Greatest XI - 4. Centre Back
20th February 2016
t's the turn of the centre backs now in Airdrie's Greatest XI, and the polling format is changing slightly to select our two central defenders.
This week our panel have select EIGHT players - to vote for your ultimate centre back simply select from the list below.
The player with most votes at the end of the week goes into the XI wearing the number 4 shirt.
The next FOUR most popular players go into a second poll next Saturday in order to find our second centre back.
With names such as Jim March, Norrie Anderson and John Menzies just missing out, competition was tough for the defensive slots, but the panel finally agreed on the following eight players:
1952-1956 / 1956-1960
Dougie signed for Airdrieonians from Douglas Water Thistle at the very youthful age of 15 in August 1952. His time at Broomfield lasted until the start of the 1960/61 season, with a very brief encounter in England with Swindon town in 1956 but he soon returned for a second spell as a Diamond. He made 185 appearances during that period scoring around 15 goals.
He was a tough tackling, robust and commanding centre half, who offered a goal threat too. His request for a transfer led to Rangers offering the Diamonds a record fee of £15,000 in 1961. His ability was never in question as he came to pick up a couple of caps with the Scotland under 23 sides. On the 8th of February 1955, less than a fortnight after his 18th birthday, he lined up at Shawfield alongside much more experienced team mates Eric Caldow, Dave Mackay and Aberdeen’s Graham Leggat and Bobby Wishart and made a second appearance three years later at Tynecastle against Wales, when he had a couple of years on a young debutant Jim Baxter. They were his only representative honours, although there were much fewer international and representative matches in that decade.
He played when Airdrieonians were relegated in 1954 but the following season, he was part of the side that had its best season in that decade during which the club reached the League semi-final to be beaten by Hearts, took Celtic to a replay in the Scottish Cup at the semi-final as well and enjoyed a very long unbeaten run en route to winning the B Division and a return to the top league. Only two games were lost in their 30 match campaign.
He only played occasionally during his four years at Ibrox, then a season with Third Lanark followed before heading for Brockville where he made over a hundred appearances for the Bairns before his final swansong in 1969, at East End Park for a year.
1962-1969 / 1974-1979
Born in the town on 13th November 1943, Jim was still in his teens when he arrived at Broomfield from East of Scotland youth outfit Lochend Hearts.
His debut came in the league game with Third Lanark at Broomfield on November 10th 1962, but it wasn’t until the following season that he really made his mark as a committed yet polished centre-half. Together with wing halves Sam Goodwin and Derek Whiteford, he would soon form what is still considered one of Airdrieonians’ most celebrated half-back lines. As a proclamation, ‘Goodwin, Black and Whiteford’ would come to roll off the tongue every bit as effortlessly as those other iconic threesomes of Diamonds’ lore, ‘Ewart, Dick and McQueen’ and ‘McMillan, Baird and Welsh’.
Jim’s initial spell with Airdrie stretched until May 1969 by which time he had amassed 184 appearances and developed into one of the most sought after stoppers in the Scottish game. As things unfolded, it was Hibernian, at the time a leading force in the top division, who eventually shelled out a fee of £32,500 to bag the defender. Black appeared for Hibs over 150 times during a rich spell of success that included winning the League Cup in 1972, as well as back-to-back Dryburgh Cups (’72 & ’73) and a Scottish Cup final appearance, also in ’72.
On the eve of season 1974-75, however, Jim made an emotional return to Broomfield featuring for the Diamonds a further 199 times, including 1975’s Scottish Cup final defeat to Celtic and, a year later, silverware at last in that epic Spring Cup final display against Clydebank at Firhill. Leaving Broomfield in 1979, Jim went on to play for and manage Stenhousemuir.
Frank Brennan made his Airdrie debut at just 16, in January, 1941. He came to us from the prolific Coatbridge St. Patrick’s nursery, as an amateur until he was able to sign professional forms on his 17th birthday.
