In Memoriam | George Kinnell
Aberdeen FC were saddened to learn today of the death of former player George Kinnell.
The sixties star, who also wore the captain’s armband, passed away peacefully on Saturday 16th October 2021 at home. He had bravely fought dementia and Alzheimer’s in recently years.
Born in Cowdenbeath on 22nd December 1937, George served Aberdeen between 1959 and 1963. He made 165 appearances and scored 25 goals.
A product of Crossgates Primrose, his strength in the tackle and never-say-die spirit attracted the attention of the Aberdeen scouts early in 1959. He was signed as a professional by the Pittodrie club after playing a trial at wing-half for Aberdeen Reserves against Falkirk A in February, 1959. During his term with the Dons, George turned out for the first team at full-back as well as wing-half, but finally established himself as a sound and reliable centre-half and also a dependable penalty taker. In the latter stages of 1962/63, George was even played up front in an effort to strengthen the forward line.
Following a lot of interest from south of the border, George moved to Stoke City in November 1963 and played in the 1964 Football League Cup final for them as they lost the two-legged final 4-3 to Leicester City. He later had a brief spell at Oldham before joining Sunderland in 1966, moving on to Middlesbrough in 1968, and, a year later, moving to play in Australia.
After a seven-year spell in the southern hemisphere, George eventually returned to live in Aberdeen and was a regular visitor to Pittodrie on a matchday and a very supportive figure in the Former Players’ Association. He was also the cousin of the late Jim Baxter.
Our thoughts are with his son Gary and the rest of the family.
Rest in Peace George
Aberdeen 1962-1963 Back row: D. Ewen, D. Smith, W. Allan, A. Cadenhead, W. Little. Middle row: E. Winchester, D. Will, I. Burns, D. Bennett, D. Fraser, W. Law, J. Thomson, J. Ogston, J. Hogg, J. Anderson, D. McMillan, D. Coutts. Front row: R. Cummings, R. Turnbull, E. Lewis, D. Donald, G. Kinnell, A. Wilson, C. Cooke, W. Callaghan, G. Mulhall.
Red Matchday Interview
George returned in 2005 to Pittodrie for an interview with Kevin Stirling, offering a fascinating insight into his football career and what it was like to play in the 1960s. As you can also tell from the answers, George was a real character and leader!
Not many players get the opportunity to play with some of the best in the world but George Kinnell was in exalted company after his move to Stoke in 1963:
“My first game for Stoke was quite something. We were up against Benfica in a friendly and I was in direct opposition to Eusebio the great Portuguese forward. Of course, friendly matches in those days were not very friendly! They were far more competitive and were treated like any other game — not like these days.”
George had a spell in the Army before he was spotted by Aberdeen playing for junior side Crossgates Primrose:
“George Hamilton came down to see me after Bobby Calder spotted me, and the next thing I knew, Davie Shaw turned up at the house wanting me to sign for Aberdeen. I was happy to do so as Aberdeen were a big club. I loved playing football and was used to playing for nothing. To get the chance to play professionally was a great opportunity. When I came up here I loved the place. Davie (Shaw) the manager was a funny bloke at times and I had a good feeling about the whole move.”
Dave Shaw had a tough reputation as a trainer, a role that he relished at Pittodrie. Although it went wrong for him as a manager:
“Yes Davie could be a tough man but there was a lighter side to him. I remember being back for pre-season training and he would have us running out the road up past Potterton. Davie would always take his push bike and he was always looking for a push which made the run all the easier. I would usually volunteer to take a shot of Davie’s bike and put it to good use! We used to train out on the Main Stand car park – that was what it was built for and the training was very hard, no doubt about that. Davie was a good coach though and he made sure we did the right things for the right reasons.”
Pittodrie made an immediate impression on him:
“The only grounds I had seen before Pittodrie were the likes of Central Park at Cowdenbeath, and I got a pleasant surprise when I came here. Pittodrie was not like it is now—there was only the Main Stand that was covered, the other three sides were just terracing and that gasometer of course!”
George went straight into the reserve side for the rest of that season:
“The first team reached the Scottish Cup Final against St Mirren and there was plenty of excitement around the place. The squad went down on the Friday night and stayed at Gleneagles while we went down on the Saturday.”
“For me personally it was a big disappointment. I had been playing regular in the reserves at right half and Ken Brownlee was at left half. With Ian Burns being injured for the Final I thought I was in the side, but Ken got the nod.”
In those days squad rotation was unheard of, and it was a straight swap for replacements:
“Yes that was the way of it usually, Ken was a bit more experienced than me so that was probably why he was picked ahead of me. However it was still a huge thrill to be there and it made me want some more of that. The Hampden crowd was huge and it was a marvellous occasion.”
