Friday, 17 March 2017

Eddie is better than Eusebio

Googling for something unrelated today the search threw up a photo of myself with the late Eddie Morrison, Kilmarnock FC's record post-war goalscorer. The photo linked to an obituary piece on Eddie I'd written for a website I used to run. I've reproduced it here.

Terribly sad news indeed. Eddie was my boyhood hero and all-time favourite Killie player. I'm sure there will be plenty of tributes and obituaries which will recognise the many sterling qualities he brought to the game - his wholeheartedness & determination chief among them. There will be recognition too of his goalscoring ability - Kilmarnock's top post-war striker and second best of all time. And if not for a premature (and unwanted by Eddie) transfer out of Rugby Park he would have become number one, his 154 goals being just five short of Willie Culley's all-time record. Some of those goals were spectacular like the overhead goal against Dundee in 1968. Some might have called it 'Brazilian' in its execution but Eddie himself said it resembled a then current TV advert for Bilsland bread! Then there was the twenty-yarder on the volley at Stark's Park in 1972 which guaranteed Killie's place in the Scottish Cup semi-finals., there are far too many marvellous Eddie Morrison goals to describe here. Instead I'll mention a couple of stories about his enduring popularity. 

During the 1990s the London & South East branch of the Kilmarnock Supporters Association met regularly and one of the younger members wanted to know exactly what kind of player this Eddie Morrison was, that all the 'old' (ie over 30) fans kept going on about. One of the 'older' fans drew the teenager to one side and told him: "easy, next time he's on the telly, just watch Alan Shearer. That'll give you some idea."

The same group of fans were involved in a TV quiz against supporters from Birmingham City on a short-lived satellite channel a few years later. This channel was so poor it couldn't even afford to have buzzers installed for the quiz so the teams had to use a word to shout out instead of pressing a buzzer. Without thinking and without dissent, the word used by the Killie boys was 'Eddie.'

On a personal level I'd add two instances. During the transitional season of 1974-75 (after which the league was to be divided into three divisions) I was singing the praises regularly of Eddie Morrison to all and sundry. Nothing new in that. I'd been doing it for years. But this time it was away from Rugby Park as I'd left school and was living and (occasionally) studying in Middlesbrough. Some people were getting a little fed up with it. So for the final game of the season, a vital match against Dundee United at Rugby Park which Killie needed to win to have any chance of making the new Premier Division, a trip was arranged including supporters of Newcastle United, Middlesbrough, Dunfermline, Stafford Rangers, Everton, Blackburn Rovers and Dundee United (a Perthshire farmer's boy who was stupid enough to wander into the Killie club swinging his DUFC travel bag, singing 'Andy, Andy, Andy Gray' and has never been seen since) to see Eddie Morrison in action.

To my horror, Eddie - 32 starts in 33 previous matches - was on the bench! Killie were three down and buried inside twenty minutes. They brought it back to 3-2 at the break and introduced Eddie as a sub for Davie Provan early in the second half. Despite his - and the team's - best efforts, United scored again to win 4-2. For the neutrals who travelled with me it was an entertaining game and an excellent introduction to Scottish football but as a showcase for the talents of Eddie Morrison not so good. For the reputation of the loudmouth who had been extolling his virtues all season, disastrous.

Some thirty years later I wrote a book called 'Killie Greats.' Some names needed serious thought before being included. Others were nailed on certainties. Eddie Morrison was in the latter category. I interviewed Eddie for the book and he gave me enough material for a biography, let alone a chapter. This conversation was between two middle-aged men yet in my mind's-eye it was between a teenager and his idol. At the book launch Eddie - and the others in attendance - all performed brilliantly. One supporter came up to me afterwards and asked if he and his children could get a photo taken with Eddie "for the kids." The kids in question couldn't have been able to remember Kilmarnock winning the Scottish Cup in 1997, let alone a player from the 1960s and 1970s. Their father, on the other hand............... Eddie, of course, was happy to oblige. 

Eddie also managed Killie and was still a regular attender at Rugby Park, right up to the end of the season just gone. I find it difficult to express just how sad I feel at the news of his passing. All the old cliches like 'end of an era' or 'one of a kind' and that old favourite 'won't see his like again' will no doubt be trotted out. They will also be true.

Something of the measure of his popularity can be gleaned from the Kilmarnock Standard in the week of his transfer to Morton in 1976. The paper was inundated with letters of protest and responded in an editorial: "Although every individual fan has his own favourite, you have to be something special to appeal to the crowd en masse. Eddie Morrison was such a player."

The amazing thing is that fully 35 years after that transfer Eddie Morrison remained 'something special' to Kilmarnock supporters.
I followed that later the same day (May 31st 2011) with some photos I'd dug out. They're not the greatest quality - especially the second one, an attempted 'selfie' in the pre-selfie era.

Here's a pic of Eddie with some young fans,Park Hotel, Kilmarnock, December 2006. L-R Andy King - right-back in the 1965 title-winning side, yours truly, Eddie Morrison, Davie Sneddon - inside-left in the title-winning team and, like Eddie, former Killie manager. I'm not going to identify the kids in the pic, data protection etc. 

Eddie and myself, Glasgow August 2006

Finally, Eddie as he should be remembered. Scoring acrobatically for Killie against Partick Thistle in 1975 with Alan Rough helpless in goal and Alan Hansen rooted to the spot.

The story behind the headline relates to a supporters' chant to the tune of 'Cielito Lindo'

"Aye, aye, aye, aye
Dickson is better than Gemmell
And Eddie is better than Eusebio
And Tommy is better than anyone"
Sadly, Tommy Gemmell, referenced in the song has died recently. Both Eddie and Eusebio are gone too. The others in the song are Killie's two Scottish internationals of the time, Billy Dickson and Tommy McLean.

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