Time for Jim Holton to take a deserved place in pantheon of Scottish game

Jim Holton, centre, scores with a header for Scotland against West Germany in a pre-World Cup friendly in 1973. Picture: Allan Milligan
Jim Holton, centre, scores with a header for Scotland against West Germany in a pre-World Cup friendly in 1973. Picture: Allan Milligan
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It was 45 years ago yesterday that perhaps the most talented and well rounded squad Scotland has ever produced kicked off their World Cup Finals campaign in Dortmund.

It is a measure of the high regard and warm affection engendered by those who wore the dark blue with such distinction in the summer of 1974 that almost half of the 22-man party which travelled to West Germany have since been inducted into the Scottish Football Hall of Fame.

With the search for nominations for this year’s intake having been launched this month, the time is surely right for Jim Holton’s name to join those of his Class of ’74 team-mates in the pantheon.

The all too brief life and times of Holton, who was just 42 when he died of a heart attack in 1993, are recounted in compellingly evocative fashion by the recently published authorised biography of the towering central defender.

The book is a reminder of the remarkable level of popularity Holton enjoyed among the supporters of both Manchester United and Scotland, making the kind of natural and powerful connection with the regular punter on the terraces which very few players achieve.

It is also a story which should prompt reflection on the criteria required to merit inclusion in the Hall of Fame and delivers powerful evidence that it certainly should not be based on the collection of international caps or silverware alone.

Holton never claimed a major winners’ medal in a playing career cut short by injury at the age of 31. But, at the height of his powers, when he played an inspirational role for Scotland in both qualifying for and remaining unbeaten in the 1974 World Cup Finals, the man from Lesmahagow earned something less tangible but just as precious.

The Hall of Fame’s own website states that the inductees are “those truly great players, managers and officials who have reached the pinnacle of their profession and have made a significant contribution to Scottish football’s reputation through their skill, spirit and determination”.

There is scarcely a box there which Holton did not tick.

There are currently 116 members of the Hall of Fame which first opened its doors at the Scottish Football Museum at Hampden back in 2004.

The merits or otherwise of some of those included have been open to debate.

It is all subjective, of course, but most of us running our eyes over the list of inductees could easily pick out a few names whose 
presence ahead of someone like 
Holton is curious, to say the least.

There are those who have claimed that Scottish football has a finite amount of potential candidates for its Hall of Fame but that argument ignores the reality that there remain some glaring omissions from the list.

Alex Jackson, the brilliant winger who scored a hat-trick in the Wembley Wizards’ 5-1 rout of England in 1928, and peerless Celtic forward Patsy Gallacher are among the most startling absentees.

The Hall of Fame is also a commercial enterprise, of course, which is why those of a more recent vintage often dominate the annual batch of inductees. But it would be both just and fitting if Holton was honoured at this year’s dinner in October when members of his family, including his widow Jan, could be reminded of the love and admiration the Tartan Army and so many others had for him.

It’s time for him to join Jardine, McGrain, Bremner, Johnstone, Dalglish, Jordan, Buchan, Law, McQueen and Lorimer, his fellow heroes of ‘74, at Hampden again.

l Six Foot Two, Eyes of Blue – The Authorised Biography of Jim Holton. By Colin Leslie, Empire Publications, £10.95