The rock of Love Street’s golden age

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The death of former St Mirren player Davie Lapsley this week may have passed largely unnoticed by many in football, but it registered hugely on the richter scale around Love Street.

The name Lapsley is rare enough that St Mirren supporters think only of one man when the name is mentioned and mentioned it is still regularly, despite the fact that the full-back, who died on Wednesday at the age of 76, brought the curtain down on his professional career over 40 years ago.

In fact, Lapsley’s finest hour was to be his last in football, 25 April, 1959, the day St Mirren defeated Aberdeen 3-1 to win the Scottish Cup in front of an incredible 108,951 supporters.

Lapsley was the Buddies’ captain and, having promised family and friends that he would retire after the game, was carried shoulder-high from the pitch. Bizarrely, he was even offered a glass of celebratory whisky by then STV Scotsport presenter Arthur Montford at pitchside. He did, actually, turn out once more, helping Saints to victory over local rivals Morton the following midweek in the Renfrewshire Cup Final.

My own memories, sadly, do not stretch beyond 1971, yet even when I stood on the old Hampden Park terraces in 1987, celebrating Ian Ferguson’s goal and the Saint’s third Scottish Cup win, and the party continued in Paisley Town Square, the name Davie Lapsley was spoken.

Clearly, few people in the history of the Paisley club have the opportunity to lift the prestigious silverware, so it is little surprise that most Saints fans can remember the names of the heroes of the three triumphs, 1926, 1959 and 1987 - one for my grandad, my dad and me, my father used to tell me.

For someone not of Paisley origin, it was perhaps remarkable how Lapsley was so quickly and warmly taken to the Buddies’ bosom. The hardy and extremely fit full-back, with thighs you could break rocks on, actually joined the Love Street club from Tranmere Rovers in 1946, initially as a centre-forward, but, strangely, almost by accident.

He had returned from the war and was spending time at home in Scotland when the St Mirren manager of the time, Bobby Rankin, asked him for a trial. He was due to join Everton for a month’s trial, but took up Rankin’s request as a way of passing the time one afternoon while in Scotland.

Lapsley recalled recently how his trial consisted of taking penalty kicks at a young goalkeeper - "he never saw my shots" - after which Rankin duly took him into the club boardroom and asked him to sign there and then.

Lapsley went on to play 13 seasons with the Saints, eventually slotting in behind the similarly powerful tackler, right-half Jimmy "Drinky" Drinkwater, in what proved to be a virtually impregnable right side combination.

After being beaten 2-1 by Aberdeen in the league cup final of 1955, his greatest moment in the black-and-white was undoubtedly, the 1959 Scottish Cup Final.

The skipper became one of the most committed and reliable players ever to don the black-and-white stripes, and missed just one game of that historic season, a Renfrewshire Cup tie against India Inchinnan, which St Mirren won 10-0, three days before the cup final.

Yet throughout his Love Street days he remained part-time, working as a tanker driver during the week. That may explain how he persuaded manager Willie Reid to agree to a ten-bob-a-goal bonus prior to the 1959 cup run - Saints duly won their opening tie, against Peebles Rovers, 10-0.

Lapsley’s strong, committed style was well-known, but his fort in attack was direct free-kicks, more the Jorg Albertz style of directness than the David Beckham curlers, and penalties which struck fear into the hearts of opposition goalkeepers.

As one of his strikers would place the ball on the spot, Lapsley would start his run-up from fully 30 to 40 yards away - goalkeepers who never dived before the ball was kicked inevitably earned the prefix "brave".

He scored seven spot-kicks that season and also netted a crucial third goal as St Mirren came back from 2-0 down to trounce highly-fancied Celtic 6-2 in August.

That match, described by many supporters of the time as the Saints’ "dream game", was said to have inspired St Mirren to the 4-0 victory over Celtic in the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup, a result almost as unexpected then as it would be now and coming after Celtic had gained revenge for their trouncing just weeks earlier.

After retiring from football, Davie returned to the Falkirk area to live in Camelon where he combined a love of bowling with watching his beloved Saints when he could.

It was widely known by those close to him, and the club, that last season’s winning of the Division One championship and return to the Premier League gave him immense delight.

There is little doubt that Lapsley’s leading of the cup-winning Saints in 1959 marked him down as a legend in the history of the west coast club. Yet still, today, he wins more votes than any other as St Mirren’s Greatest Ever Player despite, unlike many, having never graced the international stage, and that stems from a commitment and honesty which was delivered in much more than just one game.

Lapsley leaves a wife Dinah and son Alan. His funeral will take place at Falkirk Crematorium today, at 10.30am.

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