"MEN LIKE JACKIE McGRORY"
We could add our voice to the cacophony currently
surrounding Scotland's abysmal start to the World Cup qualifying
campaign but it would serve little purpose. As we used to sing in
happier times, que sera, sera. Instead, scottishleague.net
editor David Ross pays a personal tribute
to one of the unsung heroes of the Scottish game.
Jackie McGrory was the first centre-half I ever saw play
for Kilmarnock. Over forty years later he remains the best. Jackie,
who died on Oct 11th 2004, aged 62, was one of the heroes of the
1965 championship-winning side and a club stalwart for over a decade.
Yet his name will mean little to anyone under the age of 40. This
article is a personal attempt to rectify that, for Jackie McGrory
was as important a player for Kilmarnock as his sadly pre-deceased
contemporaries Jim Baxter and Bobby Murdoch were for the Old Firm.
McGrory started out playing either wing-half or inside-forward for
Kilmarnock Amateurs and Dreghorn Juniors before being
signed by Killie in May 1960 and converted to centre-half
by manager Willie Waddell.
First team opportunities were limited as the man in possession of
the No. 5 shirt was Scottish international Willie Toner.
Injuries to Toner and defensive partner Bobby Kennedy plus the unavailability
through national service of regular back-up Pat O'Connor forced
Waddell to make radical changes to his defence in a league match
at Broomfield in November 1960.
Frank Beattie was moved from the right to the left-hand side
of midfield and Jackie McGrory made his debut, ten days before
his 19th birthday, in the heart of defence. It was the first
outing for a pairing without which the League title would never
have been won. But at the time it appeared as a makeshift selection
which helped Killie to a 1-1 draw with Airdrie.
Although the date was November 5th, it would be wrong to say Jackie's
career started with a bang. Toner was back in position the next
week and McGrory's only other outing that term came in a 1-0 away
win over Third Lanark in March 1961.
Chances were still few the next season. McGrory got a game at Tynecastle
in the League Cup and made his Rugby Park debut in a 1-0 win over
St Johnstone at the end of September 1961. But his career took a
big step back in the following game when Killie were beaten 5-3
at Dens Park. Never mind that Dundee won the title that year. Never
mind that Killie were one of five teams they scored five against.
Never mind that Dundee put the same number past Rangers at Ibrox.
Waddell prided himself on his team's defence. Someone had to pay
for the defeat at Dens and that someone was McGrory.
Waddell made the shock decision to move striker Andy Kerr
to centre-half until Toner was able to return. It must have been
a hard blow for the young McGrory to take but he returned to the
reserves and waited for his chance to come again. He got a further
three games under his belt in January 1962 and also appeared in
the final match of the season - a 1-1 draw at Ibrox - but when 1962-63
opened, McGrory was still in the reserves.
Suddenly it all took off for Jackie. Injury to Toner in the opening
League Cup match gave him the breakthrough he had been waiting for.
For the next 114 matches in League, Cup, League Cup and Europe
the name of Jackie McGrory was pencilled in at centre-half.
Between August 1962-December 1964 he didn't miss a game.
Indeed over the next ten seasons he missed just
thirteen league matches and five of those were due to contractual
disputes with the club.
1962-63 proved to be yet another 'nearly' season for
Kilmarnock. McGrory played in what was to be his only domestic Cup
Final when Killie controversially lost the League Cup to Hearts
- an equalising goal from Frank Beattie being ruled out for a 'handball'
spotted by referee 'Tiny' Wharton but missed by 51,280 spectators,
22 players, both linesmen, the two benches, the entire bemused press
box and TV crew, the ball-boys, the St Andrew's Ambulance and the
vendors of the half-time pies!
He also played in the Scottish Cup for the first time and experienced
foreign opposition when Killie took on sides from England, Germany,
Mexico, France, Italy and Brazil in a tournament in the USA.
He was an ever-present in the League as he would be five times in
all in the next seven seasons.
It was so clear that he was the team's new defensive rock that Willie
Toner, nearing the end of a distinguished career, was allowed to
move on to Hibs.
