“There was an enormous depth back in the sixties. If you look at some of the players at various clubs who never came near to getting an international cap, they’d be getting 50 caps in modern day football.”
Never mind 50, if one were to extrapolate Scottish football historian John Litster’s perceived gulf in quality between the two eras, right-back Findlay ‘Junior’ McGillivray would be a centurion had he been plying his trade today.
It is a name not many of the younger generations will be aware of. When the usual suspects are reeled off within the pantheon of great defenders the nation produced in that decade, Junior’s name is not mentioned in the same breath as behemoths such as Billy McNeill and John Greig, and rarely in the brackets below either.
A Third Lanark legend, he was inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame in May. However, his story, one of sporadic triumph but, ultimately, unfulfilled potential, has been left untold. In part, this can be attributed to the Hi-Hi’s demise 50 years ago, which left his legend without a club or fandom in which to incubate, no Scarlet narrative to imbed the exploits he was once lionized for.
The lack of literature about Junior does, though, perversely serve as a reminder of a bygone period unlikely ever to return. An age where the top flight was saturated with such an abundance of quality that a revered talent like Junior was allowed to become a mere footnote.
As an athletically-built player whose distinctive blond locks belied his liking for a fierce tackle and a full-blooded aerial battle, his performances in the last line of defence for Third Lanark had promised a swift rise to the summit of Scottish football, and into the navy blue of Scotland.
The date 24 September 1964, will not provoke much reaction from most people, but for Junior, and in the eyes of many devoted Thirds fans, it can be pinpointed as the day these forecasts were irreparably derailed.
‘McGillivray signs for Rangers’.
‘…A player on the verge of International honours’, the Glasgow Herald’s report read. That was to prove to be a false prophesy, but his spell at Ibrox, shrouded in mystery, doesn’t detract from a fascinating dozen years in the game.
Junior grew up in the town of Newtongrange, near Edinburgh, one of many brothers in a family besotted by football and sport in general. While his siblings played at junior level alongside Findlay, his progression into professional football was swift. After leaving school at 15, Junior got an apprenticeship as a stonemason. He played for local juvenile team, Newtongrange Bluebell, before graduating to the seniors, Newtongrange Star, where he was scouted and signed by Bob Shankly for Third Lanark inside a year at the age of 19.
“I went through to Third Lanark for one of their games and I was never out the team after that. I met Shankly once when I signed, but that was the only time as he went to Dundee after that. George Young was the new manager, ‘Big Corky’ as he was called.”
Just as Junior was arriving, Thirds were preparing to go full-time. They trained five times a week and this was reflected in the wages paid to the players. Findlay was in the second pay bracket, earning £14 a week, much less than what he calls the “obscene” wages being frittered around nowadays but still “a lot more than the average working man even in those days”.
Junior’s eye for a challenge added steel to a defence whose penetrability had been detracting from an otherwise formidable attacking quintet. A Scottish football playing card from 1964 states that he was, at a height of 5ft 10in, 12st in weight, ‘a cultured player, fast in the tackle and precise in distribution’.
Versatility was another of his attributes. “The first four games I played I think I was in three different positions. Right-half, left-half, left-back, and I ended up finishing at right-back. I was always a defender growing up, tackling was my main strength.”
St Mirren Hall of Famer, Tony Connell, a former teammate of Junior’s at Third Lanark, bemoaning the number of “eggheads who thought too much of themselves”, waxes lyrical about Junior, both as a player and as a person he refers to as ‘the big man’.
“He was one of the most underrated players. He would get picked every week and he would perform, but he never did anything spectacular that other defenders might try and do. He played the game as a defender, the way it should be played in those days. He was just so steady in everything that he did; tremendous. He didn’t score a lot of goals but he was playing in an era when, as a defender, you didn’t score goals, you stopped them and that was your job. He had a great presence on the park you could utilise, at set-pieces especially.
His exploits on the pitch are why he is remembered by many, but his human decency is the foremost quality everyone recalls.
“He was a lovely person, liked by everyone down there at Cathkin [Park, home of Third Lanark]. He wouldn’t go out to the bars with the rest of the players, he would rather return home on the train to his family. He had a strong will. He was never one of these ebullient people who spoke all sorts of nonsense. He was just plain, kept himself to himself. He tried to make an example of himself for others to follow. I made my debut down at Stranraer in the Scottish Cup – I would only have been 18 or 19 at the time – but before the game he was the only man in our team that came up to me and said ‘hope you have a good game’. I’ll never forget that.”
