ANDY Paton was, at the time of his death, Scotland’s oldest football internationalist.
A centre-half, Paton was something of a “maverick” player in his time. During his 16-year career at Fir Park, centre-halves were expected to win the ball, then get rid of it – into the mythical Row Z if necessary. This was not Paton’s style, he occasionally gave Motherwell fans palpitations as he dribbled the ball out of the danger area to initiate a counter-attack, and this concentration on playing football, in a perverse way, told against him when it came to selection for the national team.
He was born in Dreghorn and, while still a schoolboy, aged just 14, he made his debut for the local junior giants, Irvine Meadow. On leaving school, he joined the family building firm. The Patons were specialist builders, which earned young Andy exemption from active service during the Second World War. This enabled him to continue his football education in Ayrshire Juniors and he was starring for Kello Rovers when legendary Motherwell manager John “Sailor” Hunter took him to the Steelmen in 1942.
An early introduction to the first team set him on his way to a final 500-plus games for the club and when football began to return to normal at the end of the war, Paton was one of nine new caps in the first post-war international, against Belgium, at Hampden Park, in January 1946.
He was dropped after the game and, as the SFA selectors preferred firstly Airdrie’s Frank Brennan, then the Rangers’ duo of Willie Woodburn and George Young, Paton was in the international wilderness until May 1952, when, with Woodburn injured, he was recalled to win a further two caps against Denmark and Sweden on a post-season Scandinavian tour.
Of course, back then, actual caps were only awarded for appearances in the Home Internationals, so Paton was one of the 92 Scottish internationals who didn’t receive their caps until a successful campaign by journalist Gary Imlach and The Scotsman, saw them finally rewarded in 2006. Not that his international wilderness years were barren and uneventful. He stood-in for fellow Irvine man Willie Kilmarnock to captain Motherwell to League Cup success in 1951 and was centre-half in the side which took the Scottish Cup to Fir Park for the first time the following season – a success which no doubt aided his case for a Scotland recall. He also won a Second Division championship medal in 1953, but there were disappointments too – Scottish Cup final defeat in 1951 and relegation in 1953.
In 1958, with new Motherwell boss Bobby Ancell going down the road of youth, with the “Ancell Babes”, Paton was allowed to leave the club he had served so well. The young John Martis, who would win one Scotland cap, was ready for the first team and Paton made the short trip across the Clyde to play out his career at Hamilton Academical.
He served Accies as a player for one season, before becoming manager for a further nine. He then left football for good.
May, Paton’s wife of more than 66 years, was a chiropodist and chiropractor. Andy qualified as a sports masseur and joined her in a sports injuries clinic which they ran in their home town of Irvine until they reached formal retirement age.
The Patons remained in Irvine until, in their ninth decade, they relocated to Markinch, Fife, to be closer to their only daughter Joan and her three daughters, one of whom pre-deceased her grandfather two years ago. It was at his home that Paton passed away on Saturday morning.
He was perhaps a player out of his time – these days his footballing ability would be far better appreciated than it was during his career. However, his place in Motherwell’s pantheon of heroes was assured in 2006, when a poll of fans saw him named Motherwell’s Greatest-Ever Player, winning that accolade ahead of the likes of Bob Ferrier and George Stevenson, Paton’s one-time manager, from the 1950s league-winning team; Ian St John from the Ancell Babes; and today’s James McFadden.
Paton’s place as Scotland’s oldest surviving former internationalist now passes to Bobby Brown, another of the debutants from that first post-war clash against Belgium.
Andy Paton’s funeral is to be held at Kirkcaldy Crematorium, at 2:15pm, on Monday.