Obituary: Jimmy Briggs, footballer

Footballer who played a major role in Dundee United's 1960s success story

Jimmy Briggs, footballer.

Born: 8 April, 1937, in Dundee.

Died: 11 April, 2011, in Dundee, aged 74.

JIMMY "Gunboat" Briggs, who has died aged 74, was one of the local boys who changed the football landscape in Dundee during the 1960s.

In 1955 Dundee FC ruled the roost in the city. Down the hill at Tannadice, United were languishing 21 places below them in the pecking order, fourth-bottom of Division B.

But manager Reg Smith had a plan, to recruit young local players and bring them through.

He raided St Mary's Youth Club and signed five teenagers, including Briggs, who was to go on to play more than 400 games for the club, many as captain, as United overtook their more- illustrious neighbours to become the team on Tayside.

Briggs was given his chance not long after he signed, on 30 June, 1955. He made his first-team debut, at Glebe Park, Brechin, on 24 August, in a match which finished 2-2. Becoming a regular first pick took a little longer.

Two years of National Service held back the young left back's United career, and it was not until the second half of the 1959-60 season, by which time Jerry Kerr had taken over as United manager, that Briggs cemented his place in the side.

Kerr had gambled on a change to full-time football and a re-affirmation of bringing through young players. That season, youngsters such as Briggs repaid him big style, by getting United out of the second tier of the Scottish League, wherein the club had languished since relegation in 1932.

Briggs played his part in that promotion, never more so than when, with United trailing 0-1 deep into the penultimate match, at Brockville, he equalised from the penalty spot, before Jimmy Irvine scored the late winner which left United needing to beat Berwick, at Tannadice the following Saturday, to clinch promotion.

Briggs did not play in that match, but it was won and at the start of 1960-61, United could at long last stand alongside Dundee as a First Division side.

They even finished above the 'Dee in that first season and by the time Briggs left United in 1970, they had well and truly overtaken the big team from across the street.

For the 1963-64 season, Briggs assumed the United captaincy, leading from the front by scoring 13 of his grand total of 33 United goals that season.

In 1965-66, Briggs captained United to a highest-ever fifth spot in the First Division and with that a Fairs Cities Cup slot was clinched for season 1966-67.

Not many had thought the campaign would be a long one, when United were paired with the mighty Barcelona.

Briggs recovered from injury to lead United out at Camp Nou in October, 1966, and after 90 minutes which shook European football, the unsung Scottish side emerged with a 2-1 victory.They then completed the job with a 2-0 second leg win at Tannadice and were rewarded with a third-round clash with Juventus. The "Old Lady" won that tie 3-1 but Kerr's combination of solid Scots such as Briggs and Scandinavian imports such as Orjan Persson and Finn Dossing had put United on the European map.

But on 27 January, 1968, during a first-round Scottish Cup clash with St Mirren, which his club won 3-1, Briggs broke his leg. He battled back and was restored to the side before the end of that calendar year, only to sustain a second broken leg. This time, there was no way back.

He remained with United until the end of the following season, but barely featured in the first team.

However, during that time he was an effective on-field coach, as captain of the reserve team, where he offered guidance to the likes of the young Walter Smith.

Briggs's effectiveness as a mentor encouraged the club to offer him a coaching role, but he wanted to continue as a player, and on being freed at the end of the 1969-70 season, he joined Montrose, before winding down his career with Keith in the Highland League.

Nobody is sure how he got the nickname Gunboat, but received wisdom is that it came from the fact that Royal Navy gunboats were brigantines, or "brigs", while shipbuilder Briggs & Co of Sunderland was a specialist gunboat builder in the late 19th century.

Jimmy Briggs had married into football "royalty"; his wife, Margaret, is legendary Dundee manager Bob Shankly's daughter, and Bill Shankly's neice.

Margaret and their two daughters survive Jimmy, who, after he hung up his boots, worked in the Timex factory in Dundee.

The likes of Sturrock, Narey, Hegarty, Malpas and McLean might be more stellar Tan- nadice names, but the part Jimmy Briggs played in the club's move out of Dundee's shadow was recognised in 2008 when the Dundee United Hall of Fame was inaugurated.

Among the inaugural inductees was Briggs.

It was an honour he justly deserved; it more than compensated for the lack of international caps or top-tier medals.