THIS COLUMN was supposed to be about Bill Shankly, about his greatest day as a footballer in the colours of Preston North End in the FA Cup final of 1938, a day of unquantifiable joy and mayhem in a particular corner of Lancashire, 70 years ago this coming Wednesday.
It still is about Shankly but not solely. It's about Aberdeen's George Mutch, too. About Bobby Beattie from Stevenston, Andy Beattie from Inverurie and Kilmarnock's Jimmy 'Bud' Maxwell. About Tom Smith from Fenwick and Hugh O'Donnell, one of 15 from a family in Buckhaven.
Seven Scots started for Preston that April 30th and there were more in the wings, some injured, some just a shade too young, others a
fraction too old. So, you see, what started out as a paean to the great Shankly has turned into something different. It's a salute to one of the most remarkable afternoons in Scottish football history.
We should put this in a little context first. Preston, like everywhere else, was riven by unemployment and misery in the 1930s, the time of the Great Depression. We can't say that any of the torment Shankly saw in his new home from home would have surprised him much for he'd just been signed from Carlisle, where things were abject, and he'd not long come down the road from Ayrshire where life was worse again. He was only 19 when he joined Preston but he'd been a man for years by then.
It was 1933 and he was the first of the Preston Scots. His team were in the Second Division, languishing, as was their way, in front of crowds that were sparse and beleaguered. The few thousand who could afford to get into Deepdale didn't expect much from their team. Things started to change when Shankly arrived.
They won promotion in 1934 and then the cavalry charged south. Maxwell, a 21-year-old striker, was signed for four grand from Kilmarnock, where he'd scored 103 goals in 126 league games. Next were Andy Beattie (a 150 defender from Inverurie Loco) and Hugh O'Donnell, an outside-left who joined from Celtic along with his brother Francis. In 1936, Smith, already an international centre-half, joined from Kilmarnock and the season after an inside-forward, Bobby Beattie, and the great centre-forward Mutch were recruited. Mutch had scored 48 goals in 112 games for Manchester United before moving to Deepdale, a mere taster for the heroics to come at his new club. The players were close, the team spirit strong. The style of play was fast and daring and, for the times they lived in, free-scoring. It is said that Shankly's managerial philosophy was established at Preston and he harked back to it more than once in his Liverpool days. "That's how football should be played," he'd say.
Preston made the FA Cup final in 1937 but lost to Sunderland. Nevertheless, they came again. In several biographies of Shankly his remarkable ability to lift the mood of a dejected dressing room is mentioned and that strength of personality was evident in the days and weeks and months after the disappointment of the losing final at Wembley. One of his party pieces (and it is hard to fathom when you consider the intensity of the man in later life) was to dress up as John L Sullivan, the first world heavyweight champion of the world, a look he carried off by way of baggy trousers and a moustache made of cotton wool. Tom Finney was a young player at the club at the time. "Shanks lifted people to being ten feet tall," he once said.
The Scots drove Preston on during the 1937-38 season. For a little while it looked like the league would be won but Arsenal secured it in the end. That left the FA Cup. West Ham and Leicester were taken care of in the first two rounds (3-0 and 2-0 with Mutch scoring all five goals), then Arsenal were beaten by a goal from the Galloping Ghost – Jimmy Dougal from Denny. Brentford and Aston Villa were defeated in the quarter-final and semi-final (Mutch got two more). Huddersfield were the opponents in the final.
Now Preston was alive in a way that nobody could have imagined only a few years before, buoyed by their team of transplanted Scots. To Wembley they marched in vast numbers for the first fully televised FA Cup final of all time. Normal time came and went and still the stalemate remained. Into extra time they went and still no sign of a breakthrough. Up on the television tower, the commentator Thomas Woodrooffe couldn't see a goal coming. "If there's a goal scored now," he said, with 60 seconds remaining, "I'll eat my hat."
But there was a goal. Mutch picked up a pass from Shankly and went off on a solo run to the edge of the Huddersfield penalty area. Big Alf Young stepped in and took him out of the game with a shuddering hit. Mutch went flying and a penalty was awarded, wrongly as it turned out. The foul was outside the box but that hardly mattered to Shankly. Later, with Young in tears, the Ayrshire man offered the following, less than consoling words: "Aye, and that's no the first penalty you've given away either."
Shankly was due to take it but, for some reason, shied away from it. Nobody wanted the responsibility. Mutch was still in a daze after hitting the ground hard but the kick fell to him in any event. He was quoted thus in the Daily Express: "When I came round I was only conscious that my body was one mass of aches. I did not understand that a penalty had been awarded. They handed me the ball. I placed it automatically, thinking it was funny they had given it to me, an injured man. As I took my run I wondered what I was doing and why. I don't remember aiming at goal."
In his blissful stupor Mutch rattled his kick off the underside of the old square crossbar and into the Huddersfield net. There was barely time to restart the final. Preston had won. More than 80,000 waited to receive them at home and Smith, as captain, had the honour of lifting the Cup to the skies above Market Square with the delirious cheers of his adopted people ringing in his ears. What happened next? Well, they become immortal. They're all long since dead but their memories live on. As a team they stayed together for a little while, as Preston men and with Scotland but the outbreak of war shortened their international playing careers terribly. Andy Beattie went on to become the Scotland manager at the 1954 World Cup but failed and resigned. He was re-appointed in 1959 but was gone again by 1960. Mutch was capped once, scored and was never capped again. He left the club in 1946, went to Bury and then Southport before retiring. Bobby Beattie stayed at Deepdale longer than anybody, only calling it a day in 1953. Bud Maxwell left Preston soon after the '38 Cup final and after a brief spell with Barnsley, he returned to Killie in 1939. His last appearance for the club was on March 16, 1940 in a 3-1 home defeat against Queen of the South. He scored his 124th and last goal for Killie that day. Smith stayed at Preston through the war but later returned home to manage Kilmarnock. The O'Donnells left at the end of the FA Cup season, both of them moving to Blackpool for a brief spell. Hugh finished his career with Rochdale and Halifax where the lights went out on Jimmy Dougal's career too.
As for Shanks, there's not a lot you don't know. Except, perhaps, the joy he took from a certain day at Wembley 70 years ago when the television cameras rolled for 120 minutes and his playing career reached its ultimate high.