John Valentine, who died recently, had a long and distinguished career in the Civil Service, where he was a Principal Lands Officer with the Department of Agriculture. But he is best known for having been Rangers’ centre-half on the day they lost 7-1 to Celtic in the 1957 Scottish League Cup final – ‘Hampden in the Sun’, as the game is fondly remembered to this day by the Celtic support.
Rangers were the reigning League Champions, Celtic had won nothing since 1954, but the Hoops had triumphed the last time the sides had met, less than a month before. They won again in this match, in the aftermatch of which Valentine carried the can. He was immediaely dropped to the Reserves, and shipped out of Ibrox at the first opportunity.
Perhaps only Frank Haffey, the Celtic goalkeeper who took the blame for Scotland’s 9-3 loss at Wembley in 1961, has taken the same amount of criticism for a bad defeat as Valentine had to endure.
But that terrible day should not detract from a distinguished football career, the more so because, throughout his career, even his short spell with Rangers, John Valentine was a part-time footballer. The game was simply a small part of a long life, well-lived.
He was born and raised in the fishing town of Buckie, and as a teenager he was playing in the green and white hoops of the town’s famous club, Buckie Thistle, in the Highland League. But the young Valentine was intelligent and when he went off to study at Glasgow University, this brought him to Hampden Park, and the famous narrow hoops of Queen’s Park.
His timing was fortuitous: he was a member of the last Queen’s team to really make an impact in the top-flight of Scottish football. The names of his team mates, the likes of goalkeeper Frank Crampsey, elder brother of Bob, Charlie Church, Junior Omand and Bert Cromar are still honoured at Hampden.
Other team members like Bert McCann and Max Murray would move on to become professionals, as would Valentine, who proved his class for his club and the Scottish Amateur team.
Rangers needed a centre-half. His notorious sine die suspension had robbed them of the great Willie Woodburn. Scotland captain George Young had switched to centre-half to replace Woodburn, but he was in the twilight of a great career and announced he would retire at the end of the 1956-57 season.
To replace him, Rangers did what they had long done – they raided Queen’s Park and, making use of the then SFA rules, which made an amateur player a free agent at the end of April, they signed Valentine, whose debut for his new club saw him help them defeat his old club, Queen’s Park, to win the Glasgow Merchants Charity Cup, on 6 May, 1957.
However, the new boy, so dominant in over 100 games with the Spiders, struggled to settle in at Ibrox. In all he only played 11 first-team games for the club, being on the winning side seven times.
After his first Old Firm game – a 2-0 Ibrox win in the Glasgow Cup, on 19 August, the great Cyril Horne of the Glasgow Herald wrote: “Valentine, rarely resembling the great Queen’s Park centre-half, was a vunerable point in Rangers’ defence.”
This was the solitary time he would taste victory in the three Old Firm games he played in. Legend has it Celtic centre forward Billy McPhail had always given him trouble when with Clyde, and, with better players around him at Celtic, prior to that cup final, McPhail confided to his teammates he was confident of giving Valentine another difficult 90 minutes.
This proved to be the case. Cyril Horne’s match report reads: “Valentine, not long ago a commanding figure on this same ground, was a forlorn, bewitched centre-half on Saturday, repeatedly beaten in the air and on the ground in a variety of ways, and the disintegration of the Rangers’ defence undoubtedly stemmed from McPhail’s mastery.”
John Valentine’s Rangers career was effectively over at the final whistle in that game. He was exiled to the Reserves, and, as a part-time player he never had the chance to talk through the game until, some 40 years later, on a shopping trip to Inverness, he bumped into George Niven, the Rangers’ goalkeeper that day. The pair went for a coffee, and, as Niven later revealed: “We were finally able to put that game to bed.”
Valentine was off-loaded to St Johnstone, whom he captained to the Second Division title in 1960, prior to hanging-up his boots, aged just 30. He played fewer than 200 senior games.
With football behind him, John Valentine began to rise through the ranks in the Department of Agriculture, spending many years based in Inverness and earning a good reputation for his work in the agriculture industry.
In retirement, he continued to live locally, before failing health saw him spend this final days in a nursing home in Forres.
John Valentine was married twice; he was predeceased by Mairi, but is survived by Maureen, son Sandy, daughter-in-law Donna and grand-children Christen and James.
He was, in the best traditions of Queen’s Park, a gentleman, who played the game for the game’s sake.