Tag Archives: John Forsyth

50 seasons behind the dugout

In the early 60s I knew nothing about football.  Hard as it is to believe these days there was minimal TV coverage and in the era of black and white transmission everything looked as if it was taking place in a snowstorm anyway.

So when I turned up for the first time at Station Park in August 1964 I didn’t have a clear idea of what to expect.

The farmer up the road agreed to take me to the pre-season trial match between the Probables and the Possibles.

It was a beautiful  summer evening – though my mother made me take my heavy trench coat “just in case”.

I recall going through the turnstile and climbing up the steps, built out of retired timber railway sleepers, and getting my first view of the game already under way. I was stunned. I had no idea that the game was played by grown men.  In shorts.  I’d never seen the like.

But I was hooked from that moment.

In those days every sense was engaged in the match day experience.  The Mert was in daily action and, how can I put it, there was an odour of ordure in the air. On a rainy day suspicious looking brackish puddles used to gather in the cobbles under the railway bridge on the walk up to the ground. It was best not to step in them.

And whoever selected the pre match music had an interesting vinyl collection.  Scottish country dance tunes  alternated with Manfred Mann and Dusty Springfield over the PA.  It hasn’t been easy to explain to friends how a few bars of Dusty’s “I just don’t know what to do with myself” on some oldies radio station still whisks me back to the Station Park terraces.

And then when the teams came out the smell of embrocation caught the back of your throat.  Brilliant. The home strip was mostly green and white in those days. I prefer the dark blue and light blue hoops that have reappeared this season.

In those days the home dugout was to the right of the tunnel.  I don’t know when they swapped them round. But me and my school chum, Ian Smith, established leaning rights on the roof of the home  dugout and week after week ran through our repertoire of incredibly amusing (we thought) jokes about the team and the game and our observations about the playing skills and the moral character of the visitors.

We were so devastatingly witty that on one occasion one of the visitors, Ian McMillan, in the Airdrie dugout, asked the polis to have us removed from the ground or else he would remove us himself. He was nicknamed the Wee Prime Minister after Harold MacMillan who had been PM during McMillan’s heyday as captain of Rangers and Scotland.

The Loons weren’t too successful in the 60s. Our aspiration was to get out of Section 9 in the League Cup format that began each season. In those days there were 8 sections that pitched teams from throughout the two divisions (then) in groups of 4. I always thought it was an exciting format with smaller teams getting the chance of decent gates and a bit of giant killing. Section 9, however,  was the makeweight comprising the bottom 5 teams of Division 2.

I’ve seen a few terrific matches over the years but my favourite was a league fixture against Morton in the mid 1960s. The Greenock side had been relegated from the top division the previous season but were run away leaders under the managership of Hal Stewart.  Their captain was Jim Kennedy, only recently a Scotland cap. For all I know he went bright red every time he played but he looked as if he was about to explode as Loons’ winger Ian Wyles ran him ragged in what was probably his finest Forfar performance.   The whole side burst every lung and strained every sinew and we scored first. The home support in a handsome attendance went wild.  We lost 2-1 in the end but for sheer excitement it remains with me.

The players all seemed to be characters back then. None more so than Archie Knox. I recall a Scottish cup tie against Queens Park that was snowed off on the Saturday. In the days before Station Park floodlights the match was rearranged for the next Wednesday afternoon.

I took the afternoon off school (oops. sorry mum!). It was a good game but the conditions were arctic. The snow from the pitch had been piled up on the terraces.  I decided to take a walk round the pitch at half time to keep the blood flowing and met my headmaster walking round in the opposite direction. We agreed not to notice each other. The loons triumphed 3-2 with a late Archie Knox thunderbolt.

In season 68-69, my last year at school, I made it to every home match except one – the one in which we beat Stenhousemuir 9-1.  That just wasnae fair.

For the next years at university in Edinburgh I was more likely to get to away matches as far as Berwick and Stenhousemuir and, er,  Hibs 8 Forfar 1.

