Alex Ferguson and Dundee’s Scottish title win; Bob Seith recalls famous day and remarkable act of generosity

Now in his 90s, Bob Seith’s life is a broad canvas. There have been numerous achievements, not least a 70th wedding anniversary celebrated last year with his wife, Jean, at the Lands of Loyal hotel in Alyth.

Dundee Football Club - Scottish League Champions for the 1961-1962 season. Back row left to right: Pat Liney, Gordon Smith, Alan Gilzean, Bobby Wishart, Ian Ure, trainer Sammy Kean and right half Bobby Seith. Front row: Andy Penman, Bobby Cox, Alex Hamilton, Alan Cousin and Hugh Robertson.
Dundee Football Club - Scottish League Champions for the 1961-1962 season. Back row left to right: Pat Liney, Gordon Smith, Alan Gilzean, Bobby Wishart, Ian Ure, trainer Sammy Kean and right half Bobby Seith. Front row: Andy Penman, Bobby Cox, Alex Hamilton, Alan Cousin and Hugh Robertson.

When his son, also Bob, went to pay the bill he discovered it had already been settled – by Sir Alex Ferguson, no less.

Professionally, Seith's playing career peaked in an exceptional 24-month spell at the beginning of the 1960s, when he won the English First Division with Burnley and then, two seasons later, finished top of the Scottish First Division at Dundee.

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The latter of these successes occurred 60 years ago today. Seith, who turned 90 last month, is one of only three surviving members of the team – goalkeeper Pat Liney and centre-half Ian Ure are the others - that defeated St Johnstone 3-0 on a sun-kissed afternoon at Muirton Park.

The win not only secured the club’s first and to date only Scottish league title, it also relegated St Johnstone – and Ferguson – in the process.

The former Manchester United manager has not taken Seith’s part in this episode to heart. The Dundee right half, who marked Ferguson that afternoon, made it up to him by helping him take his first steps in coaching. Ferguson has clearly not forgotten this input.

He writes warmly about Seith in his first autobiography, Managing My Life, and describes himself as fortunate to have been in a group taken by Seith as he studied for his full coaching badge at Largs alongside Jim McLean in the summer of 1966.

“I found the course inspiring,” Ferguson writes. They met again at Rangers, where Seith had been appointed coach under Scot Symon.

Ferguson arrived from Dunfermline but his Ibrox career was almost over when it had barely started after he threatened to walk out in protest after Symon was sacked.

As Ferguson relates, the normally “sedate” Seith dragged him into the gymnasium at Ibrox and asked him what the hell he was thinking so soon after he had secured his dream move. A better tribute to Symon, he advised, would be to play out of his skin.

Ferguson scored twice in his next outing v Cologne and went on to become top goalscorer in his first season at Ibrox, by which time Seith had already left – on a point of principle over Symon’s departure. He later managed Hearts for a four-year spell in the early 1970s.

Seith's time as a player at Burnley came to a sudden halt after he was dropped without warning following a mistake in a 3-3 draw with Sheffield Wednesday. He missed the last eight games of the title run-in before handing in a transfer request in the summer. He only got the medal he was due at a match in 1999.

Many of Seith’s values were instilled in him by his father, a Coatbridge policeman. The family moved to South Uist before the outbreak of the Second World War. They returned to the mainland when the elder Seith was called up and settled in Monifieth, where his mother grew up. Bob, Jean and even Bob jnr, now 71, still live in the area to this day: Moniseith might be a more appropriate name. Ferguson popped by en route to a funeral in Montrose last year.

Seith endured a life-changing operation just under two years ago when, due to a vascular problem, he lost the cultured right foot that had so distinguished him as a footballer.

Although traumatic at the time, some dark humour is now permissible. He recalls managers telling him that his left leg was only good for standing on. “That apart, I am OK. It has limited what I can do,” Seith says with endearing understatement.

He took a circuitous route to Dens Park via a 12-year stint at Burnley. “Jimmy Scott, Burnley’s Scottish scout, lived in Dundee,” Seith tells me.

As now, given their respective relegation fights, there were some similarities between the clubs. Both teams wanted to play football the right way and the fans were desperate to escape the grind of industry that was so conspicuous in both cities.

Seith recalls being taken up a hill overlooking Turf Moor by Burnley manager Cliff Britton. As they peered down through the smoggy haze at the numerous mills and stone-built terraces he was told to make sure he entertained the hard-working folk who toiled for five-and-a-half days each week. “Take them out of themselves for 90 minutes,” he was instructed by Britton.

“The same applied in Dundee,” says Seith. “It's just the industry was jute rather than cotton.”

Bob Shankly shared Britton’s outlook. Seith was a vital contributor to a well-balanced, skilful team that certainly helped many thousand fans forget their troubles as Dundee edged out Rangers to lift the Scottish championship on this day 60 years ago. He then helped the team into the last four of the European Cup, where he deputised for injured skipper Bobby Cox and led the side out at the San Siro as Dundee fell to a 5-1 first leg defeat against AC Milan.

A 1-0 second leg win at Dens could not retrieve the situation. Like several of his teammates, Seith believes Dundee would have become the first British side to win the trophy had they made it to Wembley, where the wide pitch would have suited them.

Seith was later able to corroborate respected Scottish football historian and journalist Bob Crampsey’s much-quoted assessment that Dundee were the best – “most classical” – Scottish club side he had seen when the pair worked together for BBC Scotland radio.

Seith reported from Dens Park and Tannadice and hearing him now summons memories of crackling radio reports from the 1980s. Another, less familiar voice can be heard from the room next door. “My wife prompts me that I did that for 20 years!” says Seith, who met Jean, now 92, shortly after he arrived at Burnley.

He was still a teenager when they married. “She is still the biggest trophy I ever won,” he says.

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