THE death of Matt Watson sees the passing of arguably the best uncapped full-back in Scottish football history.
For a decade he was an automatic choice at full-back during the greatest era in the history of Kilmarnock FC.
His eventual haul of one Scottish league championship medal, from 440 games in the first team, is scant reward for such a fine player.
Killie were so often the bridesmaid, four times runners-up in the league, before their solitary triumph in 1965, two losing Scottish Cup finals and two losing League Cup finals, during Watson’s long spell with the club.
The player himself, in spite of the metronomic excellence of his play, never attracted the attention of the Scottish selectors.
Older Killie fans will argue that he was, at least, the equal of Eric Caldow of Rangers, and a better full-back than some others who were capped, but, like Bobby Cox at Dundee, he would remain unappreciated by the men who picked the national team.
He first appeared on the Rugby Parkers’ radar as a 17-year-old with Kilmarnock Amateurs, being a late call-up to the Reserves for a Division C game at East Stirlingshire, in September, 1953. He was then sent back to the Amateurs, then on to Kilwinning Rangers, for whom he barely played, before he was signed in the summer of 1954, as Kilmarnock regrouped following promotion back to the First Division.
His first-team debut came on 5 March, 1955, the first of his eventual 440 games for the club, in a league game at Queen of the South’s Palmerston Park.
At that time, former Camphill High School pupil Watson was a part-timer; from Monday to Friday he was an engineer at the Royal Ordnance Factory at Bishopton, where he had served his apprenticeship after leaving school.
But, it wasn’t until Willie Waddell succeeded Malky MacDonald as manager that Watson tied down a regular first team place. He missed out on the 1957 Scottish Cup Final defeat to Falkirk, under MacDonald, but, once Waddell took charge, his was one of the first names on the team-sheet, and, with regular games, he was persuaded to quit engineering for full-time football.
These were indeed glory days for Killie. With Celtic in the doldrums, awaiting the return of Jock Stein, Kilmarnock and Hearts were Rangers’ main challengers for the honours between 1958 and the start of the Stein era in 1965.
During this spell, they finished second in the league in 1960, 1961, 1963 and 1964. Fittingly, therefore, in what would be Waddell’s final game as manager, Hearts and Kilmarnock faced off at Tynecastle, on 24 April, 1965. A draw would give Hearts the title; Kilmarnock needed a 2-0 win, no other result would do.
Most of the players who had been involved in the great run, the heartbreaking near misses in the league, the losing Scottish Cup final to Rangers in 1960, and the League Cup final losses to Rangers and Hearts in 1960 and 1962 had left the club, but, Watson, Frank Beattie, Jackie McInally and Bertie Black were still there to finally taste success that afternoon at Tynecastle.
Watson featured too in the Ayrshire club’s regular trans-Atlantic forays. They won the New York International Tournament in 1960 and, for the next few years, the trans-Atlantic trip was an end-of-season regular.
He also played regularly in Killie’s European campaigns in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cups and the European Cup campaign of 1965-66, where he was able to parade his talents at the Bernabau in Madrid, against Real Madrid. However, injury kept him out of the legendary recovery from 4-0 down to beat Eintracht Frankfurt 5-4 in the Fairs Cup in that title-winning 1964-65 season.
He was no longer a regular as Killie reached the Fairs cup semi-final, losing to Leeds United in 1967, and the following season, 1967-68 was his final one at Rugby Park, his last appearance coming at Raith Rovers in February, 1968.
Watson then moved on to run down his senior career at Queen of the South, before a final season in the Juniors with Cumnock, in 1971.
After football, he became a sales representative, enjoying a lengthy spell as a newspaper circulation representative, where he worked alongside another old Kilmarnock team-mate, the late Eddie Morrison. He occasionally golfed, but his main concern was his family.
Matt Watson was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2009. Then, in 2013 he was predeceased by Pearl, his wife of 60 years.
His death came shortly after being diagnosed with cancer. He is survived by daughters Linda and Morag, son Alan, grandchildren Kirsteen and Mark and great-grandchildren Harry, Joshua and Kayla.
His funeral service will be held at Craigton Crematorium, Glasgow, at 10:30am on Monday, 2 November.