A Personal History of Dumbarton FC

A slightly shorter version of this post appeared as “€œDumbarton FC, The Sons of the Rock”€ in The Bayview, Official East Fife Matchday Magazine, Issue 5, Saturday 27th August 2011.

Just what collection of players to wear their team’s colours fans will look back on with fondness must to a large extent depend on their age. Though someone of my years and long experience of following Dumbarton might say we rather lucked into it, young(ish) Dumbarton supporters will no doubt regard the promotion winning team of 2008-9 – none of whom now remain at the club only two short years later -€“ with a rosy glow; albeit forever tinged with sadness at the tragic death of captain Gordon Lennon only a few weeks after lifting the trophy. And that side does have to its credit not only a 3rd Division championship but the longest consecutive playing time without conceding a goal in the club’€™s history; over 350 mins.

But no-one alive will remember what must be Dumbarton’€™s greatest achievements; a single Scottish Cup (in 1883) -€“ a time when we were in the forefront of tactical innovation in using the 2-3-5 formation -€“ and twice winning the top division, in 1891 (shared) and 1892.

In my memory Dumbarton have won promotion a total of six times; -€ a seventh lies in the distant mists of 1913 when we were elected upwards -€“ from sixth position! (In those days promotion wasn’€™t automatic. A Second Division Championship in 1911 still saw us in Division 2 for 1911-12.)

My father’s generation had much less to celebrate. It was fifty long years from relegation in 1922 till the Sons finally lifted themselves back into the top Division, with only the (Festival of Britain) St Mungo Quaich win of 1951 to lighten the darkness. There was, though, a tendency to romanticise the nearly men of the mid to late 1950s; a team that flirted with promotion but always fell short. It featured Tim Whalen and Hughie Gallacher (the club’€™s all time record scorer with 205 goals overall) whose stays overlapped with those of the long-standing full back partnership of Tommy Govan and Andy Jardine (250 and 299 appearances respectively, according to a website I consulted, most of them together.) I actually remember seeing those guys play but it was the fact that Hughie Gallacher took over in goal one game -€“ no substitutes at all, never mind goalies, in those days -€“ that really sticks in my mind. He was pretty good at stopping them as I recall, but we still lost that game.

One of the promotions was the elevation to the Premier Division in 1984, an adventure that lasted only the one season. A final taste of the elite alas, as we have never made it back. That team featured Bolton manager (and ex-Son) Owen Coyle’€™s two brothers in its midfield and leant heavily on the goals of Kenny Ashwood.

The Second Division winners of 1991-2, when Charlie Gibson and John McQuade starred, scored the single best Dumbarton team goal I can remember. Cowdenbeath had just equalised in a crucial top of the table clash at Boghead. From the kick-off the ball circulated round the team in a great passing move before, over a minute later, and without an opposition player touching the ball, John McQuade planted it in the net. Promotion was secured on the penultimate day of the season as Cowdenbeath and Alloa, the other contenders, both one point behind, only had each other to play. The Championship was duly sealed in a draw with Arbroath.

League reconstruction (as in 1922!) saw us demoted for 1994-5, placed in the new third tier. With Murdo McLeod as manager the side needed to win at Stirling -€“ who themselves only needed to draw with us – in the last game to be promoted as runners-up. A 2-0 win sent Dumbarton fans into delirium. What happened in the next three seasons, though, was dire. Two successive relegations, including a period of over a year when we did not win a single game, ended up with us bottom of the whole pile in 1998. The following four seemingly endless years of Division 3 football saw our tenure at Boghead, at the time the longest occupancy of a single site in British football, come to an end. In this forum, though, I’€™d better not dwell on the result of the final game there.

Another runners-up promotion swiftly arrived in 2002. The prolific if frustrating Paddy Flannery (77 goals for the club in 175 games) was the spearhead of that side, with the less heralded Andy Brown a willing side-kick. The promotion hero, though, was goalkeeper John Wight who saved a penalty in the last minute of the last game to make sure we could not be overtaken.

For me, though, the one that sends the memory banks into raptures is 1972. That year it all came together. The club’s centenary season, 50 years since top flight football, the town’€™s 900th anniversary of Royal Burgh status. Kenny Wilson had an astonishing 38 goals in 36 league games, some of them in vital 1-0 wins. Mid-season he made it onto the scoresheet in a record twelve consecutive matches, and he scored all five in a 5-0 rout of Raith Rovers. And that 38 doesn’€™t include the free-kicks and penalties he won for Charlie Gallagher to bang in. But big Roy McCormack scored the peach. At Love Street on Christmas Day 1971 he walloped a volley from out near the touchline about fifteen yards into St Mirren’€™s half. It flew over the keeper’s head, hit the stanchion full on and bounced out beyond the penalty spot. It was astounding. The ref thought it had hit the bar but the linesman gave it. Roy thumped two others not quite so good in the games either side against Alloa the previous week and Clydebank the next. Sweet, sweet.

