1964 | Summer football and a local epidemic
A major health scare. A city shut off because of an epidemic. Anxiety amongst the local population. Some confusion as to what was going on. Football cancelled due to the outbreak. Vast media attention.
It all happened in the summer of 1964.
The Red Matchday team look at an infamous period in the history of the Granite City that brought to a halt a summer football trial.
The Original Summer Cup
When a summer competition was first introduced in 1940 it was organized by the Southern League. It was one of two cup competitions run by them, a League, and the Southern League Cup.
The competition ran from May to June when the league season had already finished.
Encouraged by the Government as part of their ‘Holidays at Home’ campaign to prevent widespread travel by the public during the summer, the tournament was played on a knockout basis from 1941 to 1945. It produced five different winners in Hibernian, Rangers, St Mirren, Motherwell and Partick Thistle.
Aberdeen for their part did not compete in the early years during the war although the Dons did famously play in and win the inaugural Southern League Cup in May 1946, defeating Rangers 3-2 at Ibrox. The following season the tournament would become the League Cup.
Aberdeen had taken part in the North East Regional leagues and cups as football continued during those troubled times to maintain morale.
For more on that story please click here.
With the public appetite for football all but insatiable at a time of austerity, attendances were healthy. But, when the war ended, it was shelved as Scottish football returned to its more traditional calendar.
The Return of Summer Football
The Summer Cup was reintroduced in 1963 as a national cup competition for Scottish Football League Division One clubs because running costs for clubs in the top division were getting more expensive.
At a time when the season was traditionally concluded with the Scottish Cup final at the end of April, the game’s administrators decided the time was ripe to gauge the potential market for summer football.
It was an experiment which would last just two years.
There was plenty of scepticism around when the Summer Cup returned in 1964.
The competition was handicapped from the outset in the eyes of some by a complete lack of interest from Celtic and Rangers who declined to take part in either season the cup was played.
Edinburgh clubs Heart of Midlothian and Hibernian were initially more enthusiastic and the competition kicked off with a keenly fought derby match at Tynecastle, which Hearts won 3-2.
The 16 clubs who entered faced each other on a round-robin basis in four groups of four teams and it appeared Jock Stein’s Hibs side had been eliminated when Hearts topped their section.
The Tynecastle club, however, decided to withdraw at this stage as they took up an offer to tour North America. It meant Hibs played off against Dunfermline, at Tynecastle, for the last semi-final slot. They won 3-1 then went on to defeat Kilmarnock over two legs in the last four to set up a final showdown with Aberdeen.
However, the first final was delayed by an epidemic in the North-east.
In 1964 there was an outbreak of typhoid in Aberdeen.
The first two cases were identified on 20 May 1964; eventually 507 cases were diagnosed and the patients were quarantined at the City Hospital in Urquhart Road, just around the corner from Pittodrie, and Woodend Hospital in Eday Road. Most patients spent many weeks in hospital until they were allowed home. Also visitors were not allowed access so they had to speak to their relatives or friends through the windows.
It led to speculation across the country of many deaths.
In reality it is believed that the outbreak was contained without a single related death.
Dr Ian MacQueen, the Medical Officer of Health for Aberdeen, became well known in the media for his twice-daily briefings as the city had to deal with world-wide press attention. It could be argued that it took the city years to recover from the sigma and negative publicity.
The University of Aberdeen went on to develop an international reputation in the field of disease control, notably in the appointment of Professor Hugh Pennington to the post of Professor of Bacteriology. The outstanding Professor is appearing regularly on TV at the moment.
The outbreak was eventually traced to contaminated tinned corned beef from South America made by Fray Bentos and sold in the city’s branch of the Scottish grocery chain William Low. Pollution from the waters of the Uruguay River (which flows into the Río de la Plata) appeared to be the source of the contamination, probably through water entering a defective tin through a small puncture. The infected meat then contaminated a meat slicing machine within the William Low shop, leading to the spread of the disease.