Not long after the Dons demise in the 1959 Cup Final, Davie Shaw reverted to his role as trainer role and Tommy Pearson was appointed Aberdeen manager in a move that was as swift as it was surprising:
“It was all sorted out beforehand and it was bad for us at the time because Tommy had been writing regularly for the papers and was highly critical of the team. There was friction between Davie and Tommy because of that, but they were brought together so we just had to get on with it.”
The tensions between the manager and trainer had little effect on George:
“We just got on with things – that was the way I approached every game. As far as the Dons players were concerned, at that time Fred Martin was still around, Jim Clunie was at centre half and Archie Glen, Bob Wishart and Jackie Hather were still there as well. Jimmy Hogg our full back was a tremendous player and never really got the recognition he deserved. We still had the nucleus of a very good side. When I first broke through into the side there were a few more experienced guys who brought me on a lot — always shouting and keeping you right. You don’t see much of that nowadays. The boys then were not the high paid stars, we were all on the same wage. Look what happens these days, how can anyone in their right mind justify paying someone £100,000 a week? The game has lost a lot of passion.”
George placed a high priority on team spirit: “That was crucial, it helped all of the first team being on the same wage, we felt we were a team and all in it together both in playing and socialising.”
As far as the Shaw-Pearson regime was concerned there were marked differences to their approach:
“I would have to say that Tommy was more tactical than Davie. Tommy would discuss the opposition before games but of course it all depended on who we were playing. The manager can tell you anything he likes, but once you are out there you’re on your own. The manager’s influence in those days was not near as important as it is now — there was little he could do sitting in the dug out. Any changes during a game were down to the captain. Archie Glen was my first skipper and he was a real leader. His role was far more involved than just spinning a coin before the start. Far more important than these days, things could happen during a game and Archie would have to make a judgement call for the good of the team.”
“Hughie Baird was something else, a right comedian. He was that bit older and always up to all kinds of stuff. Tommy Ring, the ex-Clyde winger, was another. We used to have to run around the park and we were always lagging behind, Hughie, Jimmy Hogg and I. Little Tommy was always out in front and he was well known for liking a drink—you could smell him a mile away; he was some player though.”
As far as games against Celtic and Rangers were concerned, they held few fears:
“We loved going down to Ibrox and Parkhead, the big crowds and all that. A lot of people seemed to hate going down there. Reggie (Morrison) used to shake like a leaf — he had to get his boot laces tied once or twice! Once he got on the park he was fine. The crowd would get on to you but we responded to that. The ball would go into the ‘jungle’ at Parkhead and I would be just front them out, no problem. There was no fear although the crowd were hard on away teams. We would gee ourselves up for those games and after all it was just eleven against eleven—they were nothing special. You had to believe you could win. If players have not got the heart, then why bother?”
As far as George is concerned, there were no real bogey teams or difficult grounds, an honest approach that stood him in good stead in his career:
“I never really gave that a second thought, we would go out do our best no matter where it was. We would always catch the 9am train from Aberdeen on the Saturday morning and it was always a rush to catch the 5.30pm connection after the game. The only time I recall going down on the Friday night was to Clyde for a cup-tie and we drew 2-2 at Shawfield and the directors, manager and players got slaughtered in the press for it. That lasted right up until the replay on the Tuesday night. James Forbes wrote in the Evening Express criticising the manager and I pulled him up about it and had a go at him. I told him it was down to us and he was well out of order. We responded in the best possible fashion by hitting Clyde for ten in the replay—that soon shut them up.”
George played in several positions for the Dons and his versatility also saw him enjoy the occasional striking role:
“I scored a fair share of goals during my time. I loved it up there!
“I remember two hat-tricks against Partick and Le Harve in particular. I knew how defenders played and that helped me a lot as a forward. I also scored a few penalties as well — always placed to my right and aimed for the stanchion and always hit hard. I remember once Kilmarnock were representing Scotland in a tournament in New York, it was a regular thing. Partick were lined up one year but that soon changed after I scored three against them and Kilmarnock went in their place!”
George sadly played at Pittodrie during a really tough period in our history and admitted to feeling additional pressure featuring for the Dons during a difficult spell for the club:
“Yes it was a problem. People said we played without fear but we felt that additional burden as we were struggling near the foot of the table. We would still be able to put in a good performance, especially against the Old Firm. We still managed to go to Ibrox and do them, the big crowds helped even though they did not like us much. I also remember hammering Rangers 6-1 at Pittodrie; it made no difference that we were playing at home as there was usually a big crowd behind us at Pittodrie for those games. What does the ground hold now? 21,000? Back then it was more than 50,000 and almost all standing.”
