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AFC Archives | The David Halliday story

January 5, 2021 12:05 am Author: redmatchday team (Kevin Stirling and Malcolm Panton)
AFC Archives | The David Halliday story


Today is the 50th anniversary of the passing of David Halliday.

His importance to the history of Aberdeen FC should never be forgotten as he was the first manager to guide the Dons to a major trophy, when winning the 1947 Scottish Cup. He then steered them to their first Scottish title eight years later.


Red Matchday’s Kevin Stirling looks back at his time at Pittodrie:

Not many Aberdeen managers were leaving their previous club in such a good state as Dave Halliday did with his Yeovil side in 1937. Aberdeen cast their net far and wide to find a new manager that year.

Halliday had been a prolific forward as a player with St Mirren, Dundee, Sunderland, Arsenal, Manchester City and Clapton Orient. He enjoyed success on both sides of the border as both a player as the striker scored freely for all his clubs in the 1920s and 30s. He fired in 38 goals for Dundee in 1923-24 to become top scorer in Scotland’s top tier that season and then hit 43 goals for Sunderland in 1928–29. It means he is the most recent of only two players to have been outright top scorer in the top divisions in both Scotland and England.

David Halliday as a player at Sunderland

He eventually joined Yeovil as a player/manager in his first coaching post. He applied for the Aberdeen position and was chosen from around 100 hopefuls; his arrival in Aberdeen was shrouded in mystery as he was whisked down to Pittodrie for talks on his arrival in January 1938. Halliday had come to the Dons attention with his work with Yeovil and his last game in charge of them was in an FA Cup tie against Manchester Utd at Old Trafford.

Halliday had led the non-league club to several giant-killing feats, but they eventually went down in Manchester which allowed Halliday the chance to accept the Aberdeen position. In April 1938 Halliday signed 19 year old George Hamilton from his former club, Queen of the South. This would be as shrewd a signing as Halliday would ever make. Gentleman George as he became known would show himself as a player of genuine class. His attacking danger with either foot offered in abundance the individual creativity Chapman spoke of to be channelled into a team plan.

Halliday was very much from the ‘old school’ of football managers. Indeed, his only time at Pittodrie was for a brief spell on a Thursday as the players played a full practice bounce game ahead of the next fixture. That was when Halliday would appear again for the game itself. Through the week he entrusted the training and conditioning of his players with trainers Donald Colman, Bob McDermid and Dave Shaw. Halliday would spend the rest of the week carrying out administrative tasks and transfer targets.

Tactics were never discussed as all attentions were placed on the first team and the reserves in preparation for any game. Although the war in Europe was to prevent Halliday from his building plans, on resumption he wasted little time in becoming the first manager at Aberdeen to bring major success.

It was after the Second World War when national trophies started to arrive at Pittodrie for the first time, thus securing Halliday’s place in Aberdeen folklore. During WW2 no Scottish FA Cup competition was played. The Southern Football League then operating in Scotland arranged a competition called the Southern Football League Cup. An obvious difference compared to the Scottish Cup was the initial stages operated based on small groups of teams. The winners of each section would then progress to the knockout phase. The Southern League Cup’s last season (1945.46), included teams from the now defunct North Eastern Football League. This included Halliday’s Aberdeen who won defeating Rangers 3-2 in the final at Hampden on 11 May 1946. Such was the success of the tournaments that from 1946.47 the Scottish Football League Cup was launched with the format used in the war.

A year later Aberdeen at last won the Scottish Cup for the first time with a 2-1 win over Hibernian. At Hampden on 19 April 1947 Halliday’s team won the Scottish Cup with an attendance of 82,140. The inspirational George Hamilton equalised in the 2-1 final victory against Hibernian who opened the scoring in the opening minute. Stan Williams scored the winner. Two members of the beaten Hibs team – Davie Shaw and Eddie Turnbull – later became managers of the Dons.

The Aberdeen FC 1947 Scottish Cup winning squad

Aberdeen reached the inaugural League Cup final that season beating Hearts 6-2 in the semi. In the final they lost out to Rangers.

Halliday knew that his side was now an ageing one and that a new Aberdeen team had to be built. Despite flirting with relegation on a couple of occasions, the new Aberdeen side under Halliday went on reach successive Scottish Cup finals in 1953 and 1954. Halliday returned to the Scottish Cup final in 1953 with a series of ties that went to replays. Motherwell drew 5-5 at Pittodrie before being blitzed 6-1 at Fir Park. Next was a fine result against the still excellent Hibernian side of the era. Third Lanark were knocked out in the semis in another replay before the Dons lost 1-0 to Rangers in a final replay.

