Obituary: Eddie Mulheron, footballer

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Born: 3 May, 1942, in Glasgow. Died: 20 March, 2015, in Paisley, aged 72

Eddie Mulheron, who has died aged 72, was a household name in Scottish football throughout the 1960s and early 70s. He played 258 games for Clyde, where he distinguished himself as a tough-tackling defender. In 1972 he emigrated to Durban in South Africa, initially to play for Durban United. When his playing career ended in controversy he went on to become a successful coach there, winning much praise for his stance against racism in sport at a time when the Apartheid regime was in place.

Born and raised in the Drumoyne area of Glasgow to a family of Irish descent, he began his football career with junior club Benburb before signing for Clyde in May 1963. Although Clyde currently play in Scotland’s lowest division and over the years have had well documented problems in staying afloat, during Eddie’s time there they were a top-tier team, apart from his first year, and three times finished in the top eight of the old First Division.

They were also semi-finalists in the Scottish Cup in 1967 and in the League Cup in 1969. Indeed, in the 1950s they had won the Scottish Cup twice and, memorably, defeated Manchester United twice in friendlies in Glasgow, 4-1 and 2-1, before beating Arsenal 2-1 in another friendly in London.

Although they had slipped a little from those heights by the 60s, they did achieve the remarkable feat, for a part-time team, of finishing third in the old First Division in 1967 behind Celtic and Rangers.

That, of course, was the year when Celtic won the European Cup and Rangers lost the final of the Cup Winners’ Cup to an extra time goal by German giants Bayern Munich. Near the end of that season Eddie sustained a broken leg in an accidental clash against Dundee United which kept him out the game for a year.

Before that he had worked as a labourer but then secured employment as a solicitors’ clerk with a firm of Glasgow lawyers, where he worked till the end of his Clyde career.

Eddie played mostly at left back in a Clyde defence that also featured Harry Glasgow, John McHugh and Dick Staite. Between them they chalked up 1,160 games for Clyde and only last year enjoyed a sociable reunion in Harry Glasgow’s bowling club.

Other notables in the team then included goalkeeper Tommy McCulloch, midfielder Stan Anderson and forwards Joe Gilroy and Harry Hood.

According to Clyde historian Gordon Sydney, “Eddie was a robust, driving type of player much appreciated by his teammates and noted for his uncompromising tackling. Off the park he was a lovely, engaging guy who mixed well and had a great sense of humour.”

In 1972 he went out to South Africa to play for Durban United alongside other Scottish players like ex-Rangers men Ronnie Mackinnon and Willie Henderson and ex-Dundee’s Alex Hamilton.

After a first successful season in which he was voted one of the team’s top players, his career came to a sudden end in 1974 when during an ill-tempered derby match against Durban City he struck the referee Jim McCarney.

As a result, he was banned sine die which was not lifted till 1984 by when he was too old to play professionally.

His son Sean recalled: “It was something my dad never liked to talk about but I think he may have had a bit of a raw deal. Apparently the disciplinary panel met on the evening of the match and United advised him against attending so no representations were made on his behalf.”

This led to his becoming a coach with Manning Rangers, a mixed-race team outwith the main South African football body. This brought him into conflict with Apartheid, which he abhorred. Questioned by police as to his presence at Rangers’ ground, in an area off limits to whites, he was taken into custody and threatened with deportation.

He spent two nights in custody before the club owner engaged a lawyer, which led to a deal being brokered, enabling him to stay on. He risked arrest by breaching segregation laws to travel with his team in the same train compartment and on occasion was concealed behind their large kit hampers to avoid officials.

His openness and egalitarian attitude won him huge respect and many friends.

Although he had initially gone to South Africa for a few years to wind down his playing career, he liked the country so much, albeit not the Apartheid regime, that he stayed for more than 40 years, coaching a number of different clubs mostly in the black and mixed race communities.

He became a well-known figure in the Durban area, where his outgoing personality endeared him to many. During his time there he met the then Prime Minister BJ Vorster, as well as the King of the Zulus whose football team, the Zulu Royals, he also coached.

He was equally at home in the company of dignitaries as he was with people from humble backgrounds.

Many tributes were paid to him on social media in South Africa. Former player Super Naidu wrote: “Eddie was a truly wonderful human being and touched the lives of many here in South Africa.”

Another, Buddy Govender, added: “Eddie was one of the first to break down the barriers of racism in South African sport and was inducted as a South African FederationFootball Legend. How fortunate we were to have him in our lives.”

Two years ago he returned to live in Scotland, the first time he had been back since 1972. He had, however, kept his Scottish accent and used to joke with son Sean: “That’s never for sale!”

He was a popular guest at Clyde social functions and was delighted to be inducted into their Hall of Fame last year along with teammates from that 1967 season.

His love of football endured, with him coaching Erskine Boys club under-15 team till recently.

He is survived by his wife Marie, sons Brian, Paul and Sean and daughter Jaclyn.