Bobby Black

On the evening of Queen of the South’s 90th anniversary, March 21st 2009, Bobby Black from Thornhill was sitting with a small group of family and friends round a table at Palmerston Park. Bobby was approached and asked if he would be OK to give an interview for qosfc.com. Quick as a flash, one of the ladies sat with Bobby replied, “You’d better watch yourself, he swears a lot”, to a cackle of universal laughter from those round the table. As the interview progressed Bobby was approached numerous times as the clock ticked on, with reminders from friends that it was time to go. Bobby’s reaction to these reminders was repeatedly the same throughout, “I’ll only be five minutes”. As Bobby said himself early in the interview, “I thought that mid 50s team was the team that I was likely to meet today. Who turned up? Jim Patterson and myself, we it seems are the only remaining survivors of that team. I’m 82, there’s a lot of things that I know from then and I welcome this opportunity to unburden myself.” Five minutes after five minutes became an hour.

Bobby Black is the second highest goal scorer in with 120 goals from his 346 appearances. He also played for an East Fife side that at the time were a trophy winning power in Scottish football. Playing in the fine Queens team of the 50s, Black was also capped by the Scottish League. He is intelligent, articulate, eloquent, sometimes philosophical and with a streak of cheeky humour that is never far away, he’s also good fun. This is the story in his own words of the sporting career of Bobby Black.

 

 

Bobby Black – “I played with Queen of the South as a boy when I was 15 during the war when they were defunct. They used to occasionally raise a team and played under the Queen of the South colours and played against visiting services teams. The aerodrome at Heathhall in these days had a lot of top class international players. I did quite well for them and that’s what started me off.”

“How come you ended up at East Fife rather than starting off at Queens?”

“My mother liked the approach of the chairman of East Fife. John McArthur was the President of the SFA. He had this sort of Presbyterian attitude to life and my mother was a church goer and she thought, “He’s a nice man, he’ll look after my boy”. She said, “I would recommend you went to East Fife.” I played trials for Blackburn Rovers and Huddersfield and what not but I was quite happy to go for East Fife. My team, Connell Park Rangers, were threatened with legal action by John McArthur, the President of the SFA as I’ve told you, that I had made the seemingly princely sum of thirty pounds for signing for East Fife, which I regretted later when I could have had £2000 for signing for Fulham.”

Bobby Black debuted for East Fife playing in the war time league scoring in a 6-1 home win against Dundee United. The date was May 12th 1945. Over the next three seasons the teenager played only occasionally for the first team while he still developed.

Black played at East Fife during undoubtedly the best decade in the club’s history when teams who under-estimated them were made to suffer. One of the greatest club managers in Scottish football history, Scot Symon, landed his first managerial appointment in June 1947 at East Fife. The club was immediately transformed. As Black said himself, “There was a time when East Fife had the best winners’ record in the League Cup of any team in Scotland”. The Scottish League Cup was started after the Second World War. In 1954 East Fife became the first team to win the trophy three times.

The Methil side also achieved consistent high placed finishes in Scotland’s top league. They produced a conveyor belt of internationals who played for Scotland while with the club; Allan Brown (a future team mate of George Farm at Blackpool), Henry Morris, George Aitken, Davie Duncan, Charlie Fleming and Andy Matthew (like Queens’ Jim Patterson, Matthew’s game for Scotland was v The Army and a full cap was not awarded).

The start of Black’s breakthrough to the first team came at the end of Symon’s first season in charge. Black played in two league games, both in April, a 4-0 win at home against Stenhousemuir and scoring in a 4-3 win at Stirling. East Fife romped away to win the B Division title by 11 points. The Fifers were promoted to the top division of Scottish football.

East Fife finished 1948/49 in fourth place with Black a first team regular in Scotland’s top tier. Black scored in a 3-2 home league win against Celtic and played in the Scottish Cup quarter final 2-0 win away against Hibs. He also played in the semi final defeat to Rangers.

Queen of the South and East Fife both made the 1950 Scottish Cup semi finals. In a semi against Partick Thistle in front of 42,000 fans, East Fife made it to the final with a 2-1 win. The opponents of the Fifers in the final at Hampden in front of over 118,000 fans were Rangers, semi final replay conquerors of Queens.

