Interview: Peter McCloy on dealing with Old Firm pressure

Peter McCloy at his beloved Turnberry where he now works as the starter. Picture: Mick McGurk
Peter McCloy at his beloved Turnberry where he now works as the starter. Picture: Mick McGurk
Share this article
0
Have your say

In the clubhouse at Turnberry, with the golf course glistening in the sunshine which has followed a good soaking from the spring showers, the son of potentially the most powerful man in the world is holding court. No offence to Eric Trump, progeny 
of Donald, but I’d rather listen to 
Peter McCloy.

The Girvan Lighthouse is not 
even talking about Barcelona and Rangers’ Euro triumph, won with the help of one of his trademark, cloudbursting, howitzer goal-kicks. He’s not even talking about the Trebles he achieved in that titanic 1970s battle for Old Firm supremacy. He’s talking about Quiz Ball.

Football was life-and-death for the fans and it was same at Celtic. Old Firm supporters are the toughest critics in the world

Peter McCloy

Remember Quiz Ball? If your access to football was limited to Subbuteo, 
collecting sweetie cigarette cards of players and the very few games screened on TV, then you were very glad of the BBC show where clubs put up their most telegenic representatives, or those least likely to frighten the early-evening audience, and competed with fingers on buzzers for the prize of a handsome quaich.

It was 1966, England had just won the World Cup, and the country had gone football-mad. Clubs nominated three men and were allowed a celebrity fan, which gave call-ups to disc jockey Pete Murray, DIY expert Ted Moult and – unforgettably – Lady Isobel Barnett, possessor of the poshest voice on the planet and a quiz regular, sat alongside Derek Dougan for Leicester City. But Dunfermline Athletic, Dundee United, St Mirren and McCloy’s Motherwell all wanted to win it for Scotland, nixing the Auld Enemy just like our unofficial champions of the world would do the following spring.

“That was a good laugh,” says the man who at 6ft 4ins rates as one of Scottish football’s all-time loftiest. “Our three were Bobby Howitt, the manager, Willie Hunter, and myself. Our supporter was the actor Jameson Clark who’d been in the Geordie and Greyfriars’ Bobby films, although I don’t think he was really a Well fan and he must have been even less of one after I spilt coffee over him on the train down to the competition. He couldn’t believe there was a quiz for footballers, who he thought were all thick as mince, but he was a good bloke.

“We were up against Sheffield United and it was all-square with one question to go. Their celeb was the pop singer Dave Berry, who you might remember had this gimmick of always trying to hide his face. He hadn’t said a 
single word and just kept peering from behind his hands and being annoying with it. But the final question was about music – something to do with the theme for The Magnificent Seven – and he answered it right and we were out. Dunfermline got to the final but Arsenal won it, although at least they had Ian Ure in their team – he’d been the dux of Ayr Academy.”

McCloy is a proud Ayrshireman, born and bred in Girvan, which doesn’t actually have a lighthouse, so he’s well-nicknamed, although 16 years at Ibrox also bestowed on him the 
handles Gas Meter and Big Sadie. In his life he’s gone from stopper to starter and points to the hut by Turnberry’s 1st tee from where he sees off the 
golfers. But the course has been closed for six months for a major re-design and Trump Jr is here to check on the work’s progress ahead of the June 
re-opening.

Has he met the main man, The Don? “Well, not met exactly. Rather than introduce himself, he’ll go: ‘Hey, I’m gonna do this’.” But McCloy approves of what the Trumps have done to Turnberry. “The new layout will make the course much harder. You’ll really have to get the ball up and that’ll be tough for women who like those scuttling shots. It was a brilliant course before; now it’s going to be a magnificent one and without doubt the best seaside links in the country.”

With Rangers on the brink of the Championship – they’ll win the division today to seal a return to the top flight if results go their way – their old goalie offers interesting, and amusing, insight into the pressures of playing for the Ibrox club. But, you know, he could have been a golfer.

“I actually didn’t pick up a club until I was 18 but got good at the game quite quickly. I’d been at Motherwell for a year, having signed on my 17th birthday. Football was pretty rough in those days. John Martis warned me about this Dunfermline centre-
forward – how, if you were on the ground, he’d trample all over you. Sure enough when we played them there was a kerfuffle but I couldn’t believe that this was the guy, frothing at the mouth and threatening to kill me, because he was such a skinny thing. It was of course Alex Ferguson. Then I was offered the job of assistant pro at Turnberry but was told I’d have to choose between the sports. Even with all the kicks and dunts I decided I’d be better at football.”

