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The Ultimate Scottish One-Club Player XI

Players staying at one club for their whole career is rare, and now almost unheard of. But as Ronnie McCluskey discovered for a Nutmeg series, the pick of them would have made a truly formidable team.


The publication of the fourth and final part of my series on Scottish one-club players in Nutmeg 32 provoked a thought experiment: what is the best XI that can be assembled from the 100 or so names that fit into this category?

Let’s go ahead and appoint a one-club Scottish gaffer while we’re at it – it’s got to be Jim McLean. Wee Jim, as he was known, guided Dundee United to back-to-back League Cups as well as the Premier Division during an unforgettable 22-year spell. He also took the Tangerines to a Uefa Cup final and European Cup semi, beating the likes of Barcelona, Roma and Monaco en route. While he could be a hot-tempered tyrant, McLean was an incredible personality and tactician who extracted maximum effort from his players. He’s in the dugout.

Between the sticks

In the goalkeeping department, Campbell Money is my choice. The big St Mirren stopper was part of the Saints squad that won the 1987 Scottish Cup at United’s expense, contributing to the latter’s painful hoodoo. Drafted to the provisional squad for the 1986 World Cup, an injury scuppered Money’s prospects of a full Scotland cap. With Andy Goram and Jim Leighton above him in the pecking order, that cap never materialised – but Money was clearly an international-quality keeper.

At the back

Ahead of Money will be a flat back three supporting a quartet of midfielders and a trio of attackers. Defensive options are plentiful with multiple league winners like Maurice Malpas, Bobby Cox, Frank Beattie and David Meiklejohn missing out. Ultimately, three names insisted on their inclusion and they’re all central defenders: Billy McNeill, Willie Miller and Bob McKinlay.

Debate the merits of choosing three centre-backs all you like but honestly, given the physical, footballing and leadership qualities of the trio, it’s difficult to imagine them conceding many goals. McNeill and Miller captained Celtic and Aberdeen to multiple league championships (not to mention a European trophy apiece), while McKinlay was the linchpin of an FA Cup-winning Nottingham Forest side. Forest also narrowly missed out on the 1967 league title, pushing the Man United of Bobby Charlton, George Best and Denis Law all the way.

In the middle

On to the midfield and again, some truly magnificent players failed to make my team, chief among them Leeds United’s wing wizard Eddie Gray. The omission of Gray might turn a few heads but Billy Liddell isn’t a bad substitute, as evidenced by 172 goals in 515 Liverpool appearances, plus 29 Scotland caps. Twice included in a Great Britain XI (1947, 1955), Liddell was simply phenomenal, a granite physical specimen who could run, pass, cross, shoot, header and lead from the front. Although he could also play as a striker, I’ve opted for Liddell on the left flank.

The spine of the team chose itself with two icons from the Rangers and Hearts annals – John Greig and John Cumming. Voted the Greatest Ever Ranger by the Ibrox club’s supporters in 1999, the powerful and versatile Greig won three domestic trebles and a European Cup Winners’ Cup, scored 120 goals from midfield/defence, was twice Player of the Year, and earned 44 Scotland caps.

Read the final part of Ronnie McCluskey’s one-club men series in Nutmeg 32

“I think that he would have been a star midfielder if he played today,” author Steve Finan told me during my research for the series. “Greig was the best athlete of all of them. He would be a Bryan Robson, Roy Keane, Lothar Matthäus-type of midfielder. Perhaps like Michael Ballack in a more modern era. He had it all, and the engine to match. If you had a ‘must not lose’ game you want John Greig in your defence; but if you have a ‘must win’ game, put him in midfield.”

‘Iron Man’ John Cumming warrants similar plaudits. Racking up 612 appearances for Hearts between 1950 and 1967, the combative wing half helped the Jambos win two league titles, four League Cups, and a Scottish Cup. Little wonder Bill Shankly expressed interest in adding him to Liverpool’s ranks in 1960. With Greig and Cumming in the centre of the pitch,  Liddell an outlet on the left flank, and three no-nonsense defenders keeping the door closed at the back, this team is shaping up nicely, even if I do say so myself…

The fourth midfield berth goes to Celtic’s Paul McStay, a real Rolls-Royce of a player who made 678 appearances during 16 years at Parkhead. A visionary passer who could operate in tight spaces, drive the team forward and score vital goals, the inventive ‘Maestro’ won 76 Scotland caps and played in two World Cups. He was also Player of the Year in Celtic’s double-winning Centenary season.

Up front

So, who is tasked with getting the goals in this team? Well, clearly a fair number of them will come from midfield with Liddell, Greig and McStay in the mix. But up front, my trident is destined to score a boatload.

The strike force is drawn from three eras – the 20s and 30s, 40s and 50s, and 70s and 80s. Firstly, George Stevenson, Motherwell’s ‘Prince of Inside Forwards.’ Responsible for 170 goals in 573 games, Stevenson had “superb skill, magical use of open space and perfect passes” according to Steelmen historian Stuart Graham. He was also part of the Motherwell team that won the league in 1932 and demolished Celtic 8-0. Little wonder he earned a dozen Scotland caps, scoring four goals.

Alongside Stevenson is Hibs legend Lawrie Reilly, one of the Famous Five that helped the Edinburgh club win three league titles in the late 40s and early 50s. A prolific talisman, Reilly netted an astonishing 238 goals in 355 games and remains Hibs’ most capped player. He’s also the fourth-highest Scotland goalscorer of all time with 22 in 38 appearances – a 61% goals-to-games ratio superior to Kenny Dalglish and Denis Law.

The prospect of a Stevenson-Reilly partnership is utterly tantalising. But we have one spot left in the team so let’s give it to another prodigious attacker – Paul Sturrock. ‘Luggy’ was instrumental to Dundee United’s success in the 70s and 80s, creating numerous goal-scoring opportunities for teammates, scoring 171 in 576 games, and generally just terrorising defenders and full-backs playing as a striker and winger. “Sturrock made everyone around him a better player,” observed Steve Finan, who wrote the official history of United’s famous 1983 league win. Impossible to disagree.

Ronnie McCluskey’s Scottish One-Club XI.

3-4-3. A team full of personality and panache, strength, vision and quality. Is this the best possible Scottish One-Club Men XI that can be assembled?

For my money, it is. Who’s in your team?

Issue 32
Out now

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