His discipline and role as a leader of men was subsequently rewarded by Corky, bestowing the captaincy on him at a relatively young age. He held this position for a couple of years before Bobby Evans came in and handed it to the incoming Sammy Baird who had just joined from Rangers.
In 1960/61, they “had a good season that year under Corky” – an understatement if ever there was one. A final-day 6-1 demolition of Hibs at Cathkin Park saw them place above Celtic in third position, eclipsing the century barrier for goals scored in the process. Their record boasted 20 wins, two draws and 12 defeats, but even with Junior as a vital cog, they still managed to ship 80 goals in these 34 games, such was the swashbuckling nature of the team.
Talking to Findlay with his loving wife, Christine, in their cosy mid-terrace in Musselburgh, is like talking to the spirit of the fresh-faced Findlay of yesteryear, the ultra-fit right-back renowned for his tackling prowess 50 odd years ago. He may be a pensioner now, but there are moments when his armchair could be mistaken for the dugout at Cathkin, such is the power of the emotion transporting him back to the crowning moment of the Warriors’ halcyon days.
“That was a good team, that,” he recalled, in his forever understated manner. A nostalgic smirk swept across his face as the memories of the Hi-Hi’s adieu to Scottish football came flooding back, momentarily usurping the pain their demise caused. “I got on with the lot of them. Wee Jocky Robertson, myself, Lewis… Jim Reilly was right-half, John McCormick was the centre-half and Willie Cunningham was left-half.” The initial spurt of names was followed by a slight moment of hesitation where he looked charitably across to the other couch in hope of help from his wife.
“Dinnae look at me, I’m no into foot–”. Then it came, like bullets from a machine gun. “Goodfellow, Hilley, Harley, Gray and McInnes. That was the forward line.” It is a list that has obviously been spun off the tongue quite a few times throughout the years. “Oh aye, I could rhyme off that front line all day. Sadly, I don’t stay in contact with many of the players, but I see Paddy Buckley. Most of them are away now, there is not much of the old team left to tell these stories.”
As a bonus for their valiant efforts in finishing so high up the league table, they embarked on a tour of the USA and Canada. It was a four-week trip consisting of nine games. They travelled to Toronto, Chicago, St Louis, Seattle, Vancouver and Youngstown, playing against Birmingham City three times, the second of which ended in defeat, blemishing their overall tour record of seven wins and a draw from their other fixtures.
His excellent form at club level quickly led to personal accolades and international recognition. He gained an under-23 cap against England at Pittodrie in February 1962 where Scotland lost 4-2 in front of 25,000 fans, but reports from the media state that Junior performed excellently. Sharing the pitch that evening were captains on the night, Billy McNeill and Bobby Moore, along with Willie Henderson and Jimmy Greaves to name but a few. Among Junior’s son Andrew’s collection of memorabilia from his father’s playing days is the England jersey from that game, but they don’t know whose it is. It’s not often that someone has a jersey in their loft which may belong to a World Cup or European Cup winner.
Junior was one of a handful on the pitch that night who never graduated into the senior team of either country. Bert Bell, author of Still Seeing Red, rued the oversight, stating with absolute conviction that “McGillivray should have been an internationalist all his days.”
Junior was also picked for the Glasgow Select side which faced Manchester United in 1963. Predictably, it featured large contingents from the Old Firm, so to be included in a squad which had Scottish footballing greats in it was a huge achievement.
Despite the initial success, Junior had to watch a great team slowly be picked apart in front of his eyes. Players of the ilk of David Hilley, Alex Harley and Matt Gray were transferred within the space of a year, moving to Newcastle United and Manchester City for large sums, leaving the team in a dogfight to stave off relegation.
In spite of the complete erosion of any consistency in personnel – ‘they used 26 players in the season, with McGillivray the only perfect attender’, a report stated – his constant presence was a stabilising factor in cup competitions. In April 1963 Third Lanark reached the final of the Glasgow Cup for the second season running. In a repeat of the previous year’s showpiece, Celtic were the opponents, but there would be no replay or glorious failure to follow this time. The Hi-Hi would have the city bragging rights for the first time in 54 years courtesy of a resolute defensive display yielding a 2-1 victory.
“It was the pinnacle of my career”, he beamed, but the shine of his one outstanding achievement has been tinged after he lost the gold medal he received. Still, he will be remembered as a stalwart of a team that will forever be etched into folklore as the last meaningful breath breathed by the club before they vanished without a whimper.
