Obituary: Frank Connor, successful football manager, coach and goalkeeper

Frank Connor celebrates after Raith Rovers sealed promotion from the Second Division in 1987Frank Connor celebrates after Raith Rovers sealed promotion from the Second Division in 1987
Frank Connor celebrates after Raith Rovers sealed promotion from the Second Division in 1987
Frank Connor. Born: 13 February, 1936 in Airdrie. Died: 3 March, 2022 in Uddingston, aged 86

Frank Connor was a truly outstanding football man, the complete enthusiast and a dedicated student of the game, who over decades enjoyed coaching and managerial success at several clubs after a decent playing career as goalkeeper.

While wholeheartedly committed to the many clubs he admirably served, Celtic undoubtedly laid claim to his soul, his first and lifelong love as player, coach, assistant manager and, briefly but unforgettably, manager. That love was reciprocated by the Parkhead faithful during the minute’s generous applause accorded him before the recent Ross County match.

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Other clubs he played for included St Mirren, Portadown and Derry City in Northern Ireland while as coach/manager his charges included Albion Rovers, Hamilton, Alloa, Cowdenbeath, Berwick Rangers, Motherwell, Raith Rovers, Hearts, Morton and Ayr United alongside three spells at Celtic.

Driven by a desire to improve players and himself, his aim was "to leave clubs in a better place”. An honest, straight-talking and demanding taskmaster, Frank was no shrinking violet but underneath the occasionally daunting exterior was a warm hearted loyal individual with a good sense of humour and strong values underpinned by religious faith.

Francis Connor was born in Airdrie, one of seven children of Thomas and Annie. His father was an active trade unionist and later the town’s Provost whose social justice ideals influenced Frank. He attended St Margaret’s Primary and thereafter St Patrick’s High School in Coatbridge, where he showed potential as a goalkeeper. After school he undertook an apprenticeship as a sheet metal worker in Glasgow while playing for Junior clubs including Polkemmet and Armadale Thistle. National Service in the army at Aldershot beckoned where he continued playing, after which he joined Blantyre Celtic, from whom he signed for Celtic in 1960.

Not tall for a goalkeeper at 5ft in, Frank’s prospects were not enhanced by the presence of existing top keepers John Fallon and Frank Haffey. Consequently, after his debut against Partick Thistle in 1961 alongside Billy McNeill, Steve Chalmers, John Hughes and John Clark, he only played another seven games for the first team, although he did win a Reserve League medal.

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He then moved to Portadown before returning to St Mirren where he played a handful of games before crossing the Irish Sea again to establish himself with Derry City, winning the Irish League and Gold Cup in 1965 and qualifying to play in the European Cup. Frank was a member of the first Irish team to win a two-legged European tie, defeating Lyn of Norway before falling to star-studded Anderlecht.

In 1968 he returned here to enjoy periods as player/coach with Albion Rovers, Hamilton, Alloa and Cowdenbeath for whom he made a final appearance aged 40. Latterly he was manager of the Fife club, his first such appointment during which he recorded a memorable Scottish Cup win over Alex Ferguson’s St Mirren.

Still a football part-timer and by then working for Honeywells at Newhouse, all that changed in 1977 when Jock Stein asked him to return to Celtic to coach their youngsters, a full-time post gladly accepted. Frank was a big fan of Stein, who he called ‘The Master’, previously spending part of his annual holidays observing Stein’s coaching sessions while making copious notes. Under Billy McNeill, Frank took charge of the reserves and shaped the future successful careers of many including Pat Bonner, Charlie Nicholas and Paul McStay.

He then was appointed manager of Berwick Rangers in 1980 where over two years he reinvigorated the club before being assistant manager at Motherwell to Jock Wallace with whom he gelled well despite their different backgrounds.

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Asked to return as assistant manager to Parkhead in 1983 he happily did so, although the club was going through a difficult period leading to an uneasy relationship with manager David Hay. 1985 Scottish Cup success brought temporary relief but a year later out of the blue Hay sacked Frank, a huge disappointment but one from which he derived consolation in the positive effect he had on many players’ development.

A notable period followed as manager of Raith Rovers whose then lowly status he transformed by earning promotion immediately to the second tier and laying foundations for their success in the early 1990s. He then joined Joe Jordan as assistant manager at Hearts where they twice led them into Europe, a second place top-tier league finish and two cup semi-finals.

Once again a call to return to Parkhead as coach could not be resisted and after manager Liam Brady left in October 1993 Frank occupied the manager’s seat for four “magnificent weeks”, as he later described it. With some justification, as he steered the team through an unbeaten four-game run including a first home win of the season, a UEFA Cup win over Bobby Robson’s Sporting Lisbon, a draw away at league leaders Hibs and a win at Ibrox over Rangers!

Remaining at Parkhead till 1997 he became assistant to Billy Stark at Morton before being assistant to his former Raith player Gordon Dalziel at Ayr United.

Thereafter in retirement he helped his former Raith coach Murray Cheyne then managing Ormiston in the East of Scotland League, underlining Frank’s love of football and loyalty to friends.

On 11th June 1960 at Corpus Christi Church in Calderbank, Frank married Margaret née Lenagh, whom he met at the dancing in Airdrie Town Hall. They went on to enjoy a long, happy marriage during which they had children Tom, Margaret, Martin, Frank, Anne, Kirsteen and Geraldine. Family was paramount for Frank, who was also fortunate to enjoy many long-lasting friendships, both inside and outside football. Many warm tributes have been paid to him by former players including Peter Grant, Pat Bonner and Malky Mackay.

He is survived by his wife, children, ten grandchildren and one great grandson.


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