I started writing for football mags like Goal and Shoot and persuaded them to let me interview long serving club secretary, Jim Robertson, for a feature. I went to Jim’s house where within 30 seconds he punctured any overinflated opinion I might have of myself by saying, “Come on in. I mind o you. You used to write me letters telling me who I should pick for the team every week!” And what a waste of stamps that was.

When the miracle of the 70s and 80s happened and the remarkable Station Park ‘Boot Room’ was at its peak with the managerial baton passed from Knox to Rae to Hall and McPhee I was turning up to watch them at interesting football outposts. Yes, I was at Burslem for the pre-season friendly with Port Vale. On a dark winter morning in 1979 I drove 7 hours from London up to Innerleithen for a Scottish Cup tie with the local non-leaguers. It was the season we took Rangers to extra time in the League Cup semi final. What could possibly go wrong?  Beaten 4-1 by Vale of Leithen the 7 hour journey back with no heater or radio in the car was one of the less cheery chapters in my supporting career.

In 1982 I was working in Oxford and persuaded a couple of chums from Oxfam that we should take a day return on the train to attend the Scottish Cup semi-final fixture with star-studded Rangers at Hampden.

Now some remember that Saturday for the news that Argentina had invaded the Falklands but for me the abiding memory is that nothing – least of all the evidence – will persuade me we shouldn’t have had that late penalty that would have booked our return to the national stadium for the final.

Worse was to come. I was due to fly out the next day on an Oxfam assignment to civil war torn El Salvador. I can tell you it wasn’t easy to get the following Wednesday’s replay score in San Salvador in those days before the internet and texts. A friendly producer with one of the US TV channels got his Washington newsroom to find out for me.  1-3. Ach.

Over the years, under various pretexts, I’ve got Forfar into the Guardian, Observer, Independent, Scotsman, BBC Radio Sport on 4, the Food Programme, Radio 5 Live and anthologies of football quotations as well as soccer mags. It has been a bit of a mission.

Some would assume that you have to be brought up within the sound of the Station Park PA to be a genuine Loon but as the 1990s flew past I was not only able to introduce by sons to Station Park but also persuaded my mother that a season ticket was in fact an interesting retirement gift. She and her sister rarely missed a match for the next 25 years and in the less successful seasons of the 2000s we were on several occasions more than 2% of the entire attendance on our own.

My oldest son, Robbie, ran the Loons Mad fanzine for a couple of seasons and was probably the only student who managed to sell advertising as part of his school media studies project. 

It has been an interesting first 50 seasons. All human life has been seen at Station Park in that time. Football and Scottish football has changed in many ways. It is barely credible now to recall that we used to pay £40k transfer fees but I have always been impressed when I have bumped into former players who plied their trade at all points of the football compass that they almost all insist there was something special about being a Loon.

The achievements of the 1980s in building and developing a team over several seasons are unlikely to be repeated. It’s hard to do that when even top clubs only dare offer contracts for a year or 2 at most. But there’s just a sense that Dick Campbell is getting close to it again. Let’s just hope there’s no bloody foreign dictator planning to take the gloss off this year’s cup run.

THE END OF THE ROPE IN SCOTLAND. DAY 24 August 15 1963

Henry John Burnett was hanged at one minute past eight at Craiginches prison this morning.

 The Aberdeen Evening Express reported that “a crowd of around 200 men and women stood in silence in the watery sunshine outside the prison. The only demonstrator was ice-cream salesman, Mr John Gibson (29), who wore placards saying ‘Abolish Legal Murder’ and ‘Vengeance is Mine Sayeth the Lord’.

He paraded along the pavement near the prison gates where five policemen stood guard.

The only hint of trouble came at 8.15am when seven warders came out of the prison. There was a minor outburst of booing and a cry of ‘You murderers’.

Five minutes later a senior police official told the waiting crowd: ‘It’s all over. There will be no notice posted on the gates. You can all go home now.’”

A formal statement was issued later from the scottish Home and Health Department:

The sentence of death for capital murder passed on Henry John Burnett at the High Court in Aberdeen on July 25, 1963, was executed this morning at H.M.Prison Aberdeen.

THE END OF THE ROPE IN SCOTLAND. DAY 14 August 5 1963

331/63. Henry John Burnett, Capital Murder. Death

Extracts from Special Watch Occurance Book.

