(Photo- Scottish Football Hall of Fame)
Allan McGraw- An Obituary
By Russell Gordon
The word “legend” is an often used one in the world of football, and I’ve always felt it was one that has become cheap. In the context of Morton, who are our own legends?
For my own generation, there aren’t many. Derek McInnes was a star, the Finns gave us a couple of years of joy, Derek Lilley was a fine goal scorer who netted a club record transfer fee. Younger guys will look towards Chris Millar, Jim McAlister and Peter Weatherson- perhaps even Michael Tidser and Foaud Bachirou. Much as I acknowledge their contributions, “legend” is pushing it in most cases.
Those slightly older of course enjoyed the mesmeric skills of Andy Ritchie, ably assisted by such working-class heroes as Davie Hayes, Jim Holmes, Roy Baines and Roddie Hutchison. We all know about the exploits of Jimmy Cowan, Morton’s most capped player, and Jimmy Gourlay, scorer of the winning goal in the 1922 Scottish Cup Final.
But if you were to ask most the one man they would associate with our club, the vast majority would name Allan McGraw as that man. It was only just over a fortnight ago that Mr. McGraw was paraded in front of the Cappielow crowd before our victory over Queen’s Park as the Main Stand was named after the great man.
Born on the 29th of July 1939 in Govan, he played with Partick Avondale in his youth before graduating to Renfrew Juniors in 1957, whilst doing his National Service. Whilst playing as a centre back for Renfrew, it was in the military that his footballing prowess came to the fore, where he attracted clubs far higher up the footballing food chain than Morton, who had just finished bottom of the old Second Division- dead last.
However, after another Morton great- Hal Stewart, had swept into town in 1961, he attracted the young McGraw with the offer of flying him back to Scotland from Germany at weekends, allowing him to see his parents in Govan when returning home.
Morton’s fortunes were to improve that season, with McGraw bagging 14 goals in 16 appearances as they finished third in the table, behind champions Clyde and promoted Queen of the South. Given that the club had finished bottom of the pile the previous season, the turnaround in their fortunes in the space of a year was remarkable, although at the season’s end they were to finish a distant 9 points (in those days of 2 points for a win) behind the Doonhamers.
The following season was again to see Morton again finish third in the table- but this time around they were to finish a mere point behind second placed East Stirlingshire, and seven behind champions St. Johnstone, with McGraw bagging a remarkable 36 goals in 43 appearances.
It was to be third time lucky though for McGraw and Morton in the 1963-64 season- arguably the greatest in the club’s history. An incredible 58 goals in 48 appearances was the personal milestone that he claimed along with his Second Division Champion’s medal as Morton stormed to the title, breaking record after record along the way.
Dropping only five points all season, scoring 135, conceding only 37, losing once in the league, winning 23 league games in a row, sealing the title in February and reaching the League Cup Final against Rangers was quite a record for “Hal’s Heroes”.
It was in the semi-final of the League Cup that McGraw was the real hero though. After a 1-1 draw with Hibernian, the two went to a replay at Ibrox which was settled by a penalty by none other than Morton’s talisman to send them to their first, and to date only, League Cup Final. The final itself was to prove a bitter disappointment, with Morton falling 0-5 to the Glasgow side, after a goalless first half in front of 105,907 at the national stadium.
Always a welcome figure on his visits to Cappielow in later life, it was a fitting tribute to see the Main Stand named after Allan McGraw. (Photo- Gary Bradley)
But with promotion sealed with a 6-1 home win over Forfar at Cappielow on 29th February (just over 59 years to the day before his sad passing), McGraw and Morton could look forward to again dining at Scottish football’s top table.
It would of course be remiss of me not to acknowledge the contribution of his teammates; with stars such as Morris Stevenson, Jimmy Wilson, and Joe Caven, a familiar face to many of us on our travels to see Morton in the Highlands due to his locality, and a pleasure to meet when we do, doing more than their fair share.
On Morton’s return to the First Division, injuries began to plague McGraw, but he still managed to net 21 goals in 33 appearances in that maiden top flight campaign. Sadly though, relegation was to follow the following season, with McGraw only scoring 11 times in 36 appearances before moving on to Hibs in the summer of 1966.
