Dundee humbled in Fraserburgh’s finest hour

Highland League Fraserburgh host Rangers in a potentially intriguing tie in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup on Sunday.

Highland League Fraserburgh host Rangers in a potentially intriguing tie in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup on Sunday.

On paper it should be a straightforward win for the Ibrox men because of the clear disparity between the two clubs. But history suggests they should be wary as the Broch have previous for causing cup upsets. In 1997 they knocked out Clyde but in 1959 sent shockwaves through Scottish football when they beat Dundee 1-0 at their Bellslea Park ground to become the first Highland League club to eliminate a top-tier team. Is it an omen that Dundee’s manager that day was all-time Rangers great, Willie Thornton?

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The Scotsman’s football reporter predicted: “Dundee should progress comfortably” but wisely added: “It would be dangerous to forget that ‘Davids’ with aliases such as Fraserburgh are hoping to sling more famous rivals out of the competition.” The vast majority of fans and the press could not envisage anything other than a win for the Dark Blues. In their previous season’s foray in the cup, Fraserburgh had been roundly defeated 7-2 by Queen’s Park at Hampden.

They were a part-time team in a lesser league whose occupations included shoemaker, hotel manager, baker, driller, plumber etc – albeit a number had had senior experience. Dundee, on the other hand, were a full-time team of seasoned professionals. Two were Scottish internationals, goalkeeper Bill Brown and wing half Doug Cowie, while three others would later be capped – Alex Hamilton, Jimmy Gabriel and Hugh Robertson.

The others were all household names, most of whom had played representative football either for Scotland under 23s or the Scottish League, such as Alan Cousin, Jimmy Bonthrone and Davie Sneddon. They were enjoying a successful season which would culminate in a fourth place in the old First Division.

However the Broch were also enjoying a good season which would end in a tie for the Highland League title and seven months previously had been defeated only 3-2 by Dundee in the Dewar Shield final. But as the Dens Park men left by train on the Friday afternoon before the tie to spend the night in Aberdeen’s top-class Caledonian Hotel, none of their party seriously contemplated defeat.

Danny Mowatt was the home team’s goalkeeper and he and forward Bobby Bradford are the only surviving members. Now a sprightly 83-year-old living near Peterhead who said he felt fit enough to play on Sunday if “someone took my goal kicks”, recalled, “That was the greatest day of my football career. Dundee were clear favourites but we had a confident team and a number of us had played senior, some with Aberdeen, others with Stirling Albion. I had been with Aberdeen, Leicester City and other Highland League teams. Our manager, Don Emery, had played for Aberdeen among others and was reckoned to have the hardest shot in football. I could vouch for that; playing against him once, his shot struck me and knocked me out!

“But he made no special plans for the tie and our weekly training sessions took place as usual at Powis School in Aberdeen where most of us were based. The night before the tie I got a visit in my flat in Marywell Street from Bobby Cox, Dundee’s full-back whom I had got to know as a fellow physical training instructor during National Service at Ripon. A great guy Bobby. He told me Dundee were good but that they had a tendency to panic the longer a game went on without scoring.

“Naturally I told Don this and he set up our team with that in mind. As our team coach left Aberdeen’ the next day for Fraserburgh I was aware it was quieter than normal and thought that was adrenaline kicking in. When we arrived we went to the tea shop next to the ground for a cuppa before heading to the dressing room.

“The game seemed to pass in a blur, but what a reception our fans gave us at the end. We had to struggle through them to get back to the dressing room. Once there our treasurer slipped a £10 note into our pockets. At the time we were on £3 a week basic and I was getting £7 a week as a plumber, so it was appreciated.”

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The Broch notched the only goal of the game just before half-time thanks to winger Johnny Strachan’s header from George Brander’s corner. Following a half-time pep talk by Thornton, Dundee were much more animated in the second half, but to no avail. Mowatt was credited with three great saves from a powerful Sneddon shot, a header by Davie Curlett and a strong Bonthrone drive.

An accidental collision with Cousin resulted in an ankle injury which required him to attend hospital after the game until midnight, so his celebrations had to be postponed. In contrast to modern players’ appetite for celebrity, goalscorer Strachan, who had been carried off shoulder high and almost overcome with backslapping, slipped secretly out of the ground to go home to Peterhead, leaving many waiting fans disappointed.

All home players had excelled, especially skipper Pat McKenna who initially had been taken aback to meet referee Hugh Phillips, as the last time he had officiated McKenna in 1951, when he played for Aberdeen, he had sent him off !

The next round resulted in a one-goal defeat by Stirling Albion after a Bradford goal had apparently been wrongly disallowed and the Broch’s great adventure was over. As for Thornton, he was quoted: “This was a disaster, the biggest disappointment I ever experienced in football.” Should the minnows prevail on Sunday, no doubt Graeme Murty’s reaction will be along similar lines.