“When we played in the 1950 Scottish Cup Final against Rangers, we lost the services of our regular goalkeeper, John Niven, and the services of our reserve team goalkeeper, John McGarrity, on the same Saturday, which is quite unique. We were unfortunate enough to lose both our goalkeepers. The selectors gave a debut to the young third choice goalkeeper. He’d never played a senior game of football in his life before then and he got a Scottish Cup Final medal. He was no match for Rangers in those days. But I believe, and I still believe to this day that had we had our regular or even our second team goalkeeper, we would have beaten Rangers. We had already beaten them that year in the Scottish League Cup.” They had also drawn 2-2 in the league at Ibrox two weeks before the final. The unfortunate young Gordon Easson was thrust into the East Fife goalkeeping spotlight, replacing McGarrity as the only change from the line up who had won the League Cup Final. Willie Findlay put Rangers ahead after 30 seconds. Willie Thornton aded two more as Rangers ran out 3-0 winners to lift the oldest trophy in world football.

Black won a League Cup medal with East Fife in that season of 1949-50. Hearts were among those taken care of in the group phase by Black’s team. When the semi final draw was made the two strongest sides in Scottish football of the era, Rangers and Hibs were drawn apart. East Fife knocked out Rangers in the 2-1 victory that Black referred to above. The Fifers were hit by tragedy though. When Charlie Fleming scored in extra time what was to be the winner, John McArthur watching in the stand collapsed and died from a heart attack. In the other tie Dunfermline also won 2-1 in eliminating Hibs to give the shock result of the tournament. It was to be an all Fife final. In the final there was no slip up from the Methil side in the way Hibs had banana skinned against the Pars - a 3-0 victory took the trophy to Bayview for the second time in three seasons.

In his most eye catching league result that season, Black scored as Celtic were thumped 5-1 at Bayview. Black and East Fife finished fourth in 1950 for the second year running. The season after showed how far they had come when a tenth placed finish was a disappointment (a mid season results slump was the source of the club’s woes). Black was again a first team regular throughout.

Things were very different for Black in 1951/52 – he played in only four games all season.

“In these days East Fife were called the Bank of England team. There was a circular sent out by Scot Symon, who later became the manager of Rangers, he was manager of East Fife at the time, and he wrote this letter to say that we were called the Bank of England team because there were so many English teams on the track of various players. I was one of them that could have made quite a lot of money, but I got an injury that kept me out the game for a year. The club doctor confidentially advised the directors of the club that I was finished because of an injury. Nobody knew about that, Queen of the South didn’t know about that.”

In 78 league games for East Fife (nearly all in Scotland’s top division), Bobby Black scored 23 goals. His time in Methil hadn’t ended the way he would have liked but there was still many a happy memory stashed away. But as Black said when it was time to move on:

“I’m a Doonhamer by birth, I’ve been a Doonhamer ever since. I was only too happy to get back to Dumfries, I identified with the place. I read the local papers and I read the national papers, I’m still a Doonhamer and interested in Queen of the South.”

Still not fully recovered from the injury, “The first season I played for Queens, my form was a bit, I can only describe as ‘indifferent’,” laughed Black acknowledging that the standard of his performances weren’t what he wanted them to be before adding, “But things got better. And when they signed….”

Black continued, “I remember playing against Berwick Rangers for Queen of the South. And Walter Johnstone, the chairman of Queen of the South, he came in to the changing room to congratulate me on my, either equaliser or winning goal, I think it was the winning goal [Queens won the Scottish cup tie 3-2 on Feb 7th 1953 with a last minute winner]. At that time Billy Houliston, Queens legend, he was playing for Berwick. I was so influenced by one of the Berwick Rangers players. I said, ‘Sign that bloke that was playing, a bloke called McGill’”. Jimmy McGill signed for Queens the following September.

Charlie Brown commented in a separate interview, "Bobby Black was a quality player. Black and McGill, the pair of them tearing down the right together."

