Tribute: Alan Cousin, a Dundee legend

Alan Cousin.
Alan Cousin.
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When, during a well-pitched eulogy, Ian Mowat made the reasonable observation that Alan Cousin’s feat of going an entire career without being booked was “probably unique” for the time, one member of the congregation probably itched to put his hand up.

A sense of decorum as well as modesty on Bobby Wishart’s part ensured there was no interruption as we gathered earlier this week to celebrate the life of Cousin, the former Dundee and Hibs forward who has died at the age of 78.

It sums up just how special the Scottish championship-winning Dundee team of 1962 were. Two of the 11 names that trip off the tongue managed to achieve the distinction of playing an entire career without having their name taken by the referee. It wasn’t as if theirs were short careers either.

Wishart played more than 200 times for Aberdeen, where in 1955 he won the first of two league titles earned for different clubs in North-east Scotland. He also won a League Cup at Pittodrie while playing at left-half, a position where at least one mistimed tackle might have been expected to incur the displeasure of a referee.

As for Cousin, he made nearly 400 appearances for Dundee, scoring 141 goals – the fourth highest tally in the club’s history. One of them came in the San Siro against AC Milan during a European Cup semi-final tie.

As with other term-time fixtures abroad, Cousin had to rely on the good nature of a Clackmannanshire education director for permission to go to Milan. For that was another distinctive feature of this Dundee team: two of the 11 – Wishart, again, was the other – were part-time.

Cousin taught at Alloa Academy at the time. He was a school teacher for far longer than he was a footballer, hence the large number from the education sector who gathered to give Cousin the send-off he deserved at St Mungo’s Parish church in Alloa on a drizzly Wednesday.

Before the hearse was led slowly through town, Cousin was rightly described as a “local legend”. But he was of course much more than that. Dundee lies just over 50 miles away from Alloa, too far to be termed local. Appropriately, The Road and the Miles to Dundee was played by the organist at the end of the funeral.

Cousin was and is revered there, by the dark blue side of the city at least – and given the more moderate sensibilities of the time, likely respected by Dundee United fans too.

At Hibs, where he played for four seasons in the mid-to-late 1960s, he is also well remembered. The footballing chapter of this polymath’s adventures finished at Falkirk, near his Alloa hometown.

But the fact the photograph chosen to adorn the front of the service sheet had the handsome Cousin, arms folded, wearing the classic Dundee top of the early Sixties was evidence of the club with whom he is most firmly associated.

Scottish football historian and journalist Bob Crampsey once described the side as “the most classical” of the Scottish club teams he’d watched – and he’d seen a few.

If, by this, he meant artful and educated, then Cousin, who studied Greek and Latin at university in St Andrews, was certainly one of those who contributed to making this so.

His loss is additionally saddening because it serves, in the words of Wishart, “to tip the balance the wrong way”. By this he means there are now more members of the great 1962 team sitting in the High Stand than there are living. Wishart, goalkeeper Pat Liney, Bob Seith, Ian Ure and Alan Gilzean were all present in Alloa earlier this week.

They are five to cherish.

It’s why the writer of this article felt a particularly heavy burden of responsibility as the driver ferrying two of the surviving legends to and fro Wednesday’s funeral: Wishart and Gilzean, for whom Cousin was such perfect foil.

Cousin, Wishart reflected as we drove, was able to “blend into the gang” despite there being brains in his head as well as his feet. “He had intelligence with the common touch,” added Wishart. That’s not to say he couldn’t leave opponents feeling foolish – just one trademark ‘double shuffle’ flourish, featuring a step-over manoeuvre, could do that.

Gilzean ranked his old pal up there with talented Spurs team-mate Martin Chivers when it came to strike partners. Only Jimmy Greaves and Denis Law were better – and they weren’t trying to teach a class full of schoolkids how to form the imperfect tense in Latin during the week.

Cousin was something else, something different. But he didn’t make it seem this way – that was part of his charm. “He was very popular with his team-mates for the industry he applied on the park, he did more than his fair share of work to the benefit of the team,” said Wishart.

“He should have played for Scotland,” added Gilzean, from the back of the car, as we whizzed along the M9. “He had a great first touch, and could hold off big defenders easily.”

Cousin was also better in the air than given credit for (his goal in the San Siro was a header). But then that’s what happens when your strike partner is Gillie. It’s no disgrace to be outshone by someone once described as “the professor at the University of Heading”.

Before we left Alloa Golf Club, Gilzean shook the hand of Michael, one of Cousin and wife Anita’s two sons (Martin, a world renowned concert pianist, is the other). “I’d just like to say it was an absolute pleasure to play with your father for seven years,” he told him.

Another of this golden gang has gone. For those left it’s no consolation to know they form Scotland’s greatest five-a-side team.