of my seat to celebrate there was a lot of pointing at me.  I was disgusted and at half time got up and went home. 

 

I work in the dockyard nowadays.  I first went there in 1972 working on the nuclear subs.  I left in 1992 because things seemed to be going downhill but actually have been working there ever since on a contract basis as a project surveyor. 

Cowden Conversations with David A Allan