5.8.1963 Visit from mother and Sister in Law.  Conversation mostly of trying to get him to appeal, still refused, said he would think it over.  Also talked of family and petition.

5.8.1963 Prisoner  very cheerful indeed.  During the course of the evening he said that none of the officers that were with him on the watch would go with him to the gallows.  If they did they would have a riot on their hands.  He said he wouldn’t like his friends going with him.

A. McGillivray Officer

A. Pirie Officer

5.8.1963 Prisoner spoke of visit from mother, annoyed at her being kept waiting while he was interviewed by Doctors. “If he knew who they were he would have refused to see them.”  Also spoke about his Appeal period being up tomorrow Tuesday.  He read a while and played dominoes.  He was still cheerful but did not talk much while playing

E Bissett Officer

A Duncan Officer

THE END OF THE ROPE IN SCOTLAND. DAY 13 August 4 1963

331/63. Henry John Burnett, Capital Murder. Death

Extracts from Special Watch Occurance Book.

4.8.1963 Visit from two sisters, Mrs M Smith and Miss Sheena Burnett.  Sister Mary asked him to appeal for his mother’s sake, replied he wouldn’t, she asked again who cleaned the fingerprints off the gun, he said he didn’t know. Conversation went on to family and how they were all bearing up. Sister Mary again asked him to Appeal, he still refused, and said there would be no more visits after Sunday (next).

4.8.1963 Prisoner very depressed.  Played cards and listened to Radio. He appeared to cheer up as time went on.  It appears that his reason for not appealing is that, it would be 14 days longer to wait for the sentence to be carried out.

A. McGillivray Officer

A. Pirie Officer

4.8.1963 Prisoner spoke about his sister wishing him to Appeal.  Also Sister in Law, getting a visit from her next Sunday.  He said (he wondered if he would crack up on the last day).  The he changed the subject and spoke of the money and good times he had had at sea on Drifters.  Also spoke about being up on the Faroes in them.  He seemed to be cheerful in recalling these times.

E Bissett Officer

A Duncan Officer

THE END OF THE ROPE IN SCOTLAND. DAY 12 August 3 1963

331/63. Henry John Burnett, Capital Murder. Death

Extracts from Special Watch Occurance Book.

3.8.1963       Visit from Sister and Brother in Law. Conversation was of family matters and how his brother in law was doing at sea.  Went on to say why he did not Appeal, said he just didn’t want to Appeal, but would rather wait for the results of his petition.

I asked him for his reasons for not appealing, he said, “This way there is only one in trouble, it’s the better way.”

A McGillivray           Officer

A Pirie                      Officer

3.8.1963     Prisoner listened to wireless and spoke of the different recording stars.   He was quite cheerful and played dominos till 1.30am. He then asked to write a letter to Mrs Guyan.  When he finished writing he said, I will not take any more visits from anyone after next Friday.

Also spoke about his appeal period being finished on Tuesday and about working in a Quarry for a period and the times he had with some of the chaps he worked with.

E Bissett                Officer

J Duncan               Officer

THE END OF THE ROPE IN SCOTLAND. DAY 11 August 2 1963

331/63. Henry John Burnett, Capital Murder. Death

Extracts from Special Watch Occurance Book.

I have to refer to telephone communication with Mr Davison today regarding authority for Mrs Guyan to visit the above named prisoner. I contacted the Welfare Officer, Mr Meiklejohn and asked if he would be prepared to contact Mrs Guyan and bring her along to the prison for the purpose of this visit.  This was done immediately and Mrs Guyan brought up to the prison.  She was taken back to her home immediately after the visit.

No incident occurred during the visit and there was no publicity in this matter.

He has made a further request to see Mrs Guyan on Wednesday next.? What is the position please.

Joseph Maison C.O. i/c.

2.8.1963 Visit by Mrs M Guyan (murdered man’s wife) with Welfare Officer Meiklejohn. P.O. Fraser in attendance.

Exchange of talk about families.  Prisoner told Mrs Guyan to destroy letter which she had received from him,  Asking why W.O. Was in presence at visit. Was told, she, Mrs Guyan, had been driven up by him. Inquiring about taken in photos. Answered.

