Of all the perceived injustices visited on the heads of footballers from small clubs by international selectors down the years, one of the most keenly felt cases in Scotland was that of East Fife’s Willie Finlay in the decade after the Second World War.
The former coalminer was an iron bulwark of a central defender as the Methil side won the League Cup three times, becoming the first outside the top flight to lift it, in 1947-48, then following up with wins in 1949-50 and 1953-54. During Finlay’s 10-year sojourn at Bayview, which began in 1946, he also went close to pocketing a Scottish championship medal in 1952-53, only for the Fifers to fall away disastrously at season’s end after leading the pack for much of the way. The blame for the spring slump was not the players’; it was laid at the door of the board, who agreed to an energy-sapping series of midweek floodlit friendlies in England as the title race approached its climax.
Finlay left East Fife, for whom he played nearly 400 times, in 1956 after falling out with new manager Jerry Dawson, but continued to excel with Clyde, whom he helped win the Scottish Cup, beating Hibernian 1-0 in the 1958 final at Hampden Park. He was also part of three second-tier title sides – one with the Fifers, two with the Bully Wee, whom he left to join Raith Rovers in 1963, retiring a year later.
Finlay’s lack of international recognition confounded his many admirers, who recognised that Rangers’ Willie Woodburn and George Young were formidable adversaries, but contended that he should have been tried when several others were given a chance in the mid-1950s.
William Finlay, footballer: born Auchterderran, Fife 9 August 1926; died Fife 4 September 2014.Reuse content