Halliday went to the Scottish Cup final again the season after. A second-round trip to Duns produced an avalanche win (8-0). Next were two wins against Edinburgh opposition; 3-1 away to Hibs and 3-0at home to Hearts. The win against the Jambos was witnessed by Aberdeen’s record home crowd, 45,061. The semi-final draw brought a game against Rangers at Hampden. Halliday returned North with a stunning 6-0 win against the Ibrox club in the bag. The final brought the opportunity of a Glasgow double to match the Edinburgh double from earlier in the cup run. It was not to be as Sean Fallon hit the winner for Celtic to take the league and cup double with a 2-1 win. The official attendance was another of Hampden’s gargantuan crowds, 130,060.

Despite suffering defeat in both, Halliday steeled his team for the challenges that were ahead and in 1955 he became the first Aberdeen manager to take the Dons to a league Championship. That year brought ambitions of a league and cup double for Halliday himself. Rangers were beaten in Scottish Cup for the second season running. Next, Hearts were vanquished 2-0 at home in a replay in the quarter final. Aberdeen were 2-1 up in the semi-final against Clyde. Scotland left winger Tommy Ring then scored his second of the game to equalise in the 89th minute. Clyde were then victorious in a 1-0 replay win, just as they were against Celtic in the final. Five days after the Scottish Cup semi replay exit to Clyde, the Dons visited Clyde in the league.

Archie Glen’s successful penalty was the game’s only goal against Pat Travers’ side. The Dons clinched the title that day with two games to spare and finished the season three points ahead of Celtic. Halliday’s title winners were a team engineered as per the Chapman template the Arsenal manager that Halliday played under; well organised playing methodical football based on tough defence and quick forwards.
Halliday was the first manager to lift the Scottish Championship with Aberdeen.

The Aberdeen FC 1954-55 League winning squad

All appeared to be looking good for Halliday at the Dons, but this was not the case. Firstly, there was conflict when the club refused to pay his players an additional bonus for winning the league. Secondly, the first season of competitive European club football was about to begin. The competition was officially named, “The European Champions Clubs Cup”. It became better known more informally as the European Cup.

It has been documented that Aberdeen declined an invitation to participate. That was certainly not true and in Dave Halliday there was a vision he wanted to bring to Scotland and that was European competition. Back in 1955 when the first European Cup competition came into being, it was Aberdeen who found themselves on the outside look in as some of Europe’s finest got the European Cup off to a great start.

As league champions that year Aberdeen were now keen on the new competition that had been mooted for several months. The idea of a European league may have seemed like a million miles away from most people in 1955 but the reality was that the birth of the new European Cup arrived that year. The competition first came to the fore in January 1955 when all the leading football nations were invited to nominate a side to play in the new competition at a meeting in Paris. The SFA were not in attendance at that inaugural meeting, suggesting that the governing body were adopting a lukewarm approach to the new concept.

It is difficult to defend the attitude that prevailed at the time; if Scotland had learned anything from the World Cup in 1954 than it was surely that the country had fallen way behind some of the emerging nations. Instead of embracing new horizons the European Cup was given scant attention from the mainstream of the game in Scotland. A further meeting of FIFA wholly endorsed the new competition and it was named ‘The European Champions Clubs Cup’.

The respective league champions from the competing countries would compete for the cup, but only from season 1955-56. Quite rightly Aberdeen expected to be put forward to represent Scotland. As league champions they had emerged as the best combine in the land and their involvement was keenly anticipated. However, it soon became clear that other factors were at work. Harry Swan the Hibernian chairman had been very much involved in the initial talks and was keen to see Scottish involvement. While his approach was all very laudable, the fact that a loophole in the initial rules allowed any side to be put forward meant that there was bad news for Aberdeen.

