Interview: Tommy Hutchison on his fight to live the Scotland dream

Tommy Hutchison pictured near his home in Fife. Picture: Greg Macvean
Tommy Hutchison pictured near his home in Fife. Picture: Greg Macvean
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Tommy Hutchison always was a dapper fellow and, having just celebrated his 70th birthday, he shows no sign of dropping his standards as he meets me off the train in a wine-coloured pullover, cream slacks and tassled loafers matching his jumper.

For him, Bob Stokoe was the style leader. “He was about more than just a trilby,” says Hutch. “When he managed me at Blackpool he was always immaculate: classy checks, sharp creases, a rare shine to his shoes. I liked to dress well but he definitely influenced me. I couldn’t wait to get my club suit because on 40 quid a week I could only afford one of my own.”

Hutchison stayed suited even in the sweltering heat of Hong Kong playing for Bulova. “The rest of the players wore T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops but that didn’t look right to me – not for going to work. I thought I was going 
to expire, even in the most lightweight suit I could find, but it had to be 
done. The locals called me ‘Mister 
Gentleman’.”

So what’s the classiest, most stylish, most beautiful garment Mister Gentleman has ever worn? There’s no question: it was the No 11 shirt from his Scotland debut, the 1973 victory over Czechoslovakia which blasted us out of the World Cup wilderness.

“I can still see it as I’m talking to you,” he says over tea and bacon rolls in his local garden centre in his native Fife. “It’s lying there waiting for me in the corner of the Hampden dressing room. I’m excited all over again and here’s why: I’d been a painter and decorator. I’d come from Cardenden. I’d got as far as Coventry City who weren’t very glamorous.”

None of this shouted “international footballer” but that was what he was and right after the 2-1 victory which sent Scotland to the ’74 finals in West Germany, Hutchison went in search of his father Jock who’d been in the crowd with his mother Liz. “I gave him my shirt. Dad wasn’t really a football man but he put it on and, as the team bus turned away, I looked back and saw him dancing on the Hampden steps. He was a miner who didn’t want me going down the pits. It was mining which did for him – he got ciliosis and died aged 59. He took ill when I was at the finals and I didn’t know. Mum told me that he woke up when he heard my name on the TV.”

The scorers against the Czechs were Joe Jordan and Jim Holton and two thundering headers went a long way to establishing those players’ legends on the Mount Florida slopes. But Hutchison’s contribution shouldn’t be forgotten. A lanky left-wing lolloper in more than 1,000 first-team games, he was never dull and really turned it on that night. “Performed as a Scotsman should,” declared The Scotsman’s John Rafferty in his match report. “The best debut I’ve ever seen,” drooled manager Willie Ormond. Bill Shankly was 
similarly enraptured.

Hutchison isn’t dull today either, telling yarns which prick a few egos – Billy Bremner and Jimmy Hill among them. We’ll get round to those but let’s start at the beginning. It’s a story of overcoming indifference after knockback, after failure. Hutchison used it later to inspire kids. It might even inspire the current generation in dark blue, bidding to find a route back from their own World Cup oblivion.

“After hanging up my boots I worked as a football development officer,” he says. “When I came across youngsters lacking a bit self-esteem I’d tell them how I played in the World Cup and and FA Cup final but never played for my school. ‘Were you injured?’ they’d ask. ‘No,’ I’d say, ‘I was useless. So keep trying and work hard. You might just make it’.”

For young Hutch there had been football heritage at Cardenden’s Denend Primary: “One of the teachers was the auntie of John Thomson, the Celtic goalie who died during a match – she had his heavy yellow jersey in the classroom.” But at his next school, Auchterderran Junior High, he was much in the shadow of the likeliest lad and a future Scotland left touchline-hugger.

“Willie Johnston, or as I knew him, Billy. I’m laughing because I’m remembering the day I let him borrow my bicycle and he threw it under a bus. The news went round the playground: ‘Billy Johnston’s been knocked off his bike’. ‘Billy Johnston’s doesn’t have a bike’, I said. It was completely flattened.”

Johnston didn’t need a bike to burn up the flank. “He was sensational whereas I was thin and weak. He could smash the ball off the crossbar but I couldn’t reach it with my shots. Billy was a 
Powderhall sprinter as well.