Black. “Without McGill I wouldn’t have been what I was. I made my name with more than assistance, we had a wonderful understanding, we could read each other’s minds. I still believe he played a major role in the success of Queen of the South at that time.”

“That season Queens were top of the league at Christmas?”

Black’s reply was completely compelling to listen to, not just for what he said but also for the way he said it. For nearly all of this interview Bobby Black had the tone of someone who clearly loved life, and who always gave the impression that he would be more than happy to reflect on the humorous side of pretty much anything he’d been involved in. That wasn’t the case for the next few sentences; his voice had the tone of 100% respectful sincerity:

“That particular year, we were clear top at Christmas time. This wasn’t the Premier League, it was the old first division, it included Celtic, Rangers, Hibs and all that, and we were a top class club. At that time, I thought we were really good, I actually believed it and we actually believed it, it was just a question of going out on the park and playing as well as we could and we would win again. Unfortunately it all went…”

He continued, “I’ve got my opinion on what went wrong, it’s just my opinion. Nearly 20 years as a professional footballer. You can’t win them all, and you’re just as often wrong as you’re right. I had many happy recollections of that time. Most of the times you’ve got to depend on the press and the press’ opinion. I’ve got things in my scrap book that say, “Queen of the South don’t realise how good they are, they only need somebody to convince them that they are.” I thought that’s a real tribute, it wasn’t just one pressman that said that, there were several of them said they [i.e. QoS] just need somebody to tell them,” laughed Black now back in cheerful tone.

“If I was going to put you on the spot, who do you think were the best players in that Queens team?”

“That’s an extremely difficult question. I mean who could surpass Roy Henderson as a goalkeeper anywhere in Scotland? If I was to single out individuals it would be a disservice to the other players because we were a good team. The team was the thing because for some reason, and I don’t know who was responsible for putting the team together but we all got on well with each other, we all had the confidence and whatever. I mean McGill was a great player as I told you earlier on. When we signed him from Berwick Rangers, that really coincided with what they called the great team that we had. Up until then I’d been playing sort of semi injured following the transfer from East Fife. Then when they switched me to on to the wing and then introduced McGill we seemed to take off. And Wattie Rothera of course was a wonderful player and a great strategic sort of player. So we had, and it wasn’t only my opinion, it was the opinion of lots of prominent players in Scotland at the time that Queen of the South were a force to be reckoned with. As the press said, ‘This Queens team really don’t know how good they are’.”

“What about another of your comrades in arms on the right hand side, Dougie Sharpe?"

“Brilliant; brilliant; brilliant;” said Black as his face was overcome with a look of complete admiration. After gathering his thoughts he then added, “Dougie Sharpe would have the ball, he was a right back, I’d be lying spare 20 yards up the wing. If you were watching say Manchester United, or any of these teams on television today, the right back would have given it to the winger. Sharpe belted it up the park to nowhere. So once I got to know him well enough I said to him, I used to play golf with him as well, ‘Why don’t you just use the side of your foot and give me possession of the ball and see what I can do with it?’ ‘If I do that’ he said, ‘Somebody called Jock Smith on the committee, he says he’ll destroy me, he told me you can’t play football in your half of the park, you can only play it in the other half of the park’. And I thought what an extraordinary attitude to take towards football, ’cause that isn’t the way I saw it, cause I was a ball player, and when they signed McGill we were ball players. It didn’t matter whether you got territorial advantage with a long ball or not.”

Black again – “What we tried to do, McGill and I used to try and out psyche the left side of their defence. So as the match wore on, you could maybe take them to the cleaners. But right from the start, you didn’t start that ‘cause that’s the way you got kicked off the park, and we used to work on that. It was a planned approach to the game. We’d inter pass, we would inter change positions and one thing and another. It was the sort of game I used to play with East Fife. That was completely opposite to the McKinnells’ coaching at Palmerston. And we found a sympathiser in Rothera who was a great player. And I think that’s because we had suddenly found we had three ‘footballers’ and I still maintain to this day you need skill but you also need the tenacity to go with it. You need the combination of the two. You can’t get by with one thing or the other, you need a combination of several qualities to make it. I mean I wasn’t a big man and I wasn’t going to try and wrestle a 16 stone left back who’d kick me off the park. So you had to try and do it some other way, I used to try and make him look a bit foolish until he lost his cool, tempt him into these rash sort of things. I think that had a lot to do with it. Or at least I’d like to claim that. Whether it was successful or not I don’t know, history will judge us. It already has. I’ve been in Bristol bowling club and guys have come in shouting, ‘Black and McGill’. ‘Where do you come from?’ ‘We come from Lochmaben.’ It’s quite gratifying still to be remembered.”