Medical science though, was not as advanced in the sixties as it is now, advice for footballers suffering injuries wasn’t what it should have been, and whilst he struggled to train, he relied on cortisone injections to allow him to play.
He accepted his own role in not questioning the practice- stating that he never visited the same doctor twice, used the injections to get on the park when the correct advice would’ve been to rest, and whilst the maximum safe number of injections in a year was 3, in one year he took 25!
This of course led to his quality of life deteriorating badly, and the image of him on crutches in later life was a common one as he paid the price for his determination to continue playing.
With injuries really affecting him, he was to make 60 appearances for Hibs over three years- in fact coming off injured in the 2-1 1968 League Cup semi-final victory over Dundee, before returning to the action in those days before substitutes. Unsurprisingly, he missed the final through injury.
There was a short spell as a guest at Toronto City in 1967 before he wrapped up his senior playing career at Linfield in 1969-70. A brief spell at Johnstone Burgh, before taking on a coaching role at Pollok preceded his return to Cappielow as Erik Sorensen, a former teammate from his time at Morton, invited him back to the club as reserve team coach. With another golden era on the horizon, it was McGraw’s reserve side which provided such talent as Joe McLaughlin, John McNeil, Neil Orr and Jim Tolmie to supplement the aforementioned Ritchie, Hayes, Baines and Holmes.
However, as Benny Rooney’s fine side of the late seventies and early eighties was broken up, Morton were to fall into the new First Division, briefly returning in 1984 under Tommy McLean, before an immediate relegation the following year under his brother Willie. After Willie McLean’s sacking, McGraw took the reins as Morton’s manager.
After a mid-table finish in his first campaign, Morton were to win the title in 1987, and return to the Premier Division, the last time we played in the top flight. Relegation the following season was swift and brutal, conceding 100 goals over a 44 game league campaign, the final one being dispatched by Hibernian goalkeeper Andy Goram with a long clearance from his own box.
The title was secured in 1987, resulting in Morton's return to the Premier Division for the last time to date. (Photo- Pinterest)
However, there was a shining light in that season of misery, as Graeme Souness’s millionaires were humbled at Cappielow late in the season as Morton recorded a surprise 3-2 victory over Britain’s most expensive side of the time.
Morton were to establish themselves in the First Division without seriously threatening promotion or fearing relegation for a number of years before league reconstruction saw five teams relegated in 1994. A horrendous injury list from the start of the season saw Morton relegated with a whimper, although in truth, they didn’t stand a chance.
The 1994-95 season saw McGraw add his third title, and his second as manager. Again, Morton struggled early, but with the returning young stars of Alan Mahood and Derek McInnes from injury supplemented by the inspired signings of Finnish internationals Janne Lindberg and Marko Rajamaki, Morton made an immediate, and triumphant return to the First Division.
The following season was one of incredible highs, more injury woes, and ultimate heartbreak against Dundee United on the season’s final day. His last season as boss was to prove an anti-climax as Morton failed to live up to expectations after coming so close the previous year.
The arrival of the reviled Hugh Scott saw McGraw resign as manager, invited back as Club President before walking in protest as he saw through Scott’s nonsense, and fighting for Morton’s very survival as Scott’s mismanagement saw the club spiral into administration and a focal point was needed to rally the support in order to save the club from the worst possible fate.
Commonly labelled as “Mr Morton”, there are few who would argue against the case for him to be considered our greatest ever, and few who would expect to see any greater in our own lifetimes.
An overdue induction to Scottish Football's Hall of Fame arrived in 2017, honoured by one of the finest graduates of McGraw's conveyor belt of talent, Derek McInnes. (Photo- Scottish Sun)
As well as the recent naming of the Allan McGraw Main Stand at Cappielow, some other fitting accolades he received were his induction to the Scottish Football Hall of Fame in 2017 and an SPFA Special Merit Award in 1998, along with divisional Manager of the Year Awards in his title winning years of 1987 and 1995.
Like us all, everyone at The Morton Forum wishes to pass on our condolences to his sons Allan and Mark, and his extended family.
We will never see his like again.
Allan McGraw Testimonial Programme
Greenock Morton 1874-1999, Vincent P Gillan
Images of Sport- Greenock Morton 1874-1999, compiled by Jim Jeffrey
Morton Greats, Graeme Ross.