Mrs Guyan replied to letter sent by prisoner this morning. Prisoner asked if Mrs Guyan handled gun, she replied, “Yes I took it from you.”

Burnett asked Mrs Guyan if she is going to new employment. Thinking of taking employment somewhere south.

Mr Meiklejohn was in presence during whole of visit which ended at 12.30pm. Prisoner very cheerful after visit.

F.S. Parker Officer

C. Riddoch Officer

2.8.1963 Prisoner very cheerful indeed and told us about his visit from Mrs Guyan and how happy he was because he saw her.  Said he hoped she got in again.

He received a further visit from his brother and sister-in-law and returned very cheerful. Visit conversation was mainly on family matters and brothers work. Except, brother asked who cleaned fingerprints off the gun, “Prisoner said he didn’t”. Talk of the petition and number of names on it.

Remarked that consealed doors were more solid than they were before. Said somebody must have fixed them.  Prisoner said he was going to get into bed and sleep tonight, said he felt better after that visit with Margaret, (Mrs Guyan).  Prisoner very cheerful indeed.

A. McGillivary Officer

G. Pirie Officer

 2.8.1963  Prisoner spoke about his visit from Mrs M Guyan and said “He hoped to have another visit from her soon.  No games were played, prisoner lay on bed reading till he fell asleep.  Very little conversation was held before he slept.

E. Bissett Officer

J. Duncan Officer

THE END OF THE ROPE IN SCOTLAND. DAY 10 August1 1963

331/63. Henry John Burnett, Capital Murder. Death

Extracts from Special Watch Occurance Book.

1.8.1963 Visit from Father and Sister, talked about Margaret (Mrs Guyan). It appears she had wrote a letter to his mother saying that she had no heart called his sisters whores.  Had an argument with his sister, he broke down, went upstairs and had a good cry.  After a considerable amount of reasoning with him he came back to visit.  I allowed him to smoke, it settled him a good bit.  Visit carried on quite normal and conversation changed to his appeal and the petition, seems to think he has more chance with the petition if he does not appeal.  Remarked that if he got a reprieve he would do his time the correct way and authorities would never know he was in jail.

A. McGillivary Officer

A. Pirie Officer

THE END OF THE ROPE IN SCOTLAND. DAY 9 July 31 1963

331/63. Henry John Burnett, Capital Murder. Death

Extracts from Special Watch Occurance Book.

31.7.1963 During the course of the afternoon the prisoner said, there were two doors on the oak panel wall that led straight into the hanging cell.  As this was acute observation on the part of the prisoner and I had not noticed any door or anything wrong with the oak panel wall, I privately checked with P.O. Fraser and found this true.  I was surprised at the prisoner’s powers of observation and alertness.

F S Parker Officer

C Riddoch Officer

Please note that precautions have been taken to prevent any breakthrough in execution cell by Burnett.

Joseph Maison C.O. i/c

[A handwritten note is inserted in the margin beside his typewritten comment by Jospeph Maison:

In the event this concealed door will not be used.”]

31/7/1963 Prisoner seemed quite normal and cheerful, remarked about the concealed door, said he would take a mad turn one of these days and see what was behind it. He also remarked about killing Guyan, said he felt just the same as if he had shot a bird.  We then went on to talk about his visit tomorrow from his sister, he asked if I knew her. Told him I didn’t.

Played cards and talked of his work previous to being charged and where he met Mrs Guyan and of a party held at her house.

A. McGillivary Officer

A. Pirie Officer

THE END OF THE ROPE IN SCOTLAND. DAY 8 July 30 1963

Report of trial judge to Secretary of State for Scotland.

 Commentary:

 For more than a century it had been established that the exercise of the Royal Prerogative to reprieve someone sentenced to death was effectively a political decision to be taken by the Home Secretary in England and Wales and by the Secretary of State for Scotland north of the border.

 While the political decision maker was likely to receive many unsolicited pleas and petitions the trial judge was required to submit a report on the trial itself along with any additional observations.

