DAVID MacFarlane, who has died after a long battle against illness, was that rarity in Scottish football over the past 30 years, a Rangers player who came through the ranks into the first team.
An outstanding player with Ayr United Boys Club, he joined Rangers straight from school. Quick-witted and seemingly permanently smiling, he made an early impression on Ally McCoist, who dubbed him “Fermer” and struck up a firm friendship with the now Rangers boss and with another Ibrox youngster with masses of ambition – a certain Gordon Ramsay.
However, while injury forced Ramsay down another route to greatness, MacFarlane stayed to learn his trade under Jock Wallace. He always admired his first Rangers boss, saying: “He was like a second father to me, except my own father never called me half the names Jock did.”
Wallace gave MacFarlane an early introduction to first team football when he picked him to play against Morton in a Scottish Cup third round tie, at Cappielow, on 26 January, 1985, just ten days after his 18th birthday.
But he never kicked on from this and in four seasons at Rangers, he made a mere 14 appearances, nine starts and five appearances off the bench. One of these five substitute appearances, however, was to be crucial. He replaced Cammy Fraser after 73 minutes of the League Cup Final at Hampden, in October 1986.
Rangers beat Celtic 2-1 that afternoon, in front of 74,000 fans, giving Graeme Souness his first trophy as Rangers manager. Sadly for MacFarlane, and his contemporaries, Souness preferred to buy ready-made players, rather than bring them through the ranks and, with first team football opportunities becoming rarer, MacFarlane was only too happy to go out on loan to Kilmarnock for a month later that season.
He made a good impression at Rugby Park, returned to Rangers, won a Glasgow Cup-winner’s medal, then went out on loan again the following season, to Dundee. Kilmarnock had not forgotten how easily he had fitted in and Souness was only too happy to do business when Killie offered £100,000 for the Ayrshireman’s signature.
His second stint at Rugby Park began well, then went sour and, after a mere 30 starts and six games off the bench, he was sold to Partick Thistle, where he failed to make an impact.
MacFarlane then tried his luck in Australia, but, while he enjoyed the Antipodean lifestyle, he missed Scotland and returned to Ayrshire, where he accepted an offer to join the Rough Revolution at Glenafton Athletic. The New Cumnock club had been playing third fiddle locally to Auchinleck Talbot and Cumnock, however, with legendary Scotland goalkeeper Alan Rough as manager, they were out to change things and Rough saw MacFarlane as the cultured midfielder to make the ammunition for his two star strikers, Norman Montgomery and future Scotland B cap Tom Brown.
MacFarlane always said he wasn’t sure he had made the right move when, at the end of his Glen’s debut, against Ardrossan Winton Rovers, he was assaulted by a Winton fan.
He was all for quitting there and then, but, Roughie persuaded him to give it a bit longer. Next up were Talbot, and seconds into the game, he was kicked into orbit by Talbot defender Sam McCulloch, who helped him to his feet and said: “Welcome to the Juniors, Davie.”
The next twice he got the ball, he was kicked by Ian “Stinker” Dick, who, when MacFarlane told him he was a something idiot calmly replied: “Aye, ah ken!” It was the start of a firm friendship.
He learned how to survive in the battle zone that is the junior midfield and Glenafton began to make waves. In successive season they reached the Junior Cup semi-final, the final – where they were hammered by Talbot – then won the trophy, with MacFarlane laying on the goal with which John Miller beat Tayport 1-0 and brought the old trophy to New Cumnock for the first and, so far, only time.
The following season, 1994, the Glen again reached the final, but lost to Largs Thistle in what has gone down in legend as “the Game of Shame”, at Ibrox – multiple red cards and a full-scale free-for-all, on live TV. Glenafton reached the semi-final again in 1995, but, that was their last hurrah as Rough left and the team broke-up. Still, in addition to his Junior Cup winner’s medal in 1993, MacFarlane also won an Ayrshire Cup and the Ayrshire League.
While with Glenafton, he had a relationship with New Cumnock girl Donna and settled down to life in the village, commuting daily to his day job in a well-known Glasgow pawnbrokers.
However, David and Donna both suffered illness and split and his final years were sad ones as his illness took its toll and he was unable to work regularly.
He is survived by his three teenaged children, from his relationship with Donna and by his step-children from his marriage to Helen, his widow.
Tom Brown said: “Some opponents wrongly thought Davie was ‘soft’. He wasn’t. Indeed, he was one of the best players I shared a pitch with.”
In New Cumnock particularly, he is fondly remembered as a fine footballer, a man who liked to play with a smile on his face and enjoyed life to the full.