Paul Forsyth: When Leggat ruled Amsterdam

HALF A century after Scotland's footballers last triumphed in Amsterdam, the memories are wearing thin. Graham Leggat, their quick and prolific outside-right, grabbed the winner that night, but his recollection of it is hazy.

He says it was the outcome of a goalmouth scramble, although John White's "accurate cross" is registered in the archives. He talks of Denis Law's equaliser in the 2-1 victory, when in fact it was Bobby Collins'. Not much about that routine friendly on May 27, 1959 has stood the test of time.

Not much, that is, except its bizarre conclusion. A foul on Leggat with two minutes left so incensed Bertie Auld that the young Celtic winger took the law into his own hands, and was sent off for his trouble. "He ran all the way across the field, from one wing to the other, and floored the guy," says Leggat, who sounds a little stunned by it even now. As Auld headed for the dressing room, the Dutch crowd demonstrated their disgust in eccentric fashion.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"I can remember thinking, 'what on earth is this?'" says Leggat. "The cushions that people had been sitting on were raining down on us. I had never seen anything like it. By the time they had been cleared away, it looked like we had a three-foot wall around the pitch. The crowd were upset that they were losing, and they were upset with Bertie. He was dodging cushions as he ran up the tunnel."

Newspaper reports of the match confirm an ill-tempered finale. The referee, Joachim Campos, hadn't even seen Auld's haymaker, but was given a gruesome account of it by his linesman. "This is an unhappy story to have to send," wrote one Scottish journalist, grimly reporting displeasure in the Dutch camp. "Some of the Scots kept only just within the borderline of the rules," grumbled their coach, Elek Schwarz. "Your men treat international football like cup ties."

And still do. What Scotland would give for the same controversy this Saturday, if it somehow meant the same result. Fifty years ago, they were one down after a forgettable first half, but turned the game on its head with two goals in five minutes. Collins scored the first, after a run past "several defenders". Leggat's winner came in the 65th minute. "It was just a loose ball in the box, and I got to it first," he says.

Leggat did a lot of that. For a wide man, he was quite a predator, mainly with Aberdeen and Fulham, where a combined haul of 191 goals hurtled forth like the cushions of Amsterdam. Before emigrating to Canada, where he still lives, he had established himself as an all-time great with both clubs. In 18 appearances for Scotland, he scored eight goals, one of them on his debut, against England at Wembley. He played twice in the 1958 World Cup.

He grew up in Aberdeen, and made his name with the Pittodrie club. As part of a lightning front line that also comprised Jackie Hather and Paddy Buckley – "we could catch pigeons", he says – Leggat's prodigious scoring rate turned them from also-rans into the league champions of 1955. They won the following season's League Cup, and were runners-up in the previous season's Scottish Cup. "We beat Rangers 6-0 in the semi-final," he says. "I always like to mention that when I get the chance. It's still the highlight of my career. I was just out of school. I've done some after-dinner speaking, and one of my stories is about the day I scored in front of 10,000 Rangers supporters. There were 110,000 when the game started, but when I scored, there were only 10,000 left. I couldn't believe it. They were like ants up a pole."

In 1958, Leggat was the subject of a 16,000 transfer to Fulham, where he struck up a celebrated partnership, and friendship, with the England captain, Johnny Haynes. He scored in each of his first seven league games, helping the London club to promotion, and quickly endearing himself to their supporters. During his first season in the top flight, he scored three at Old Trafford and four at Elland Road. Fulham were never relegated in his eight years at Craven Cottage. His claim to fame is the fastest hat-trick in English league history. He scored four in a 10-1 demolition of Ipswich Town on Boxing Day, 1963, three of them in the opening three minutes. "Bernard Joy, who was a sportswriter at the time, asked me if I had ever scored three in three minutes before. I didn't even know I'd done it then. I remember Jimmy Langley coming all the way over from left-back to give me a hug. It was as if I had scored the winning goal. It will never be beaten, I know that. They take three minutes to get back to the centre circle now."

After short spells with Birmingham City and Rotherham United, he accepted an offer that not only changed the course of his career, but the future lifestyle of his wife and children. In order to become player-coach of Toronto Metros, the North American Soccer League's newest franchise, they all emigrated to Canada. Although he was only in the job for just over a year, it paved the way for an unlikely career in television.

In a country where football is regarded as a foreign sport, Leggat's Scottish accent and knowledge of the European game made him a popular pundit, who covered everything from the World Cup to the European Championship and the Olympic Games. As host of Soccer Saturday, the country's weekly magazine programme, he became a household name, the "voice of soccer", Canada's answer to Archie Macpherson, with whom he had studied PE at Jordanhill College. In 2001, he was inducted into Canada's Soccer Hall of Fame for his contribution to the game's growing profile.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

That he is much better known in Canada than Scotland isn't so very strange. Now 74, he has spent 14 more years in his adopted nation than he has in the country of his birth. His last visit to these parts was in 1981, when his mother passed away. He lives with his Scottish wife, Marilyn, in Rapids View, near Niagara Falls. His daughter, Karen, is an acclaimed novelist. His son, also Graham, is executive director of the San Francisco International Film Festival. "I'm the only one who is not artistic," he says. "My wife reads a library a week."

Leggat isn't in the best of health these days, and the recession has soured his retirement, but he is fondly remembered, especially in Fulham where he and Haynes and George Cohen, the marauding right-back who won the World Cup with England, were central to the club's halcyon days. "I would like to go over there one last time, if only to see Johnny Haynes' statue because my daughter and I put a lot into having that built. He used to come over with his mum on Christmas Day or Hogmanay, and I would get the drinks out. He was a great guy."

Theirs was a fun-loving, romantic era in which Fulham were the cuddly toy of English football. "Half the fans were film stars or TV celebrities. Honor Blackman, who was Pussy Galore in the Bond film, was a big fan. They would come along to matches, hoping to have a drink with some of the players. We had our day against Manchester United and Spurs, and we reached the semi-final of the cup, but really, we were a social club. Nobody could touch us at golf, nobody could touch us at cricket, but we didn't want to get too good at football in case we didn't enjoy it."

Of course, everything is different now. Haynes has gone, Fulham have changed and Scotland aren't the team they were 50 years ago. Neither are Holland, sadly. Leggat will watch this week's match on television, with scarcely a hope of the same result.