Farewell to Bobby Wishart, a Dundee and Aberdeen legend whose feats may never be repeated
Gordon Smith’s claim to fame by way of winning league title medals with three non-Old Firm clubs is rightly regarded as one of Scottish football’s finest and most enduring achievements.
Often overlooked is that Bobby Wishart is not far behind. The former wing-half, who has died in his native Edinburgh at the age of 87, was the last surviving member of Aberdeen’s title-winning team of 1955, the Pittodrie club's first of four such successes to date.
He was also, while Smith’s team and often room-mate at Dens Park, an integral part of the famous Dundee side that lifted the Scottish title for the first and only time in the club’s history in 1962.
Although this sets him apart, the amiable Wishart, who also shared Smith’s trait for self-effacement, liked to quip that he didn’t even possess the most Scottish championship medals in his own street in Currie. That honour belonged to neighbour Ralph Brand, who won four Scottish league titles with Rangers.
Nevertheless, Wishart’s deed of having done so with two clubs in the north-east won’t be repeated in a hurry, if ever. He also won a League Cup winner’s medal at Aberdeen in 1955 against St Mirren and played in a Scottish Cup final in 1959, when the Paisley side earned their revenge with a 3-1 win.
Wishart further distinguished himself by being part-time by the time he earned his later title medal at Dundee. He had already started work at the National Farmers’ Union Scotland.
Remarkably, Wishart was not the sole part-time player in such a stellar Dundee side – forward Alan Cousin juggled a day job as a Classics teacher with taking on the might of Europe, as Dundee did with considerable success. Wishart scored when Dundee made an auspicious start to their maiden European campaign by beating West German champions Cologne 8-1 at Dens Park in September 1962.
On the European stage
He admitted the goal was something of a fluke – Wishart connected with a piece of Dens Park turf as well as the ball and this deceived the German ‘keeper Fritz Ewert, who dived in an attempt to save the divot while the ball crept into the other corner of the net.
The side marched on to the semi-finals where a second-half collapse against AC Milan at the San Siro extinguished their chances of becoming the first British club to lift the European Cup, long before anyone had ever heard of the Lisbon Lions. But then Liney, Hamilton, Cox, Seith, Ure, Wishart, Smith, Penman, Cousin, Gilzean and Robertson were already established in people’s minds (Bert Slater replaced goalkeeper Liney in the European run).
Best five-a-side team in country
Conscious of the heavy responsibility, I was privileged to drive two members of the team, Wishart and Gilzean, through to Cousin’s funeral in Alloa from Edinburgh four years ago. We made it there and back safely.
Wishart commented that the death of his old pal had tipped the balance the wrong way. “That’s six gone and five left from that great team folk rhyme off,” he said. We decided it still ranked as the best five-a-side team in the country.
Although both were hardly in their first flush of youth, it’s still hard to believe that the two noble gentlemen effortlessly recalling incidents from yesteryear – Wishart beside me in the passenger seat, Gilzean in the back – would be the next of the illustrious gang to go. A blessing is that Wishart lived long enough to celebrate the birth of a first great grandchild, Arthur, last year.
Before dropping the august pair off at Wishart’s home, I clicked on my dictaphone and spoke to them about Cousin. Conversation meandered and I have kept the tape. Amid the current great sadness, it’s comforting to still be able to hear Wishart’s pronounced drawl, as well as that of his great friend Gilzean, who died in July 2018.
During the long spell when Gilzean was depicted as having stepped away from the game, it said everything that he kept in regular contact with Wishart. He was often a guest at Bobby and wife Jean’s home. Their families contested an annual golf tournament in Carnoustie.
Only centre-half Ian Ure, goalkeeper Pat Liney and Wishart’s fellow wing-half Bob Seith, another double championship winner, in his case with Dundee and Burnley, now survive from the famous title-winning XI.
Wishart graduated to become a great at two of the country’s biggest clubs despite having attended the rugby-playing George Heriot’s school in Edinburgh. He played youth football for Corstorphine Swifts before joining Merchiston Thistle in the junior ranks, frequently coming up against contemporaries – and later friends – Dave Mackay and Alex Young, two soon-to-become Hearts legends.
A short stint playing at centre forward for Northern Irish side Portadown while serving at RAF Castle Archdale in Co. Fermanagh was a tremendous success. When Aberdeen later won the League Cup, the headline in the Portadown News was: “Wishart’s team wins”. He finished his career with short spells at Airdrie and Raith Rovers.
Among Wishart’s trademarks was his versatility. He played six different positions for Aberdeen before joining Dundee in January 1961. He was also never booked in his entire career. There was never any doubt he would become a Dens Park legend after he scored twice in a 3-0 win over Dundee United on his debut. Dundee went from finishing tenth that season to first.
Former Scotland manager Craig Brown, who made nine appearances in that title-winning campaign, attributed a worrying slump in early Spring to Wishart’s absence through injury.
“Anything else you want to know?” Wishart asked at one point as we – me, and this precious cargo of him and Gilzean – drove home from Cousin’s funeral on that September’s day in 2016. Yes, Bobby, everything. Every last damned kick from a fine career that has not always been afforded the recognition it deserves. It’s too late now. It’s always too late.
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