SCOTTISH football’s contribution to the First World War has been further commemorated with McCrae’s Battalion given a permanent place of honour at the National Stadium.
At the 11th annual Scottish Football Hall of Fame dinner at Hampden last night, the unit of troops recruited by Sir George McCrae from Edinburgh’s sporting community and beyond in 1914 – led by 11 players from the outstanding Hearts side of the time – was among five new inductees.
The other four newcomers to the pantheon are all celebrated former Scotland internationals – double-winning Spurs goalkeeper Bill Brown, Rangers winger Davie Wilson, Leeds United midfielder Peter Lorimer and Celtic striker Charlie Nicholas.
There are now a total of 93 inductees in the Hall of Fame, which was first instituted in 2004 and forms part of the Scottish Football Museum at Hampden. Last night’s dinner also included a special tribute to Denis Law, the former Manchester United striker, who was the very first inductee to the Hall of Fame.
In the Tottenham Hotspur side of 1960-61, who became the first to win the English double of League Championship and FA Cup in the 20th century, Bill Brown was one of its most consistent and influential performers.
Many who saw Brown at his peak regard him as the greatest goalkeeper Scottish football has produced since the Second World War. Described as “agile, commanding and courageous” by the veteran football writer Brian Glanville, Arbroath-born Brown enjoyed an exceptional career on both sides of the border.
He joined Dundee as a part-time professional in 1948, earning £7 a week, while also training as an electrical engineer. He survived an early threat to his football ambitions when he broke his nose, jaw and cheekbone in an horrific clash during a trial for the Scotland youth team.
Brown went full-time at Dens Park after completing his national service in the RAF and went on to make more than 200 first team appearances for Dundee from 1949 to 1959, helping them win the League Cup twice. He was sold to Spurs for £16,500, a fee which helped Dundee pay for new floodlights.
It was a golden period at White Hart Lane. After missing just one match as the double was achieved in 1961, Brown helped Spurs retain the FA Cup in 1962 and was then part of the side which defeated Atletico Madrid 5-1 in the European Cup Winners’ Cup final in Rotterdam the following year.
Brown was capped 28 times for Scotland – making his debut during the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden against France – and was the country’s most-capped goalkeeper until his record was passed by Alan Rough in 1979. He lost his first-team place at Spurs to the burgeoning talent of Pat Jennings then had a brief spell at Northampton Town before moving to Canada where he finished his playing career and then lived happily until his death at the age of 73 in 2004.
A schoolboy prodigy, Lorimer was pursued by a host of Britain’s biggest clubs as he earned rave notices with his performances in schoolboy football. The Dundee youngster chose Leeds United and after making his first-team debut at the age of just 15 in 1962, he went on to become one of the most revered and decorated players in the Elland Road club’s history.
An attacking midfielder with astonishing shooting power – one of his penalty kicks was recorded at 107 miles per hour – Lorimer had excellent technique, tremendous energy and top-class tactical awareness. He was a key figure in the Leeds side which became one of English football’s most effective and successful under Don Revie’s management.
Lorimer won every major domestic honour with Leeds – claiming the League Championship in 1969 and 1974, the FA Cup in 1972 and the League Cup in 1968. He also played in five European finals for the Yorkshire club, winning the Fairs Cup in 1968 and 1971, while earning runners-up medals in the European Cup (1975), Cup Winners’ Cup (1973) and Fairs Cup (1967). His tally of 238 goals for Leeds remains an all-time club record, a remarkable feat for a player who was not a striker.
Capped 21 times by Scotland, Lorimer made his international debut in 1971. He was part of the outstanding side which reached the 1974 World Cup Finals under Willie Ormond’s management and scored in the opening 2-0 win over Zaire in a campaign which saw the Scots eliminated at the group stage despite being unbeaten. Lorimer’s club career, which included spells in Canada and Israel, continued until 1986. He still lives in Leeds where he is a publican and retains close links with the Elland Road club where he also served as a director.
In November 1914, Hearts were leading the way in the Scottish title race with a team considered by many at the time to be among the finest the Tynecastle club had produced. Football, however, had become of secondary importance to the conflict breaking out in Europe which would have a seismic effect on the country.
At the time that Sir George McCrae began his recruitment drive for the 16th Battalion of the Royal Scots in Edinburgh, there had been public criticism of footballers continuing to play for their clubs after war had been declared.
Responding to McCrae’s rallying call, Hearts led the way with 11 of their first-team squad signing up. They were joined by players from several other clubs, including Hibs, Raith Rovers, Falkirk, Dunfermline, St Bernard’s and East Fife. Supporters also joined up, further inspired by the notion of serving alongside their football heroes. Within a week, McCrae’s Battalion – as they would become known – number more than 1300.
They served with distinction and the casualties were high. Hearts players who made the ultimate sacrifice were James Boyd, Duncan Currie, Ernest Ellis, Thomas Gracie and Henry Wattie.
In an era when Scottish football seemed to produce a endless supply of exceptional wingers, Davie Wilson was one of the most effective and dynamic practitioners of the craft. The blond-haired, left-sided player made his first-team debut for Rangers at the age of 17 in 1957 but did not become a regular for the Ibrox club until the 1960-61 season. Wilson became a crucial component of what many still believe was the greatest team in Rangers’ history, shining alongside other richly talented performers like Jim Baxter.
While he had the pace and trickery which characterised the best traditions of Scottish wingers, Wilson also possessed remarkable scoring prowess. His instincts for finishing often saw him pressed into service as a more central striker, often to devastating effect as when he scored six goals in a 7-1 defeat of Falkirk in 1962.
In total, Wilson won 11 major domestic honours as a Rangers player and was part of the brilliant treble-winning side of 1964. He enjoyed a fine international career, scoring nine times in 22 appearances for Scotland. He also filled in at left-back for 85 minutes of the famous 2-1 win over England at Wembley in 1963 after team-mate Eric Caldow was injured.
After leaving Rangers in 1967, Wilson provided Dundee United with five years of fine service before finishing his playing career at Dumbarton. He later had spells in management at both Dumbarton and Queen of the South.
THE current generation of football supporters may know him best as a pundit on Sky’s Soccer Saturday programme but Charlie Nicholas was among the most gifted, exciting and deadly strikers produced by Scottish football in the 1980s.
The boy from Maryhill made his debut for Celtic as an 18-year-old at the start of the 1980-81 season and scored 28 goals as the Premier Division title was won. A star was born. Nicknames such as ‘The Cannonball Kid’ and ‘Champagne Charlie’ made the flamboyant forward a headline-writers’ dream.
In the 1982-83 campaign, Nicholas scored a staggering 48 goals for Celtic and had all the leading English clubs beating a path to his door. He surprised everyone by snubbing a then dominant Liverpool side to instead sign for Arsenal.
He spent five years at Highbury, scoring 54 goals in 184 appearances. While it was not a glorious era for Arsenal, Nicholas was adored by their supporters. The high point of his time there came when he scored both goals at Wembley in 1987 as Arsenal defeated Liverpool 2-1 in the League Cup final to claim their first silverware for eight years.
He earned 20 caps for Scotland, scoring five goals, and played for his country at the 1986 World Cup Finals in Mexico.
Nicholas returned to Scotland in 1988 with Aberdeen, winning both the League Cup and Scottish Cup with the Dons, before rejoining Celtic for a second spell in 1990. He remained with the club for another five years, taking his overall goals tally to 125 in 249 appearances, but it was a grim period for Celtic. He ended his playing career at Clyde before his successful move into the world of television.