Thursday, September 01, 2011

Forgotten Scotland Players: Eddie Connachan

1961. Scotland continue to just about hold their own the world stage. But not when it counts. The Sixties have dawned on the back of two chastening World Cup experiences. The decade will go on to swing but its major championships are denied a tartan tinge.

In November 1961 Scotland travel to Belgium for a World Cup qualification match against Czechoslovakia. It’s the third meeting between the sides in a year after a 4-0 reverse in Bratislava and a 3-2 win at Hampden.

Both sides had beaten group whipping boys Republic of Ireland so, despite the far superior Czech goal difference, a clash at the neutral Heysel Stadium was required.

Three team qualification groups. No place for goal difference or a head-to-head count back: a different world.

The Beatles were still learning their trade in Hamburg, JFK had only been in the Oval Office for a matter of months. Man was nowhere near the moon. The Prague Spring would have seemed inconceivable in a Czechoslovakia still in the clench of Stalinism.

It’s unlikely that any of this preoccupied the Scottish Football Blog’s sixth Forgotten Scotland Player as he prepared for his international debut.

In the winter of 1961 Eddie Connachan must have felt something of a spring in his step. Jock Stein might have been the architect of Dunfermline’s 1961 Scottish Cup victory but it was Connachan, the goalkeeper, who was vociferously celebrated.

His heroics as custodian (when did "custodian" drop out of common parlance?) in the final and replay against Celtic had seen his euphoric teammates carry him shoulder high from the pitch and led Celtic captain Billy McNeill to say:

"I have never seen anything like it. He broke our hearts and did as much as any `keeper I have ever seen."

450 minutes of cup football and not a single goal conceded. And, as a miner from Prestonpans, Connachan had even done his shift underground on the Monday and Tuesday before the Wednesday night replay.

By the time Scotland travelled to Belgium Connachan’s Dunfermline had already made it through to the quarter finals of the Cup Winner’s Cup.

Four years after arriving at East End Park at the age of 21, signed from Dalkeith Thistle, Eddie Connachan was scaling football heights from the Kingdom of Fife.

And now a Scotland cap.

No ordinary debut either. A World Cup place at stake, the unusual surrounds of a neutral venue and a big international being played in front of only 7000 fans.

It was an unsettled time for Scottish goalkeeping. Lawrie Leslie had played in three of the World Cup qualifiers but was replaced Tottenham’s Bill Brown for the Hampden game against the Czechs. Earlier in the year, of course, the unfortunate Frank Haffey had conceded nine goals at Wembley and carved out his own place in the hall of infamy.

So it was Connachan, the mining ‘keeper, who manager Ian McColl turned to for the biggest game of all.

Given the national team’s predilection for getting so far and then going no further it was always going to be a tough test for a rookie goalkeeper. And so it proved.

Scotland, a team riddled with names like Baxter, Law, Brand and White, took a first half lead through Ian St John.

Czechoslovakia equalised in the seventieth minute but the advantage was restored moments later when St John got his second. With 15 minutes to go Czechoslovakia equalised again and this time Scotland couldn’t find a response.

Two more Czech goals in extra time rounded off a 4-2 victory.

It must have been an agonising debut. Four goals conceded and the familiar feeling of that familiar failing: Scotland getting close but not close enough.

Yet Connachan had domestic form and age on his side. And this was a Scotland team that conceded 18 goals across eight games in 1961. There was no reason to think he wouldn’t feature again.

And he only had to wait until May 1962 for his next cap. A home debut, over 67,000 fans and a visit from Uruguay.

Having played for 120 minutes in his first international, Connachan’s second - and final - cap would last only 45 minutes.

Two goals down at half time McColl chose to make his goalkeeper the victim of the still relatively rare phenomenon of the friendly international substitution. He was replaced by Billy Ritchie of Rangers who immediately conceded a goal in what would be his only international appearance.

Late goals from Jim Baxter and Ralph Brand offered up a more respectable 3-2 defeat but the match remains an oddity for bringing the curtain down on two very short lived international goalkeeping careers.

By 1963 Dunfermline were prepared to let Connachan when an offer of £5,500 was received from Middlesbrough, then languishing with only middling success in England’s Second Division.

Almost 100 league appearances followed but Ayresome Park was witnessing a decline in fortunes. By 1966 Middlesbrough found themselves relegated to the Third Division and Connachan was back in Scotland with Falkirk.

He spent only two years at Brockville making less than 30 league appearances before moving to South Africa in 1968 - by which time his old boss Stein had won the European Cup with Ronnie Simpson, five years Connachan’s senior, in goal. The fluctuating fortunes of football.

While playing in England Connachan had taken his coaching badges and when he retired from playing chose to stay in South Africa as coach of East London United.

Still resident in South Africa today, Eddie Connachan was inducted into Dunfermline’s Hall of Fame in 2007 and returned to East End Park earlier this year to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of his Scottish Cup shutout.

Forgotten Scotland Players number 6: Eddie Connachan, Dunfermline Athletic. 2 caps.

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