The Class of 1959/60The mid to late 1950’s were I suppose the years which made the greatest impression on me and probably what made me the Mo fan I am today. Sure there have been other golden eras between then and now, in fact the 1950’s maybe were not even a golden era but in terms relative to the club’s history, they were. I was a fan before this club re-entered the B Division of the SFL in 1955 but that year saw Montrose FC ‘hit’ the football map again. Their results were on Sports Report, in the national newspapers, and we were on the pools coupons! Yes, it was a big deal for the town but the team out on the park struggled for a few years to adjust until the great, late Norman Christie put together a side which ignored normal protocol and started beating teams we had previously been cannon fodder for. That season was 1959/60 and although we only finished in 7th place it was a vast improvement and for most of the season we were up there with a serious shout for promotion to the top flight. That would not have been very popular the big boys who very much did not want small town teams in the top division.
So here are a few notes to identify just who were the squad of 1959/60 who quite frankly shook and worried the Scottish League as well as the other clubs, none of whom fancied Montrose mixing it with the big guns. Firstly there was Phil Grieve in goal. He was a fixture for several seasons, not a great ‘keeper but a very reliable one especially with a good defence in front of him. Phil signed towards the end of the 1958/9 season from Junior club Thornton Hibs. Full backs were George Russell who was signed from Aberdeen Mugiemoss also towards the end of the 58/9 season, and Ian Steven who was in his third season at Links Park having signed from Forfar Celtic. There were three half backs in those days and usually in 59/60 they were Jim Kilgannon on the right, Max Smyth at centre and Ronnie Cross on the left. Jim was team captain and very much a leader by example with his commanding personality and statue to match. Max was another signed from Forfar Celtic and was in his fourth season at Links Park. Ronnie signed from another Junior side Aberdeen Sunnybank and was to become a Montrose legend for many years both on and off the field as he more or less did the Assistant Manager’s job late in his career. Ronnie is credited with bringing the great Brian Third to Links Park. Brian of course was rightly voted into our Hall of Fame in 2014 and quite honestly Ronnie should be there as well but present day fans/voters don’t really remember back to his halcyon days.
Up front there were five forwards (those were the days) and our regular line up was the legendary Ally Riddle who signed from Arbroath Lads Club then Jimmy Kemp who in my opinion was one of the greatest ever Montrose players and came to us from Forfar West End. Alongside Jimmy was bustling Billy Birse who was a great personality. Not great in height but barrel chested and quite frankly a nightmare for opposition defences. If we had records to show how many goals he scored for us he would be near or at the very top. I’ve just mentioned at least three players who would be in our Hall of Fame if they were remembered by more of our present day fans. Here is another who is in that Hall of Fame and rightly so, Frank Sandeman who signed from Dundee St Josephs and went on to play for Montrose for many years before playing at a higher level. Completing our usual line up was left winger Jimmy Campbell a very tricky typical Scottish winger of the sort our game sadly lacks these days. He signed from Lanarkshire club Royal Albert who if memory serves me correctly were based in Larkhall. Jimmy had the canny knack of chipping in with a steady stream of goals as did his opposite winger Ally Riddle.
Looking back at a few old programmes from that season I came across one issued for an away game at Queen of the South (very handy game for me). In the bit about Montrose the writer said the cup game away at Montrose recently was the first game he had missed for quite a while. Queens were having a great season and the writer was certain of a good result but devastated to find later that Queens had lost. His actual words were ‘the shock of learning that Montrose had triumphed was electric.’ That he added gave the present game added interest. Not sure why he was surprised at the cup result as Montrose themselves were having a terrific season and were third off top at the time. As I said earlier however Montrose had a reputation as a very poor side up until that 1959/60 season when we surprised many teams, not just Queens. Unfortunately they were ready for us and beat us 3-1 at Palmerston that day. I remember it well.
In singing the praises of many in that 59/60 team I honestly do not exaggerate – how much would those lads be worth these days?
© Steve Doyle (Sassmo)