Memories Club – Donald Ford (May19)

Linlithgow Rugby Club Memories Group 
– Donald Ford as Guest Speaker

Monday 29th April 2019

Report by Hamish McIntyre

Donald Ford was the guest speaker at the Memories Group of Linlithgow Rugby Club, when sixty members attended the meeting.

The old truism of starting off a speech with a joke always engages the audience, and Donald told the tale of his friend who had been taken ill during a spell of decorating – he was losing weight and was worried that he may be suffering from Anaglypta Formosa.

Donald was born on 25 October 1944 – when his mother was forty one – and it was a considerable number of years before he realised that his father had attended a Burn’s Supper on 25 January. He regrettably confirmed that he was born in an Edinburgh nursing home and is not therefore a Black Bitch.

Neverleless he is very proud of Linlithgow, and made particular mention of its community spirit. He describes Linlithgow as simply, one of the finest small towns in Scotland. Although very little public money has arrived in the town over scores of years, there is a tremendous collection of associations and clubs who work tirelessly to make things happen. In contrast Carnoustie – where Donald now lives – very little happens unless the public sector deigns to get involved. The preference of many locals, unlike Linlithgow, is NOT to get involved.

Donald has enjoyed a number of different careers and leisure activities – Cricket, Football, Accountancy, Photography, and as a local councillor in the early nineteen seventies. In his younger days he played football at Mains Park – now the rugby pitch – and also played on the cricket pitch and a former bowling green at the east end of the town. On one occasion while playing on the bowling green – previously owned by ICI – three police cars arrived, and it was a case of names, addresses and ‘What are you doing here’. Donald’s face was bright red as he realised he was in trouble …. his mother was in the Red Cross, and his father was a past Provost.

Football in those days in Linlithgow featured the East Enders versus the West Enders, played on Mains Park – a ground with a large dip in the goal area at one end. In those days he was only four foot three. Irrespective of that serious handicap – and now standing in the substantial worn away hole in the goal line, he was told ‘Fordie you are in goals – the crossbar was at least three and a half feet above him, while his view of the rest of the field was seriously obscured.

After the Hall brothers started the Vale of Avon football club in Linlithgow Bridge, Donald joined as a right winger. One of his contemporaries from Bo’ness was Colin Grant. He played for Bo’ness Academy, while Donald played for Linlithgow Academy. Colin then moved up to Bo’ness Thistle as Donald turned out for the Vale in Linlithgow. Donald went on to play for Bo’ness United then Hearts, while Colin played for junior football for Linlithgow Rose – then joined Hibs. It is a unique fasinating reversal of fortunes and would make a tremendous football quiz teaser.

Playing in junior football he met many older players who were on the way down, and he learned a lot from their experience. In one match against Arniston Rangers, Donald had a fine game against George Peden, a left back who had just signed for Hearts. At the final whistle he was told that a Hearts’ scout was looking at him…. The next game – at Newtown Park versus Bonnyrigg – he had a really bad afternoon but by a stroke of luck, the scout was not at the game. The following match the scout WAS in attendance and having performed well again, he was asked to play a trial – then sign for Hearts. It underlines the degree of luck which can play SUCH a big role in the success or otherwise of a footballer.

Tommy Walker, then the Hearts manager, had seen something in Donald and switched him from a right winger to centre forward – a striker in today’s parlance. Over ten seasons, he ultimately made 369 appearances and scored 143 goals. As a Scottish player he appeared three times for the Scottish League, and three times for the national team.

In November 1974, Scotland were playing Czechoslovakia in Bratislava. As the team coach was being loaded in Glasgow, Denis Law said ‘Donald, you are carrying my bags’, as his illustriuos team mate for the trip, he did just that. They were staying at an old hotel in Bratislava, sharing an upstairs room with Denis Law, they had a great view of the Danube flowing past their window. A canoeist was paddling furiously down the middle of the river … heading west. Denis shook his head ‘You’ll never make it son’ he remarked sadly. It was the height of the cold war and regular attempts were made by many to escape from Communism.

Scotland qualified for the World Cup Finals in Germany, and in the first match were drawn against Zaire, who were playing in their first World Cup. The score was 2 – 0 for Scotland and in the second half, with the points secure, Billy Bremner decided to slow down the game to a crawl. Although substitutions were made, Donald did not get a game. In the end Scotland failed to qualify for the playoffs…despite being unbeaten.

Donald was critical of today’s football in Scotland. He spoke about the shortage of skills, players now monotonously pass the ball to feet, don’t dribble past an opponent, nor slot the ball into an open space for a colleague to to run on towards goal. He thought that the standards of coaching had fallen and he wondered about the effects of the physicality on both football and rugby players – particularly with the contact force exerted by the latter in their later years. He also rues the the loss of control of our sports by their governing bodies – which are now dictated to by TV, sponsorship and advertising – it is all about money.

Donald was a member of the Scottish Sports Council, whose chairman was Lawrie Liddell. In 1973 the Camanachd Association, which governs shinty, was offered sponsorship by an Inverness Distillery. Donald still remembers his short but frank summary ‘The day that we allow outside sponsorship to dictate to or influence our governing bodies, our sport will be destroyed’.

When Donald was at school, he set out his options for a career – Maths, Banking or Accountancy. John Ferguson, then a mathematics teacher at the Academy, advised him not to go into maths, and he was put off banking by a fellow cricketer at West Lothian, so he chose accounting.

Football had arrived however and full time studies and football do not mix, so he was advised to sign as an amateur for two years, get his qualification and then go professional. This was sound advice. There was no accounting practice in Linlithgow at that time, and he set up in a small office at 47 High Street – Faichney Bakers – for a rent of £4.00 a week. After two other moves he settled in at 100 High Street. After retiring from the partnership there, he set up on his own again, but bundles of new legislation made things stressful and in 1991 he sold the practice.

With much encouragement from his wife, Carol, he got a loan from the bank and commenced taking landscape photographs of Scotland. Things were not as simple as he had imagined. He had underestimated the competition and overestimated the market for photographic prints. Lady luck again played a part as he got some pictures into the annual Scottish Golf Guide, which set him off taking pictures of golf courses – and the rest as they say is history. Going round Scotland taking pictures of the countryside is wonderful, but if you want a photograph of Glencoe at sunrise you have to get up at 2.30 in the morning.

One cricketing story he told was when West Lothian were playing Perthshire on the North Inch. Two cricketing colleagues of his late brother Malcolm – Scott Gardiner and Len Dudman, Pershire stalwarts who were well known to like a pint or two. Out on the square prior to the match one of the Perth team that day confirmed that Scot and Len had bought a pub in the town during the winter. Malcolm’s quick question was…. are they going to open it to the public ?

Donald concluded his talk by emphasing that ‘We must never underestimate what the town of Linlithgow does for its residents, and vice versa’.

After coffee and cakes, Donald hosted a question and answer session, and Bert Lawson rounded off the meeting by thanking Donald for an entertaining and thought provoking presentation.