George Robertson
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George Robertson – Player 1950-52 & 1955-57


The story of George Robertson who had two spells as Cowden goalkeeper back in the 1950’s.

I was born in Kirkcaldy in January 1927.  My father was a miner and worked at the Randolph Pit alongside Tom Hubbard who became the MP for Kirkcaldy Burghs.  My dad was a brusher at the pit and had been a machine gunner in the First World War.


His football involvement was on the committee of Dunnikier Juniors. I went to school at Pathhead Primary and then Viewforth until leaving at the age of 14.  When I left I got a job at McIntosh’s in Kirkcaldy and eventually I was to become a French polisher there.


I played football at school and the usual games with jumpers for goalposts.  I was associated with the Boys Brigade for over 40 years.  The BB connection was a real family thing.  At one time Raith Rovers chairman Rankin Grimshaw was the OC.  It was the 4th Kirkcaldy Company and it was a highly successful local organisation.


I played for the Company team and then when I was older played for the various Juvenile sides formed for ex-members of the BB’s.  Thus in 1944 I was in goal for the Kirkcaldy Old Boys Club when they played in the Under-18 Juvenile Scottish Cup competition.  The winners were awarded the Lord Weir Cup. 


The year before we had lost to the Cowdenbeath Miners Welfare team in the same competition by 5-2.  That Cowdenbeath side featured Alex ‘Ming’ Menzies and they reached the final.  They drew in the final versus Renfrew Rovers at St Bernards ground, the Gymnasium in Edinburgh. 


There was supposed to be a replay but the Juvenile FA would only give the Cowdenbeath Welfare team payment for 15 rail tickets to travel for the replay.  The Cowdenbeath boys refused to play and the cup was withheld.


A year later we reached the final by beating Fallin Hawthorn at Falkirk in the semi final.  The Fallin goalkeeper was also called Robertson and he was signed by Chelsea.  The final was at Shawfield and we beat Glentyan Thistle by 3-0 to become the first Fife side to win the Lord Weir Cup. 


I played in the Secondary Juveniles side for the Kirkcaldy Old Boys Club the following year but was by then due to be called up for national service.  However, my father didn’t want me to join the forces and instead I volunteered to be a Bevin Boy. 


My health though broke down working down the pit and I ended up going back to work at McIntosh’s.  That meant I was then called up for the army. I joined the Military Police and was an MP at the age of just 19.  I was posted to Germany to the Hanover area and that was quite an experience. 


Germany then was just a vast rubble tip and policing duties included civilian policing and vice work.  I actually found I was quite suited to police work.  Late in 1947, I came home on leave and in fact I got engaged to my wife on the same day the Queen got married.  I met my wife when she was working at McIntosh’s. 


When I was home on leave then I played two games in goal for Bowhill Rovers who were a junior side as an amateur.  Scot Symon was then the manager of East Fife and he saw me play in the second of these matches before I went back to Germany. 


The next August he arranged for my father to take me along to Bayview when I was demobbed. I then was signed provisionally by East Fife.  £50 was the signing on fee – I got £20 and dad got the other £30 although later on he gave it all to me. 


For the next couple of years I played in the Fife juniors with Bowhill Rovers.  Jimmy Kerr ran all the teams down at Bowhill – there were other local sides such as Bowhill West End then.  At Bowhill I played and trained alongside Bob McKinlay.  He was a quiet laid-back lad who then mainly played on the left wing.  He went on to play for Nottingham Forest though for many years as a half back. 


Bowhill were a stuffy team and we had pre-war players in the side such as Billy Petrie and Jock Ormiston.  Once we drew Lochgelly Albert in the Scottish Cup and they ran a special train to Cardenden.  There was a 2,000 crowd but we lost.  Harry Brand at centre forward for the Albert gave the less experienced McKinlay a hard time in that match when he played at centre half. 


When I was with Bowhill I was selected to play for Fife in a trial match at Armadale.  It was another namesake, Armadale’s Jocky Robertson this time, though in the other goal who was to be capped by Scotland Juniors versus Ireland.  Jocky later joined Third Lanark.was training with East Fife as a provisional signing for a while.  I was there when they won promotion in 1947/48. 


I was paid £1 a week by East Fife then and at the time they had players of the calibre of Jimmy Philp, Willie Finlay and Geordie Aitken.  Jock Niven was their goalkeeper – not to be confused with George Niven from Blairhall who was Rangers goalkeeper.  John MacArthur was the East Fife chairman.


