David McParland, who has died aged 83 after a lengthy illness, would be in any Partick Thistle fan’s list of the clubs’ greatest servants.
As a player, he was up there with the very best, McMullan, McKenna, Husband, Davidson, MacKenzie, Rough, the Hansens, Archibald and so on. Most of those on that stellar list did their greatest deeds on the park, helping make “Firhill for Thrills” one of the great sales pitches of Scottish fitba. But, for all his feats on the field, not least 109 goals in 584 games over 16 seasons at Scottish football’s Theatre of the Absurd, perhaps McParland’s greatest achievement came in the dug-out or, more properly, on the team coach.
On 23 October 1971, during the coach trip from Firhill to Hampden, the young manager, less than 18 months into his four-year stint as Thistle boss, somehow persuaded his young side: “No, you are not going here today to make-up the numbers; it is not a given that Celtic will beat you – you CAN win the Scottish League Cup.”
By 5pm that night, far-more than the BBC’s Sam Leitch, at the legendary Grandstand teleprinter, were having to accept that “Partick Thistle 4 – Celtic 1” was not a misprint, the “Harry Wraggs” had indeed pulled-off mission impossible and beaten the Scottish champions in the League Cup Final.
Robert Reid, “Mr Partick Thistle”, in his tribute to McParland said: “You have to realise, Thistle win a major trophy about once every 50-years, so no praise is too-high for what Davie and the players achieved that day.”
But even before he masterminded that unlikely win, McParland was a Thistle legend. He arrived as a lightning-fast winger from home-town team Larkhall Thistle in November, 1953, the great Davie Meiklejohn signing him immediately after his star turn as a trialist in a reserve game at Airdrie. He quickly broke into the team and by February 1955 was good enough to be one of the very first Scotland Under-23 team, who sadly lost 6-0 to England.
That unfortunate experience was his last representative honour, for seven years, before he won two Scottish League “caps” inside a fortnight, against the Italian League in Rome, and the League of Ireland, at Celtic Park. Then, in 19, came his final representative honour, a third Scottish League cap, against the League of Ireland in Dublin.
He faced stiff opposition for a cap back then – Tommy Ring at Clyde, Davie Wilson at Rangers, Andy Weir at Motherwell, Bertie Auld at Celtic, Ian Crawford at Hearts, but, in his short representative career he played with some greats of the game, and didn’t look out of place – Paddy Crerand, Ian Ure and Jim Baxter was the League XI half-back line in Rome, while John Charles, Luis del Sol and Kurt Hamrin were in the Italian League side – while McParland provided “assists” for goals by Charlie Cooke and Jimmy Millar in a 4-3 loss for the Scots. In his solitary Under-23 game, Alex Parker, Eric Caldow, Dave Mackay and Graham Leggat were teammates, those were the circles he moved in.
McParland latterly moved back to become a probing midfielder, before seamlessly moving into coaching, initially with the Thistle Reserves, before, in June, 1970, the club, newly relegated out of the top flight, re-organised. McParland, already Assistant Manager, became Team Manager, while Scot Symon moved upstairs as General Manager.
McParland gave youth its fling. In came Alan Rough in goal, John Hansen and Alex Forsyth at full back and Jimmy Bone up front. All would go on to play for Scotland. Later, he would blood Hansen’s younger brother Alan, while, on his day, the eccentric Denis McQuade was as good a winger as you would find in Glasgow, where Messrs Johnstone, Henderson and Wilson were playing their trade as contemporaries.
But, Thistle were a selling club and, in 1974, McParland fell out with the board and quit, moving across the city to coach Queen’s Park for a couple of years. Then, in 1976, Jock Stein invited him to become his assistant at Celtic, with Sean Fallon concentrating on finding the next box of Quality Street kids.
The Stein/McParland partnershp worked. The Big Man was still getting over his near-fatal car crash, so McParland was in charge of things day-to-day at the Barrowfied training ground. Celtic won a League and Cup double in 1976-77, and lost the League Cup final 2-1 to Aberdeen, but, after a trophy blank the following season, the “Four Families” who ran the club had their excuse to offload Stein in favour of Billy McNeill, with McParland’s removal as colatteral damage.
He moved on to spend four years managing Hamilton Academical, before stepping back from frontline team management for youth coaching duties at Airdrie, Dunfermline, then Motherwell. His final role in football was as Director of Football at Dumbarton, and, by the time that job ended, he was happy to retire and spend time with his family – wife Terry and daughters Yvonne, Tracy and Hazel, and his grandchildren, who survive him.
Universally respected, McParland was viewed as one of the nicest men in the game. That status is confirmed by Robert Reid, who has a massive regard for his club’s former boss. He tells the story of McParland’s early days as a manager: “Early on in his managerial career we lost three straight away games, at Clydebank, Albion Rovers and Brechin and we on the board were a wee bit worried that the young team might falter.
“But, David told me: ‘It will be ok Robert, you wait and see;’ I don’t think we lost another game that season. Then, once back up, we beat Rangers in the League, then Celtic in the League Cup in short order.
“His passing is a huge loss, but, at least, before he died, Gerry Britton and I visited him in hospital and were able to tell him personally of the club’s decision to name our new training ground McParland Park. This, I feel, is a fitting tribute to not only a great Partick Thistle man, but also a great man in every sense.”