Born: Tarbolton, 24 May, 1927. Died: Prestwick, 7 March, 2013, aged 85
WILLIE “Cowboy” McCulloch, an Airdrieonians legend of the 1950s, has died, aged 85, after a lengthy illness. Willie, known as “Cowboy” from his distinct bowed legs, was typical of many top-flight Scottish footballers of his era; he was a part-timer, mixing his Saturday exploits in front of thousands with his Monday to Friday “day job” as a National Coal Board clerk.
He was born into a mining family, his father descended daily into the depths of Glenburn Colliery, but Willie was spared this when he left school, on account of being “too wee”.
Instead, he went into the office, spending 32 years in the coal industry, at Prestwick and at Lugar Works, before he was made redundant. He then found a post at British Aerospace in Prestwick, working there until his retirement at 65.
His football career also had its ups and downs. He learned his secondary trade in the Ayrshire juniors, with Annbank United and Muirkirk, from whom he joined Kilmarnock in January, 1946. He was three years at Rugby Park, making ten first team appearances, before being released, to return to the juniors with Cumnock.
The Cumnock team he joined was one of the top junior outfits of the time and his displays earned him a second shot at senior football when he joined Airdrie in 1950. He would spend eight years at Broomfield, where he quickly established himself as a cult favourite with the fans.
He revelled in the service supplied by his inside forward partner, the great Ian McMillan; but McMillan appreciated McCulloch’s qualities, not least his ability to “lose” his full-back marker and find open space, ready to receive a McMillan pass.
But, “the Wee Prime Minister” also remembers that McCulloch could be unpredictable: “You never knew what he would do next. Also, when he cut in from the left, when we were attacking the old club-house end at Broomfield, he would just as often hit a shot into the club-house balcony as into the net, causing the fans on the balcony to duck and dive to evade his errant shots.”
McCulloch was good enough to win a Scotland B cap, against England, at Dens Park, on 29 February, 1956. In fact, he scored the first Scotland goal in a 2-2 draw. However, with Billy Liddell of Liverpool, Clyde’s Tommy Ring and Hibs’ Willie Ormond as competition, he was unable to convert that B cap into a full one, to add to the Junior Scotland cap he had won with Cumnock.
From Airdrie, he moved on to St Mirren, then Morton, before winding down his career as player-manager with South of Scotland League team Newton Stewart. He later served Ayr United, for whom he had played, on-loan from Airdrie in 1950, as a trainer.
His sporting passion then turned to golf and he was a life member of Prestwick St Cuthbert Golf Club. He also occasionally bowled, but that game never gripped him as football and golf had.
Willie also enjoyed the success of his son Iain, who followed him into the Kilmarnock team in the 1970s, before being transferred to Notts County, for whom he scored a lot of goals.
A stroke in 2007 blighted Willie’s final years, as did the onset of vascular dementia. He and his beloved wife Betty celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary on Christmas Eve, 2012 and he is survived by Betty, Iain, daughters Elizabeth and Caroline, four grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.