Eventually though I was released by East Fife but played away in the juniors for Bowhill until 1950.  On February 4, 1950, I played in goal as a trialist for Cowden v Dundee United at Central Park. 


On the Wednesday before that Cowden had beaten Hamilton in the Scottish Cup by 1-0 when Willie McGurn scored a goal from an oblique angle.  They then qualified to play Rangers on February 11 at Ibrox.  Now bear in mind this was the same season Cowden had already beaten Rangers 3-2 at Ibrox in the League Cup.


Cowden therefore rested a lot of their players for the Rangers match in this game v Dundee United.  Tom Mackie from Dysart was with Cowden then and he came to my house with a message to come to Central Park on the Saturday and that the Bowhill officials already knew. 


I got the bus that Saturday up to Cowdenbeath from the prom at Kirkcaldy via Auchtertool.  I was in goal with the normal full backs Jimmy Hamilton and Angus Cameron in front of me.  Alex Holland and Bill Durie were both rested though along with goalkeeper Jock Moodie.  Gilfillan, Dempsey and Armstrong were rested in the forwards. 


Cowden actually went on to win 2-1 with Sandy Willox at centre-forward scoring both our goals.  Sandy was a Highlander.  The goal I let in that day was an own goal by Jimmy Hamilton.  He hammered it past me into the roof of the net.  I was on standby too to play at Ibrox as Johnny Moodie had an injury but Johnny was passed fit and Cowden lost 8-0. 


It was a rout although conditions were farcical with the pitch covered in snow – Moodie couldn’t even see the penalty spot.  I became a provisional signing for Cowdenbeath then as they were intending to start up a reserve team in season 1950/51 and began training at Central Park on Thursdays.


I started out that following season in the reserves at Cowdenbeath.  I remember playing v Dunfermline and us drawing 1-1 at Parkhead with Celtic Reserves.  George Hunter was Celtic’s goalkeeper in that game.  The first team was in a League Cup section that included Dundee United, St Johnstone and Stenhousemuir. 


They started off badly with two heavy defeats in the opening section ties.  I was then called up to play v St Johnstone in the League Cup game at Perth.  It was a wet and heavy pitch and we needed a result.  We ended up drawing 2-2 and Saints missed two penalties.  It was Munro a big back who took both of the Perth side’s penalties.  I saved the first one and he hit the post with the second.  I was then in the side for the rest for the season.  We beat Stenhousemuir and to qualify we had to win in the last game by 2 goals versus Dundee United.  We were foiled though by wee Peter Mackay.


The Cowdenbeath team had a big strong defence with Hamilton and Cameron as full backs and Menzies, Holland and Durie as the half back line.  Willie McGurn was at outside right for a time before he joined Airdrie.  He turned down a big-money move to Cardiff and the Cowdenbeath board were in the huff with him for a while because he wouldn’t go to Wales. 


Jimmy Ellis was with us and Rab Quinn.  George Dick was the left winger and he worked for John Robertson the upholsterer at Touch who ran Cowdenbeath Royals.  Andy Sinclair came in at left back around that time as well and he was a tidy wee player.  Up front at centre forward there were John Scott and John McKeown. 


McKeown was a big centre forward in the Billy Houliston mould who came from Bowhill.  The right wing pairing sometimes was Ronnie Hood and Bobby Gilfillan.  Bobby was the cousin of his namesake, the centre-forward that Cowden later sold to Newcastle.  Ronnie Hood didn’t train much but what a football brain he had.  When he and Gilfillan were on their game it was like watching Stanley Matthews and Raich Carter in partnership. 


Bobby had previously played for Blackpool and used to train in a tangerine jersey.  He lived in Halbeath and the team bus would pick him up there en-route to away matches.


At Cowdenbeath I was paid a basic wage of £5 a week with a £2 win bonus and we got £3 in the close season.  That wasn’t a bad wage considering I only earned 2/9d (14p) an hour working at my trade at McIntosh’s. 


Training consisted mainly of running.  For example we would have to do six laps either in one go or alternatively in 2’s or 1’s.  After training we used to go to the store tea rooms and the club also had a .22 rifle range under the stand! 


George Sweet who actually was the local Bank manager was the manager when I joined Cowden.  He was also a director and later he gave up the manager role when Bobby Baxter came to Central Park as boss.  Bill Hodge was the Cowdenbeath chairman then and I can remember he always wore a bowler hat. 