Killie had finished second in the league and they occupied the same
position in 1963-64 when McGrory played in all 45 games in
the three main competitions. There was very nearly another Hampden
appearance but semi-final defeat by Dundee at Ibrox ended the Scottish
Jackie McGrory: A Killie legend
1964-65 saw the 'nearly men' tag finally
dispelled as Killie won the title. On a personal level it was probably
McGrory's finest season. He played his part on that famous night
in September 1964 when - four goals down - Kilmarnock stormed
back to beat Eintracht Frankfurt in the Fairs Cup. It was
his free kick which allowed Jim McFadzean to bring Killie to within
a goal of the Germans. As European debuts go it was the finest by
any Scottish team.
In the league Killie got off to a terrific start and had gone fifteen
games unbeaten before McGrory finally succumbed to injury. They
won the first match he missed but the absence of the commanding
McGrory was felt keenly in the next game when they were beaten 5-1
Fortunately, those were his only absences. McGrory returned to play
a full part in the title chase and was outstanding on the final
day of the season when Killie needed to beat Hearts by two
clear goals at Tynecastle to wrest the championship from the Edinburgh
Two up within half an hour, Killie had to weather a constant Hearts
barrage. McGrory was immense, as indeed were his defensive partners
Andy King, Matt Watson and Frank Beattie. So too was
Eric Murray, frequently called back to help out, and young
goalkeeper Bobby Ferguson.
Kilmarnock held on to win the title by 0.04 of a goal, the
closest finish in Scottish footballing history. Rangers 'hairsbreadth'
win over Celtic in 2003 was by a margin 25 times as great.
McGrory's emergence as a top-class stopper had already been recognised
by Scotland at Under-23 level but in 1964-65 he deservedly
made the breakthrough to the full international team, making his
debut in a World Cup qualifier at Hampden. Killie keeper
Campbell Forsyth was also in the side which beat Finland
3-1. (Scotland? World Cup qualifier? Victory? Aye, those
were the days). He kept his place, as did Forsyth, for the next
game, again at Hampden, when the Scots recovered from an early setback
when George Best scored, to beat Northern Ireland 3-2.
But Scottish caps were hard to come by in that era. As rivals for
the centre-half position, McGrory had to contend with the likes
of Old Firm pair Billy McNeill and Ronnie McKinnon,
Arsenal's Ian Ure, Liverpool's Ron Yeats and, latterly,
Bobby Moncur of Newcastle. He made just one further appearance,
in a 1-0 defeat at Hampden in 1966 by the fine Portugal side
which finished third in that year's World Cup.
Opinions are subjective, of course, and those offered on this
page are somewhat biased. But it is this writer's view that of all
his rivals, only McNeill - by virtue of his leadership qualities
and his ability to go forward and snatch vital goals - was McGrory's
Even so, it was a tremendous achievement for a player from Kilmarnock
to force his way into the international reckoning and be ranked
alongside men from Celtic, Rangers, Arsenal, Liverpool and Newcastle.
Although well off by comparison with most of their peers, footballers
weren't particularly highly paid in the 1960s. For winning the championship
the Kilmarnock team earned the princely bonus of £169 per
man - before tax!
Compared to the average wage that equates to roughly £4,000
in today's money. That's not four grand a match. That's the end
of season bonus for winning the title. For further comparison there
are men languishing in the reserves at Ibrox and Parkhead who probably
wouldn't get out of bed if that's all that was on offer as a weekly
Little surprise then that some were unhappy with their lot. And
Jackie was one of them. A contractual dispute with the club
led to him missing the sectional League Cup matches and the first
two League games of 1965-66. More importantly, by the time
agreement was reached and he eventually re-signed, he was ineligible
It meant he missed out on the opportunity to test himself against
Real Madrid and add the names of Puskas and Gento to the list of
illustrious forwards he contended with over his career.
After missing a couple of other matches through injury, McGrory
set off on another lengthy run of appearances. From the beginning
of April 1966 to the end of August 1969 he made 108
consecutive League appearances, including three seasons in succession
to equal a similar feat by goalkeeper Alex Craig at the turn of
the 20th century when fewer matches were played. The run was only
brought to an end by another contract dispute.