Goalkeeping, though, was in the blood: McCloy’s father Jimmy was between the sticks for Clyde, St Mirren in the 1934 Scottish Cup final, Bradford City and Swansea Town before the war cut short his career. Jimmy returned north and became a fireman at a 
dynamite plant in Stevenston. And, when you think about it, his son, by the time he got to Govan, did a similar job: providing security in an incendiary environment.

McCloy will be 70 this year and is very aware that some of his old comrades in light blue didn’t make it that far, with Sandy Jardine and Colin Jackson both succumbing to cancer. “Bomber [Jackson] bore his quietly and thought he’d beaten it. I remember Sandy coming to my hut to tell me about his. The last time I saw him was a month before he died. ‘Don’t hug me,’ he said, ‘I’m too sore’.” So the big man counts his blessings, enjoys Portugese holidays with his wife Anne and revels in being a grandfather.

Despite interesting Liverpool before Bill Shankly bought Ray Clemence instead, McCloy had actually lost the No 1 shirt at Fir Park to Keith MacRae when Rangers came calling. It was a typical Ibrox swoop: young prospect gets the better of them and they snap him up, but more remarkable for coming after a performance in the reserves. “I was Willie Waddell’s first signing. I remembered him as a journalist for the Daily Express, coming down to watch our training, so maybe he noticed 
me then.”

McCloy always had competition for the goalie gig and invariably prevailed. Rangers already had Gerry Neef, Erik Sorensen and Norrie Martin but he would see them all off. He laughs as he remembers his debut towards the end of 1969-70 away to Dunfermline: “The pitch was greasy so I nipped back to the dressing-room to get my special gloves – green Peter Bonettis – but our wee kitman, Joe Craven, had hidden them. ‘Peter,’ he said, ‘you cannae wear anything green at this club, you’ll get hung.’ I wrote to the manufacturers after that, explained the situation. The gloves only came in green but, just for me, they dyed two dozen pairs blue. That box-full did me for a while.”

Later, McCloy would open his own sports shop in Girvan and the high-tech, extra-padded gloves he sourced from Switzerland proved popular with his fellow keepers. “Jim McArthur at Hibs asked me to send him over a pair but they came straight back to me. They cost £26 and Eddie Turnbull wrote in his note that Jim wasn’t worth that much!”

McCloy seems like a pretty straight-up-and-down fellow. Of course “up” and “down” are greater extremes in someone of 6ft 4ins, but he says he was never self-conscious about his height. Nerves didn’t bother him playing for Rangers, but he could see that the demands of the job affected others.

He took encouragement from having signed on Friday the 13th and didn’t bother acquiring any silly superstitions. The place seemed to take strong men and make them stronger. “You got brainwashed into fearing no one,” he adds.

“It’s obviously hard for some guys who’re successes at other clubs when they come to the Old Firm but that wasn’t me. My transfer happened very quickly, and because the season was ending I had time to settle in. A virus caused me to miss the summer tour of Germany where Gerry didn’t do so well, and the Glasgow Cup final against Celtic which was too much for young Bobby Watson. I got in after that and managed five clean sheets in a row.” Total games: 644; shutouts: 247.

“Don’t get me wrong, I knew Rangers were a huge step-up. At Motherwell the team would be just so delighted if they’d won a game. But I could see right away what Rangers meant to the supporters and, of course, what beating Celtic meant because the club hadn’t achieved anything for five years. Football was life-and-death for the fans and it was same at Celtic. Old Firm supporters are the toughest critics in the world.” Also the most paranoid: McCloy’s goalie shirt at Motherwell had been green, changing to blue for games at Parkhead, much to the East End of Glasgow’s displeasure. “I had stuff thrown at me and The Celtic View weren’t too pleased either.

“My first Old Firm derby was at 
Parkhead and I remember Evan 
Williams, who’d just succeeded Ronnie Simpson, telling me before kick-off that he wished the game was already over. ‘These matches make you or break you,’ he said. But there was a fraternity among the goalies: you’d wave to the other guy at the far end of the pitch. And I’ve always got on with the Ayrshire Celts like Bobby Lennox and Stevie Chalmers and enjoyed 
golfing with them.

