THERE cannot be a Scottish football fan who has never asked, “How did he win 20 caps for Scotland?” The question is usually followed by exasperation that a gifted player from the past never won a single cap.
The purpose of Scotland’s Twenty Best Uncapped Footballers is not to denigrate those who won caps, however, but to celebrate those who were not so fortunate. Many players were unlucky to play in eras when Scotland had multitudes of great players for every position.
The Second World War ended many worthy claims. Injuries also played a part, and there was the iniquitous system, right up to the 1960s, whereby club officials formed a selection committee for international duty – selectors often giving the nod to their own club’s players rather than more deserving candidates… and of course it helped if you played for one one of the Old Firm.
There are many worthy candidates for an ‘Uncapped Hall of Fame’. Here are 20 of the best.
Born Motherwell 1898, d.1930
Ferguson’s tally of 400 career goals is all the more impressive when one considers 95 per cent of his Motherwell total of 311 were scored when the offside law required three opponents between the forward and the goal line. In 1925 he moved to Cardiff City and scored the winning goal against Arsenal in the 1927 FA Cup final, the only time the trophy has left England.
A return to Scotland with Dundee ended in tragedy when Ferguson committed suicide at Dens Park by gassing himself.
Born Airdrie 1918, d.1991
They called him “Ma Ba’ ” and he could have been an all-time great. But his nickname told the story. Even in an era when the individual was king, Partick Thistle’s McKennan was deemed too greedy with the ball. Tall and powerful, he was fleet of foot with a cannonball shot, and when in the mood an incisive passer. Sadly, his best years were lost to the Second World War.
Born Dundee 1934, d. 2010
Small and tigerish, Cox captained his beloved Dundee to the league title in 1962, and was a hugely influential presence for 13 years and 423 appearances.
To Dundee fans, “Sir” Bobby was the best uncapped Scottish footballer of his time. But his peak years coincided with those of Rangers’ Eric Caldow.
Born Glasgow 1956
Stark was that precious commodity – the goal-scoring midfielder. Though he plundered 84 goals in nine seasons at Love Street, he was under-appreciated by many Buddies fans, but his true worth became apparent when Alex Ferguson signed his former player for Aberdeen in 1983 and he totalled 60 goals at Pittodrie before a successful spell with Celtic, where he won the league and cup double. Stark’s career total of 180 goals is impressive by any standard.
Born Maybole 1960
A legend at Love Street, goalkeeper Money spent 18 years with the Buddies and made almost 400 appearances, including a club record eight European matches. A key figure in Saints’ Scottish Cup success in 1987.
Alas, Money’s peak coincided with the reigns of Alan Rough, Jim Leighton and Andy Goram.
Born Montrose 1949
It seems inconceivable that a player who captained his side to two successive European Cups would be deemed unworthy of a Scotland cap. He was Brian Clough’s captain at Nottingham Forest, and won the English championship with two unfashionable clubs under “Old Big ‘Ead” – Forest and Derby County.
But McGovern slipped under Scotland’s radar – perhaps because he went about his business with quiet efficiency. When McGovern and Forest ruled Europe, Scotland’s central midfield featured Graeme Souness, Asa Hartford, John Wark and Archie Gemmill. It seems Jock Stein didn’t fancy him and, as McGovern tells it, Ally MacLeod didn’t even know he was Scottish!
Born Glasgow 1944
After scoring 96 goals as an inside forward with Clyde, Hood was signed by Jock Stein for Celtic in 1969 for a bargain £40,000, and in seven years he scored 120 goals in the hoops.
His golden years with Celtic coincided with a halcyon period for Scottish forwards with Kenny Dalglish, Denis Law, Joe Jordan, Joe Harper, Colin Stein and many others barring his way to the full international side.
Born Bellshill 1956
Ritchie may be the ultimate Scottish uncapped footballer. Blessed with outrageous gifts, he also had that uniquely Scottish self-destruct button that ultimately led to his retiral aged only 28. His goals and assists having inspired Morton to promotion in 1978, Ritchie took the Premier League by storm, terrorising goalkeepers and defenders with his dead ball prowess, skill on the ball, and general chutzpah. In his first four seasons at Cappielow, Ritchie scored 104 goals. He was the Football Writers’ Player of the Year in 1979.
