Danny Masterton, who has died suddenly, after a heart attack aged just 65, is filed under “cult figure” at two of his three senior clubs – Ayr United and Clyde. That means, while he was never a genuine star, the fans loved watching him, because they knew here was a guy who, like them, had a Monday to Friday day job but the talent to go out there and entertain them on a Saturday afternoon, because he loved the game and would probably have played for nothing.
He lived almost his entire life in Muirkirk, an isolated former mining and ironworks village at the eastern extremity of Ayrshire. The “city slickers” from Ayr and Kilmarnock may make jokes abot the inhabitants of places like Muirkirk and Dalmellington, but they respect the hard men who came out of such small villages – you don’t mess with Ayrshire’s “hill tribesmen”.
Danny went to the local school, then obtained an engineering apprenticeship at the National Coal Board workshops at Lugar Works, before going off down the pit to keep the machinery operating. NCB apprenticeships were thorough, producing men who could think for themselves and make any piece of machinery work.
Danny had always had a talent for football, which he initially used in the service of Douglas Amateurs. Village team Muirkirk Juniors, who had produced Eric Caldow, weren’t going to let a goal-scoring centre forward who lived in the village escape, so he was soon strutting his stuff at Ladeside Park, ‘Kirk’s exposed ground, high on the moors above the village.
His form was noticed by Ayr United, who signed him in 1976 and, in four years at Somerset Park, he played over 100 games and scored 25 goals, while setting up more for strike partner Walker McCall.
In 1980 he was signed by Clyde, for whom he scored 67 goals, placing him 11th in the club’s all-time scoring charts. Here he was reunited with McCall, playing in the Clyde team which won the Second Division title in 1982-83, where Masterton and McCall profited from the service they received from the young Pat Nevin.
His final club was Queen of the South, but an Achilles tendon injury, sustained on his debut, forced him to retire from playing the game. Later, however, he had spells in management with his former junior club, Muirkirk, and with Muirkirk Amateurs.
He was one of the miners made redundant following the Miners’ Strike, but he was soon back in the coal industry, working on local opencasts, before his final job, distributing catalogues and holiday brochures around Scotland.
Danny was hugely popular on the terraces, and in the dressing rooms which he occupied. He never gave less than 100 per cent, and for all his wild man image on the park, he was remarkably quiet off it.
Football in the 1970s and 1980s was hard, and some of the things which went on between big raw-boned centre forwards like Danny and equally big centre halves, brought-up in the junior football tradition of: “If it moves, kick it; if it doesn’t move, kick it till it does,” would never be allowed today.
Danny left a lasting impression on those who worked with him. Leading the tributes to his former player, former Clyde and Scotland manager Craig Brown said: “I was privileged to be the Manager of Clyde FC when we were fortunate enough to sign Danny from Ayr United. His play at Ayr always impressed me as he had outstanding ability and a great turn of pace.
“No sooner had he joined us at Shawfield than this impression was confirmed. It is often presumed that good strikers, and Danny certainly was one of those, have to be selfish to be successful. Danny was the opposite.
“He was a real team player and this, together with his friendly, encouraging manner, made him very well liked in the dressing room.
“This popularity extended to the staff and supporters, all of whom correctly thought Danny was an outstanding, kind and considerate human being with an acute sense of humour. His goalscoring exploits apart, Danny was well worth the massive loan the Clyde Board gave him when he made his modest request: ‘Fur a heater fur ma motur!’
“He didn’t ask for much but he gave plenty! Thank you Danny and RIP.”
Former Scotland internationalist Robert Connor was one of the youth players at Ayr when Danny was in the first team. He said: “Somerset Park back then was a great environment in which to learn the game. Myself, Alan ‘Rambo’ McInally and Stevie Nicol all were fortunate enough to go on to play for Scotland, but we learned so much from the experienced pros at Ayr, such as big Danny.
“You wouldn’t believe how docile and friendly Danny was off the park after watching him rampaging around, wild hair flowing behind him, as he terrorised centre half’s and goalies all over Scotland. He was the guy you felt you’d known all your life from the moment you met him. Big Danny – one of our heroes.”
Robert Reilly, another player who shared dressing rooms with Danny at Ayr and Clyde, said of his old teammate: “Danny was a great team mate off and on the park, particularly off the park, where he was a total gentleman.”
Danny had married Christine Hogg, daughter of the village baker in Muirkirk. Sadly, Christine died in 2010, while daughter Sarah died last year. Danny is survived by son Daniel, and his two grandchildren.
He later met and moved-in with new partner Janis in Falkirk, where he died from a heart attack.
That Second Division championship medal might seem scant reward for Danny’s football career, but, as has been clear since his passing, he leaves behind the genuine love and respect of the fans of the clubs for which he played.