Obituary: Alan Cousin, footballer and teacher

Portrait of Alan Cousins of Hibs in November 1965.
Portrait of Alan Cousins of Hibs in November 1965.
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Alan Cousin, footballer and teacher. Born: 7 March, 1938, in Alloa. Died: 18 September, 1938, in Alloa, aged 78.

Alan Cousin was that rare creature, a footballer who was also an intellectual and who had a teaching career simultaneously with playing top flight football.

Renowned as the first of only three Scotsmen to score a goal in the mighty San Siro stadium in Milan, Cousin was most associated with Dundee FC, for whom he played 384 competitive matches in 11 seasons, putting him high on the list of those with most appearances for the Dark Blues. His goal tally of 141 also made him the fourth-highest goalscorer in Dundee’s history.

As with every single man who turned out for Dundee in season 1961-62 when they won their only Scottish League championship, Cousin was a legend at Dens Park. Indeed, he was an ever-present in that title-winning side. Yet he was not a full-time footballer. It is astonishing to think of in our current day with footballers’ salaries being what they are, but many players in the 1950s and 1960s had other jobs to enable to them to make ends meet at a time when wages in football were capped.

Like Lisbon Lion Jim Craig of Celtic, a fully qualified dentist, Cousin was able to play at high level despite being first a student and then a teacher.

Born in Alloa to John, a clerk at Paton’s mill, and Elizabeth, Cousin was one of three brothers, the others being Jim and Douglas. with Jim also playing professionally and becoming a scout for Rangers.

Educated at Alloa Academy, he first showed prowess at rugby, the team sport played at the Academy. He was in his mid-teens before he turned out at football for his local YMCA team, where he was spotted as a rare talent. He was selected for Scotland under-16s and played centre-forward in the team which beat their England counterparts 8-1.

Willie Thornton of Dundee managed to persuade Cousin to sign on at Dens Park just before he turned 17, though he had to agree to accommodate the youngster’s forthcoming studies in Classics at St Andrews University.

On going there to be interviewed as to his suitability, Cousin had to tell the interviewing professor he would be playing for Dundee and not the University. He was allowed to matriculate anyway.

While at St Andrews, Cousin would train on the local beaches to routines prepared for him by the club trainer Archie McAuley and join the club only sparingly for training. It made no difference as his striking talents saw him make his debut four days shy of his 18th birthday in a 1-3 defeat at Falkirk. His first goal was scored a month later against Manchester United, then the champions of England, with Cousin scoring in a 5-1 win against the famed Busby Babes. A debutant for United that day was none other than Sir Bobby Charlton.

By the following season, the lanky and skillful Cousin was an established presence in a side that was developing into a real force in Scottish football, with the student-striker banging in the goals – he was top scorer for three seasons from 1957-58 onwards, many of them achieved by his unique “double shuffle”, a piece of dazzling footwork that enabled him to speed past defenders at will.

Dundee by then had only one part-timer, Cousin, whose studies in Latin and Greek at St Andrews were followed by a teacher training course in Dundee before he took up the post of Classics teacher at his old school Alloa Academy.

The arrival in 1959 of new manager Bob Shankly, brother of the legendary Bill, brought Dundee to new heights, and Cousin formed a deadly partnership up front with the hugely talented Alan Gilzean. Season 1961-62 was their annus mirabilis. With Gordon Smith, Bobby Seith, Bobby Wishart, Andy Penman, and Ian Ure – also a former schoolboy rugby player – all in the attacking side, Dundee forged ahead in November when they beat Celtic at home, before thrashing Rangers, Jim Baxter and all, by 5-1 at Ibrox and then came from 2-4 down to win 5-4 against Raith Rovers. But injuries sapped the side, and they had to stage a late rally to claim the club’s one and only title. Cousin had played in all 41 matches that season, scoring 19 goals.

The European Cup beckoned and after a superb run in the competition, it was in the semi-final against AC Milan that Cousin scored his goal in the San Siro. Unfortunately Dundee shipped five goals that night, and went out of the tournament at the penultimate stage. After they reached the 1963 Scottish Cup final, losing 1-3 to Rangers, that glorious Dundee side began to break up, and when Bob Shankly succeeded Jock Stein as manager of Hibs in 1965, Cousin followed him to Easter Road.

He played four seasons for Hibs, his appearances becoming sparse as he moved into his thirties, and another at Falkirk before retiring from playing in 1970. Though he was chosen four times for the Scottish League representative side and three times for Scotland under-23, Cousin never played for Scotland’s full national side, but then the packing order ahead of him included Denis Law, Ian St John, Stevie Chalmers and his own club mate Alan Gilzean. It was at Dundee that Cousin achieved legendary status, and earned the undying respect of his fellow players and fans. He was inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame in 2011 and feted at the celebrations in 2012 to mark the 50th anniversary of the league championship. Given the treatment meted out to strikers in those days, it is truly remarkable Cousin was never booked or sent off in his career.

Cousin continued with full-time teaching after his playing career, ending his career as depute head at Lornshill Academy. He continued to live in his beloved Alloa where he died after a short illness on Sunday.

Alan Cousin is survived by his wife of 54 years, Anita nee Drysdale, by his sons Martin, a professional classical musician, and Michael, professor of neuronal cell biology at Edinburgh University, and his grandchildren. His funeral will take place next Wednesday at St Mungo’s Parish Church in Alloa.