He spent more than 5 years at Broomfield, and made almost 200 first-team appearances, although, because of World War Two, he never played for the Diamonds in an official Scottish League fixture. He was club captain in his final season of 1945/46, and led the side which won the ‘B’ Division Supplementary Cup (an early version of the Spring Cup and League Challenge Cup) towards the end of that campaign, defeating Dumbarton 2-1 in the final, in front of a crowd of 22,000 at Ibrox.
The village of Annathill was in the limelight in April, 1946, when the Scotland line-up to face England in the upcoming Victory International was announced. 21-year old Frank was selected at centre-half, and his fellow villagers (brothers) Davie, and ex-Diamond Jock, Shaw were picked at full-back. Our man received fulsome praise for his part in Scotland’s 1-0 win. The Glasgow Herald raved about his handling of England’s star centre-forward, Chelsea’s Tommy Lawton, saying “Seldom has Lawton been so thoroughly held in check as he was on Saturday, and it was refreshing to watch Brennan place the ball with discretion and not simply boot it anywhere for safety.” The Daily Record referred to him as “the find of the year – Big boy Brennan.” While all this adulation delighted Airdrie fans, it also meant that the big clubs on both sides of the border were alerted, and the outcome of that was inevitable.
Following the centre-half’s second Victory International cap a month later, vs Switzerland, Airdrie received a record fee of £7,500 when Frank was transferred to Newcastle in May, 1946. His progress continued on Tyneside, where he played in two successful F.A. Cup finals, and added 7 full Scotland caps to his collection, in his 10 year stay.
Signed in 1961 from St. Rochs the young Hannah was to go straight into the team at the turn of the year in the 1961/62 season. At the time the team was struggling defensively and Hannah's performances went a long way to improving the results for the remainder of the season.
His displays were earning praise from both local and national press. Altough virtually all his appearances were at Centre Half he was occasionally asked to fill in at Left Back and even at Outside Left. Hannah was now part of a fairly settled defence with the likes of Paul Jonquin and Jackie Keenan. He would play, or rather not play, through the "big freeze" of the 1962/63 season going seven weeks without playing a game.
The 1963/64 and 1964/65 seasons would prove to be his most consistent period for the club, missing only 8 of a possible 101 games. Hannah would leave the club in 1966 signing for St. Mirren having made 178 appearances in all competitions scoring 4 goals.
William Muir Kelly was born in Cowdenbeath not long after World War One, and it was after the end of World War Two that he signed for Airdrieonians from Dunfermline. He was a regular pick by manager Alex Ritchie at half back in the Diamonds first post WW2 promotion winning side in season 1946/47, finishing runners up to Champions Dundee by three points, but playing a central part in a defence that only lost three of their 26 league games. Relegation followed immediately while an immediate return to Division A was missed by a point in 1948/49. Kelly’s side scored an incredible 29 goals in their six league cup section matches and were also to just miss out on a League Cup semi-final spot, after it took a third game to separate Airdrie and Hamilton in the quarter finals. Kelly celebrated promotion once more in 1949/50 as runners up again, this time to Morton, while falling in the League Cup for the second successive season at the quarter- final stage. 1950/51 was his final full season at Broomfield and the club had retained their Division A status while enjoying Scottish Cup success before exiting the competition in the quarter finals to Hibernian.
He made over 180 appearances, which was an excellent figure at a time when league sizes were much lower. His ‘no nonsense’ approach made him a popular figure in the dressing and while the Diamonds skipped between the two divisions it was perhaps inevitable that he would move on.
He was signed by Blackburn Rovers in September 1951 and played his part in them reaching the FA Cup semi-finals in his first season. He remained with them until 1957, having made 186 appearances at the time and scoring one goal. Willie Kelly returned to Broomfield in 1956 with Blackburn - including Ally MacLeod - when they provided the opposition for the Stadium Floodlights to be presented, with a large crowd in attendance.
He was seen as an ‘iron man’ with Rovers, and a player who would certainly be included when discussing Blackburn’s greatest XI. After Rovers he finished his career having spells with Mossley then Accrington Stanley in 1957/58.