Football was his first love, but it is true that Findlay is the quintessential family man. Now 76, he married his doting wife, Christine, six years his junior, when they were young. They had met two years earlier when his shooting partner, a neighbour of Christine, introduced him to her. And to borrow a phrase he so often uses to underplay things, ‘that was it’.
They dovetail superbly, with Christine providing the varnish to any recollections Junior may get tangled up in. It is evident that she was just as invested in his career as he was, recalling an ordeal they went through when Junior suffered a rare injury after Stevie Chalmers of Celtic clashed temples with him at Hampden Park. “He had a suspected fractured skull and I was sitting watching it on the telly in tears. None of my family could drive apart from my brother so I ended up going to Newtongrange and staying the night at his mother’s. Her and I got the train to Glasgow in the morning and got a taxi to the hospital, but I was only 16 then and his mother had never used a phone box before so it was a nightmare trying to find where he was! He hadn’t a clue who we were when we eventually got the hospital.”
Junior said: “It turned out that I was just severely concussed. I didn’t play the rest of that season but Thirds were desperate to get me back so I played two or three games. It did put me off slightly at first when I was going up to head balls but I got over it alright.”
Christine added: “That was when Wolves were watching you, and after that head injury that’s when they sort of backed off.”
Accidents of this nature were commonplace then, with teams, including Thirds, using a more ‘direct’ approach. Junior searched for an articulate way to summarise the philosophy. Finally, the phrase came to him: “Get oot there and play yer game, that’s it!” as a supplementary punch of his hand helped illustrate just how rudimentary it was.
He played in a decade, however, in which football would undergo one of its many tactical mutations. Internazionale, whose ‘catenaccio’ system was the dominant force in Europe during the mid-1960s, had their apparent cloak of invincibility destroyed by the Lisbon Lions in 1967. It was deemed to be a protectionist set-up that didn’t make for entertaining football as the sweeper, enforced by a back three who man-marked, were often joined by the retreating right midfielder in what would now be recognised as a wing-back role.
Celtic’s undoing of Inter’s system was down to the overlapping full-backs creating a numerical advantage, allowing Tommy Gemmell to surge from deep. One of the pioneers, he engendered some of the stylistic modernisations we see in the role now. But Junior was more limited in his attacking play, sitting back and tucking in while the team galloped forward. Thus, goals were hard to come by, but he did manage to notch a few to his name thanks to being charged with the responsibility of taking penalties if the star forwards had left the field.
When Young’s team began to struggle, the crowds began to shrink into the hundreds and the money dried up. Junior managed to escape the brunt of the bad times when programme sales would go straight to the players in the form of pennies in envelopes, but his contempt for disgraced owner, Bill Hiddleston, is palpable.
They would only cross paths once during his entire five-year spell, when Hiddleston would bring an abrupt end to his Cathkin stay and escort him to his next destination: Ibrox.
“I didn’t know anything about it. I just went into the club one day for training and Hiddleston came over and said ‘we are going away some place’. There were no rumours or anything beforehand. Apart from Wolves I wasn’t aware of anyone else. The manager was Bobby Evans at the time, but all the chairman was worried about was the money. We didn’t get on very well.”
Reports suggest that the move was Rangers’ third attempt to lure Junior to Govan, but he was oblivious to their pursuit. Having captained a team he had grown fond of, it could conceivably have been a difficult decision to go. But the answer, from his wife, was resounding. “He was over the moon! He’s got a photo with the scarf raised above his head outside the stadium that we keep in the drawer along with his Third Lanark jersey and his Rangers one”.
Junior concurred. “Oh no, there was no hesitation. Once I knew I was going that was it. We went some place and had a meal, then headed over to Ibrox where I was signed that day. It was all done through (John) Lawrence the chairman, but it was Scot Symon who signed me, even though he did all the work. It was a great experience walking up the marble staircase to sign.”
Rangers paid £12,000 and exchanged Doug Baillie as part of the transfer, though as the accounts were no longer filed, there is no way to trace the transfer revenue generated by Junior’s sale.
Litster set the deal against the financial backdrop of the time. “That would have been quite high. For instance, Jim Baxter went for a Scottish record fee of £16,000 a few years earlier. Anything over £10,000 in Scottish football at that point was seen as being quite a substantial fee.”
Rangers had made a terrible start to the season, winning one of their first five league games, hence strengthening the backline was of paramount importance. Little did he know, this colossal transfer wasn’t going to lead to the trophy-laden fairytale he had envisaged. Instead, it would “put him out the game for two years”.
