Alan Pattullo: Bob Seith’s ill-health prompts concern from Sir Alex Ferguson

Respect from managerial legend for man who mentored him

Bobby Seith signed Drew Busby during his time as Hearts manager and the striker quickly became a fans' favourite. Picture: Albert Jordan/Scotsman Publications

It is a mark of the esteem in which Bob Seith is held that Sir Alex Ferguson was quick to put in a call to Ninewells hospital in Dundee this week upon hearing he was recovering after having his right leg amputated.

Seith was admitted to hospital earlier this month and found to have a blocked artery in his leg. The 88-year-old has now lost part of a right leg that served him so well in a storied career at right half. Ferguson was moved to get in touch after being informed of his old mentor’s plight.

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Seith’s claims to fame are varied as well as considerable, including winning top-flight league titles on both sides of the Border with Burnley and then Dundee.

Bobby Seith in the manager's office at Tynecastle. Picture: SNS

He also signed Hearts legend Drew Busby and cult hero Bobby Prentice during a near four-year spell as the manager at Tynecastle.

It is also no exaggeration to say Seith helped Ferguson, inset, on the path to managerial greatness, hence the gratitude he clearly feels.

Indeed, Ferguson more than suggests this himself in his first autobiography.

Although alarmed to learn he must share a room with Jim McLean – “who makes cussedness an art form” – for the duration of an SFA coaching course at Largs, held during the fateful summer of 1966, Ferguson is soothed by knowing he had struck lucky in having Seith as his tutor.

Seith was a big influence on Sir Alex Ferguson who phoned Ninewells hospital to inquire about his former mentor.

“I found the course inspiring and considered myself fortunate to be in a group taken by Bobby Seith,” he writes in Managing My Life.

The pair crossed paths again in 1967 at Ibrox, where Seith was a coach – the first not to have played for the club – under Scot Symon and Ferguson, pictured, had arrived from Dunfermline.

Seith again impressed Ferguson when “ignoring Rangers’ silly prejudice against afternoon training by taking individuals like myself for special sessions”.

But Ferguson was shaken by the manner of Symon’s sacking in November 1967 after a distinguished career at Ibrox and with the side sitting top of the league.

An accountant was sent to Symon’s house to deliver the news of his dismissal.

“How could a club of great tradition be capable of such horrible behaviour?” Ferguson writes.

The following day he is talked out of quitting Rangers by Seith, who was also appalled by the treatment of his friend and walked out himself soon afterwards.

But Seith was astute enough to know that such an extreme course of action would not be in the best interests of a player at the peak of his powers.

“Bobby went berserk and pulled me into the quiet gymnasium, where he gave me such a telling off that it stunned me,” recalled Ferguson. “I had always considered him a sedate man.”

In Patrick Barclay’s biography of Ferguson, Football – Bloody Hell!, Seith recalls “trying to make Alex see that it made no sense, at least from his own point of view” to leave the club over a point of principle.

He told Ferguson that if he wanted to do something for Symon, “go out there and show the people – the directors who have sacked him, the fans who have lost faith in him – that he did the right thing in signing you, that he knew a player when he saw one”.

Ferguson scored twice against Cologne in the next match in the Fairs Cup and ended his first season at Rangers as the club’s leading goalscorer with 23 goals.

Seith went on to become manager of Hearts after replacing John Harvey. A certain 7-0 loss at the hands of Hibs on New Year’s Day gives a misleading impression of his time at Tynecastle, where he built an exciting side.

It’s gladdening to know that while he has obviously endured a traumatic operation, Seith – one of only four survivors of the Dundee title-winning side of 1962 – has been able to read some wonderful tributes written about him as well as be reminded of the special place he occupies in Ferguson’s heart.

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