THE LOSS of Davie McParland, just one day after they announced, the club's new training ground would be named McParland Park, was a hard blow to even those resilient souls at Partick Thistle.
Davie McParland: 1935 - 2018
Coming as it did after the earlier blow of the loss of John Lambie, this means the Jags have lost arguably their two finest managers inside a year. Add relegation and 2017-18 has not been a great season. However, and as ever, the Jags will bounce back.
In penning Davie's obituary, I did what I always do when writing about a Firhill man – I spoke to “Mr Partick Thistle”, as Robert Reid is known, and he did not let me down with some stories of McParland.
Knowing he came from Larkhall, and had played for Larkhall Thistle, I asked Robert how Rangers had missed him. His reply was a corker: “Well as Davie explained to me – 'When you're a Catholic from Larkhall, you have to be quick' – and, although not as fast as Johnny MacKenzie, Davie was quick.”
Davie spent over a decade in the Thistle first team, following his signing by the great Davie Meiklejohn, in November, 1953. In that time he played nearly 600 games and scored over a century of goals.
He began, of course, as a fast, raiding winger, being good enough to feature in the very first Scotland Under-23 team, in February, 1955. We will not say too much about the fact, they were gubbed 6-0 by an England team, who turned a half-time 0-0 scoreline around, by the simple expedient of switching the marvellous Duncan Edwards to centre forward, where he gave big Doug Baillie what that great future Sunday Post stalwart admits was: “the roasting of my life.” Unlike four of that team: Alex Parker, Eric Caldow, Dave Mackay and Graham Leggat, Davie did not step-up to full international level.
Juve's John Charles - an opponent on Davie's Scottish League XI debut in Rome
In 1962 he won two Scottish League XI “caps.” The first was earned in Rome, against an Italian League side which included – Swedish winger Kurt Hamrin of Fiorentina, Spain's Luis del Sol, then with Juventus, as was the legendary Welsh centre forward John Charles, while at inside left was the notorious German star Helmut “Hamlet” Haller, forever remembered for getting a boot up the bahookie from Tommy Gemmell.
The Italians won 4-3, the winner coming at the death. McParland, goalkeeper Sandy McLaughlin and half-time substitute Johnny Divers were the only members of the following Scottish League XI not to already be capped or to later win a full cap. That team was: Sandy McLaughlin (Kilmarnock); Alex Hamilton (Dundee) and Jim Kennedy (Celtic); Paddy Crerand (Celtic), Ian Ure (Dundee) and Jim Baxter; Willie Henderson (both Rangers), Willie Hamilton (Hearts), Jimmy Millar (Rangers), Charlie Cooke (Aberdeen) and McParland.
Celtic's Divers replaced Willie Hamilton, after the Hearts man and del Sol had a difference of opinion, following which, the respective team managers decided to keep them both on the bench for the second half. McParland is credited with two assists, for goals by Cooke and Millar, while Divers got the other Scottish goal.
He won a further two Scottish League caps. Two weeks after the Italian job, he helped the League XI thrash the League of Ireland 11-0 at Celtic Park, then, two years later, in Dublin, his final outing for the League XI ended 2-2 against the same opponents.
It could be argued a League “cap” in the 1960s is every bit as good as a full cap in an “international challenge match” is these days. Davie might lack that full cap, but, nobody should doubt – he was international class. And look at the competition he faced – at club level, he was vying with Johnny MacKenzie and Tommy Ewing, both international wingers for a place; Tommy Ring was strutting his stuff on the left flank, Davie Wilson and Bertie Auld were also in contention for caps, not forgetting Andy Weir at Motherwell.
Later in his career, Davie moved back to right-half, then he prepared for the future by stepping down to be a “father figure” in the reserves before hanging-up his boots and switching seamlessly to coaching.
Scot Symon had, after his ridiculous sacking by Rangers, moved across to Firhill and he put McParland in-charge of the reserves, before making him his assistant. Thistle were relegated out of the top flight in 1970, whereupon Symon relinquished team management duties, moving upstairs to be General Manager, with Davie becoming Thistle Team Manager in his stead.
Davie McParland took a chance on this young goalkeeper
In the Second Division, he began to feed-in some of the youngsters he had had in his charge in the Reserves – the likes of the teenaged Alan Rough, John Hansen, Ale Forsyth and Jimmy Bone – all of whom would go on to win full caps, as would the even-younger Alan Hansen, then too-young to be considered. A young PE student named Frank Coulston was also introduced, as was Denis McQuade, a winger who, in the great Thistle tradition could entertain and infuriate in equal measure, while on the other flank, Bobby Lawrie was lightning quick and had an eye for goals.
Robert Reid recalls how McParland gave his young team their heads, but, they didn't always click. Reid remembers: “Early on in that season we had a bad run, we lost to Clydebank, Albion Rovers, then Brechin and we on the board were starting to worry. I said this to Davie, who replied: 'They're young Robert – give them time.' We hardly lost a game for the rest of the season and romped to promotion.”
In the top-flight, the Thistle kids went off like a rocket, beating Rangers, then, just over a month later, they became immortals – thrashing Celtic 4-1 to win the League Cup. Legends abound about that match – how, introducing Grandstand on BBC TV that afternoon, Scotsman Sam Leitch mentioned the game, then added: “Thistle have no chance.” The same Leitch, when the score-line came through on the teleprinter, refused to believe it and reversed it, but, the Jags had indeed stung Celtic.
There is an urban myth around Glasgow that the city's taxi drivers made a killing that day, ferrying Rangers's supporters from Ibrox to Hampden – evidently seeing Thistle thump Celtic 4-1 was better fun than watching Rangers put four on Motherwell without reply.
With that result, McParland's place in the Firhill Hall of Legends was assured. That was the high point of a four-year spell as manager, one which ended in disagreement with the board and the severing of his ties with the club.
A dug-out filled with talent - Neil Mochan, Davie McParland, Jock Stein and John Clark
He had a successful spell as Head Coach at Queen's Park, then went to Celtic as assistant to Jock Stein. The Big Man was still a bit fragile after his near-fatal car crash, so McParland took charge of the training and preparation of the team, He did well, Celtic winning the league by an impressive nine points from Rangers (14 points in today's three points for a win system). A Scottish Cup win over the old enemy in what was Kenny Dalglish's final match for the club completed rather a good year.
Back came Rangers the following season and, without Dalglish, Celtic slumped to fifth in the table – the “Families” who ran the club then had their excuse – they eased Stein out, McParland departing with him.
McParland then had a spell as manager at Hamilton, before coaching positions – working with younger players – at Airdrie, Dunfermline and Motherwell. His final position in football was as Director of Football at Dumbarton, before he retired to spend time with his devoted wife Terry, daughters Yvonne, Tracy and Hazel and his grand-children.
As Robert Reid points out: “Thistle win a major trophy about once every 50-years, so by that measure, Davie was a very good Thistle manager, as well as being a really great guy.”
He mended his fences with the club, was naturally enough inducted into their Hall of Fame and, until illness curtailed his activities latterly, he was always a welcome guest when he turned up at Firhill.
The final word has to go to Robert Reid: “I am so pleased Gerry Britton and I were able to visit him in hospital before he passed away and tell him of the club's decision to name our new training ground McParland Park.
You know, he deserves that honour. Davie McParland was one of football's, and nature's gentlemen.