Contrary to what many believe, George never asked away from the Dons as his transfer to Stoke came about in 1963:
“I was up in Rosemount Viaduct sitting having a drink in the bar below the Silver Slipper. My girlfriend was working in the hairdressers next door and I was taking her to the pictures later on. It was a Monday night and she came running into the bar telling me that the club was on the phone and that I had to speak to them urgently.
“It was with Ron Main of the Daily Express and Jimmy Forbes. When I answered the phone it was Tommy Pearson telling me that Stoke City were phoning back in half an hour and that they wanted to sign me. I went straight down to Pittodrie and spoke further with Tommy. I asked about the fee involved and what I would be getting out of the deal. He told me all I would get would be the usual £750 loyalty payment that all Aberdeen players received after five years at the club. I then decided to speak to Davie Shaw who was still out there training the part time players in the evening. Davie told me to stick it out and get a decent deal. Eventually I told Tommy he had better get Dick Donald down here because I was not accepting the offer. We would usually get around 5% from any transfer deal and we eventually agreed on a deal.”
It seemed that Aberdeen were happy enough to let their captain go:
“Well it was good business for the club as they got me for £200 and sold me for £35,000. It seemed to be a habit at the time, Doug Fraser was sold to West Brom and Charlie Cooke was allowed to leave for Dundee. I was still disappointed to leave the Dons but Stoke were a big club in English football then and it was a great challenge for me.
“They still had Stanley Matthews in their side. The transfer was completed quickly and I was on the 6.30am flight the next morning to get to Stoke and have a look around the place. I did not know that much about them but they had good players like Denis Violet and Maurice Setters. My first game was against Benfica and it was a great experience and soon I was playing against some top sides. During my time at the Victoria Ground I played in Stan Matthew’s testimonial and it was England against a Rest of the World XI. I was in the select side along with the likes of Lev Yashin and Ferenc Puskas. It was a marvellous experience.”
George was never intimidated to be in amongst some of the greatest players in the world:
“To be honest I just treated it like any other game and enjoyed the occasion.”
Two years later George was on his travels again but there was nothing so clear cut about his eventual switch to Sunderland:
“I was at Stoke for a couple of years before I went to Oldham. Sunderland had wanted me but Stoke were not keen in selling me to one of their main rivals. Jimmy McIlroy was manager at Oldham and I had played with him at Stoke — the move was manipulated so I could go to Roker Park, no doubt about that. Ian McColl, the former Scotland manager was in charge at Sunderland and he wanted to bolster his Scottish contingent at the club. Charlie Hurley was injured and I was brought in to replace him.
“With no agents at that time you did any deals yourself and sometimes you needed to stand your ground but eventually it was sorted.
“Roker Park was a great place to play football with a great atmosphere — they were a passionate lot. We had a number of Scots there — Jim Baxter, George Mulhall, Neil Martin and John O’Hare. There was also a difference between the game down there as there was a bit more quality. With no wage cap in place there were also a lot of good Scottish players playing in England. Every top club had at least two or three in their side. Of course there was a lot of banter between the Scots and English lads but nothing nasty.
Full international honours eluded George during his career and although he would not admit it from a personal perspective, he clearly felt there was bias in selection:
“I was selected to play for the Scottish League against Northern Ireland in Belfast. I was playing quite well at the time and I was honoured to represent my country. However because I was not wearing blue or green, my chances were limited.”
While George may not bear any grudges it was still a sore point that any player outside of the Old Firm would have to do something special to get recognition:
“It was the power of the press in full flow. The newspapers in Glasgow had a huge bearing on the national side. The Scottish team was picked by a group of selectors and they had been influenced by what they read every day. If you played in the blue and white of Rangers or the green and white of Celtic your Scotland chances improved dramatically—no doubt about it. A lot of good players never got the honours they deserved. The best uncapped full back in Britain was Aberdeen’s Jimmy Hogg.”
At the age of 31, Middlesbrough was the last stop for George:
“When I was released I had the chance to go to Australia and it was a good offer. With two young children it was a chance I felt I had to take. So I went there and played with Juventus of Melbourne. The standard over there was not that good but it has improved dramatically in recent years. Of course Aussie Rules football is the major attraction over there. I did some coaching in Australia and my time there lasted seven years and it was a great experience.
“I settled back in this area in 1978 and I have been coming to Pittodrie for years although I stopped when Ian Porterfield was here. Nothing personal as I actually played with Ian at Sunderland but the Dons team under him was as laid back as he was!”