Jimmy Bonthrone: Footballer, coach and manager

The contrasting worlds of Jimmy Bonthrone and David Beckham were never meant to overlap, but that they did, briefly, only underlines how much football has changed for young men with a talent. Bonthrone's flair for goalscoring remained largely unknown outside his native Fife because it pre-dated television coverage, while Beckham's iconic image symbolises his use of the medium.

Yet, in 1994, Beckham – long before his own global reputation was established – was given a glimpse of Bonthrone's world. The young Manchester United winger was part of a side that paid homage to Bonthrone in a testimonial match arranged by his club, East Fife, to mark 30 years of service, on and off the pitch. Sir Alex Ferguson has his critics but one thing the United manager has never lacked is a sense of history and respect, which is why one of Europe's biggest clubs ended up in the Fife town of Methil playing against a side from the fourth tier of Scottish football.

More than 5,000 people turned out at Bayview Park to see Beckham score twice. Ferguson's act of appreciation for Bonthrone illustrated how highly he valued the knowledge of a man who was one of his first tutors as a coach. The pair both managed Aberdeen in the 1970s, yet Ferguson has revealed that he could actually have been Bonthrone's deputy.

I first met Jimmy when I went for my [Scottish FA] coaching badge in the late 1960s. He was part of a great team of coaches that included Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond. Jimmy was going to offer me the job of assistant manager at Aberdeen after he had taken over from Eddie at Pittodrie. But I got sent off playing against Aberdeen when I was a player-coach at Falkirk and I think Jimmy went off the idea then.

Bonthrone had four turbulent years as Aberdeen manager, between 1971 and 1975, but the circles that he moved in illustrate that for him coaching was probably a vocation. Apart from Ferguson, the most successful British manager ever, Ormond took Scotland to the 1974 World Cup finals and when he resigned, he was succeeded by Ally MacLeod, who inherited Bonthrone's role at Pittodrie.

If Aberdeen represented the most visible part of Bonthrone's life in football, it was East Fife that was the cornerstone. His first club had been Partick Thistle, which he joined as a 16-year-old amateur in 1945, but he returned to Fife to join the junior side Kinglassie Colliery. East Fife signed him in 1947, and during his 11-year career as a forward with the Methil side, his venomous shot delivered 112 goals in 282 games. East Fife were a remarkable success story after the Second World War, winning the Scottish League Cup three times between 1947 and 1953, reaching the Scottish Cup final and coming very close to winning the league championship.

The presence of three Scotland internationals in the East Fife side, and his own National Service duties, meant that Bonthrone did not earn his League Cup medal until the third triumph, a 3-2 victory over Partick Thistle. He did not play in a full international but was part of a Scotland XI that beat the British Army 2-1 at Hampden Park in March 1953, and the following week he played for Scotland B in a 2-2 draw with England B at Easter Road. He was then chosen to represent the Scottish League in its match with the English League but had to withdraw because it coincided with his wedding.

Bonthrone remained with East Fife until 1958 when he joined Dundee, where he spent two years, before brief spells with Stirling Albion and Queen of the South prefaced his retirement as a player. East Fife made him their manager in 1963 and his six years in charge at Bayview – supplemented by his role in charge of the Scotland under-23 team – carved out a coaching reputation that saw him lured to Aberdeen in 1969 to become assistant manager to Turnbull.

Success came swiftly. Aberdeen won the Scottish Cup in 1970 and when Turnbull was poached by Hibernian the following summer, Bonthrone was promoted to manager. The club won the 1971 Drybrough Cup, defeating Celtic in the final.

Aberdeen's best players were lured to England, notably Martin Buchan to Manchester United and Joe Harper to Everton. However, it was another big name who sealed Bonthrone's departure from Pittodrie. In September 1975, the Scotland defender Willie Young threw his shirt at Bonthrone after being substituted in a defeat by Dundee. Young was immediately transferred to Tottenham Hotspur by the board but Bonthrone resigned a month later, stating, "I feel I can get no more from the players and Aberdeen deserves a prominent place in the game." Ferguson delivered that success after he took over in 1978.

Bonthrone took a break from football to work in the motor trade, returning to the game to serve as East Fife general manager between 1980 and 1994.

Phil Gordon

Jimmy Bonthrone, footballer and manager: born Kinglassie, Fife 16 June 1929; played for East Fife 1947-58, Dundee 1958-60; manager, East Fife 1963-69, Aberdeen 1971-75; general manager, East Fife 1980-94; married (two sons); died Kirkcaldy, Fife 7 June 2008.

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