“I do feel a bit sorry for a guy that we had in that particular year. He’s never mentioned in despatches anywhere. He played in all the games that Queens played that year. I feel that nobody has ever remembered the important part that Jackie Brown played in the success of that team, because he was another ‘footballer’. I just feel a bit sorry that Jackie Brown was never mentioned in the same way that McGill, Rothera and I have been mentioned. Brown was the most under rated player that Queens ever had in my opinion.”

And the primary beneficiary of the service from Black, McGill, Rothera & Jackie Oakes in what is often lauded as the finest front five in Queens history: “Jim Patterson’s a great bloke, he’s a magic bloke, great company. I wouldn’t have classed Jim as a ball player, he was a bustler, and played an important part. He had his own particular skills with obviously being the highest scorer that Queens have had over the years, and Jim was good at it. I sat beside him today and I dearly love the bloke. I dearly love Jim and recognise all of his qualities.” 

“For sheer consistency, the greatest Queens team of all time.”

“I’m not going to disagree with that because I’m just proud to have been part and parcel of it. None of us were stars.”

“You’re being modest. It was a good team but to be a good team you’ve got to have good individuals.”

“I don’t doubt for one minute your philosophy but I’ve seen teams of stars who’ve never done anything. As soon as they begin to think they are stars it spreads through the ranks. It’s just the same as one man in the team, and somebody finding out he’s being paid two pounds a week more than somebody else, that can cause a lot of damage, someone finding out there’s somebody in the team being paid more. We’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns, you play for each other and you get your kicks out of winning. As long as you’re winning, that’s the main thing.”

“Any games from that run stick out in your mind or any goals that stick out? You did score a lot of goals.”

“I was surprised to find later on that I, being a winger, you’re not normally a goal scorer but I used to sort of wander out of position. I wouldn’t get a game in today’s football.”

“You’re very modest describing it as wandering out of position, that’s the killer instinct that is!”

“I don’t know, it’s just a feeling that you’ve got. I mean when I got my two goals against the League of Ireland, I’d wandered out of position as well. The purists would have been saying, ‘get out on the wing, get out on the wing’.

“Total football!!”

“Total football”, Black laughed back.

Hungary would have been proud of that, you should have been lining up beside Puskás and the like.”

“How could I score goals out on the wing? I always had it, I always had it, even as a young man in minor football, I could score goals. I used to find sort of blank situations where there was nobody there and I thought, well if the ball does go in there and I’m the only one near it, I’ve got a chance. But you’re taking a chance. But it worked, because that’s what happens in football. It’s these unprotected situations, quite often where the ball arrives and all theorists in the world…. Instead of marking men, defenders marked the zone. I just sort of said if there’s nobody there, why don’t I get in there? The story that’s told to me, next to Jim Patterson, I’m the next man in line as goal scorers for Queen of the South. I didn’t know that at the time, I didn’t count my goals up every week.”

“And there’s only three of you scored more than 100 goals for QoS.”

“It’s one of these things, I just enjoyed my football.”

“In your game for the Scottish League [a 3-1 win, managed by Dave Halliday with Black scoring two goals], someone else who played in that game was another player from Dumfries, Willie McNaught of Raith Rovers.”

Willie and I were great friends then. We were opponents because of the local derby between East Fife and Raith Rovers. Willie played with Raith Rovers and I played with East Fife. So it was that tussle that we had then. I got on well with Willie McNaught, I think he was a fabulous player, he was another great Doonhamer.”

“I read that Willie Bauld, ‘King of Hearts’, he said that the best player that he ever played directly against was Willie McNaught.”