The outbreak forced the Summer Cup Final to be postponed as Aberdeen was effectively shut off from the rest of Scotland to prevent the spread of the disease. Schools were closed for a while, and end of term exams cancelled, but as the summer of ’64 was nice and hot, a lot of school kids enjoyed the extra holiday time.
The reputation of Aberdeen as a city to visit, live and work in was harmed by the media coverage of the outbreak. It took a high-profile visit to the city by the Queen in July 1964 to help restore confidence that Aberdeen was a safe again.
An official enquiry and report into the outbreak was commissioned by the Secretary of State for Scotland. The enquiry was headed by Sir David Milne and his published findings became known as the Milne Report.
You can read the full British Medical Journal review of the case, published in 1966, by clicking here
The reputation of William Low was irrevocably damaged within Aberdeen and the city’s store, the source of the outbreak, closed three years later. Dundee-based William Low subsequently opened many other stores around Scotland but remained absent from Aberdeen. William Low was taken over by Tesco in 1994.
The outbreak was successfully handled, given the absence of fatalities. The outbreak drew attention to the need for better standards of hygiene, notably in the cleaning of food processing machinery.
Also the big thing then, like now, was ‘Wash Your Hands’ – or as Scotland the What put it – “we nivr washed our hands unless we did the lavvy first!”
The Final, Finally!
The delayed Summer Cup final eventually went ahead in August, capturing substantial interest with an attendance of 27,000 at Easter Road for the second leg. That game was won by the home side 2-1, but with Aberdeen winning the first leg at Pittodrie 3-2, the aggregate score was a draw.
With the teams level at 4-4, a third match was required. Aberdeen won the toss for choice of venue, so the game was played at Pittodrie, but it was Hibs who prevailed with a 3-1 win.
Aberdeen striker Ernie Winchester recalled:
“We were a good side back then but the typhoid situation had an effect on all of us.
“Hibernian were a good side as well and the games were memorable although the tournament was never given that much stature which was a pity. I remember the semi-final win and the excitement that caused at Pittodrie with the support. At the time we were desperate to win the cup, but it wasn’t to be.”
Jock Stein left for Celtic a few months later, of course, while Hibernian were unable to defend the Summer Cup in 1965, losing out to eventual winners Motherwell in the semi-finals. Crowds slumped in the second year, typified by an attendance of just 216 at Cathkin Park when Third Lanark played their last Summer Cup tie, just two years before their own demise.
The Scottish Football League were keen to persist with the Summer Cup but were forced to give up when only 11 clubs entered in 1966.
At the end of the day, supporters and players as well, did not believe football should be played in the summer months. They were not used to it, and they did not like it. Back then football was played from August till April and that was an entrenched view.
The trophy currently resides in the boardroom at Easter Road. Hibernian chairman Harry Swan had helped to establish the competition and, when Hibernian won the first final, team manager Willie McCartney suggested that the trophy should be presented to Swan. Subsequently it was gifted to Hibernian in perpetuity.
A relic of a bizarre but fascinating footnote in the history of Scottish Football.
1963-64 Summer Cup Stats
Group 2 Winners – Partick Thistle
Group 3 Winners – Kilmarnock
Group 4 Winners – Heart of Midlothian
Because Heart of Midlothian went on tour to the USA, a play-off was required to determine who would replace them from Group 4. The teams in second and third play played either:
Play-off at Tynecastle Park (23 May 1964)
Hibernian 3 Dunfermline Athletic 1
Semi-Finals– 2 legs
(23 May 1964) Partick Thistle 1 Aberdeen 0
(27 May 1964) Aberdeen 3 Partick Thistle 1 Agg 3-2
(27 May 1964) Kilmarnock 4 Hibernian 3
(30 May 1964) Hibernian 3 Kilmarnock 0 Agg 6-4
Final – 2 legs
(1 August 1964) Aberdeen 3 Hibernian 2
(5 August 1964) Hibernian 2 Aberdeen 1 Agg 4-4
Final replay at Pittodrie
(2 September 1964) Aberdeen 1 Hibernian 3
The 1964-65 season
The rest of 1964-65 season was actually one of the most historic seasons for Scottish football.
