Obituary: David ‘Davie’ Laing, footballer, Hearts stalwart and Scottish Cup winner with Clyde

David Laing, footballer turned journalist
David Laing, footballer turned journalist
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David Laing, footballer. Born 20 February, 1925 in Strathmiglo, Fife. Died 15 July 2017 in East Kilbride, aged 92.

Davie Laing, who has died aged 92, was a leading post-war Scottish footballer and one of the country’s oldest surviving players. Best known for his time with Hearts for whom he played over 300 matches, he also played with distinction for Clyde, Hibs, Gillingham and for Margate, Canterbury City and Ramsgate in England’s Southern League, totalling in excess of 600 appearances.

Highlights of his career included three appearances for the Scottish League in 1952 and a Scottish Cup medal with Clyde in 1955. Principally a left half [midfielder] who could also play on the right, he was renowned for his all-round skills, including firm tackling, accurate passing , tenaciousness and cool nerve taking penalties. During his near 20 years as a player he was never cautioned or sent off, a remarkable statistic. He played hard but fair.

A product of Bayview Youth Club in Methil, his talent was spotted early by Davie McLean when manager of East Fife and once appointed as Hearts boss in 1942 he signed Laing as part of his policy of developing the club’s own players. Service during the war in the Royal Navy as a telegraphist put the player’s career on hold although he did fit in some games for non-league Bath City and other clubs.

Hostilities over, he made his debut for Hearts in a league match on 16 November 1946 against Morton at Cappielow, a 1-0 win. By the next season he had firmly established himself in the team, topping the list of number of appearances and he continued featuring consistently till he left Tynecastle in 1954. His time there coincided with some all-time Gorgie favourites including ‘keeper Jimmy Brown, Bobby Parker, Bobby Dougan, John Cumming, Alfie Conn, Willie Bauld and Jimmy Wardhaugh, the last three of course better known as ‘The Terrible Trio’. Laing played in their debut match in October 1948 against East Fife when his penalty added to Bauld’s hat trick and Conn’s brace secured a comfortable win. The wing half’s consistently good play saw him make three appearances for the Scottish League in 1952, twice against the League of Ireland and the other against a Wales League X1. Again he was in good company in those teams alongside the likes of Sammy Cox, Gordon Smith, Lawrie Reilly, George Young and others. Hearts’ fortunes were on the up with high league finishes and two Scottish Cup semi-final places in the early 50s but by the time they won their first major trophy in almost 50 years, the League Cup, in 1954, Laing had left to sign for Clyde a month previously.

Far from being a backward step, this was to provide one of the highlights of his career, winning a Scottish Cup medal in 1955 after a replayed final against Celtic when Laing was widely praised as the outstanding player on the field in both games. He was an ever present during the Shawfield club’s campaign and also enjoyed the distinction of playing in the first live televised final with Kenneth Wolstenholme on the mike. During his time with the ‘Bully Wee’ he also took part in some notable friendly wins against Arsenal and Manchester United.

Two seasons there were followed with a short spell at Hibs for whom he only played 10 games prior to joining Gillingham in the old English third division. After two successful seasons there he went on to play in the Southern League for Margate, Ramsgate and Canterbury City, playing his final game in 1964 aged 39. He then became involved in coaching and continued to play recreationally till almost a senior citizen.

He was born in Strathmiglo, Fife to David, a miner and Barbara, their only son alongside four younger daughters. Brought up largely in Thornton he graduated via football at Wemyss School to Bayview Youth Club. On 18th June 1949 he married Elizabeth [Betty] McNeill from Markinch in her home town, the couple having met at a dance in Kirkcaldy and went on to enjoy 50 years together, bringing up daughter Valerie and son David.

While still playing in Scotland he had worked part-time in sports journalism with the Scottish Daily Mail and in the south of England he continued in this line with local newspapers. During the late 60s the family returned to Scotland for some years when Laing continued in sports writing and was Public Relations Officer for Hearts, his duties including editing the home match programme. An opportunity presented itself down south and the family moved to Dover in the 70s when Laing became sports editor for the Dover Express. On his retiral after 20 years in the post he and his wife returned north to live in Kirkcaldy where sadly his wife predeceased him in 1999. In 2011 he enjoyed a warm ovation when inducted into Clyde’s Hall of Fame and the following year was very grateful to Hibs for hosting him at the Scottish Cup final against Hearts. Considered a ‘true gentleman’ by all who knew him, Alzheimers made his final years difficult.

He is survived by his daughter, son, six grandchildren and nine great grandchildren. His funeral takes place on 27 July at Markinch Parish Church.

JACK DAVIDSON