“I wouldn’t be at all surprised. And Willie Bauld, they were a great team in Edinburgh in those days with Bauld, Conn and Wardhaugh, they were great players. My philosophy with football was there are only a few bad players, most of them are good players, they are all doing their best.” Laughed Black yet again, “Some of them happened to get written up in the Sunday newspapers.”

“What about personal memories with Queens?”

“I always imagined, if you were a Kilmarnock supporter and Jimmy Brown was the goalkeeper, they always thought if there’s a bogeyman it was me. In all the important games, two cup ties against Kilmarnock, I scored the winner [in both 1956 & 1958 Queens drew 2-2 at Rugby Park before winning 2-0 and 3-0 respectively at Palmerston]. When we were struggling against relegation the same year [’58 – Queens finished sixth in ‘56], and we had no less a person than Willie Waddell of Rangers who was a newspaper man, he said Black was responsible for the demise of Kilmarnock. And being an ex East Fife player it relegated East Fife to the second division.”

“Irony.”

“It was ironic”, said Black before continuing, “For some reason against Kilmarnock, not that I played great, but for some reason it fell to me to deliver the winning goal or something like that.”

“I approached a man a little while back about Queens, and he replied, Sir Alex Ferguson. He talked about a game….”

Queens Park, he was an amateur. I meant to say, well I wouldn’t like to tell you exactly what I said to him, cause I didn’t know whether to call him Sir Alex or Alex,” laughed Black.

“When was this?”

“Back about two years ago. I met him. This is the only time I’ve met him. My mate had the pub. I live in Somerset. My mate, my best mate, he’s Somerset born and bred, he’s not a football supporter, he’s a rugby man, he had the pub and he said, ‘I’ll pick you up tomorrow and bring you up to the pub’. I said fair enough. He said, ‘Don’t tell anybody you’re coming up.’ I thought this is kind of strange. So when I got up to the pub I said, ‘Come on then, let me into the secret’. He said, ‘We’ve got Alex Ferguson coming tomorrow’. I said, ‘The Alex Ferguson, the manager of Manchester United?’ He said, ‘Yes, he’s coming’. I think he’s got a couple of horses, Paul Nicholls the trainer, he’s about three miles from where I live. Anyway, to cut a long story short he came over to me and he said ‘Hiya Bob’. As I said I didn’t know whether to call him Sir Alex or Alex so anyway I called him Alex. I said, ‘You won’t know me, I was long before your time’. ‘No you weren’t,’ he said, ‘I remember you played for Queen of the South, didn’t you?’ I said, ‘Yes’. He said, ‘I can remember playing against you’. He excused himself, ‘I was only 17 at the time,’ he said, ‘You had the oldest forward line in Scottish football’”, followed by yet more laughter from Black, “He named the five. As a bit of an after thought, I thought I’d try him out. I didn’t know what his sense of humour was. I said, “You can’t remember the score, can you? We beat you 5 nil.”

“Do you know what the score was when you played him at Palmerston?”

Black replied, “No I don’t.”

“Boxing Day, 1959?”

Black (intrigued) – “No?”

“You scored.”

“Did I?” asked Black with uncertainty.

“Queen of the South 7, Queens Park 1. He [Sir Alex] named the 5 in the reply he sent back to me; Black, Broadis, Patterson, Dunlop and Oakes. Ivor Broadis scored 4, you got 1 and Percy Dunlop scored 2. He scored the Queens Park goal”

“Not bad for the oldest front 5 in Scotland,” said Black enjoying himself with his biggest laugh of the interview, “I wish I’d known that at that time because there would’ve been a substantial amount of taking the mickey. I started laughing at the time, I know you laugh at your own jokes but I thought it was quite humorous. He was a nice a bloke, and quite modest.”

“How come you moved down to Somerset after Queens? Did you get a game of football down there or something?”

Bath City offered me £20 a week. When I got a free transfer from Queens I needed some money because I had a family in Scotland to support. That helped, I had enough to be able to send money back to the family. An old football acquaintance of mine, Charlie Fleming was playing down there [player manager]. He’d played for East Fife with me down the right side [Fleming scored two goals on his only full Scotland international, a 3-1 win against Northern Ireland]. At the end I finished up playing for a team called Bridgwater Town. They weren’t even rated as a substantial non league club, they were lower than that, they were in what was called the Western League. I had a reasonable job with Clarks Shoes. I was a Management Accountant, I became Divisional Analyst.”