In 1966-67 he turned out 50 times as Killie enjoyed
their finest European campaign, reaching the semi-finals of the
Fairs Cup where a narrow defeat by Leeds United prevented
them from joining the Old Firm in European finals that season. The
home match with Leeds attracted 24,831, a record for a European
match at Rugby Park.
1967-68 also saw him turn out in every match in all competitions,
part of a run of 103 in succession. By now Jackie had succeeded
Frank Beattie as captain and his influence inspired Kilmarnock to
4th in 1968-69, a position they wouldn't attain again for
almost 30 years.
Two matches in particular stand out from that season. In January
1969 the title race looked remarkably open. Killie, in
fifth, took on Rangers, just one place above. Both were within
striking distance of Celtic and Dundee United at the top. In an
enthralling encounter the Ibrox side took the lead three times and
three times Killie equalised. On the face of it not the best of
games for defenders but this game had a sub-text. Rangers had smashed
the Scottish transfer record two months previously when Colin
Stein became the first £100,000 player in Scottish football
following his move from Hibs and the new boy was on fire.
Stein had scored twelve times in eleven games and
McGrory's task was to make sure he didn't add to that tally. Even
though the game finished 3-3, McGrory was so successful that
Stein didn't get a sniff of goal that day. So frustrated was the
Rangers player that he lashed out at Killie's Tommy McLean,
prompting full-back Billy Dickson to wade in on behalf of
the diminutive winger with an assault that resulted in both Dickson
and Stein being sent off.
There were 32,893 spectators inside Rugby
Park that day, the most that ground has ever held for a Scottish
The second occasion was less fiery. In April 1969, Kilmarnock
marked their centenary with a match against old rivals Eintracht.
Killie celebrated in style. Hugh Taylor, Killie fan and the
foremost football journalist of the day, produced a new history
of the club, STV's Bill Tennent introduced a host of stars
from days gone by, including members of the Scottish Cup
winning teams of 1920 and 1929 and while the usual
civic dignitaries enjoyed their lunch, the ball-boys weren't forgotten,
receiving souvenirs including a tie, a badge, a copy of the new
book and an autographed team photo before having another picture
taken with manager Walter McCrae and team captain McGrory.
It was a proud moment for Jackie as he led Killie to a 1-1 draw
against a team containing players of the calibre of Jurgen Grabowski
and Bernd Holzenbein.
Yet just a few months later it looked like his Killie
career was over. Thirteen players - virtually the entire first team
squad - demanded transfers at the outset of 1969-70, claiming
that bonuses promised for European qualification hadn't been paid
McCrae's reaction was to strip Jackie of the captaincy and drop
him from the team. But although the dispute rumbled on till October
before being settled, the manager relented after a poor start to
the season and re-instated McGrory to the first team and as skipper.
It was the right move. McGrory's first match back
was in a 3-2 defeat in Zurich in the Fairs Cup
but his re-appearance helped inspire the side to easy and welcome
wins over traditional rivals Ayr United and St Mirren before the
second leg against the Swiss.
With the game at Rugby Park goalless and half-time looming, McGrory
made a rare foray into opposing territory. It was unusual to see
Jackie in the opposition half let alone the penalty area. But that's
where he found himself when he fired in a powerful header to put
Killie 1-0 up on the night and ahead on the away goals rule.
They went on to win 3-1 and reached the last 32 of the competition
but Jackie's header was more than just the springboard for victory
that night. In the 476 times he pulled a Kilmarnock jersey
over his head, this was the first, last and only occasion that Jackie
McGrory ever scored a goal!
It was a privilege for the 9,593 supporters there to be able to
say they were present on that unique occasion.
Jackie's only goal in 476 games came against Zurich
Hopes of adding to his championship medal vanished
in a Scottish Cup semi-final defeat by Aberdeen. But there was some
compensation for Jackie when his outstanding form over several seasons
was recognised by the fans who made him Killie's 'Player of
Although he missed just one League game in 1970-71, this
wasn't a happy campaign for Jackie. Problems on and off the pitch
resulted in Killie dropping into the bottom half of the table for
the first time in fifteen years and Fairs Cup defeat by Coleraine
compounded the misery.