There also was another director I recall - a Mr Davidson who had a garage up at Kelty.  I remember him once asking Alex Menzies ‘Are you playing today Alex’?  Ming replied ‘Aye’, and Mr Davidson shot back with, ‘Well you bloody weren’t last week!’ 


The Cowdenbeath groundsman was Sandy Baillie who lived in a bothy at the back of the stand.  They used to say old Sandy cut the grass at Central Park with an ordinary lawn mower and it would take him two and a half days to finish the job.


There were a lot of good games in my first full season at Central Park.  We beat Dundee United 6-0 at Central Park and I heard one of their fans complaining, ‘We’re the best supported team in this League but we get stuffed 6-0 at Cowdenbeath!’ 


In the New Year we went to play Stirling Albion at Annfield.  They were unbeaten in 19 league games at the time.  There was snow all around and the pitch had been cleared so that the game could go on.  We found out though which way Stirling liked to play and when we won the toss we chose to play uphill. 


By half time we were 3-0 ahead and though they came back at us in the second half we had a great 4-2 win.  Cowden were hailed in all the papers as the ‘coupon busters’.  The following season 1951/52, I’m afraid brings back a couple of painful memories for me. 


First of all I have to admit to being in goal at Shawfield when Cowden lost 11-1 to Clyde in a League match!  They were some team though with Lynch in goal, Harry Haddock and Albert Murphy, and the likes of Sammy Baird, Tommy Ring, Archie Robertson and Billy McPhail in the forward line. 


Many of them went on to be capped by Scotland and Clyde were champions that year.  It was sheer slaughter and McPhail the big centre who later joined Celtic scored five times.  I almost did my back in that day picking the ball out of the net.  However, my back did really go after a match v Ayr United a few weeks later.


Before that though we beat a strong-going Falkirk side by 1-0 at Brockville.  That was a surprise result as they ended up being promoted with Clyde.  I can still recall wee Jimmy Menzies sitting on his backside after scoring the winner.  After the Ayr match a fortnight later my back just went.  It just came on out of the blue.  Eventually it turned out I had a slipped (prolapsed) disc which was something that had hardly ever been heard of then although it’s common enough nowadays.  


Now some Cowden fans may remember Davie Stewart who was Cowden’s trainer back then.  He was a wonder worker and he had a great pair of thumbs which he would dig into you and then tell you what the problem was.  I believe he came from Forfar originally and had initially cured himself of a bad injury.


Talking of Davie Stewart reminds me of Willie Keith.  Willie had played for Dunfermline before he joined Cowdenbeath just after I went there.  He was always immaculate with never a hair out of place.  It had been Willie who had volunteered to go in goal in 1949 when Raith and Dunfermline met on the last day of the season.  The winner would gain promotion. 


Michie the Dunfermline goalkeeper was injured very early in the game and Willie took over in goals as there were no subs allowed back then.  Dunfermline though lost 4-0 and Raith went up. 


One day we went to Cappielow to play Morton in the Scottish Cup.  Davie Stewart saw Willie Keith in front of him limping.  He said ‘Whit’s wrang wi’ you, your limping?’  Willie said he had been training at Shawfield and had picked up a knock.  Davie told him to get up on the table and in next to no time Davie declared him unfit.  Johnny Dempsey the twelfth  man had to play instead. 


That was a good Morton side.  They were a First Division outfit with players such as Neilly ‘Smiler’ Mochan at centre forward, Tommy Orr, Jimmy Mitchell and Whigham.  We drew 2-2 at Cappielow though before losing 2-1 in the Central Park replay.


Anyway back to my injury.  Davie Stewart’s idea to cure my bad back was for me to bend down and touch my toes.  That was quite the wrong thing to do!  In fact you should be arching your back when you have such an injury.  I remember my wife was pregnant at the time and I ended up being encased in a plaster jacket for the next  four months. 


Cowdenbeath then had to go out and get a new goalie.  Willie Moodie who had been at Central Park with me had tragically been killed in an accident in the pit.  Bobby Baxter though managed to sign Willie Gourlay from Bathgate Thistle to take my place. 


He was to prove to be a good goalie and an excellent signing as Cowden later on sold him to Manchester City.  When I was out injured I still went along to support Cowden.  One memorable game I watched was our revenge return match v Clyde.  Cowden really shocked them by winning 3-2 at Central Park.  Wee Tommy Moran had good game that day.


