Two's a crowd
Two's a Crowd
By Kevin Stirling
Season 1968.69 will never go down in the annals of Aberdeen history with any real distinction. For a side that went on to leak 68 goals in all matches that season, it was surprising the Dons created club history by having two full international Scotland keepers in their squad at the same time. It was not unlike the Aberdeen side of 1955 that boasted Scotland keeper Fred Martin and Reggie Morrison who was the first ever Scotland U-23 custodian that year. While that 1955 success story was built on the back of the club's first ever championship, in 1968 it was a far from happy time at Pittodrie.
Bobby Clark was first capped for Scotland on 22nd November 1967 against Wales at Hampden Park and the Aberdeen keeper went on to gain what was a record 17 caps for his country. That club record was not beaten until Willie Miller played for Scotland against Brazil in the World Cup in Spain 1982. After making the breakthrough to the national side, Clark was left to battle it out with Jim Cruickshank, Tommy Lawrence and Jim Herriot for the Scotland No1 jersey.
Back at Pittodrie Bobby had to overcome his own demons in 1968 and the challenge for the Dons No1 position from an emerging Ernie McGarr. Under Eddie Turnbull it was a time of transition at Pittodrie; the side that had reached the 1967 Scottish Cup Final was an ageing one and Turnbull was keen on bringing the average age of the side down.
Aberdeen had gained a reputation for being inconsistent as they could certainly hold their own against the very best on their day, while struggling against lesser opponents. In 1968 the Dons beat an Alex Ferguson inspired Rangers at Ibrox, yet could only draw at home with Arbroath. By November 1968 the Dons showed little sign of improving and when they went down 5-1 against Dunfermline at East End Park, the alarm bells were ringing. Typically Turnbull reacted furiously to the Dons demise against the Pars and slammed his players in the press. A week later a shattered Aberdeen capitulated at home to Hibernian as Peter Cormack inspired the Edinburgh side to a sensational 6-2 win. The immediate fallout resulted in sweeping changes for the Dons next game against Airdrie at Broomfield. The most high profile casualty was keeper Bobby Clark; Turnbull's first signing for Aberdeen in 1965 after both joined the Dons from Queens Park. Ernie McGarr was handed the No1 jersey for the trip to Broomfield but the Dons continued to struggle and went down 2-0 with a young Drew Jarvie earning Airdrie a late penalty.
While Bobby Clark had lost his place in the side, McGarr went on to distinguish himself as he literally grabbed his opportunity with both hands. Aberdeen continued to frustrate with impressive wins over Dunfermline and Kilmarnock in Scottish Cup replayed ties away from home but went down to lowly Arbroath in the league. The Dons were fourth from bottom in the old 18-team league and only secured their status after a win over Airdrie at Pittodrie in April.
From the outset of the following season, Clark was still out of the first team and McGarr was still the first choice keeper. It was the Dons game against Rangers at Ibrox that the situation took on a whole new twist. As Aberdeen struggled after going behind to an early penalty and defender Tom McMillan was sent off after taking a swipe at Colin Stein, Aberdeen brought on substitute Bobby Clark as an emergency centre half! Watching from the Ibrox stands was Scotland manager Bobby Brown who could not have failed to be impressed by McGarr's heroics. Later that month McGarr had done enough to be called up for the Scotland squad and the Dons keeper made his full international debut against Ireland on 21st September 1969. Meanwhile Bobby Clark was still considering playing outfield. Clark recalled the time with memories of what was an unusual time at the club;
"If my memory serves me correctly it happened it happened during the time I was in the reserve team side during 1969 and Ernie McGarr was in the first team. It was in August and I had injured my hand so it was a frustrating time. There was also a shortage of central defenders as Martin Buchan had broken an ankle in a car accident. The reserves were going to play Clyde at Shawfield and we were short of a centre half. Teddy Scott suggested to Eddie (Turnbull) that he would rather have me than take in a trialist. I used to always come in on my off day and play in the field with the players who were in for extra training. I played against Clyde and then carried on for about 10 games. Big Andy Geoghegan was in goal and I had fun trying to keep a very young Willie Young in the right position!
"I also had some time with Martin Buchan. It was a good reserve team and, if my memory serves me correctly, we were top to the league for a large part of that season. I remember going to Parkhead and winning. Alec Smith was our general. He was the 'old head' and did a great job linking play and generally being a role model. He was nearing the end of his career but the former Dunfermline and Rangers player was great with the rest of the younger players. I always recall him saying to me when we were playing at Morton. I thought I was playing well enough and was getting a little cocky with the ball. He quietly came over to me and put me in my place. He said, "Bobby just win the balls in the air and after that just give the ball to the players that can play!" I think he mean give it to him!
"To be honest, I was decent enough in the air and did reasonably well until Eddie finally took me aside after I had reclaimed my place in goal. I had got my place back as Ernie was with the Scotland team in Austria as he won his second cap. Turnbull told me in his own unique fashion that he had better not see me outside of the penalty box again as I was a keeper and that was the way it would remain!"
Bobby returned to first team action as the Dons keeper in a Scottish Cup tie against Clydebank at Pittodrie on 11th February 1970. Martin Buchan captained the side for the first time that evening as Aberdeen were jeered from the field after struggling to a 2-1 win over their part time opponents. Two months later Clark joined Buchan at Hampden as they lifted the Scottish Cup at Hampden after a sensational 3-1 win over Celtic.
Clark's value to the club was a vital one as was shown in the Aberdeen FC minutes from the time. Bobby was among the three top earners at Pittodrie along with Jimmy Smith and Jens Petersen who were all on a basic wage of £44 per week. Ernie McGarr, although a full Scotland international was some way behind on a basic £22 wage.