“I didn’t play left wing in those days because my crosses couldn’t reach the box. In fact, I didn’t really play. When the school trials came round I didn’t bother putting my hand up. But I decided I’d try to get stronger. In Dundonald Bluebell’s park near our house I’d run up and down the lines. However much it didn’t seem a possibility, I used to dream of playing for Scotland.”

Eventually he got a game for the Bluebell but still had his limitations. “I couldn’t outrun full-backs so I’d have to try to trick them. Usually I’d end up on the grass like an abandoned set of bagpipes. After one game the old wifie who served the teas asked how I’d played. Before I could answer Dad said: ‘Naw hen, no’ very good’. The wifie said: ‘Well, you must have something otherwise you wouldn’t be here’. That stuck with me and I told the kids I taught how it encouraged me.” Hutchison was rejected by Blackburn Rovers. He couldn’t impress on trial at Dundee United – “That was men against boys” – and Oldham Athletic deemed him too unathletic. “I kept the letter they gave me and showed it to my kids: ‘You’ve got good determination but unfortunately you won’t have the stamina for league football. We wish you good luck with whatever you do with your life’.”

He kept plugging away and eventually earned a contract at Alloa Athletic. “In my first four games, one by one along our forward line, a guy broke a leg.” The big match for an Alloa player was away to Queen’s Park and the chance to play at Hampden, but Hutchison continued to believe he could get back there with his country.

He was still believing at Blackpool where, as a reserve, he would be teased about his skinny frame, being unafraid of telling some of the first team they needed to lose a few pounds. After five years by the seaside he moved to Coventry in 1972 and struck up an immediate rapport with another newly-signed Scot, Colin Stein. “Steiny was arrogant but in a good way. ‘I played for the Rangers’, he’d say, and he’d challenge the rest of the team: ‘Put your caps on the table’. One of the other guys would tell him: ‘This is Coventry. Let’s see how many you win from down here’.”

Hutchison refused to accept it couldn’t be done and right away began scoring the kind of goals which would get him noticed. “I was never prolific but hit one from the edge of the box at home to Liverpool which sent us top of the old First Division. There’s a photograph at the club of Emlyn Hughes wincing as the shot whizzes past him. Then away to Arsenal I took the ball off Alan Ball and set off on a run. I beat five men – Bally twice more, I think – and dinked it past their keeper at the near post. Steiny jumped on me and said: ‘Big man, ye panicked there, did ye no?’ ” Maybe I looked nonchalant but I didn’t really know where I was going.”

Where he was headed was Largs for his Scotland call-up, where he quickly
learned about national team hierarchy. “The day of the Czechoslovakia game Rod Stewart arranged for a colour TV to be sent to Denis Law’s hotel room. Rod knew he wouldn’t have a kip before the match and didn’t want him burning up nervous energy. Our rooms had nothing, not even kettles.”

Hutchison shared with fellow debutant George Connelly – “A quiet lad which suited me” – and bonded best with Kenny Dalglish, Danny McGrain and John Blackley. In all 17 caps came his way and one goal – a penalty in a friendly against East Germany. He remembers Ormond organising a competition at training to find a new spot-kick man after Bremner had missed one. “It came down to Sandy Jardine and me. In the mini-bus afterwards Billy was challenging us: ‘So you think you guys are ready for penalties?’ ‘Think so’, I said. He said: ‘Dinnae forget, there’ll be 100,000 watching’. That was Billy, with Peter [Lorimer] aye 
egging him on.

“Billy was a great player, a great organiser, and he could have played in that wonderful Barcelona midfield. He just wisnae my cup of tea. When I told Sloop [Blackley] what he’d said on the bus I found out he’d done pretty much the same to Pat Stanton when Leeds v Hibs [1973, Uefa Cup] went to penalties and of course Paddy missed.

“Maybe that was great psychology and by all accounts Billy, playing at sweeper, had been magnificent in that match. Sloop told me how the wee bugger had dribbled round his own keeper and stopped the ball on the goal-line. But I didn’t like how, when we played for Scotland, he ran the show. Billy could be brutal at training. Once he reduced Kenny to tears. And he was aye telling Sandy: ‘You won’t learn anything until you come to England – then you might become a player.’ On the bus he’d sit up the back smoking, having shouted on the physio down the front to give him a light. And the night before the England game [Home Internationals prior to the World Cup] he was sat with a pint at 9pm trying to negotiate the squad a boot deal. Willie told him he should be in bed. He wouldn’t budge. ‘Well, don’t you be having another,’ the boss said and walked away. That was Billy.

