It’s quite fitting that former Airdrie and Third Lanark winger Ralph McPate will attend his first football match in almost two decades when Canada line up against Scotland at Easter Road.
This evening’s friendly in Leith pitches his country of birth against the nation where he spent the best part of 42 years of his adult life – not to mention the four international caps he achieved whilst playing for his local club Toronto, having emigrated at the age of 19, during the early sixties.
McPate even pitted his wits against the likes of Joe Harper, Sir Alex Ferguson, Bobby Hope, and Tommy McLean as a Scotland XI side inflicted a 7-2 defeat on their hosts in Winnipeg in June, 1967 – the final leg of the Scottish team’s nine-match World Tour that had seen Bobby Brown’s men take in competitive matches in Israel, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand.
Having failed to hold down a starting berth under Bob Shankly at Third Lanark, McPate suddenly found himself on a plane across the North Atlantic where his stock as a footballer began to rise again having found part-time work with a top surveyors business. Life suddenly looked promising again.
“I was down in the doldrums as my football wasn’t going all that great and I was struggling to make the breakthrough at Third Lanark,” McPate, now 76, recalls. “I had the chance to go to Chelsea when I was 14 but my parents weren’t so keen on the idea. But things took a turn for the better when I got out to Canada and I started playing regularly for Toronto, the Ontario team, and was then selected to play in the inter-provincial competitions. That’s when I got my chance with the Canadian national team having gained citizenship as well.
“I knew what to expect when we came up against Scotland in Winnipeg as I was well aware of the standard I’d left behind a few years before I’d left for Canada. I was suddenly seeing it in front of me all again. They had me inside left in that game even though I was a winger so I found it difficult.
“We might have done a bit better in the match and should have put up more of a fight. But I hadn’t played a competitive match prior to the game as our season hadn’t started whereas they were in full swing. We had the Pan American Games shortly after that, followed by the Olympic qualifiers, so we got better along the way. I think there were only two Canadian-born players in the squad around that time. John Kerr Sr, who left Partick Thistle, went on to play for New York Cosmos when Pele was playing for them, so there were a lot of connections with Scotland among other countries.”
McPate returned to his native Scotland just after the turn of the century, a new business venture persuading him to swap the Maple leaf for the Scottish thistle. Home today is a stone’s throw from Meadowbank Stadium where not even the fairytale success of SPFL League 2 newcomers Edinburgh City could tempt him to take in a live game. That, however, will all change tonight at the home of Hibernian.
“I found that if I wasn’t on the field myself then I had no interest in going,” McPate said. “But I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go to Easter Road given the fact the game will be going on five minutes from my house. I spent most of my adult life in Canada so I’ll have the Canadian flag with me. I’d love to see Scotland qualify for the next major competition and a win here might instil a bit more confidence. But even then it’s still a long shot for them to qualify for the World Cup.
“If you think about the squad Scotland now to the time I played against them, there’s no comparison. Four points from four games doesn’t say a lot so far in the qualifiers. I suppose you can only do so much with what you have and there may be someone out there who can get more out of them than what Gordon Strachan has done so far.”