Andy Paton: Centre-half for Motherwell and Hamilton Academical with an eye for the ball that verged on the clairvoyant

 

A footballing prince among men was how one enraptured newspaperman described Andy Paton of Motherwell in the immediate postwar years as the multi-talented Ayrshireman emerged as one of the most cultured yet commanding centre-halves the Scottish game had known. It was a verdict with which the Fir Park faithful concurred enthusiastically at the time, and they had not changed their minds more than half a century later in 2007, when Paton was voted the greatest player to grace the Steelmen's claret and amber colours.

Though no giant at 5ft 10in, Paton was aerially combative and a biting tackler at need, but what elevated him into a rarefied dimension beyond the scope of most central defensive bulwarks were his assured ball skills, measured passing and an exceptional sense of anticipation which, according to canny contemporary observers, bordered on the clairvoyant.

Occasionally his adventurous habit of dribbling the ball away from dangerous situations caused palpitations among Motherwell fans, but they loved him for the thrills he bestowed and talked for decades about exploits such as the maze-like meander which resulted in one of his rare goals, at home to Rangers in a 3-3 League Cup draw, in August 1952.

Paton captained the side that captured Motherwell's first major trophy, blotting out the menace of Scottish international striker Lawrie Reilly as Hibernian were beaten 3-0 in the League Cup final of 1950-51. Then he led the way again in 1951-52 as Dundee were thrashed 4-0 in the Scottish Cup final.

Many pundits believed he deserved more than his two full caps, collected in 1952, but before that Willie Woodburn had proved unshiftable; later, Scotland preferred more traditional types of stopper.

Paton, whose father and three uncles had played professionally, joined Motherwell from non-League Kello Rovers in 1942. At first he was impetuous and inclined to hot temper, but he matured into a beautifully balanced and reliable performer. Before he crossed the Clyde to join second-tier Hamilton Academical as a 35-year-old in 1958, he made some 500 first-team appearances for Motherwell, more than 100 of them in unofficial wartime competition.

He was part of the team relegated in 1953, then promoted in 1954, and was named as the club's first player of the year in 1956.

After playing one full season for Hamilton, he became manager in 1959 and guided the Accies to top-flight status in 1965. Alas, they went back down after one season, and Paton left Douglas Park, and the professional game, in 1968.

Andrew Paton, footballer: born Dreghorn, Ayrshire 2 January 1923; married (one daughter); died Markinch, Fife 8 February 2014.

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