Airdrie’s signing of Jackie McDougall from Port Glasgow Juniors in November, 1921, brought an end to our long search for a natural and commanding centre-half. We had tried five different men in the important defensive role during the previous season, and, in the run-up to Jackie’s first-team debut, Tommy Preston had been filling in temporarily at the heart of our rearguard.
It was almost two years after his introduction before he missed a league fixture, and, given his crucial position in the side, it’s a simple truth that he was as vital a member of our greatest team as anyone else. The 1924 cup triumph was the pinnacle of his achievements as a Diamond of course, but he remained a huge favourite with the fans until his departure after more than seven years at Broomfield. He made in excess of 300 first-team appearances, and contributed 21 goals when he had the opportunity to join our attack.
He played for Scotland against Ireland in 1925/26, and was capped twice by the Scottish League, in 1925/26 and 1926/27. His brother James was also a centre-half, who won two caps for Scotland.
Sunderland paid a sizeable £5,000 fee for his services at the end of 1928/29, and he spent five seasons at Roker Park, and then three more at Leeds.
Signed from Fauldhouse United in September 1978, Brian, along with the likes of Harry Erwin, Ian Gordon and Willie McGuire, formed a kind of youthful front introduced by Bobby Watson as part of his concentrated bid to reach the Premier League. Making his mark in the side fairly quickly, Brian slotted into the right hand side of midfield with an uncommon blend of raw exuberance and growing maturity. Exciting times lay ahead for the player too. In his first full season with the Diamonds, they achieved promotion from the First Division in style. McKeown and co’s fresh-faced bluster seemed to mesh perfectly with the perhaps more measured brand of professionalism from the likes of Sandy Clark and Tommy Walker. Airdrie’s inimitable slant on life upstairs was inspiring as Watson’s side finished their first season in the top flight a highly creditable 7th. Airdrie’s survival instincts deserted them twelve months later, however, and, with Bill Munro now in charge, Brian had returned to Scottish football’s second tier, a level at which he would remain for the rest of his eight seasons with the club. During that time he played under a further four managers – Ally McLeod, Derek Whiteford, Gordon McQueen and Jimmy Bone – all of whom seemed in agreement that his wealth of experience in reading the game was better suited to more defensive duties.
It was McQueen who eventually rewarded Brian’s resolute qualities with the club captaincy, a responsibility he held mainly in central defence although, as an occasional right back, he proved equally formidable.
Season 1989-90 brought Brian’s final appearances in the famous ‘Diamond’ and it was a campaign that, for so long, looked like mirroring Airdrie’s previous ascent into the Premier League. Sadly, that was not to be, and in November 1990, Brian signed for Queen of the South with whom he stayed for several seasons before returning to the Junior ranks.
In recognition of their outstanding loyalty to the Diamonds, Brian and fellow-stalwart Johnny Martin were rewarded with a testimonial against Rangers in July 1989. It was an honour thoroughly merited by one of Airdrieonians’ most unassuming heroes.
Edinburgh born Sandison started his career with Heart of Midlothian in 1983. When Alex MacDonald became Airdrie Manager in 1991 he made Sandison his first signing for around £100,000. He was immediately appointed Captain and would become a pivotal player in the team for the next ten years.
Jimmy was everything a club could look for in a Captain solid in defence, organising and encouraging his team mates at all times. Playing primarily as a sweeper Jimmy was very much the last line of defence on many occasions, striking up an excellent understanding with goalkeeper John Martin much to the dismay of many an opposing attacker.
Jimmy was to Captain the team not only throughout his entire spell at the club but also during the clubs most succesful spell since the 1920's. However his first season was to be blighted by controversy and heartbreak, firstly in the League Cup Semi-Final vs Dunfermline and its highly controversial late "penalty" awarded by referee David Syme. Jimmy would then go on to miss out on the chance to Captain the team in the 1992 Scottish Cup Final due to suspension. The fact that he never allowed these personal low points to affect his performances or duties as Captain is a testament to the player.
Sandison would eventually have his chance to Captain the team in a Scottish Cup Final three years later in 1995 vs Celtic. He also played in four League Cup Semi-Finals, won the B&Q Cup in 1994 and Captained the team in both legs of their only appearance in European Football. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008.