Interview: Bert Paton on Jock Stein and Dunfermline Cup glory

Bert Paton, one of Dunfermline's 1968 Scottish Cup-winning heroes, at home in Fife. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Bert Paton, one of Dunfermline's 1968 Scottish Cup-winning heroes, at home in Fife. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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When Bert Paton gave his future wife Joyce the big chat-up about High Valleyfield in Fife, she was intrigued. “He told me it had mountains and streams,” she groans. “And so it did,” he laughs. “Coal bings and the Firth of Forth, which by the way is a muckle big stream.”

Joyce was a Yorkshire lass and knew little of Scotland, having only crossed the border once before, but if Paton over-embroidered the charms of his home village on a Leeds dancefloor, there would be no need for exaggeration concerning Dunfermline Athletic’s
place in the football firmament in the years that followed.

Paton joined the Pars when they were Scottish Cup winners and, 50 years ago next Friday, he played a key role in them hoisting the trophy again. Signed for Dunfermline by Jock Stein, he would do down his mentor in the third round when Celtic held every prize and were still on a great Lisbon high – and in the Hampden final Paton’s men were simply too classy for Hearts.

An evening of celebration is planned for the players still with us and, right now, an afternoon of reminisce is well under way in the Patons’ Kelty front-room, after Joyce has fetched the tea and Bert his winners’ medal. Stein flits in and out of this tale, as does Alex Ferguson when the latter was a rapacious centre-forward who’d shoulder his granny out of the way to grab a goal, although the assistance of neither was needed on 27 April, 1968.

To repeat: Dunfermline in the Swinging Sixties were a seriously good outfit. They were European swashbucklers, smashing the best that England and Spain could throw at them. A trip to all-conquering Celtic held no fears, and indeed commanded win bonuses in bulging brown envelopes that would have the club treasurer dripping sweat into his tea.

“It was £250 a man to win at Parkhead,” Paton, now 75, reveals. “I remember before the cup began we were in Glasgow’s George Hotel for our pre-match meal – steak and toast as per usual – and Hibs were there, too. Inevitably the chat came round to money. They couldn’t believe our bonus. I think theirs for the round was only £100. We heard later that they threatened to refuse to play in the cup unless the money was brought up to what wee Dunfermline were getting. This got back to our directors and we were forbidden from discussing bonuses ever again!”

But if this makes you think there was a sense of entitlement around East End Park half a century ago, stop right there. Dunfermline, don’t forget, are a team from the douce kingdom of Fife. “We thought our famous victory might have been deserving of a party,” adds Paton. “But after the bus got back there was nothing. Did the town council not think we were going to win the cup? I don’t know. Anyhow, everyone drifted off into the night and me and Joyce stopped at the Halbeath Chippy then carried on up the road.”

If only Valencia’s aristocrats had known. If only West Bromwich Albion’s big shots had known. If only Celtic and Hearts had known that, underneath the bold front, these were fish-supper heroes. Ah, but maybe that was the Pars’ stunning secret.

Our story begins in High Valleyfield, in a house full to bursting. “I was one of 15 kids, three dying in infancy,” Paton explains, “and ninth in the pecking order… I think. My father was a welder at the Valleyfield colliery and all my six brothers worked at the pit. I did, too, for a bit, but while I could see there was camaraderie down a mine, I was very happy to swap it for the camaraderie of a dressing-room.” It’s a nice image, I say: all the brothers in a line waving their Davy lamps as he headed off to Leeds United aged 17. “They were glad to see the back of me. It meant a wee bit more room in the house, a wee bit more food for them!”

Jock Stein missed out on the prodigy first time round. “He was supposed to be signing me for Dunfermline but he wanted to hear a top Hungarian coach give a talk in England so he sent his chief scout. At the same time, Leeds sent their manager, Jack Taylor, and that swayed me towards them.”

