Joe Nelson - an appreciationTuesday, 25th Feb 2014
Former Scotland international Harry Haddock presented Joe Nelson with an SFA Award
Over the years the success of Dunfermline Athletic has been built upon good management and great players but, as much as anything, it has been about unsung heroes, those amazing individuals who have given incredible service over many years often with little recognition of their huge contribution to the club. Sadly, this month we lost one of the very best of them, Joe Nelson. This appreciation was written for The Game, matchday programme v Ayr United.
Joe Nelson was born in Kelty on 2nd July 1932. When he left school he had a job as a delivery boy for William Low then worked in a stone mine before becoming a miner at Comrie Colliery, a job that occupied most of his working life until he was made redundant in the mid-1980s. An early sign of the man's character came during the Miners' Strike in the 1970s when Joe donated food and helped make up parcels for striking miners, but at the same time he steadfastly refused to condemn those that crossed the picket lines saying they had families to feed.
During his early years Joe had been a decent footballer and played in the Fife Junior League for three seasons with Steelend Victoria, three more with Newburgh, then finally three seasons with Lochore. Joe may not have made it to senior football but his skills and qualities were recognised when he was asked to captain the Scottish Miners in an international match against Hungary.
At his last club Lochore, his manager Andy Young had started up a youth team Crosshill Under 18s, and he asked Joe to help him with the coaching.Young got the opportunity to become Head Scout at East End Park under manager George Farm and when the Crosshill youth team folded, Young convinced Dunfermline that the future lay in bringing on their own players and so Dunfermline United was born with teams playing at Under 16 and Under 18 levels.Andy invited Joe to assist and so it was at this point, in the late 1960s, that Joe Nelson's relationship with the Pars began.
The club's youth set up was starting to deliver and some excellent prospects were discovered but time was against the club because as so many of the club's older players retired or left, a gap too big to fill was left.Dunfermline were relegated in 1972 and plunged into a financial crisis. The club couldn't afford its 'gold star' youth set up so the Under 18 team was axed and Joe left.
Joe returned to help Steelend and that might have been that but in in the summer of 1978 Pars manager Harry Melrose was rushed to hospital with a serious illness that compelled his absence for several weeks. The two Jims, Thomson and Stevenson, took up the reins while Joe Nelson, whose associations with the club were still there, stepped in to 'carry the sponge' and generally lend a hand.
From that point on Joe's involvement was never in doubt.His role and importance to successive managers increased and after his employment in the pits ended Joe became full-time during Jim Leishman's first spell in charge. He took on a coaching role helping with the club's youngsters, a role that he particularly enjoyed, as well as looking after the club kit and assisting physio Philip Yeates with match duties. Joe would have liked to have become a physiotherapist in his own right and it was his one regret that, as he saw it, he didn't 'have the brains' to do it.
Most would have disputed that but Joe was certainly recognised for the role he now did play at Dunfermline, and in 1993 Joe was given a Special Award by the SPFA for Services to Football. He also received similar recognition from the SFA and as Dunfermline enjoyed rising success during the Paton years in management in the mid-1990s, Joe continued to fulfil his duties quietly and loyally. And in fact that is what Joe did until a few months ago when he became too ill to work.
At East End Park Joe was the jack-of-all-trades. He was the kit man and the cleaner; he was the trainer and the youth coach.He was also the 'go for', a role which Joe took it on with good grace and a sense of humour. Famously during Jim Leishman's first period of management, Jim used to smoke cigars in the dugout. As the games got more and more tense and Jim ran out of cigars, Jim would send Joe out of the dugout to look for cigar stubs to bring back for him to light up!
Every manager had his own way of using Joe. During Jocky Scott's period in management, Joe was asked each week to prepare a bowl of hot water and shaving gear so that the manager could look his best before the assembled press! During the Jimmy Calderwood era, Joe was dispatched to bring in new signing Andrius Skerla. The Lithuanian defender didn't speak English and Joe's Fife accent didn't exactly improve communications, but the ice was broken when Andrius got into the van with a pile of fruit for Joe.
Joe never did understand why the fruit, but he was somebody that was held in the highest regard by the players almost certainly because, among other things, he was able to keep a confidence. Players respected him, but not because he was a soft touch. Indeed, far from it because Joe had a great work ethic and a strong sense of justice, and he made sure that the players understood how lucky they were to be representing Dunfermline Athletic Football Club.
Joe had no time for arrogance and let players know it if they were being disrespectful to some of the staff working in the background. But he also loved players that had a bit of character and that worked hard but who were also up for a bit of fun - so it is no surprise that players like John Watson Ian Westwater, Jackie McNamara and Andy Tod featured very high in his estimation.But probably the best of all in his eyes was 'Big Norrie', the epitome of everything that Joe believed a footballer should be.
Joe Nelson front row extreme right
There was never any shortage of banter with those guys around.John Watson tells a story of how Joe turned up at East End one day dressed in purple.It seems that wife Barbara had felt it time that Joe's wardrobe got a bit more modern, but after a day of the players calling him 'Prince' the purple outfit was never seen again!
During an association with Dunfermline Athletic that lasted more than forty-five years, Joe saw all the highs and lows - the winning of championships and reaching Cup Finals but also the despair of relegation and financial problems. Throughout it all, Joe was one of the few constants.His unswerving loyalty and his hard graft helped keep the whole show together, even though few would have known it. Joe was always reluctant to be in the limelight and in particular avoided any praise coming his way. If something good happened he would say that he was just doing his job and even when he won his national awards he said that they were given to honour the youth squad and not him.
Joe was Dunfermline through and through, and brought his family up to be fanatical supporters. He met his wife Barbara when he was at Steelend Vics and they had nearly 59 years of very happy marriage living in Steelend ever since. His family meant everything to him, and he was a very funny, caring and loving father, granddad and great granddad.
His daughter Barbara Anne and son John helped us to put together these memories of Joe and they have asked us to say on behalf of the family their heartfelt thanks for all the wonderful messages and tributes that have provided great comfort over the past week.
A sign of the regard and affection in which Joe is held at East End Park came when he was invited to be one of the first inductees into the DAFC Hall of Fame in 2004, alongside the likes of Jock Stein, Ron Mailer and Roy Barry - perhaps that says it all.
We'd just like to say a very big thank you Joe Nelson. People like you don't come along very often and you will be sadly missed by us all.