Black added, “I’ve always been a sportsman. I was a golfer. I was a big fish in a small pool, I won a few golf tournaments. I was into bowls. I had 78 appearances with Somerset in the Middleton Cup which is the English championship in bowls. I just had to find something that was competitive. I could no longer play football. I could no longer play golf because the hips and the knees had gone. I’ve had a new hip and two new knees. I’m ready for another hip again if I live long enough. I had a modest amount of success but I was a big fish in a small pool, I was never going to be a sort of international player. The last refuge of the ageing sportsman is bowls. But bowls is a highly competitive sport. I got 3 all England medals playing for Somerset alongside names like David Bryant.”

“You played in the same team as him?”

“It was only the other week I was talking to him. I’m proud to be able to claim an acquaintanceship with him because he’s a marvellous man. He’s a great, great sportsman and world champion bowler.”

“He won it a numerous times did he not? He won it a few times?”

“Oh aye, several times. [Bryant in fact won 6 individual and 7 team world bowls titles] He played in the same Somerset team as me. I always say as a Scotsman I was proud to play for Somerset.”

(We three kings - On the left is Bobby Black on his return to Palmerston Park for Queens’ 90th anniversary, 21st March 2009. With Black is his fellow ton up club members, Andy Thomson and Jim Patterson).

Bobby Black is down in football history as a League Cup winner with East Fife, a Scottish League internationalist, second in the Queen of the South goal scoring charts and thirteenth in the club’s appearances list. With his sense of humour, he would probably prefer to be described as, ‘The finest wanderer out of position in the history of the club’. And while certain words have been removed from this transcript in line with Queens’ status as a family club, despite the warning that was given, he doesn’t swear that much.

 

As an appendix to the publication of the above feature it was with sadness when the club reported on 4 Jun 2012 that Bobby had passed away. Although Bobby is no longer with us, his legacy in football continues with a string of Bobby’s decendents who have played pro football after him. That seems set to continue with Bobby’s great grandson appearing to have a bright future ahead of him in the game:-

* Bobby’s son, young Bobby Black, played for Queens between 1971 and 1973 making 35 appearances scoring four goals. Young Bobby joined Queens from St Cuthbert Wanderers in Kirkcudbright.

* Russell Black, another son of Bobby senior, played 14 league games for Sheffield United during seasons 84/85 and 85/86. Also with the Blades at this time was his fellow Dumfries born player, Don Peattie, who played five league games for Sheff U. Russell scored in his league game on loan at Dundee before spending two seasons at Halifax Town. In his two seasons there he scored 14 goals in his 72 league games. He bookended his time in the senior ranks by playing at Gretna.

* The family connection at Halifax continued with Bobby’s grandson, Toby Paterson, who played a league game for the Yorkshie club in 1988/89. Paterson moved to Australia playing for Frankstone Pines, a club formed by Scottish Australians in Melbourne in 1965. A former Scottish schoolboy internationalist, Toby has also been on the books at Celtic, Gretna and Annan.

* At Halifax another Paterson grandson of Bobby’s, Jamie Paterson, also born in Dumfries, joined the first team for four seasons after playing for the youth side. He next spent season 94/95 at Falkirk playing in four league games. Next was two seasons at Scunthorpe where the midfielder scored twice in his 55 league games. He then returned to Halifax for a further three seasons before spending four at Doncaster Rovers. After Donny he dropped out of senior football by joining Barrow.

* Denny Johnstone is Bobby’s great grandson, another born in Dumfries. As well as being on the books at Celtic the 17 year old at time of writing has represented Scotland numerous times at age group level.

* Brodie Paterson is also Bobby’s great grandson and like Johnstone has played international football at age group level, in Paterson’s case for Australia.

On 1st January 2013 Bobby Black was announced as being a 2013 inductee into the Queen of the South Hall of Fame.

Kirk McLean