With Frank Beattie receiving a testimonial game, Jim McLean
retiring, brother Tommy transferred to Rangers and players
whose contracts expired being offered part-time terms there was
the feeling that an era was coming to an end at Rugby Park.
But Jackie McGrory, ever-reliable Jackie, was still on hand
to remind Killie supporters of the great days of the past and to
offer hope for the future. 1971-72 again saw the stalwart
at his best. Killie had struggled to find a replacement for Beattie
alongside McGrory in the heart of the defence. Hugh Strachan,
'Chopper' MacDonald and others had at times filled the
gap but with Brian Rodman emerging as a fine stopper in his
own right, at last McGrory had a regular partner once more.
He missed just one of the 44 games played and helped inspire Killie
on another Scottish Cup run. The campaign came to an end at Hampden
in the semi-finals as Killie strove valiantly before succumbing
3-1 to Celtic. For Jackie this was the sixth
time he had been on the losing side in a major semi-final. It was
also to be the last.
1972-73 kicked off with Jackie one of just four remaining
full-time players at Kilmarnock. With Parkhead undergoing refurbishment,
Killie's season began at Hampden against Celtic. Sadly for Jackie
this was to be his last first-team outing. He received an injury
in that game which forced him to leave the field. It was the
only occasion in his illustrious career that he was substituted.
For a player who had remained largely injury-free over ten years
it was a hard blow to take but Jackie refused to admit defeat. He
tried to make a comeback in the reserves but a further injury at
Dumbarton on November 11th 1972 proved to be the end of a
remarkable career. It started on Bonfire Night and ended on Armistice
Amazingly, this magnificent club servant - the last of the 1965
side to leave Kilmarnock - was simply allowed to walk away from
Rugby Park without recognition. As Kilmarnock slid towards
relegation the name of Jackie McGrory vanished from view.
Within weeks of retiring his name and seasonal details had even
been removed from the match programme.
It was an ill-fitting end to the career of one
of the greatest players ever to wear blue and white stripes.
All told, Jackie McGrory played 476 first class matches
for Kilmarnock, consisting of 336 Scottish League (all
top division), 35 Scottish Cup, 59 League Cup, 20 Fairs Cup,
13 Summer Cup and 13 in the New York international
How then to sum up Jackie McGrory to a generation which never
saw him play? Perhaps those too young to remember Bobby Moore
or Franz Beckenbauer will be familiar with tales of those
players attributes or have seen them on grainy old film. The ability
to read a game, positional sense, to know when to tackle and when
to leave well alone, to gauge a jump to perfection, to head firmly
and to pass accurately.
I don't pretend he was of a comparable standard to those world-class
legends but that was Jackie McGrory's game. There were no frills
because he didn't need any. And few fouls because he didn't need
those either. I won't say he was the best player I ever saw in Killie
colours - that was Tommy McLean. Nor would I claim he was
my favourite - a position reserved for Eddie Morrison. But
I will say that Jackie McGrory wasn't far behind either of
He played against the best Scotland had to offer - at a time when
Scotland had a lot to offer - and took on superstars like George
Best and Eusebio as well. Not only did forwards rarely
get the better of him, no matter how illustrious the opposition
Jackie McGrory always looked as if he belonged on the same
pitch as his opposite number.
For over ten years his was a name that appeared on the Kilmarnock
team sheet week in week out. A name that inspired those alongside
him and guaranteed respect - as well as apprehension - amongst opponents.
Perhaps the best way to sum him up is in the way we used to in the
old covered terrace when going in the middle meant
both a shelter from the rain and a place to sing lustily in praise
of our heroes. Football fans show great ingenuity in adapting songs
to suit their needs. None more so than when a piece of outdated,
imperialistic claptrap was turned into a paean of praise to Jackie.
Just because it rhymed.
Land of hope and glory
Home of Kilmarnock FC
We shall never be beaten
On to victory
Men like Jackie McGrory
Boys like Tommy McLean
Here in the west of Scotland
We'll bring Ayrshire fame
Men like Jackie McGrory. There's not many, we could do with more
and, sadly, there's now one less.
Jackie McGrory 1941-2004 RIP