“Stevie came down at Turnberry recently but unfortunately I missed him. He said to my pals: ‘Tell the Girvan Lighthouse I was wearing a blue jumper just for him.’ We had some good jousts, the pair of us. Stevie would always try and knock the ball out of my hands. One time I said ‘You want it, do you?’ and bounced it off his nose. Tiny Wharton was the ref. ‘Now gentlemen,’ he said, ‘do you really want to run those baths this early?’”

Goalkeeping can be lonely, especially if your team win most of their games, and McCloy appreciated the moments of humour. “We used to have great 
tussles with Hibs and Alan Gordon was a classy player and such a nice fellow. Once he said to me: ‘Peter, what about that centre-half of yours, [Tom] Forsyth? He’s just announced that when the opportunity presents itself he’s going to kill me.’ ‘I’m sorry, Alan,’ I said, ‘but he probably means it!’”

Rangers would break their trophy drought early in McCloy’s first full season when 16-year-old Derek Johnstone leapt to head the winner against their great rivals in the League Cup final. Now he’s looking forward to the end of Rangers’ separation from top-flight football which has lasted almost as long. “Scottish football needs the Old Firm back at each other’s
throats,” he says, and our man is obviously intrigued by the upcoming Scottish Cup semi-final between the hoary foes. “I like that Mark 
Warburton’s trying to get Rangers playing a brand of total football. They’ll need to strengthen for the Premiership but I can see them being top three. In the cup-tie the first 20 minutes will be vital but the centre of that defence will have to be solid throughout. Score first, though, and Rangers could win it.”

The same DJ, by dint of his prodigious heading ability, was always the man most likely to get on the end of one of McCloy’s whoomphing goal-kicks, most notably to turn the 1976 Scottish Cup semi when Rangers were two-nil down to Motherwell but, of course, the keeper’s most memorable assist came in the Cup-Winners’ Cup final against Dynamo Moscow four years before that, Willie Johnston being the grateful recipient.

Waddell devised a harrying style – Johnston and Colin Stein not giving the opposition defence a moment’s peace – for the away legs of that 
glorious campaign. Rennes dubbed it “anti-football” but Rangers carried on regardless. No less important on the road was McCloy, pulling off terrific saves at Torino and Bayern Munich, although he rates one from a Jardine slice in the Nou Camp final to prevent “the worst own goal in 
history” as the most crucial of his career. But a pitch invasion meant the trophy presentation took place in a large cupboard. “Franco’s henchmen got heavy with their batons and the boys broke up chairs to fight back. That was unfortunate.”

He reflects on what the Rangers managerial double-act of Waddell and Jock Wallace brought to the party: “Waddell was the strategist and the one who hammered into us what it meant to play for the club and it was Big Jock who made us fitter than we’d ever been in our lives. Even the goalies had to run up those Gullane sand dunes but I was quite fast anyway. Maybe only Bud [Johnston] would have beaten me in a 40-yard dash.

“Jock was a good man-manager, always asking after players’ families. When my dad was in hospital he visited him without saying he was doing it. The Deedle [Waddell] was more gruff. He’d send out the retained letters for those staying at the club at the end of every season but there wasn’t much scope for negotiation. ‘If you’re not signing,’ he’d say, peering over his specs, ‘then shut the door behind you.’ After we’d won the Cup-Winners’ Cup I thought I deserved a wee pay increase. Indeed, I had to remind him of how, before the 
Bayern game, he’d cleared the dressing-room and pinned me to wall demanding a shut-out – and that if I delivered he’d reward me. He almost choked. ‘Did I really say that?’” McCloy got his rise on condition he stayed in the team.

And stay he mostly did, outlasting new rivals Jim Stewart and Stewart Kennedy, although the latter had been the No 1 until his bad day for Scotland at Wembley in 1975. “I was so sorry for him. Goalies, because it’s a special position, feel for each other. That summer Rangers toured Australia and I was back playing. Jock was very protective of Stewart until we got to five-nil against Victoria State when he decided to bring him on. What could go wrong? Well, the stadium announcer said: ‘Rangers are making a change. Off comes Peter McCloy and here’s Stewart Kennedy who had such a nightmare at Wembley… ’ Jock went mad. It took a bunch of us to stop him ramming the mic down the guy’s throat.”

McCloy, of course, was no stranger to getting himself entangled with the woodwork. Who’d be a keeper? Rangers were very glad he was.