Obituary: Jerry Kerr

Archie Macpherson
Sunday 23 October 2011 01:10

JERRY KERR was as Scottish as the word "kenspeckle" and for him, along with Bill Shankly and Jock Stein, it might have been coined in the first place.

Its innocuous translation into formal English as "easily identifiable" does little justice to the feeling it is meant to convey, of people whose achievements have configured their personalities to become as rigorously upstanding in the landscape as the Old Man of Hoy. Kerr never attained the stature of those two contemporaries but, from a less powerful provincial base, at Dundee United, he lent his job the same pragmatic cockiness and innovative daring which has characterised the best Scottish managers.

Kerr's rubicund countenance, adorned by his constant companion, the pipe, lent him at times the reflective appearance of a Maigret mentally sifting through the facts. But he was more disposed to thinking in hard, practical terms rather than sleuthing his way through life. Indeed, his career before he moved to the jute city was of an average journeyman who might easily have ended up with a dicky knee and owning a pub, as many of his kind eventually did.

Born in 1912, he had played for Rangers for two years just after the Second World War, moved on to Berwick Rangers after demob, sampled life with Alloa for a couple of years and then became player-coach with the non-league club Peebles Rovers until he retired from playing at the age of 41, before joining Alloa again as manager. It was an offer to become Dundee United manager in 1959 which transformed his life and helped change the face of Scottish football.

His innovations were not related directly to the football field and to tactics, for he was one of the last generation of managers who might have preferred donning the waistcoat to the track-suit. His principal achievement was in recognising the simple need for United to survive financially in a country dominated by the Old Firm nexus and where their next-door neighbours, Dundee FC, were at that time superior both in wealth and talent.

Shortly after his appointment at Tannadice, he took off on a trip to England to study the fund-raising schemes of Notts County. He came back and started Taypools. This became the most successful football pools scheme in Scotland by a considerable margin. Football's establishment figures haughtily thought it was rather tawdry to have to resort to pools money. But Kerr had recognised what others in bigger clubs began to realise years later - that football could not survive through the turnstiles alone. United's coffers paradoxically swelled despite attendances which were some of the poorest in the land.

Kerr had discovered the road to salvation for football and a more modern Tannadice began to take shape, and not only in the architecture of a new stand. For Kerr colonised the club with Scandinavians. He was not the first in Scotland to import these strange- sounding names, but they took root more strongly in Dundee than anywhere else. With names like Orjan Persson, Finn Dossing, Lennart Wing and Finn Seeman, Kerr audaciously took his side to Barcelona on 25 October 1966 and beat the Fairs Cup holders 2-1. Two weeks later in the return they made it 4-1 on aggregate.

But, whilst that was a remarkable achievement, students of footballing history will more readily take note of Kerr's entire career as a kind of precis of the transition of a sport coming to terms with new social trends, the five-day working week, increasing leisure counter- attractions, and will note how he grappled boldly with the problems to considerable success. For in that period, until he retired as manager in 1971, he gave his small club financial clout, enhanced its footballing credibility and laid the foundations for Jim Maclean to take Dundee United onwards to a distinguished European record.

Archie Macpherson

Jerry Kerr, football manager: born Armadale, West Lothian 1912; manager, Dundee United 1959-71; married 1936 (one son, one daughter); died Dundee 8 November 1999.

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