Kenny Dalglish at Victoria Park in 1967

The following post was kindly submitted to us by Gordon McCreath, who is a keen Ayrshire junior football historian.

When Irvine Victoria were drawn to play at home against Cumbernauld United in the 1st Round of the Scottish Cup in 1967/68 they couldn’t possibly have known they’d be facing one of the greatest players ever to be produced in Scotland.  Kenny Dalglish was still a teenager but would go on to become a legend, first with Celtic, then with Liverpool, and would play for his country a record 102 times in full international matches.

Although the young Kenny Dalglish was a Rangers fan, he signed up with city rivals Celtic.  The manager, Jock Stein, decided to farm out his new signing to Cumbernauld United, with a view to toughening him up and gaining experience at a good level of competitive football.  The rosy-cheeked youngster quickly showed his quality by scoring four goals in only his second game for Cumbernauld, a 5-1 thumping of Yoker Athletic.

On Saturday, 4th November 1967 Dalglish ran out onto Victoria Park and the fireworks were about to start a day early.  The day started badly for the Vics when their goalkeeper hurt himself in the warm-up, and Charlie Kelly, who was the trainer, had to pull on the ‘keeper’s jersey and take his place between the posts.

The referee blew for kick off, and Cumbernauld seeing that Kelly was looking a little nervous, went for a quick breakthrough.  They got the early goal they wanted in the fifth minute when Dalglish netted from a near-impossible angle at the byline.  After some pressure from Vics the visitors went further ahead when Dalglish collected the ball and raced down the wing, beating two defenders and cutting the ball back to McKenna.  Kelly did well to block McKenna’s shot but the rebound fell to Plank and he lofted the ball back across goal to McKenna, who had the relatively easy task of putting Cumbernauld two ahead.  Plank had looked offside according to the Vics fans, but the referee allowed the goal to stand.

Cumbernauld looked to kill off the game with a third goal and were making all the running but a Dalglish header just cleared the bar, and Kelly saved at Bain’s feet as he tried to round the stand-in ‘keeper.  The Irvine Herald reporter at the game was clearly impressed with Charlie Kelly’s performance: ‘…Kelly saved several shots, including a good one from Dalglish but the Victoria keeper was positioning himself well and equal to all calls on him at this time.’

The third goal of the match, when it came, was in Victoria’s favour.  Just before half time George Dickson wriggled past the right back and slipped the ball into the net to reduce the arrears.

The second half had barely started when Vics’ defence, once again, was found wanting. Right from the kick off Cumbernauld broke forward on the left and Plank shot into the net well out of Kelly’s reach.  Cumbernauld controlled the game for a spell but were not able to get the ball past Kelly again until later in the game when they had seemed to be tiring.  ‘… away came Cumbernauld out of defence and Kelly had a great save from Monaghan but Stewart who had followed up got to the ball at the post to touch it through for a goal.’ (The Irvine Herald)

Vics kept trying and had several chances to score, but failed to take them.  They forced four corners as the clock ticked down before “Jumbo”  Muir made the final score 2-4 in the last minute.

By the end of the season Dalglish, who was also working as an apprentice joiner, had scored a highly impressive 37 goals.  Jock Stein felt that Cumbernauld club was looking after the teenager well and wanted to leave him with the Junior club for a second season to continue his footballing education.  Dalglish, however, was having none of it.  He wanted to be a professional footballer and felt he was ready for a full-time contract.  After an initial refusal, Stein relented and Kenny Dalglish signed up to become a Celtic player.

He was probably relieved to leave Junior football behind because, as he wrote in his autobiography, ‘There were not many teenagers like myself because it was so hard.  I was playing against grown men every week.  There were one or two who wouldn’t think twice about kicking me.  It wasn’t because I was young or with Celtic.  Those old boys kicked everybody.’

The Scottish Cup match was actually the second time he had played for Cumbernauld United at Victoria Park.  A month previously, Cumbernauld had come to Irvine to take on the Vics in the 1st round of the West of Scotland Cup.  In a high scoring game the visitors came out on top, winning 5-3.  Dalglish, who was prominent–particularly in the second half–was outshone by another Celtic-bound sixteen-year-old, McKenna, who bagged a hat trick against the Vics.

The two Celtic teenagers had been a great success, but Victoria also had two young players who would go on to have great careers in Senior football, both with Motherwell: Joe Wark and Jim “Jumbo” Muir.  Joe Wark, who scored two of Victoria’s goals in the West of Scotland Cup match, was widely held to have developed into one of the best full backs never to have been capped by Scotland.  Joe actually began his Junior career with Irvine Meadow but transferred to Vics so that he would get more game time.  “Jumbo” Muir was a frequent goalscorer for Motherwell before being converted into a centre back and later transferring to Dumbarton.

As a ‘Thank You’ to the Cumbernauld United management for looking after Dalglish so well, Celtic sent their second team to play in the official opening of Ravenswood Park in May 1968. Celtic’s European Cup winning team was there too and played a 15 minutes-each-way game against the Juniors, winning 2-0 with goals from Bobby Lennox and Willie Wallace  Then in February 1971 Cumbernauld drew 1-1 with Kirkintilloch Rob Roy in a 5th round Scottish Cup tie.  Celtic offered Cumbernauld the opportunity to take the replay to Celtic Park, where they attracted a crowd of 10,000 and won 4-2.

Kenny Dalglish, of course, went on to have a glorious playing career with Celtic and Liverpool, in which he won four Scottish and six English league championships, four Scottish Cups and one F.A. Cup, and one Scottish and four English League Cups.  In addition, he crowned his club career by winning the European Cup three times with Liverpool.

Not bad for that red-faced sixteen-year-old who turned out so successfully for Cumbernauld United against Irvine Victoria.