Obituary: David White, footballer and manager

Born: 23 August, 1933, in Motherwell. Died: 17 July, 2013, in Wishaw, aged 80
David WhiteDavid White
David White

Former Clyde, Rangers and Dundee manager David White has died, at the age of 80, following a short illness. White is best remembered for his two-year spell as Rangers’ fourth and youngest manager, between November 1967 and November 1969. He was appointed in controversial circumstances and sacked in a similarly contentious way.

He was 23 years of age when plucked from the junior ranks with Royal Albert to join part-time Clyde. He was a hard but fair wing half, of whom Jim Baxter said: “Aye, Davie would kick you, but he always helped you up afterwards.”

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White was still a reserve when Clyde won the Scottish Cup in 1958 but, as that side broke up, he broke through and by March 1966 had played more than 300 games for the Bully Wee. He rose to become club captain and was acting as player-coach, having been one of the first players to go through the SFA’s new coaching courses.

Then, on 31 March, 1966, the SFA appointed Clyde manager John Prentice as the new national team manager and the Clyde board promoted White to replace him. A narrow win over Falkirk was a promising start, but White’s managerial credentials were established in the new season, 1966-67, during which he guided the club to third in the old 18-club First Division and to the semi-final of the Scottish Cup, where the soon-to-be immortalised Lisbon Lions needed two games to see off their near neighbours.

That third place finish is Clyde’s best performance in the Scottish League and it should have brought them a first season in European competition, as the third-placed club in Scotland would enter the following season’s European Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.

However, Rangers had finished second and were also due to play in the Fairs Cup, but the competition regulations stated that no two clubs from the same city could compete in a single year. The Clyde directors unsuccessfully argued that Clyde were from Rutherglen. Uefa demurred and Dundee, who had finished sixth, got Clyde’s place.

White, however, did sample that season’s Fairs Cup competition. Before the campaign had even started, aged just 34, he had swapped Shawfield for Ibrox, becoming assistant manager to Scot Symon. The idea was that White would wear the tracksuit, learn at the feet of the long-serving Symon and eventually succeed him. But less long-sighted men around Rangers began to panic. Might it be that Celtic, under track-suited Jock Stein, were over-hauling Rangers, who had been top dogs in Glasgow since the end of the First World War, were now threatening the status quo, simply because Stein was closer to the players than the trilby-wearing, smartly-suited Symon? If Rangers were to appoint their own tracksuited manager, might not they too ascend the European heights which Stein had scaled in Lisbon?

Celtic had eliminated Rangers at the group stage of the League Cup, but Rangers were topping the league when Celtic left for South America to face Argentina’s Racing Club in the World Club Championship match.

The Rangers board met, and it was suggested to Symon that he move upstairs to an overseeing role as general manager, with White taking over first team matters. Here it gets nasty. There have been suggestions that Symon took exception to this suggestion and tendered his resignation. Others suggest he refused to accept the move and was sacked. Whatever happened, White was now, aged just 34, Rangers’ fourth and youngest manager.

His first season he did well. The team steadily accumulated points and wins in the league. Losing to Hearts in the Scottish Cup quarter-finals wasn’t in the script and losing narrowly to Leeds United in the Fairs Cup quarter-finals was disappointing, but, on the final Saturday in April, while Dunfermline Athletic were beating Hearts in the Scottish Cup Final at Hampden, Rangers, unbeaten in 33 league games that season, entertained Aberdeen at Ibrox – and White’s bad luck struck.

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His side entered the match without the talismanic Colin Stein, for whom White had paid Scotland’s first £100,000 transfer fee earlier that season. With the score at 2-2, time running out and Rangers pressing for the winner, they were caught out by a sucker-punch Aberdeen breakaway, to lose 3-2.

A Rangers win would have put pressure on Celtic, and they would have had to beat Dunfermline in an East End Park league game, postponed until the midweek by the Cup Final. But, freed of that “must win” pressure, Stein’s men won 2-1 to pip Rangers for the title and sentence them to a second successive trophyless season.

White regrouped for his second season as Rangers’ boss, which began with another early League Cup exit. Rangers kept up the pressure on Celtic throughout the season, but had to concede defeat in the race for the league flag. There had also been another good European campaign, ended by eventual winners Newcastle United in the Fairs Cup semi-final.

There was a final chance of silverware with another Old Firm Scottish Cup Final. However, on a terrible day for Rangers, Celtic won 4-0 and it was clear that White’s jacket was on a shaky nail.

The new season began in familiar fashion, with Celtic besting their oldest rivals in the League Cup, but Rangers were hard on the heels of early leaders Hibs in the league when they set off for Poland, and a Cup-Winners Cup second round clash with Gornik Zabrze.

Here again, White’s luck deserted him. Rangers went 2-1 down to a controversial “was it over the line goal” – Rangers goalkeeper Gerry Neef went to his early grave convinced he had saved the shot before it did; a linesman thought differently. Then, in the final minute, Danish defender Kai Johansen made a rare mistake and Gornik scored a third goal.

White remained confident his side could turn things around in Glasgow. They did all the pressing, but missed numerous chances before, losing heart in the last half hour, they were again undone 3-1. Rangers were booed off the park and the following morning White was sacked, to be replaced by journalist and former league-winning Kilmarnock manager Willie Waddell. A Rangers legend, he had, through his columns in the Scottish Daily Express, continually criticised the Rangers manager he dubbed “The Boy David”.

White was out of football until January 1972 when, for the second time in his career, he succeeded John Prentice, this time as manager of Dundee.

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White spent five and a half years at Dens Park. During this period he became only the fourth Dens Park boss to bring silverware to the club, when, thanks to Gordon Wallace’s goal, he finally put one over on Stein and Celtic, in the 1973-74 League Cup final.

He also guided the club to four Scottish Cup semi-finals, plus two European campaigns, and there was the small matter of nurturing and introducing a teenager named Gordon Strachan. But, here too, it ended with dismissal and, embittered by the way he had been treated by the game, White turned his back on football.

He worked for a while in an Angus supermarket, before spending a long period in the employ of fellow Lanarkshire man and Rangers supporter Ian Skelly. His ill-luck continued with the tragically early death of his wife, Jean, 31 years ago.

White continued to enjoy his golf, passing on his love of the game to his son Alan, who is head professional at Lanark Golf Club. He continued to support Rangers from the Ibrox stand until his final short illness and his death this week. He is survived by his sons Stuart, with whom he lived, and Alan.

Davie White was an old-style dignified “Rangers Man”. He was terrific judge of a player, signing legends Colin Stein, Alex Macdonald, Derek Johnstone and Alfie Conn. Perhaps bringing back Jim Baxter, who had dubbed him “the Choir Boy Assassin” during his jousts with White in their playing days, wasn’t his best move – Baxter failed to rekindle the magic of his first Rangers’ spell. Re-calling him from Nottingham Forest gave the directors, who had been only too happy to offload the troublesome Fife genius to Sunderland, something to hold against their young manager. But, he never criticised what some see as the shabby treatment he received from his board

But the over-riding assessment has to be that he was an unlucky manager, fated to go head-to-head with Celtic’s greatest manager and team at the height of their success and, in Old Firm competition, second place is no place.