Swan was also by chance the President of the SFA and it can be assumed that his forceful lobbying pushed his own side forward in to the first year of the European Cup. While the Champions League as it is known today comes under some criticism due to so many clubs qualifying that are not league champions, the irony is that in its’ inaugural year, only around half of the 16 competing nations were represented by their league winners. Hibernian had finished fifth in the table with Aberdeen out of sight on their Edinburgh rivals, yet it was Swan’s own Hibernian side that would compete in the first European Cup. Aberdeen maintained a diplomatic silence throughout the whole sorry affair; they had been badly treated and even the SFA glossed over the matter in their minutes taken at their meeting in July;

“The Union of European Football Associations. The secretary reported having attended a meeting of the Executive Committee of UEFA in Paris on 21st June 1955, at which its principal business was the Trophy for European Associations. Hibernian FC whose acceptance was intimated, applied for permission to take part and the committee decided in the circumstances decided not to exercise their right to nominate a club but to allow Hibernian FC to compete this season.”

In effect the SFA had the power to put forward the league champions, which in this instance was Aberdeen, but chose to ignore the Dons claims and allowed Hibernian to go forward to compete. All of this was kept away from the players and the supporters. For the record the Edinburgh side made it through to the semi-final’s.

It was on the back of this news and the squabbling the Aberdeen players had over unpaid bonuses for winning the league, that manager Dave Halliday would be leaving Aberdeen to take over as manager at Leicester City.

David Halliday at Filbert Street

This move was a bombshell for Aberdeen and totally unexpected.

He was to take up his post on 1st July 1955. Why would Halliday leave after 17 years in charge? He had achieved what many observers thought impossible and took Aberdeen to their first league title. The structure of the club was sound, there was money in the bank and the Dons stood on the threshold of further success. Dons keeper Reggie Morrison recalled that the European snub and players’ bonus dispute had any bearing on Halliday’s decision, he answered;

“Without doubt. Halliday was a man of great integrity and a true gentleman. I was convinced that those difficulties had a bearing on his decision to leave. The fact that he was also refused a modest pay rise after winning the championship had a lot to do with his decision.
“It was a great disappointment to all of us who looked upon Dave Halliday for guidance and he was someone we respected.”Publicly Halliday cited the opportunity to take Leicester back to the First Division in England as the motivating force behind his move.

Writing in the Sunday Post some two years after his move Halliday commented;

“My best friends were shocked to learn that I was leaving Aberdeen. I was well established at Pittodrie, we had come through some difficult times and I had helped put Aberdeen on the football map by taking them to the championship. What more could I want?

“A lot of this was true and I was happy in Aberdeen, but he is a poor man who ceases to have ambition and is not prepared to take a risk. I did not apply for the post but when I was invited south to discuss the matter, I mentioned this to Aberdeen chairman William Mitchell who agreed I should go and talk to Leicester.”

AFC reunion September 1960 – Left to right: George Hamilton, Pat McKenna, David Halliday, Willie Cooper, Archie Baird, Willie Waddell, Frank Dunlop and Tony Harris.

In Dave Halliday’s tenure in charge of the Dons he was the club’s most successful manager before the arrival of Alex Ferguson. Once more like Chapman with Huddersfield and Arsenal he left the club in good health.

David Halliday was AFC’s most successful manager before the arrival of Alex Ferguson. Only Halliday and Ferguson have managed Aberdeen to be Scottish champions. Halliday had appointed Davie Shaw as coach and on his departure, Shaw was promoted to manager. Three months after Halliday left, Aberdeen won the 1955/56 League Cup and went on to finish second in the league. While not playing in Europe, Aberdeen did play England’s champions in a friendly at Pittodrie in September, beating Chelsea 4-3.

Reading too much into friendlies is fraught with risk but it seems reasonable that this result combined with the semi-final position achieved by Hibernian indicates Aberdeen would likely have been competitive had they played in that first European Cup. We will never really know what this team below under the management of David Halliday might have achieved had he stayed on, but like the great Aberdeen side of the early 1970s, you are left with the feeling that the squad’s full potential was never fully reached.

He managed Leicester City to promotion to the top division in England from winning the 1956-57 Football League Second Division.

Halliday left Leicester in 1958 and later returned to the Aberdeen area, living in Ramsay Road, Banchory and scouted for Leicester City in North-east of Scotland. He died on 5 January 1970, aged 68 at Woodend Hospital, Aberdeen.

David Halliday was inducted into the AFC Hall of Fame in 2019 after being nominated for the AFC Heritage Trust posthumous award.

Aberdeen FC Hall of Fame Dinner November 2019 David Halliday Jnr, David’s son, with family members Ian Halliday, Nicola Walker and Jennifer Ayres