Other highlights are Jumbo Muir’s waltz all the way from our penalty area through half of the Clyde team at Shawfield before finally putting the ball in the net, Lee Sharp’s belter at Almondvale in 1996, the 5-2 win at Tynecastle in 1982* against a Hearts side desperate for promotion (we were up the park three times in the second half and scored each one) and the 0-0 draw in 1970 in the League Cup semi-final against the Celtic team that made the European Cup Final that season. The replay was 2-2, then in extra time a (Lou Macari?) cross was flagged by the linesman as out of play until Wilson headed it in. The flag mysteriously went down. (Bitter? Me? No. It’s only been forty one years.) We did have a bit of revenge. Celtic had scored another and started to play keep-ball. When we got it back we played keep-ball too. Except we suddenly switched to a quick passing move up the left, put in a great cross and scored. In subsequent seasons we had 3-3 and 2-2 draws at Parkhead in the league. After our second equaliser in the latter of those the ref was looking round desperately for someone to give him a reason to chalk it off. The linesman didn’€™t help that time.

Yet the real emotion wasn’€™t for these or any promotion. Somehow the crucial last day relegation avoiders in 1973, 4-1 against Dundee Utd, and 2003, 4-1 again, Raith the victims, have meant much, much more. Perhaps it’€™s the release of the fear that makes sure it’€™s so. The hope fulfilled. We non-glory hunters who follow lower league sides don’t get that very often.

*It seems I have misremembered this game slightly. Big Rab’€™s blog a week or so ago featured a newspaper clipping which says we were 2-1 down at half time that day. So we were up the park not 3, but 4 times in the second half; and scored each one. Even better.

In his afterword to the article the programme editor says that in addition to being a long-term Sons fan, “Jack Deighton lives in Kirkcaldy and has taught in Cowdenbeath and Dunfermline. Jack knows all about pain.”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Comments RSS feed for this post

  1. angela dempster

    Did billy mcmurray play for Dumbarton football club thanks.

  2. jackdeighton

    Hi Angela,
    Thanks for looking in.
    According to this website (http://www.neilbrown.newcastlefans.com/dumbarton/dumbarton.htm) a Bill McMurray played for the Sons from 1967-69.

  3. ian bruckshaw


    I used to be a ball boy at Dumbarton FC in the early 1960’s most of the ball boys were from my year at Hartfield Secondary, we all got the jobs because our mate Robert Nisbets dad was the trainer. One great memory was running out before the teams at a full Boghead in a Scottish Cup match against Aberdeen, who had a famous goalscorer in the team called Ernie Winchester. Could you tell me the date that this match was played and do you have any photographs of it. I have been telling my Grandchildren about how good it was watching the Sons in those days. I remember watching the great Morton team that was full of Viking players that their chairman Hal Stewart had brought to Scotland. I was lucky enough to watch the game from my ball boy position from behind the goal. I remember when Chic Halliday was our goal scoring hero in these days and how bad everyone felt when he was transferred. Thanks for your article, it brought back some great memories.

  4. jackdeighton

    Thanks for your comment and query, Ian.
    That Aberdeen game must have been a Cup quarter-final in the 1965-66 season as I think that was the only time we played Aberdeen that decade. For the cup scores see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1965%E2%80%9366_Scottish_Cup.
    I’m sorry but my photos do not go that far back.

  5. ian bruckshaw

    Thanks Jack

  6. Donald Kemp

    The Aberdeen game took place on 5 March 1966. There is a photograph of the game (from the Turnberry end iirc) in the semi-final programme (Aberdeen v Rangers).

  7. jackdeighton

    Thanks Donald,
    I was at that game but remember virtually nothing of it.

  8. Jo Stevenson

    Hi could you please tell us why Dumbarton F.C are called The Sons?

  9. jackdeighton

    Thanks for looking in and commenting.
    The name comes from the town’s most prominent landmark, Dumbarton Rock, on which Dumbarton Castle stands. Inhabitants of the town are called sons of the Rock (and I hope nowadays daughters of the Rock.) The name was extended to the football club when it was founded and is shortened to Sons for quickness of use.

Leave a Reply

free hit counter script