“Willie was a nice guy but he just wasn’t strong enough. He reminded me of Stan Mortensen when he managed Blackpool. We’d have been winning one-nil and at half-time Stan would say: ‘Another 45 minutes and we’ll be pissed again’. Scotland were playing Spain and Willie in his team-talk said: ‘Watch out for the tall guy with dark hair’. Billy said: ‘It’s Spain – they’ve all got dark hair’. Before the Czech game Willie’s advice to me was: ‘Just play yer ain game, son’.” To be fair, that worked.

Jardine won that penalty competition but, when he missed from 12 yards in a match, Hutchison took over, only to fluff one himself against those dusky Spaniards. “I was never picked for Scotland again,” he says. That wasn’t quite true, but he remembers Coventry playing in a pre-season tournament at Easter Road when a terrace wag repeatedly reminded him of that miss. “One of my team-mates said: ‘Christ, Hutch – that was five years ago’. I said: ‘This is Scotland. They don’t forget’.”

In the World Cup, Hutchison had to be content with a place on the bench after suffering an injury against Wales. This frustrated him to the extent he contemplated quitting the squad until Law talked him out of it. “That was silly. Denis reminded me that many guys left at home would have loved to have been at the tournament.” Security was ultra-tight 
following the Olympic Village massacre in Munich two years before, which unnerved Jimmy Johnstone. “On the way to training we were followed by a helicopter, soldiers hanging out either side with machine-guns. The first time Jinky ran off the bus with his hands in the air yelling: ‘Don’t shoot – I’m Catholic!’ ” Hutchison got on against Zaire and in the Brazil match it would have been Johnstone’s turn. “But the game was going at 100 miles an hour and there only being a couple of minutes left so he said to Willie: ‘Nah, you’re okay’.”

Hutch crossed for Jordan’s equaliser against Yugoslavia and wished he could have been introduced sooner. “The first chance I got I went at their full-back and he didn’t move. We had a fantastic team in ’74 but we just ran out of time.”

If Bremner was the dominant figure when Hutchison played for Scotland then at Coventry – where fellow Scots included Holton, Ian Wallace, Willie Carr and Jim Blyth and the Sky Blues occasionally turned out in all-brown – it was Jimmy Hill. “In my time he was managing director and he did a lot for the club. There was a lot of razzmatazz: getting the colour of the city buses changed to sky blue, coming on to the pitch at Highfield Road on a horse next to Lady Godiva. But anytime you were talking to him it only took seconds for the conversation to get round to Jimmy Hill. When the cameras came to the ground he took over from the producer: ‘Now when I’m talking I want you all looking straight at me’. And at the annual ball he’d have his wife on one side of him and his girlfriend on the other. The man had some ego.”

After his father died Hutchison gifted his Scotland shirt to Dundonald Bluebell and he rejoined it in Fife by moving back to the kingdom with his wife Irene six years ago. A grandfather who divides his time between Thornton and a static caravan in Elie, he achieved the late-career distinctions of playing until he was 46 with Merthyr Tydfil and being the oldest in Euro competition four years before with Swansea. But these tend to be forgotten next to the pub-quiz claim to notoriety of scoring both goals in the 1987 FA Cup final between his team Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.

For someone who, because of his highly unpromising start, has always counted his blessings, this didn’t cause the mental scarring you might think, especially given that Spurs won the replay. “I remember being interviewed by Sky Sports on some anniversary or other. It was in a cafe like this but the reporter was very rude to the woman behind the counter, ordering her to keep the place quiet. She was probably paid a pittance so I decided to have some fun with the reporter and annoy him. ‘So Tommy’, he said, ‘what did it feel like to score at both ends?’ ‘I didn’t’, I said, ‘both goals went in the same end’. He shouted ‘Cut’ and began again. ‘What did it feel like to score with two headers?’ ‘I didn’t – their equaliser came off my shoulder’. ‘Cut.’ The woman couldn’t stop laughing.”

Tea ladies, as Mister Gentlemen would tell you, can be very encouraging to young footballers and should always be treated with respect.