The draw for the fourth round of the Scottish Cup landed Highland League Fraserburgh a plum tie at their own Bellslea Park ground against Rangers last month. Given the clubs' respective pedigrees, inevitably there was speculation over the possibility of 'The Broch' pulling off a giant-killing win against the Ibrox men, sparking a sufficient level of interest for Sky to televise the match live.
In the event, Rangers ran out comfortable 3-0 winners although the home team performed commendably. Before kick off, the visitors' manager Graeme Murty emphasised that his team were taking nothing for granted, and he was right to do so. A glance at the history books shows that 'The Broch' have previous for causing cup upsets. In 1997 they knocked out Clyde, but in 1959 caused one of Scottish football's biggest ever upsets when they beat Dundee 1-0 at Bellslea Park to become the first Highland League club to eliminate a top-tier team. Last month's tie was the exact 59th anniversary of that famous win, while another link was that Dundee's manager then was Willie Thornton, an all-time Rangers great. Those factors ultimately did not advance 'The Broch's' cause but fuelled the speculation.
Newspapers at the time predicted a comfortable win for Dundee but some added a note of caution about not taking David for granted in the challenge against Goliath. The overwhelming majority of fans could not envisage anything other than a win for the Dark Blues. In their previous season's foray in the cup, Fraserburgh had been roundly defeated 7-2 by the amateurs of Queens Park at Hampden. They were a part-time team in a lower league whose occupations included shoemaker, hotel manager, baker, welder, railwayman, plumber etc. although a number had had senior experience.
Dundee on the other hand were a full-time team of seasoned professionals. Two were Scottish internationals – goalkeeper Bill Brown and wing-half Doug Cowie – while three others would later be capped – Alex Hamilton, Jimmy Gabriel and Hugh Robertson. The others were all household names, most of whom had played representative football either for Scotland under 23s or the Scottish League, such as Alan Cousin, Jimmy Bonthrone and Davie Sneddon. They were enjoying a successful season which would culminate in a fourth place in the old First Division and three years later would reach the European Cup semi-final.
However 'The Broch' were also enjoying a good season which would end in a tie for the Highland League title and seven months previously they had held Dundee to 3-2 in the Dewar Shield final. But, as the Dens Park outfit's train pulled out of Tay Bridge station at 4 o'clock on Friday afternoon taking them to Aberdeen to spend the night before the tie in the city's upmarket Caledonian Hotel, none of their party seriously contemplated defeat.
Danny Mowatt was 'The Broch's' goalkeeper, he and forward Bobby Bradford its only surviving members. Now a sprightly 83-year-old living near Peterhead, who said he still felt fit enough to play if 'someone took my goal kicks,' he recalled:
'That was the greatest day of my football career. Dundee were clear favourites but we had a confident team and a number of us had played senior, some with Aberdeen, others with Stirling Albion and Sheffield United. I had been with Aberdeen, Leicester City and other Highland League teams. Our manager, Welshman Don Emery, had played for Aberdeen among others and was reckoned to have the hardest shot in football. I could vouch for that as playing against him once his shot struck me and knocked me out! It didn't surprise us he made no special plans for the tie and our weekly training sessions took place as usual at Powis School in Aberdeen where most of us were based.
'The night before the game I got a visit in my flat in Marywell Street from Bobby Cox, Dundee's outstanding full-back whom I had got to know as a fellow PTI during national service at Ripon. A great guy, Bobby. He told me Dundee were good but that they had a tendency to panic the longer a game went on without scoring. Naturally I told Don this and he set up our team accordingly. As our team coach left Aberdeen the next day for Fraserburgh, I was aware that it was quieter than normal and thought that was the adrenaline kicking in.
'When we arrived we went to the tea shop next to the ground for a cuppa before making our way to the dressing room. Nearly 5,000 fans squeezed into the ground for a game that seemed to pass in a blur. But what a reception our supporters gave us afterwards – we had to struggle through them to get back to the dressing room. Once there our Treasurer slipped a £10 note into our pockets. At the time we were on £3 a week basic and I was getting £7 a week as a plumber so it was certainly appreciated!'
'The Broch' notched the only goal of the game just before half-time thanks to Gas Board employee Johnny Strachan's header from George Brander's corner. A half-time pep talk from Willie Thornton saw a much more lively Dundee in the second half but to no avail. Mowatt was credited with three great saves from a powerful Sneddon shot, a header from Davie Curlett and a strong Bonthrone drive. An accidental collision with Cousin resulted in an ankle injury which required him to attend hospital after the game, meaning his celebrations had to be postponed.
In contrast to modern players' appetite for celebrity, winger Strachan, who had been carried off shoulder high and almost overcome with backslapping, had had enough and opted to slip secretly out of the ground after the game to go home to Peterhead, leaving many fans waiting for him disappointed while radio messages of the great win were flashed to trawlers out in the North Sea. All home players had excelled, especially skipper Pat McKenna who initially had been taken aback to meet referee Hugh Phillips as the last time he had officiated McKenna in 1951, when he played for Aberdeen, he had sent him off.
The next round resulted in a one-goal defeat by Stirling Albion after a Bradford goal had apparently been wrongly disallowed, particularly galling as Albion later reached the quarter finals. 'The Broch's' great adventure was over. As for Willie Thornton: 'This was a disaster, the biggest disappointment I ever experienced in football.' Thankfully, from Graeme Murty's perspective, he was spared from having to repeat a similar mantra last month.
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