 It is fair to say that some of Lord Wheatley’s contemporaries were mildly surprised to discover from his autobiography that he was by inclination an abolitionist.

 In his three page report to Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Noble, Lord Wheatley rehearses the issues that had to be addressed during the trial, including consideration of the special defences.

 “The defence did not contest the evidence adduced by the Crown to prove that the murder was committed by Burnett, and the Crown’s case was proved abundantly. The only issue was the state of Burnett’s mind at the time.”

 Lord Wheatley supports the verdict of the jury “which, in my opinion, they were perfectly entitled to reach on the evidence.”

 The greater interest lies in the third and final page of his report. If Lord Wheatley is not throwing the door to reprieve wide open, especially in his concluding paragraph he appears to opening it an inch. It would be for others to push hard.

TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR SCOTLAND

REPORT

By

The Right Honourable LORD WHEATLEY

regarding the case of

HENRY JOHN BURNETT, who was convicted of Capital

Murder and sentenced to Death in the High Court

of Justiciary at Aberdeen on 25th July, 1963.

… “I might add only this. If the jury had sustained the plea of diminished responsibility, thereby reducing the offence from capital murder to culpable homicide, I would have sentenced Burnett to imprisonment for the remainder of his natural life.

My reason for doing so would have been this. Without knowing the workings of the jury’s mind I would have assumed that they had accepted, at least in part, the evidence of the doctors. If that evidence is well founded Burnett is likely to suffer from paroxysmal outburst in the course of which he may indulge in violence,  thereby constituting a danger both to society and himself.

A determinate sentence of imprisonment would have meant his release from prison irrespective of his then mental condition. Imprisonment for life would have enabled the authorities to keep his case under review, and the decision to release him could be made in the light of his current mental condition and the consideration of the safety of his lieges.

I would only add this in conclusion that as Burnett did not give evidence, I was not able to form any definite impression of him. He had one or two outbursts in Court while his mother was giving evidence, but whether this was due to some mental defect or just a natural upset at his mother’s distress in the witness-box I would not be prepared to say. Burnett’s family background is not a happy one. It is doubtful whether all the facts were before the Court, and if this is regarded as an important element in the considerations which have to be taken into account, further enquiries might be made.”

THE END OF THE ROPE IN SCOTLAND. DAY 7 July 29 1963

Henry Burnett was obviously aware that from the moment he arrived at the ‘Execution Block’ of Craiginches prison after sentencing he was never left alone. On a 24 hour rota he was accompanied by two prison officers at all times.

It is less clear whether he was aware that at the end of each shift the officers were required to note down in the ‘Special Watch Occurance Book’ a log of everything he had said to them or to any of his visitors.

Anything of note that might have significance in the decision of the Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Noble, whether to allow the sentence to proceed or to commute it, would be passed up the line.

Entries include:

331/63. Henry John Burnett, Capital Murder. Death

Extracts from Special Watch occurance Book.

29/7/63   Prisoner was quite cheerful but not looking forward to visit from mother. Worried in case she became ill. He played various games and talked mostly about his mother. Prisoner mentioned when he assaulted Margaret, he thought she was dead.

E. Bissett, Officer

J Duncan, Officer

29/7/63 Visit from mother and sister, talked about visits for the rest of the week. Advice from his mother to behave himself. Assurance from prisoner he would be reprieved. General family topic.

Mother asked prisoner who wiped fingerprints from gun. He said he did not.

Mother asked why he done it, prisoner said, if Guyan had not made first move, he would not have killed him. He was told that Robert and John Guyan and some one else were after him. That is why he went to the house. Mrs Guyan shouted as he entered the house, “That’s him, Tom”. Guyan dived at him as he fired.

JS Parker, Officer

G Riddoch, Officer

29/7/63 Prisoner did not seem so cheerful as on previous nights. Talked of his visit with his mother. Remarked that she thought he was taking the blame of the murder of Guyan for someone else. Remarked he wasn’t and wouldn’t cover up for anyone. He said, “Even though there weren’t fingerprints on the gun, I did it alright.”

Remarked that his mother bore up well, better that [sic] he thought she would.

A McGillivary, Officer

A Pirie, Officer