Leeds were then in England’s Second Division with Jack Charlton and Billy
Bremner biding their time before white-shirted imperiousness. “On free weekends, Billy and I would get a lift back up the road with Ronnie Wright who went on to play for St Johnstone, dropping us at Falkirk where Billy jumped on the Stirling bus and I’d get the one to Dunfermline.” But homesickness, a common complaint among young Anglo-Scots, wasn’t an issue 
for Paton.

“He’d just met me,” says Joyce, picking up the narrative. “Me and my pal Jean were Leeds fanatics, never away from Elland Road, and, after watching some of the new boys in a practice match, we were dancing at the Majestic. Geoff Martin was there with his tan and his blond hair and Jean was in love with him. Standing next to him was one of the latest intake who looked kind of wild, like he’d just come down from the Highlands. He couldn’t dance and I didn’t understand a word he said. High Valleyfield wasn’t like I imagined with romantic scenery right out of a Lassie film but here we both are, 55 years later.”

“I had a mean crewcut – everyone from my village did,” laughs Paton, with photos of the couple’s three daughters and grandchildren adorning the room. “But I was soon out the door at Leeds. Remember the abolition of the maximum wage? A great day for footballers if you were in the upper echelons, but clubs having to pay out more meant young guys were cut from their books. Thankfully, I got a telegram from Jock when me and Joyce were on holiday at Butlin’s in Skegness: ‘Don’t sign for anyone else until you’ve seen me’.”

The 1961 cup-winning forward line comprised George Peebles, Alex Smith, Charlie Dickson, Dan McLindon and Harry Melrose and the promising Paton – these days you would term him a No 10 and Joyce reckons was “like Mesut Ozil, only braver” – had to bide his time. A treat for the reserves was a seat on the plane for a Euro tie and he got Budapest for Ujpest Dozsa in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. “It wasn’t long after the Hungarian Uprising and there were soldiers on the streets.” Just as colourful was a Highlands pre-season tour: “We were invited to a folk night. This woman singing in Gaelic forgot the words to her song. Big Dan jumped up to help her out with some made-up nonsense!”

The second XI would form the basis of the ’68 cup team: Alex Edwards, John Lunn, Jimmy Thomson, Willie Callaghan. “Willie’s wee brother 
Tommy came later. Willie was the serious one while Tommy was full o’ it, aye wanting a carry-on with a bevvy and a fag.” The reserves were coached by Willie Cunningham who, in an echo of this week’s rumpus at Rangers, had to deal with insurrection, in his case by quitting.

“We lost a game and he accused me and Willie Callaghan of not trying,” says Paton. “We were young guys but we didn’t like that at all. There was a difference between playing badly and chucking it, we said, and he couldn’t speak that way to us. So he resigned. On the Monday, Jock exploded and we got a right dressing-down. He talked 
Willie into coming back only to leave himself not long after. Then Willie became manager and didn’t give me a look-in with the first team. Eventually, after the side had gone on a bad run and I’d scored six for the reserves against East Stirling, he was embarrassed into picking me.”

Paton had been sorry to see Stein leave. “He kept an eye on the reserves, and was quoted in the papers after we’d done well in the second-string cup, 
saying there were three of us he could have sold right after the game for big money. We all thought ‘Did he mean me, which was good psychology, and even at Dunfermline he was popping over to Italy to study training techniques and coming back with new drills, then taking each of us aside and saying: ‘These could have been tailor-made just for you.”

So when Paton later went into management, most notably alongside his great friend Dick Campbell with Dunfermline, did he borrow from the Big Man? “Well, there was only one Jock but I think we tried.” Fifth in the top flight and a couple of Hampden excursions suggests a fair attempt. “Me and Dick came from CR Smith. His brother had got us jobs there as the oldest YTS-ers in town. We followed Jocky Scott into East End Park and he’s been a bit dour so we decided to liven the place up. We hung our old overalls in the dressing-room and told the players: ‘If you’re no’ happy we’ll get you a 
job in double-glazing.’ Footballers have no reason to be grumpy. It’s a 
fantastic life.”

