League Cup: No idol talk from Norrie Davidson

TWO MEN are standing in an Edinburgh pub, arguing about who scored Hearts’ winner in the 1962 Scottish League Cup final. One says it was Norrie Davidson, the other disagrees.

When a lengthy debate grows heated, the bloke whose word is being questioned downs the dregs of his pint and heads for the door.

On his way out, he is asked for one last time how he can be so sure, how he can know that it was Norrie Davidson who netted the only goal against Kilmarnock, at which point he pauses, turns to the punter he had met only an hour or so earlier and says: “Because I’m Norrie Davidson.”

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An apocryphal tale it may be, but there is a ring of truth about it. Davidson never gave much away, as a player or in retirement. He is repeatedly name-checked for his winner at Hampden, but over the years, there have been few guest appearances, no interviews, scarcely even any profiles of the striker.

As Hearts head for Glasgow this afternoon, trying to win that same trophy for the first time since Davidson scored 51 years ago, the hunt for him is long and misleading. It starts in Kintore, where he was born and brought up, continues in Aberdeen and briefly gets lost in Margate, only to end up back in Edinburgh where, as it turns out, he has been all along. A couple more phone calls, a drive across the city, a buzz on the door of his daughter’s house just round the corner from Tynecastle, and there he is. Right under our noses. Never been away.

Now 78, Davidson isn’t in the best of health, but his daughter Anne has dug out some photos of the old days. Many of them show Norrie with Willie Hamilton, whose pass set up the goal at Hampden. “We were big drinking pals,” says Norrie.

Quite a few show him in a barber’s shop, his thick wavy hair being shorn to the floor. Anne reads out a newspaper clipping in which he is described as a “24-year-old pin-up”. If you had to compare his looks with anyone in the modern game, it would be John Collins.

On the living-room wall is a framed photo of the cup-winning team, but Davidson remembers nothing of the game. Not the wet and windy October afternoon on which an injury to Kilmarnock’s Jackie McInally enabled Hearts to take control. Not the late controversy when Tiny Wharton, the referee, disallowed an equaliser, claiming (wrongly, it seems) that Frank Beattie had handled it. Not even the only goal, scored in the 25th minute after a moment of magic by Hamilton, who cushioned a long ball, skipped past Jackie McGrory and picked out Davidson in the box.

Davidson was prolific. He scored at the same stage of the same competition a year earlier, albeit in a 3-1 replay defeat by Rangers. In 59 competitive matches for Hearts between February 1961 and October 1963, he scored 29 goals, maintaining an average that he had built up during five years with Aberdeen.

He also visited Hampden with the Pittodrie side, losing the 1959 Scottish Cup final to St Mirren. That came not long after a bizarre incident on New Year’s Day, when he challenged Dundee’s Bill Brown for a high ball and accidentally bit a chunk out of the goalkeeper’s ear. In the weeks that followed, Brown wore Petr Cech-style headgear.

Davidson, though, is remembered mostly for his knack of finding the net. “He was a fair player,” says Davie Holt, the Hearts full-back in those days. “He could hustle and bustle, a goal-getter definitely. Maybe not the greatest creator in the world, but he scored goals and that was what you employed him for.”

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They called him the Laird of Kintore. Holt’s favourite memory of him was in training, where they used to laugh at the clipped Doric twang in which he demanded possession. “Instead of shouting somebody’s name or ‘here’ when he wanted it, Norrie would shout ‘pass the ball’, but he said it so quickly, and in that accent of his, that it sounded more like p’s’ba’. Chris Shevlane, the right-back, was terrific at aping Norrie’s voice. They would be attacking us, but Chris would shout p’s’ba’, a forward would give him the ball and suddenly we were in possession. It was one of the funniest things.”

Holt cannot claim to have known Davidson well. Not many of the Hearts players could. “Unfortunately, Willie Hamilton’s dead, and he’s the only one that really knew him,” says Holt. “Norrie was quiet. When I think about it, I can’t remember ever seeing Norrie other than with Willie Hamilton.”

They were both players who kept themselves to themselves. Hamilton was quiet, even shy, which may have explained the drinking that combined with smoking and indiscipline to produce a flawed genius who some describe as the greatest in Scottish football history. Jock Stein ranked him alongside Jim Baxter and Jimmy Johnstone.

Holt recalls Hamilton nipping into the trees for a fag midway through their training runs at Redford Barracks, but his best story is about the day after the inside-forward signed for Hearts. Holt, Willie Wallace and Jim Cruickshank were driving along the A8, on their way to training, when they recognised Hamilton’s grey Austin van ahead.

“When we pulled out to the middle lane and drew level with him, there was Willie, with a newspaper fully opened out and spread across the steering wheel. He was totally engrossed in it while driving along the A8. We travelled alongside him for a while, and looked at him for long enough – it seemed like an eternity – but not once did he lift his eyes from this newspaper. I mean, it was totally incredible.”

When Hamilton swapped Hearts for Hibs in 1963, a team-mate asked Holt what he thought would become of him. “I think he’ll die,” said Holt, by which he meant that Hamilton would be young when it happened. Sure enough, after a career that included an irresistible performance against Real Madrid and a famous nutmeg on Baxter, he succumbed to a heart attack at the age of 38.

Davidson has lived to more than twice that age. After leaving Hearts, there were short, unproductive spells with Dundee United, Partick Thistle and St Mirren. Then came Margate, Ramsgate and a stint in South Africa. In his playing days, there was a period when he ran a chip shop, but after he retired from the game, he spent most of his working life at Longstone bus depot.

He doesn’t remember much about any of that now, but curiously, he can remember where it all began. Playing cricket as a lad in Kintore, failing to make it as a teenager with Chelsea and instead cutting his teeth with Inverurie Locos.

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When his daughter points out that he was one of ten children, he mentions briefly that he had four older brothers, all of whom were footballers. “They were better players than me,” he says. That is unlikely to be true, but even if it were, they didn’t score the winner for Hearts in a League Cup final. Nor, for that matter, has anyone else in more than half a century.

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