I returned to training and got my fitness back but Willie Gourlay was now in possession of the goalkeeper’s jersey at Central Park.  I was therefore released.  Arbroath though were interested in signing me and I went on a two month trial to Gayfield.  Jim Dorward had been the Arbroath keeper before that but I did OK, proved my fitness, and was offered terms. 


The Arbroath manager then was Alex Cheyne.  He was famed for scoring the winning goal for Scotland v England at Hampden in the last minute direct from a corner before the War.  He was a part time manager at Arbroath and worked in the local labour exchange as well. 


Among the Arbroath players then was Willie Rennet from Perth.  He had previously played for Celtic.  Hughie Gallacher was the centre forward and you certainly couldn’t get a better name for a centre than that.  The only local guy that actually trained at Arbroath was Donald Mackenzie.  I did my training down at Stark’s Park.  Other goalies training at Kirkcaldy at the same time were Alex Edmiston of Dundee United and George Johnstone. 


Jock McGarrity who had been goalkeeper at East Fife and Arbroath later on ended up replacing Willie Gourlay at Central Park after he was sold.  Les Murray was another Arbroath player who later ended up with Cowden. After leaving Cowden in 1952, I had three enjoyable seasons with Arbroath. 


Arbroath were a dainty, good footballing side.  At one time we had a 16-match unbeaten run.  We went to Ibrox to play Rangers in the Cup before a 45,000 crowd.  Billy Simpson the Irishman was Rangers centre forward that day.  They beat us 4-0 and it was like standing in a hole as Rangers fired in shots at me. 


Among the better known players at Gayfield were old head Tommy Gray the centre half who had also played with Morton and Dundee for years before that, Ken Malcolm the left back who went to Ipswich, George Grant who was a tidy left half who had a bookies in Arbroath and would come in with tanner roll-ups which were like taking candy off a baby for him, Chris Anderson who was later an Aberdeen director, and Ernie Till. 


Eventually though I lost my place to Bobby Williamson (who subsequently was transferred to West Brom).  In 1955 I was freed by ArbroathI then had a 3-month spell with Dunfermline playing in the reserves.  The first team keeper was Joe ‘Slim Jim’ Mackin.  Bobby Ancell was the manager but was quickly succeeded as boss by Andy Dickson who had previously been the trainer. 


Ron Mailer and big Jimmy Clarkson were playing for the Pars at that time.  Boys like McSeveney, Bobby Kirk and Jimmy Millar had not long left East End Park.  The most memorable days I had with Dunfermline were when we beat Hibs 4-1 and then again 1-0 when we had to play with just 10 men at Easter Road.


After that stint with Dunfermline I was at my work at McIntosh’s in Kirkcaldy when the Cowdenbeath manager John Dougary appeared.  John was OK as a manager and I recall he had also been Headmaster of Glencraig School.  His son Jack was an entertainer/comedian. 


Cowden’s goalkeeper Jock Neil had picked up an injury and I ended up signing to play versus Ayr United on Hogmanay 1955.  After that game I stayed in the side as first choice.  Cowdenbeath built up a useful side and in fact in 1956/57, they just missed out on promotion finishing third. 


In the Cowden team then were Frankie ‘Spider Legs’ Quinn on the right wing and Willie Beckett who was from the west on the left wing.  Roy Erskine was a wiry centre half and we had Tommy Brown at full back.  There were quite a lot of Fifers in the team. 


I recall Jimmy Ross.  He was a Kirkcaldy boy who later had a Café at the top of the Gallowtown.  Rab Stewart too was from Kirkcaldy.  He was a pit engineer and a dour, heavy-set individual who had been a Scottish schoolboy internationalist. 


There was also Jimmy Hardie from Thornton and of course Les Murray from Kinghorn.  I knew Les from when we played in the juveniles and he was with Kinghorn St Leonards.  He had also been with Arbroath and could be a bit of a wild boy. 


He though settled down at left half and became Cowden’s captain before heading south to join the Grimsby Police.  Later on Martin Mulhall came in on the wing.  He was the brother of Aberdeen and Scotland’s George Mulhall.  Martin was a big tall lad for an outside right and a penalty expert.


There was a chap called Bill Crooks who became chairman of Cowdenbeath at that time.  As for John Dougary what I remember is how whenever we were away at places like Ayr or Kilmarnock, he would get the team bus to come back across country. 