Back to Paton’s playing days. His team-mates called him the “brains” of the side, though he chuckles at the description. Up front with him was Alex Ferguson and our man laughs some more as he recalls Fergie’s volcanic rages when goals weren’t laid on a steak bridie platter. “I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who was so determined to win all the time, and at absolutely everything. A wee wager was his incentive. Sprints, table-tennis, snooker, he would aye lay down the challenge: ‘Come on, I bet you.’ And I’ve definitely never seen a player who got caught up in so many fights at training and in games.” But the pair were good for each other. “One season Fergie scored 42 goals, I got 28 and Jim Fleming chipped in with 18.” And there was hardly a year when the Pars didn’t have a continental adventure, often in a sun-kissed location. “Oranges on trees became quite the thing. I hadn’t seen them in High Valleyfield for some time.”

The Sixties freedoms translated to the pitch. “Tactics weren’t big then. Rather than stop the opposition, you tried to outscore them. It was a great time to play the game.” Within the space of a bonkers few weeks, Dunfermline lost 5-4 to Celtic and 6-5 to Hibs. In 1965, they could have won the old First Division and the Scottish Cup, only to be pipped to both. Strange, exciting times, with the Old Firm finishing outwith the top four in that league race. “We won at Ibrox two years in a row. I scored from 30 yards, top corner, which got Billy Ritchie 
flapping: ‘It’s no’ mines!’”

It was Celtic, with Stein newly installed, who beat them to the cup final in ’65 but, three years later, Dunfermline would gain revenge. “We did well in the competition and I had a favourite suit for it. The guys used to joke: ‘Bert opens up the wardrobe and shouts ‘Cup-tie!’” Paton talks up his team-mates some more: “Our Danish goalie, Bent Martin, liked to play outfield. He’d be a smash-hit in the game now. John Lunn was a hardy full-back who Jimmy Johnstone and Willie Henderson didn’t like coming up against because he was so quick. Nothing got past Roy Barry at centre-half, although he aye used to cry: ‘Come and take the ball off me, Bert, before I gie it straight back to the other team.’ We called Hugh Robertson ‘Seal’ because he loved playing with the ball and here’s a funny story about Alex Edwards, brilliant but a rascal: Jock was so keen to sign him that he persuaded the board to buy him a Ford Classic, only it wasn’t as fast as Alex had hoped. When he took it back to the garage he discovered that Jock had had a governor fitted to the accelerator!’”

Stein was first to congratulate Dunfermline when they knocked Celtic out of the cup and, in the next round, the Fifers beat Aberdeen. Injured before the quarter-final against Partick Thistle, Paton was instructed to play by manager George Farm. “‘Get a f****n’ body’ was his usual team-talk.’” Paton netted the winner and also scored in the replayed semi against St Johnstone. For the final, Hearts commandeered supporters’ buses which Pars fans had hoped would ferry them to Hampden. “That was all they got in ’68,” he smiles. “We were very confident. Hearts’ plan was simply to stop us playing. They had three muckle big guys at the back and were very physical.” Fouls on Paton led to the first two Dunfermline goals, the second an Ian Lister penalty. “Cruickie [Jim Cruickshank] very nearly halved me in two.” Hearts briefly rallied but Pat Gardner’s second thumping strike of the afternoon clinched victory.

That wasn’t Dunfermline’s season over. There was one more league game to be played, Celtic at East End Park, with fans scaling roofs to see the cup winners take on the title holders and one who entered via a hole knocked in a wall sending a five-shilling postal order to cover his admittance. The joint was jumping, as it was the following season when the Pars went all the way to the Cup-Winners’ Cup semi-finals with Paton finishing up the club’s top goalscorer in Europe. “Sadly, I don’t think that record will be beaten anytime soon.”

The smallest crowd for a Scottish Cup final since the war – 56,365 – witnessed Dunfermline’s triumph but that didn’t taint the day. Nor did a ban on a lap of honour enforced after Old Firm terracing trouble the previous year. “Roy Barry was our captain and you didn’t mess with him. He had a right ding-dong with the match commander at the mouth of the tunnel but thankfully I missed it after running back to the dressing-room to fetch my two front teeth.”

Being a fish-supper immortal, he would need them later.