Junior stayed at Rangers for two whole seasons and made not one senior first-team appearance. Rumours of chairman John Lawrence interfering in team matters abound, but Junior is very clear about who he blames for being stonewalled. “Scot Symon. The two of us didn’t get on and that was it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a personal thing.”
The warning signs came early. “I thought I was going to replace Bobby Shearer, but I knew early on that it wasn’t going to work out when they signed Kai Johansen from Morton pretty shortly after me, and he went straight into the first team.” Johansen went on to be a stellar player for Rangers but he had a poor start to his career, which might have been expected to open up an opportunity for Junior. It never came.
“I went up and spoke to him [Symon] and he actually told me I could actually go out and start working outside if I wanted and go through there for training at nights, so that wasn’t a very good sign. I never had much to do with him and there was never any reason given for not being picked.
“My face didn’t fit. It was as simple as that. I was still friendly with John Greig, Ralph Brand, Jimmy Millar, in particular, as the first-team and the reserves trained alongside one another. I used to go through on the train with them as I didn’t move through to Glasgow even when I was at Cathkin, and I even sometimes played tennis with John Greig who was captain at the time.”
Junior’s wife hypothesised that his exclusion was as a result of his teetotal, non-smoking principles, which prevented him from socialising with his teammates. That theory was rebutted by Litster. “I wouldn’t have thought that was the case because Symon was an old-school manager, a gentleman, very softly spoken. I would have thought Symon’s single biggest problem would have been the drinking culture. I mean you’re talking about a club where Baxter and Henderson reigned supreme and the drinking culture was ferocious.”
Junior, reflecting on his misfortune, tried to console himself with the fact that “the Old Firm still do it nowadays: sign players and then don’t give them a shot”.
Litster thinks there may be another reason behind Junior’s omission. “There was a common accusation that Rangers used to weaken some of the other clubs by signing their better players. There is some evidence for that. The other classic case is Tottie Beck from St Mirren who played very few games having been a star in Paisley.
“Another possible reason was that it was a way of escaping tax, because if they didn’t shell out some money on a transfer fee then the taxman would get a bigger chunk of their profits at the end of the season. But I don’t think there was any largesse in the deal either.”
Junior did play his part for the Swifts, Rangers’ reserve XI, but even then he found it difficult at times. “I wasn’t really a regular in the reserves either. I went five weeks without getting a game at one point. I can’t remember who the coach was. [It is believed to be either Joe Craven or Davie Kinnear, the trainers.] There were a lot of games I played well in but I was just stuck there. It still felt good when we won the championship with the reserves, don’t get me wrong, but I just wanted a fair shot.”
It could have been so very different had his first day as a Ranger gone the way a Glasgow Herald special reporter had tipped it to go. He was predicted to make his debut against Airdrie but it never came to fruition as Roger Hynd filled in for Shearer instead. The opportunity never presented itself again.
Junior was hesitant to say he lamented the move, as signing for Rangers was obviously an achievement. His wife, gently urging him to admit that he did indeed regret it, reluctantly said: “I feel that it kind of wasted you.”
He conceded, in a voice that contained an equal amount of dejection as it did acceptance. “It’s a good thing to look back on but I just never got the chance. I definitely feel as if I could have had an international career if I hadn’t gone there. You kind of thought that being in the Under-23s would have led into the senior side, but nothing happened.”
What is even more baffling than the lack of game time at Rangers is that no club made a bid for him while he was under contract, and nor was there a line of suitors once he was available on what would now be recognised as a Bosman.
“After I left Rangers there was a South African man who came to the door and wanted me to go there.” Family circumstances, however, prevented the move abroad. “I wouldn’t go because John was only a few months old at the time, and I was only 19,” Christine interjected, with a slight hint of guilt. “There was no way I wanted to leave my mum and dad and everybody around me. I was too naïve.”
“There was a non-league club down in England that came up – Chelmsford I think – but he wasn’t very happy when I signed for Bradford. I got quite a cheeky phone call. There were no Scottish teams interested.”
This seems startling considering that just two years previously he had won a move to arguably the greatest-ever Rangers team. As ever, Litster provided a percipient caveat. “The only clubs that would have been able to afford him would have been in the top half of the division. Scottish football was the strongest it has ever been in those days.
“You had guys like Andy King at Kilmarnock who was a top-quality right-back – never came close to sniffing a Scotland cap because of the competition there was. And the simple fact was that there wouldn’t be enough clubs in Scotland employing full-time players that needed another right-back.