Born Dundee 1961
A feature of the great Dundee United side of the 1980s was Ralph Milne leaving defenders in his wake with scalding pace and marvellous close control. He scored 74 goals for United including 15 in Europe, a club record, and excelled in big matches.
Born Stirling 1933
Kilmarnock’s greatest ever player, Beattie remained with the club for the best part of 20 years, playing over 600 games. A born leader, he captained Killie to their only League title in 1965. A broken leg aged 36 and his subsequent recovery only added to the Beattie legend.
Born Glasgow 1916, d.1984
A diminutive bag-of-tricks right winger, Adams was a member of the East Fife side that won the Scottish Cup, the only club from outwith the top division to do so. During the war years, “Tiddler” guested for several clubs and fans would turn up just to watch him tie opponents in knots. He returned to East Fife after the war and, still a Second Division club, they won the 1947-48 Scottish League Cup. A large part of Adams’ career had been spent in the Second Division, and when he did make the top league after the war he was in his 30s.
Born Greenock 1955
A classic left-footed player who spent 15 years at Aberdeen, McMaster blossomed under Alex Ferguson and will always be remembered as one of the heroes of Gothenburg, where he demonstrated his versatility with a memorable display at left back, though he was at his best as a midfield architect.
Born Gorebridge 1932
Aitken’s Motherwell career encompassed several eras, beginning in post-war austerity, taking in national service and ending with the swinging sixties. In between, he established himself as the right half and beating heart of the famous Ancell Babes. His great strengths were his tackling and passing, and an unmatched ability in the air. He played 415 games, scoring 52 goals in his 17 years at Fir Park.
Born Stirling 1962
Typecast as something of an agricultural footballer, the skills that once allowed Brown to score a hat-trick from left back were never far from the surface. He was versatile, equally at home at full-back, central defence and midfield. He starred with Dundee for four seasons in the 1980s before becoming an integral part of Rangers’ nine in a row squad.
Born Glasgow 1957
One of the most skilled footballers of his generation, Russell was a key component of the Rangers treble winning side of 1977-78. The following season, in Rangers’ European Cup campaign, he famously scored the winning goal against PSV Eindhoven, a strike considered one of the club’s greatest goals in Europe. Pencil thin and deceptively fragile, Russell’s skills reminded fans of some of the great Scottish inside forwards of the past.
Born Wishaw 1923, d.1997
In 2004, Henderson was voted the greatest Queen of the South player of all time. An extrovert goalkeeper, he rose to fame with the Doonhamers’ fine side of the 1950s, playing 381 times. The master of the miracle save, the supremely confident Henderson was often credited with playing opposition teams on his own.
There was a feeling that his off-the-wall personality conspired against him. One story has it that he told a Queen of the South director who was also a potato merchant and, crucially, a Scotland selector, to “stick to planting tatties and I’ll stick to keeping goal”.
Born Edinburgh 1944, d.2010
A tall, classical, elegant centre forward, Gordon served Hearts and Dundee United well in the 1960s, then matured beautifully in Eddie Turnbull’s free-flowing Hibernian side of the early 1970s.
Intelligent on and off field, Gordon was Europe’s leading goalscorer in 1972-73 bagging 41. In 1973, Alan played in a Rest of the World select and his career total of goals was an impressive 196, including 80 during his peak years at Hibernian.
Born Dundee 1949
Duncan’s career closely mirrored that of his hero Alan Gilzean…brilliant in the air with a delicate touch on the ground, both men played with great distinction with Dundee and Spurs, but unfortunately Duncan could not emulate Gilzean’s Scotland career. Duncan distinguished himself in European competition with Dundee and scored 109 goals in 186 games before a four-year spell with Spurs yielded a strike rate of a goal in every two games, but chronic back problems hastened his retirement.
Born Falkirk 1962
McAllister was a throwback to the glorious days of the Scottish winger, when every club had a diminutive dribbling genius. He had four spells with Falkirk and the fans voted him as their greatest player of the 20th century.
Born Glasgow 1939
McGraw scored 145 goals in 177 games for Morton between 1961 and 1966, including 58 in the 1963-64 season alone. Before his powers waned through injury, “Quick Draw” was one of the most lethal goalscorers in the land. McGraw spent part of his career in the old Second Division and with so many great inside-forwards around at the time, he was never seriously considered for international honours.