Dunfermline Athletic

Willie McSeveney (4 March 1929 – 15 December 2021)

Thursday, 16th Dec 2021

The oldest known former Dunfermline Athletic player,

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Willie McSeveney, one of Dunfermline Athletic’s finest players of the late 1940s/ early 1950s passed away on Wednesday evening at the age of 92. He had almost certainly been the oldest living former Pars player, and, but for Covid, would have been making a final visit to East End Park last season, a request that he had made to his daughter but which sadly remained unfulfilled.

Willie hailed from Shotts in Lanarkshire and as a youngster made the headlines with the local YMCA team who won four major YMCA trophies in two years and helping Willie himself to gain youth caps for Scotland with the YMCA. Willie moved to Wishaw Juniors, then at the age of 19 moved to Dunfermline, having been signed by then Chairman Tom Gibson on 10th September 1948. As Willie himself was to say later, the travel from Shotts to Dunfermline was considerable but he was lured by the contract which gave him £4 per week during the playing season, reduced to £3 per week during the close season. Were he to make the first team, that figure rose to £5 per week!

Rise to the first team he most certainly did, and wearing the number 6 shirt, he made his debut in a league match against Dumbarton at East End Park on 5th March 1949. Dunfermline won 3-2 and Willie played his part, keeping his place in the team while the Pars went unbeaten in the next three matches. The final match of the season was against Raith Rovers at Starks Park and Dunfermline needed just one point to win promotion. Willie was selected to play in the game but a last-minute injury kept him out of the side. Matters got worse when, ten minutes into the game, goalkeeper Jimmy Michie broke his arm and in those days with no subs allowed, Dunfermline had to play with ten men none of whom was a goalkeeper. The Pars lost 4-0 and the chance of promotion was gone.

Above: Willie_McSeveney and goalkeeper John Smith v Falkirk, September 1951

Despite this setback, Willie had clearly shown early promise at wing-half, and started the first game of 1949/50, a 1-0 League Cup win over Queen’s Park. Unfortunately, at that point Willie found himself being called up for National Service which caused him to miss practically an entire season, and also perhaps the chance of playing in the 1949/50 League Cup Final which his teammates had successfully managed to make against all the odds. Willie used to ask to be able to leave the RAF station at Stranraer on a Friday night to allow him to play football on a Saturday, but the RAF insisted that he had to stay to do marching on Saturday mornings. That, combined with the need for him to take three trains to get to Dunfermline, meant that his football career was on temporary hold, although he did appear for the RAF Command team while on National Service.

Back in the side in 1950, Willie began to be viewed as an extremely talented all-round footballer, and during the season he was employed at left-back, wing half and inside forward. Later in his Pars career and for the sake of the team, he played in almost every position for Dunfermline, leading the club in one press interview to state that, “He’s the most obliging player we’ve ever had.”

However, it was at left back that Willie arguably had his best ever game for Dunfermline. In season 1951/52, Dunfermline remained in the Second Division and, without a recognised left back, Willie was asked to fill the position. The club went on another great League Cup run and reached the quarter-final stage where they were due to play Rangers star-studded line up in the first leg at East End Park on 15th September 1951. In front of a then record crowd, Dunfermline stunned the football world, winning 1-0. Much of that success was due to a man of the match performance from McSeveney who completely subdued Scotland star winger Willie Waddell.

Above: Willie McSeveney and Bobby Kirk, 2006

He proved to be one of the most versatile players ever seen at East End, making around half of his appearances in defence and a quarter each in midfield and attack, equally adept on both left and right. By 1953/54 he was the club`s first choice inside-left and was in great goalscoring form as his thirteen goals that season demonstrated. Included among that number was a goal against Motherwell in the Scottish Cup in February 1954. Dunfermline were still beaten 5-2 by the Steelmen in that game but Motherwell recognised McSeveney’s talents and showed immediate interest in signing him.

At that point Motherwell were romping to the Second Division title while Dunfermline remained stuck in mid-table, so after six years at East End Park, Willie decided it was time to move on. English club Middlesbrough had also shown interest but it was Motherwell who got him to put pen to paper on 11th March 1954, paying a £1,200 transfer fee to get him to Fir Park.

It turned out to be a fantastic piece of business for them. On his debut, he scored the equaliser against Third Lanark, the 1-1 draw being enough for them to clinch promotion, but McSeveney’s influence was to last much longer than that. He went on to captain was surely one of the greatest Motherwell teams of all time. Managed by former Pars boss Bobby Ancell, the team could boast of some of the most talented young footballers in Scotland, including Ian St John, Bert McCann, Pat Quinn and John Martis.

The team reached third in the league and made a League Cup Final and two Scottish Cup semi-finals. As Willie himself said at one visit to East End Park, “We never really got to the top but we had a great reputation for playing great football. Ancell brought Flamenco from Brazil to play us and we won 9-2, we beat Leeds United 7-0 and we had an unblemished reputation against foreign teams. Our reputation was built on playing good football."

He made his final appearance for Motherwell in October 1962, having made 256 appearances and scoring 28 times in a Fir Park career that spanned ten seasons. He remained at Motherwell in a coaching capacity for a further decade. His final football involvement was at junior side Shotts Bon Accord, which, assisted by his brother Bobby, he managed for a number of years.

Above: Willie McSeveney and Ron Mailer, 2010

Although Willie is probably best remembered for his achievements at Motherwell, it was at East End Park that his career developed, and Willie never forgot that. Until recently he was a frequent visitor to the club, and as he himself said, “You never forget your first club.” Willie made his final appearance for the Pars on 10th March 1954 against Ayr United in a six year career that saw him make 132 appearances for Dunfermline Athletic, scoring 27 goals.

His achievements at both Dunfermline and Motherwell are all the more remarkable when you consider that throughout his career he was never a full-time footballer. A painter and decorator to trade, Willie combined both jobs throughout, and as an extension to his trade, became an expert signwriter.

After his football career ended he became a director of Parklea Ltd before finally retiring in his early 60s. Willie was never a man to let the grass grow under his feet and in retirement he became a keen golfer and gardener, a DIY expert and an amateur car mechanic! He had a stroke around six years ago which curtailed his activities and sadly later developed vascular dementia. In recent years he has been cared for by his two daughters before moving to a care home six months ago.

Perhaps in a different era, Willie would have been a full-time footballer, and he might also have transferred to some of the bigger clubs in England – he certainly had a lot of clubs interested in making him offers. But then again perhaps not because for Willie, some things were perhaps more important, as his daughter May told us:

“My dad could have gone to other clubs and Middlesbrough made a big offer for him to go there. But really he was a family man and he loved Shotts, and it was being able to do what he did and to be with his family that defined his career.”

Our thoughts are with Willie’s wife Jean, daughters May and Irene, son-in-law Pat and the rest of the family at this sad time.

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