He knew all these remote farmhouses where we would stop and get a great big feed all sitting round a big table.  Eventually though I lost my place in the Cowdenbeath side after we lost 5-3 to non-league Inverness Caley in a Scottish Cup tie at Central Park.  At one time we were actually 5-1 down but we got two late goals. 


I think I was maybe made the scapegoat and Cowden brought in John Shaw from Brechin to replace me.  That’s the way it goes in football and I had done the same to Jock Moodie when he was with Cowden.  Jock used to live just up the road from me and managed the White Heather pub in Kirkcaldy for years.  He and his wife Maisie died within 4 days of each other a few years back.


I was 30 in 1957 and just gave up the game then.  I did miss playing though – it wasn’t the money I missed it was just being out there on the field.  I then ran the McIntosh’s works team which played at Gallowtown Park and Beveridge Park.  My wife used to wash the strips for the team. 


Looking back now on my career there are a lot of good memories some of course that I’ve already mentioned.  Of the players I played alongside I rated Ken Malcolm at Arbroath as an excellent left back.  He was from Aberdeen.  At one time Arbroath tried him up front and he scored six goals  in four weeks.  He was sold to Alf Ramsey’s Ipswich and they went on to win the Second and First Division titles down south. 


Stand-out player for me at Central Park was Alex ‘Ming’ Menzies – he wasn’t fast and he wasn’t bonny but nobody had a stouter heart.  I recall when we used to travel to places such as Ayr he would sit up the front singing songs like ‘the Star o’ Rabbie Burns’ all the way. 


His brother Willie played for Forfar and Clyde and with me in the reserves at Central Park but he seem more interested in his greyhounds. Among my toughest opponents was Billy Houliston who although he wasn’t particularly big could rummle you up just like he did to England. 


One game I remember at Dumfries for Cowdenbeath was a nightmare.  They were a big, physical side.  Roy Henderson was in goal for them and they had players like Walter Rothera.  The pitch that day was disgrace.  There had been a frost and they hadn’t rolled the pitch which left a surface which seemed to be made up of jagged rocks. 


On the train home to Cowdenbeath I took my trousers off for the trainer to have a look and my legs and knees were cut to shreds.  Another tough game in my second spell with Cowden was against Third Lanark.  I think Jimmy Carabine was their manager then. 


We went 2-0 up but then one of our players ran up the left wing, was clattered and carried off.  Shortly after the same thing happened again and we were down to nine men.  Little surprise then that we lost. 


I recollect playing against Third Lanark at the Dunfermline 5-a-sides when Jimmy Mason was playing.  I also turned out in the opposite goal to Jimmy Cowan when he was at Morton.  That was at the time when he used to mark the pitch on the 6 yard line so he’d know where his posts were.  Sad to say Jimmy was only 44 when he died. 


Finally, another player who particularly caused me grief was Peter MacKay of Dundee United – the type of player who was right in about you if you spilled the ball. At Arbroath a couple of games stand out.  I remember we beat Dunfermline 5-0.  Tannadice and East End Park were always happy hunting grounds for me.  Once Arbroath also played at Brechin and they were 3-1 ahead by half time. 


Our manager Alex Cheyne came into the dressing room and told us one goal and we would be back in it.  Unfortunately, shortly after the restart Brechin made it 4-1.  However, Arbroath actually went on to win 5-4 with the last kick of the ball.  I shared a taxi to the station with Brechin goalie George Tidy after that match and he couldn’t believe it.


My second spell at Cowdenbeath also featured the League Cup games versus Partick Thistle.  We won our section and then lost 4-2 on aggregate to Thistle over two legs in the quarter final.  They were a good team with Davie McParland, Johnny McKenzie, Tommy Ewing and others. 


Anyway I enjoyed all my football career.  My spell in the Military Police too was a fascinating experience when I look back on my time at Brunswick and Hanover.  We used to exchange POWs there and many people swam across the Elbe to escape from the Russian zone. 


I was married in 1951 and therefore my wife and I celebrated our golden wedding almost 6 years ago.  I retired after many years from McIntosh’s or Havelock Europa as it became for a time.  Luckily Robert Maxwell was unsuccessful in getting his hands on our pension fund. 


Of course I was involved with the local BB’s for many years.  There were 13 platoons in Kirkcaldy and my son later was in the life boys.  I enjoy watching Manchester United nowadays as I grew to like them after the Munich disaster.  Not so long ago I was at Old Trafford when United drew 0-0 v Sunderland in front of 73,000.   

Cowden Conversations with David A Allan