Junior ended up signing for Bradford Park Avenue, but it was to prove a shorter spell than his initial enjoyment there had led him to anticipate. “Bradford was alright. We liked living down there. We got friendly with the neighbours and found them all nice enough, but it was the same again: a change of managers. The manager down in Bradford was Walter Galbraith and the assistant was Jock Buchanan, but they got their books and Jack Rowley was brought in at the end of the season. I was told at the time that he wasn’t keen on the Scots.”
Junior had played in all 38 league games but for the final dozen Rowley dropped him in favour of his first signing, Trevor Peel. McGillivray was given a free transfer, but it was overshadowed by the release of Bobby Waddell who the club had spent £8,000 on the previous November. Waddell was also Scottish.
After returning north to Scotland, Junior was on the lookout for a club again, with offers few and far between. Junior may have been lost to the game five years before he eventually did hang up his boots were it not for a twist of fate. “It just so happened that Willie Ormond, the Saints manager, was our neighbour. Before we got married they lived next to us. It was tenement buildings and it was in a sort of a square, so if you looked across they were right there.
“I had to go and see Willie and asked him if there was any chance of getting a trial. He told me to come up on the Sunday and I signed the following week. I had gone through to see Sammy Baird at Stirling Albion for talks but I ended up joining the Saints. There weren’t agents back then so you had to go and search for teams.”
He signed for St Johnstone on 17 June, 1967, making his debut away to Hearts two months later. In total, he featured 63 times over three years, with the vast majority of his appearances coming in his first season when he played 43 times. His presence in the side gradually faded after John Lambie was signed from Falkirk, making the right-back berth his own.
Although they were mainly battling to avoid relegation that season, they managed to reach two cup semi-finals, with Junior being described as “kingpin of a defence which grew safer as the match wore on” in the eventual extra-time Scottish Cup loss to Dunfermline at Tynecastle.
He may have missed the boat for St Johnstone’s League Cup Final in 1969 but his relationship with Willie Ormond remains a lasting memory. “He was the manager I got to know best, a nice man. Willie liked a good bevvy so I used to often take him out and drive him back – I was his chauffeur!”
Junior returned to Newtongrange Star at the request of chairman, Jimmy Kirkwood, supplementing part-time football with his job fitting carpets and cutting the greens at Newbattle golf course during the summer. There, he would experience a fitting apogee to his journey which had by this time gone full-circle. Newtongrange reached the Junior Cup Final at the national stadium in front of a crowd of 24,676 but unfortunately fell to a 2-1 reverse at the hands of Cambuslang Rangers.
His swansong, albeit an unfashionable one, came via Gala Fairydean. He spent one year there before football was gazumped by his work commitments, but he did keep on playing as a hobby, turning out for a Sunday pub team.
Confined to watching football on TV, attending the annual Third Lanark dinner every March is how Junior now retains a link to his footballing past.
The admirable attempts of dedicated Hi-Hi supporters, including chairman, Ian Alexander, and director, Pat McGeady, to revive the club has garnered support from former Scarlet players. In addition to building a functioning playing side, they have also made more than a dozen or so ex-players lifetime members of the Supporters’ Association. In 2014, Findlay was one of the men honoured in tribute to his service. He harbours ambitions of the club being restored to its spiritual home.
“I was saddened to see what happened. It was a terrible shame to see them go down. I would like to see them coming back up again, even just playing at a decent level. But to be back playing at Cathkin Park would be great. That’s the ultimate dream for the club.”
As well as being a trip down memory lane, the dinners have their other perks, as Christine explained. “When John went through for the annual dinner last year he said ‘God mum, I didn’t realise that my dad used to be famous, they were wanting his autograph!’ He said it was amazing how his dad’s face just lit up, he was just in his element.”
Junior said: “It’s good to be remembered. There was a boy there who said: ‘I was only wee at the time but you broke my heart when you signed for Rangers, Junior’!” It may be more apposite to say that Rangers broke Junior’s heart in taking his ambition of a full Scotland cap from him.
There is a depressing symmetry to the remainder of Junior and Third Lanark’s days in football. In some ways he can be viewed as a microcosm of the club, their journeys and tribulations intertwined.
At one stage widely regarded as ‘the best uncapped prospect of his generation’, his career flattered to deceive, while the Hi-Hi, having had the tag of ‘Glasgow’s Cinderella’ bestowed upon them due to the shadow cast on them by the Old Firm, only momentarily threatened to go to the ball.
“It’s just one of these things”, he says. And that’s Junior McGillivray for you: a family man at peace with the hand he was dealt even when others would prefer to remember him as Scotland’s lost Warrior.