Obituary: Jimmy Scoular

Ivan Ponting
Monday 23 March 1998 00:02 GMT

Jimmy Scoular was a footballing volcano, and certainly not of the dormant variety.

A fearsomely combative Scot from a flinty mining upbringing, he tackled like a runaway coal wagon and was prone to explosive eruptions of fury, yet he possessed precise passing skills which could change the course of a game. It was said of him that he played sometimes as if he hated everyone on the field, demolishing opponents, bawling-out team-mates and confronting referees, but it wasn't true. He was a decent man with a tremendous sense of humour, and there was no hate in him. It was just that he was obsessed with the game and, more particularly, the winning of it.

There are those who reckon that, barring his abrasive temperament, the small but enormously muscular right-half would have won many more honours, but the counter-argument is that without that irrepressible fire he would have been but a pale shadow of Scoular the Scourge. As it was, he didn't do badly, picking up two League Championship medals with Portsmouth, leading Newcastle United to FA Cup glory and earning nine international caps. Most importantly, he was utterly honest, truly formidable as a foe but unshakeable as a friend.

It had always seemed likely that Scoular would follow his father, Alec - who played for Alloa Athletic, Stenhousemuir and Leith Athletic before the Second World War - into the professional game. However, the conflict diverted his energies and it was during his service as a submarine engineer on HMS Dolphin at Gosport, Hampshire, that he was spotted in Royal Navy football by Portsmouth, then a major soccer power.

He signed in 1945 and lost little time in winning a regular berth in the Fratton Park team, forming a vividly contrasting wing-half partnership with the placid, gentlemanly Englishman Jimmy Dickinson. Together the two men provided the solid midfield platform on which was built Pompey's consecutive title triumphs of 1949 and 1950, an immense achievement in the face of stern opposition from the likes of Matt Busby's Manchester United and Stan Cullis's Wolves.

However, despite his inspirational play, Scoular frequently fell foul of the authorities, and his absence through suspension from the last two games of the 1949/50 campaign (following a sending-off, which was uncommon in that era) provoked controversy and personal criticism.

Come 1952/53, with the side struggling, Scoular was dropped briefly and asked to leave. Though he was restored almost at once, he was granted his wish in the summer, and while the ostensible reason for his pounds 22,250 move to Newcastle United was that transfer request, the feeling persisted that his lurid image did not suit the Pompey management.

The south-coast club's loss proved the north-easterners' gain, as Scoular was installed as the Magpies' skipper, driving his colleagues relentlessly and setting a rousing personal example. Though League form was disappointing for a club with such lofty aspirations, there was compensation in the FA Cup Final defeat of Manchester City in 1955. That day at Wembley saw Scoular at his most irresistible, neutralising the much-vaunted threat of deep-lying centre-forward Don Revie through his ruthless marking and providing the springboard for victory with a stream of raking crossfield passes to left-winger Bobby Mitchell.

Man-of-the-match awards were not in vogue at the time, but had there been one it must have gone to the Geordies' motivator supreme. The City fans had barracked him, but he claimed such treatment merely spurred him to greater efforts. As for Newcastle followers, they had abhorred him as a dirty so-and-so during his Ports-mouth days, but now they described him as "robust but fair", which might have been a tad euphemistic but, nevertheless, was pretty much the truth.

Thereafter Scoular remained a cornerstone of United's team for the rest of the decade, not departing until he was 36 in January 1961, when he joined Fourth Division Bradford Park Avenue as player-manager for a nominal pounds 1,500. Only four months later he tasted success, leading his new charges to promotion to the Third but sadly, after one season of apparent consolidation, they returned to the basement in 1963.

Scoular continued to play into his fortieth year, laying aside his boots in February 1964, three months before his Yorkshire sojourn terminated with the sack. His sterling efforts on slender resources had not gone unnoticed, however, and in June he was appointed as boss of Second Division Cardiff City.

A traumatic start at Ninian Park, involving an initial run of 12 games without a win, was followed by recovery to finish the season in mid-table, but consecutive narrow escapes from demotion followed before Scoular's energetic regeneration work bore fruit. As frequent winners of the Welsh Cup (seven times under Scoular), Cardiff were accustomed to qualification for the European Cup Winners' Cup, and in 1967/68 they reached the semi- finals, where they lost 4-3 on aggregate to SV Hamburg. That stands as the highlight of the Scoular reign, though he built an enterprising side which came close to promotion in 1970/71.

However, they fell away dramatically over the two subsequent terms, culminating in the manager's dismissal in November 1973. After that he scouted for Aston Villa and Wolves, managed Fourth Division Newport County for a year, then scouted again, for Swansea City and Newcastle. Outside the game, he worked as a representative for a chemical firm and ran a guest house in Cardiff before retiring to live near the city.

In his final years Jimmy Scoular was severely incapacitated by illness, a poignant end to a vibrantly active life.

Ivan Ponting

James Scoular, footballer and manager; born Livingston Station, West Lothian 11 January 1925; played for Portsmouth 1945-53, Newcastle United 1953-61; Bradford Park Avenue 1961-64; capped 9 times by Scotland 1951- 52; managed Bradford Park Avenue 1961-64, Cardiff City 1964-73, Newport County 1976-77; married (three daughters); died Cardiff 19 March 1998.

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