ON MONDAY afternoon an elderly gentleman was escorted to a football match by his proud son, a tale which if recounted in these vague terms has not enough to distinguish it.
But while Peter Watt Dick - Wattie Dick to the fans who watched the Scot in his mid-Fifties pomp - may not have been recognised by many of the supporters who celebrated Accrington Stanley's re-incarnation as a Football League side against Scarborough on Easter Monday, he deserved to be lauded as much as the new generation of players, since the inside left was a member of what is generally regarded as one of their best ever teams.
This was before an erosion of support - something that was always a hazard considering Accrington's location amid such Lancashire footballing strong-holds as Preston and Blackburn - led to the onset of financial problems that in these high-risk times would be regarded as just a drop in an ocean of debt. But back in the Sixties a sense of moral rectitude remained, and Accrington Stanley wrote to the FA and informed them of their need to resign from the league.
Then came that ill-starred period when Accrington Stanley, renowned for being the team mockingly referred to in a mid-Eighties advert for milk that was an affront to men like Dick, one of a colony of Scots who made the club - founding members of the Football League - more than simply a romantic oddity.
But Dick knows what it is like to be the butt of a joke, and the reason is clear when one traces of his career. He started in professional football with Third Lanark, and was a valued member of a Hi-Hi line-up that included Lewis Goram, father of Andy, in goal, and forwards Jimmy Mason and Ally MacLeod, who was still a couple of decades away from notoriety as Scotland manager. From there it was on to Accrington, and then, before he retired, Dick made one final, equally significant stop - at Bradford Park Avenue.
In Scotland they nicknamed him Moby Dick, but it's as Jonah that subsequent events suggest he might have been better known. Each club eventually crumbled in his footsteps, with Park Avenue the last to go in 1974, although, like Accrington Stanley, re-born with time. Only Forth Wanderers, where he started his career, have prevailed without interruption until present times, with the Lanarkshire junior side currently in Division Two of the Central District League. Attempts to revive Third Lanark have been restricted to junior and ladies teams which re- appropriated the famous name, although this week Billy Connolly and Sean Connery were reported to have considered supplying the funds to restore the club, whose Cathkin Park ground has remained a recognisable, if overgrown, HQ.
It was circumstance rather than as a direct consequence of Dick's involvement with these clubs that led to their demise. Indeed, it could be said that his contribution helped them last longer than they might otherwise have managed. His transfer in 1955 from Third Lanark to Accrington Stanley provided the Cathkin Park club with the not inconsiderable sum of 3,500, and injection of funds which helped the club survive for more than a decade longer.
Accrington, too, were adequately compensated when Dick moved on to Bradford Park Avenue but his value could only stretch so far. Accrington Stanley and Third Lanark fell into oblivion within five years of each other, with Accrington the first to fall just a couple of years after Dick had left, in 1962. Intriguingly, both clubs' final debt figure was recorded as 40,000, something that is now the equivalent of roughly 750,000. "That is relative peanuts," says Bert Bell, the redoubtable Third Lanark historian. The choice of title for his excellent tome, Still Seeing Red , gives some indication of the fury which greeted a proud club's decline as neighbouring footballing powerhouses Celtic and Rangers stood by and watched, an anger still felt by a noble few today.
Wattie Dick absolves himself of blame - "It wasn't my fault!" said the 78-year-old this week from his home outside Goole in Humberside - but due to the sad onset of Alzheimer's disease is unable to give a first hand account of his unique passage through a doomed series of clubs. Had interest from Celtic been followed up with a firm bid this chain might have been broken, with even Dick's presence unable to bring down an institution. His wife Marjory hints at the fact Dick, from Newmains in Lanarkshire, hailed from the wrong side of the tracks when it came to signing for this particular half of the Old Firm.
He'd already established himself as something of a curse as far as Celtic were concerned, scoring twice in a famous Hi-Hi win in a Scottish Cup replay in February 1953. Third Lanark had held Celtic to a draw in the first game at Parkhead but no-one expected them to do anything quite so notable the second time around. Even Hamilton Accies, who the winners were due to play in the following round, displayed confidence when predicting the likely identity of their visitors. Tickets were printed with Celtic named as opposition, but Third Lanark ensured Hamilton were handed an extra expense from the production of a new batch of briefs when he struck twice in a 2-1 win.
"Moby Dick - A Real Whale of a Player and Always White," read one headline, with the last remark a reference to his gentlemanly behaviour. That's not to say he didn't leave some opposition players cursing him, with John Johnstone, the Motherwell keeper, twice breaking bones in his fingers when seeking to stop a Wattie wallop. He was among those glad when Dick elected to head south, with Accrington a destination that offered the benefits of a home from home, even if the link between Third Lanark and the Lancashire club, already established by regular friendlies, would soon become bleaker.
Accrington Stanley were a club swarming with Scots, and long before Chelsea and Arsenal controversially experimented with non-indigenous line-ups once fielded a team which included not a single Englishman. Where the Lancashire side differed to the capital clubs was in one rather significant department: every member of their XI for a match against York in April 1955 was a Scot. These days, were Jose Mourinho or Arsene Wenger to indulge in such a tactic it would be regarded not as an experiment, but a suicide note.
Walter Galbraith, the manager, concluded that Scots were cheaper and often better than their peers in England, although the experiences of former striker David Sturrock, a Dundonian now living back in his home city, hints at a club forever battling to balance the books. "They still owe me money now, would you believe," says the former striker, now 67. "I got a signing-on fee of 250 and I got only 50 of that in bits and pieces. I had a wee misunderstanding with the chairman after it became clear there was nothing more coming to me, so I got a free transfer."
While Sturrock is one former player Accrington Stanley might feel uncomfortable about seeing again as they prepare for what they hope will be a bright new dawn, Dick would have been a welcome guest had officials known who the gentleman was who remained by his son's side on Monday. Wattie was one of more than just a few pensioners crying gently at the sight of a club settling an old score, and returning to their rightful place. "His eyes lit up as he heard Accrington Stanley referred to as champions by the announcer, and bound for the Football League again," said his son, Andrew. "He is still able to recall certain things, and his longer-term memory can still be good. He kept asking me whether we would be bumping into Eddie Hunter, George Stewart and Fred Pirie, his Scottish colleagues of old."
The demise of Dick's clubs
Accrington Stanley played in the Football League between 1921 and 1962 when they became only the second club to resign from the league in mid-season. Financial problems prompted them to tender their resignation, even though none of the club's creditors was putting excessive pressure on the board.
They regained league status last weekend after 44 years, when they were promoted as champions of the Nationwide Conference.
BRADFORD PARK AVENUE
Currently playing in the Northern Premier League, the club claims descent from the team of the same name that was a former member of the Football League and which went into liquidation in 1974. They had been voted out of the league in 1970 and replaced by Cambridge United.
The club were re-formed as a Sunday league club and returned to Saturday football in the 1988/9 season.
Based on the south side of Glasgow and formed as Third Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers, the Cathkin Park side existed from 1872 to 1967. They were a founder member of the Scottish Football League and won the league championship in 1904, as well as winning the Scottish Cup in 1889 and 1905. The club was declared bankrupt and was liquidated in 1967. Boardroom corruption allegedly played a role in the demise of Glasgow's third team.