In one of the closest finishes ever seen in a league competition in Europe, Hearts faced Kilmarnock on the last day of the season with a two-point lead over the Ayrshire club and a slightly better goal average (goals scored divided by goals conceded).
Kilmarnock had to beat Hearts by at least 2–0 to win the title. Any worse result for Kilmarnock, including any other two goal winning margin, e.g. 3–1 or 4–2, would have made Hearts champions.
Kilmarnock won 2-0, and were champions. The greatest win in their history.
The 1964–65 season is notable for both Celtic and Rangers finishing in mid-table.
It was, and remains only the fifth time that neither of them had finished in the top two, and the only time that both clubs had failed to finish in the top three of the First Division in the same season.
The season was also interesting in that it was the one and only season that East Stirling Clydebank (E.S. Clydebank) competed in the Scottish League, reverting to East Stirlingshire for season 1965/66 with Clydebank entering the league the following year.
Celtic would win the Scottish Cup by beating Dunfermline whilst they lost the League Cup final to Rangers. Despite not winning the league a young Billy McNeill, a future Aberdeen manager, was named Player of the Year. A few seasons later he would be lifting the European Cup.
Third Lanark were relegated, and that was a hammer blow for the Glasgow club as they were heading towards extinction a year later.
Meanwhile for Aberdeen, from the outset of the season the alarm bells were ringing.
If the Red Army were looking for an indication as to how the Dons would fare that season, then the League Cup group games made for a worrying time. Aberdeen could only muster one win from six, and two defeats from Rangers compounded concerns.
Despite a decent start to the league campaign, it was clear that Aberdeen had problems; particularly in defence.
It was to manager Tommy Pearson’s frustration that his side were as inconsistent as they were.
Aberdeen hammered Partick 5-1 in September before being humbled 4-1 by Third Lanark a week later; a result which saw the Third’s first win of the season.
Aberdeen went to Ibrox and drew 2-2 in game they should have won, while Kilmarnock arrived at Pittodrie in November unbeaten and were lucky to scrape a draw with a last minute equaliser to keep their record intact. Two weeks later the Dons lost six goals at Tynecastle.
The harsh winter brought several postponements and it was a frustrating time for the Dons; in particular for their three new Danish imports as Jens Petersen, Leif Mortensen and Jorg Ravn had to wait several weeks to make their debut.
The Scandinavian invasion of Scottish football had arrived as amateur status in these countries meant that the players were free to sign professional for any Scottish club.
It was on 27th January 1965 that all three made their debut in a 3-1 win over bottom side Third Lanark.
Their arrival however could not disguise the Aberdeen supporter’s disgust at the incredible sale of Charlie Cooke to near neighbours Dundee in a £50,000 transfer. Charlie was a shining light in a dark period, and many argue one of the most skilful players ever to pull on a red shirt. So you can understand how upset the fans were.
Parkhead was never the most happy of hunting ground for Aberdeen and on 30th January 1965 the club recorded their worst defeat when they were humiliated in an 8-0 hammering. John Hughes the Celtic winger wore sand shoes as he mastered the tricky underfoot conditions to help himself to five goals.
Ominously it was announced after the game that Jock Stein was to leave Hibernian to take over at Celtic.
While the heavy defeat in Glasgow was bad enough, worse was to follow when Aberdeen once again were shamed in the Scottish Cup. In the first round tie at Pittodrie against lowly East Fife,
Aberdeen could not find a way through and they were humbled in the replay at Methil when they went down 1-0.
Despite Pearson making eight changes to the Dons team, they never looked like seeing of the plucky Fifers.
It was no surprise when Tom Pearson resigned in the aftermath of that cup defeat.
Aberdeen had fallen from grace in spectacular style with crowds averaging 6,000, it was time to act.
The board turned to former Hibernian player Eddie Turnbull who had just begun a career in coaching with Queens Park. Turnbull’s appointment at that time was a risk, but with Aberdeen sinking so low, that risk was minimal.
Turnbull immediately stamped his authority on the club by releasing no less than 17 players from Pittodrie two months after arriving.
A bold new era was dawning at Pittodrie.