I Didn’t See It Coming

Only Ronnie Martin’s footage exists from Berwick Rangers venerable triumph over their mighty Old Firm namesakes. A silent, grainy, choppy piece of film, it seems fittingly otherworldly, reflecting a triumph which stunned Scottish football in a way unseen before, and perhaps since. Thursday 28 January 1967 remains the most celebrated and iconic night of football ever seen at Shielfield Park as a record crowd of 13,365 roared the part-time Second Division side on to victory over the Glasgow goliaths.

Formed in 1881, Berwick Rangers joined the restructured Scottish Football League in 1955, finishing their first campaign in a respectable 14th place in a 19-team Division Two. A perpetual anomaly – the only English side in Scottish football, with a squad always dominated by men born north of the border – Berwick Rangers represent a town where neighbourhoods and even families are split between those loyal to the Tartan Army and those who wear the Three Lions with pride. This is, however, a one-club town, and even those who identify with the Saltire stand unwaveringly on the terraces of Shielfield to be called “English bastards” by opposition fans. That said, while Berwick have always straddled two countries, for a brief period in early 1967 the exploits of the men in black and gold earned worldwide acclaim. Underpinning the team’s success, as both dictatorial manager and trusted player, was Jock Wallace.

While the chilly winter of 1967 was the zenith of Wallace’s association with Berwick Rangers, his connection with the club began in 1954 when, as a fearless member of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, stationed in the historic town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, the teenage Wallace first stepped out onto the Shielfield pitch as a young and inexperienced goalkeeper. Years later, the man who fought bravely in war-torn Malaya would lead the Wee Gers into their most famous footballing battle and oversee one of the most fondly remembered epochs in the club’s history. Unless, of course, you were to experience his brutal training regime first-hand.

 

The Beginning

In 1958, Jock Wallace departed Berwick Rangers for the first time after proving himself a ‘keeper of solid but unspectacular skill over a four-year spell in Northumberland. He played under former Liverpool right-back Willie Steel at Airdrieonians before featuring in England’s top flight for West Bromwich Albion. From there, Wallace dropped several levels to feature for non-league Bedford Town, a move which provided him with his first taste of giant killing in the first week of 1964. In front of over 33,000 fans at St. James’ Park, Wallace produced a magnificent performance to drag Bedford to a shock victory over the supposedly superior Newcastle United. Three years later, with the added pressure of management, Wallace would repeat the trick in even more spectacular fashion

Despite the common conception of Wallace as an unrelenting disciplinarian, his popularity in Berwick was as much a result of his likeable nature as any on-field happenings. I spoke to Tony Langmack, former sport editor of the Berwick Advertiser and a close friend of Jock’s, about the man and his methods. I wondered if the famously no-nonsense Wallace had a lighter side. “He was soft-hearted,” Tony says with an unmistakeable warmth in his voice. “He was very, very good with children. Very good with young people, very good with the elderly people.” Many football figures are, inevitably, reduced to cliché and stereotype once their presence in the game has gone, and it is illuminating to hear about the elements of Wallace’s character which are often overlooked. Nevertheless, he was certainly not prone to softness in relation to his players’ fitness.

“They were a very, very fit team”, Tony explains with clear admiration. “That, above all else, was what Jock Wallace put into the team.” They were, he claims, “the fittest team, at that stage, of any side I’ve ever seen play for Berwick”. The key factors behind the Black and Gold’s unparalleled fitness are not difficult to imagine. The sand dunes of Berwick were symbolic of extreme physical exertion, perhaps more so than any tribulation in film or literature.

In The Lone Rangers, prolific goal-scorer Ken Bowron describes traversing the “loose sand dunes” as “absolutely knackering”. Purpose-built by Wallace, the dunes were a test of both physical and mental strength, and he refused players the option of stopping to vomit, telling them they could be sick but only whilst they ran. Tony Langmack and the Advertiser’s other staff weren’t allowed to be bystanders at training sessions either. Tony talks of an occasion where he and the paper’s chief photographer turned up to take a few snaps of the Berwick players getting put through their paces. “At the end of [Jock’s] training session, he said: ‘I don’t know what the hell you two are laughing at, because you’re doing it now’. Up and down the dunes ’til we were sick”. The enigmatic manager’s explanation for putting the journalists through their paces was simple, according to Tony: “Because that’s the way I trained them”. He was never a man to tolerate shirking.

That was not the only instance where Wallace used his unique presence to control others. In the 0-1 defeat away at Hibernian that followed the triumph over Rangers, the manager used not only his firm hands, but also some rather comic intimidation tactics to thwart Scotland international Jimmy Scott. Wallace gave the Hibs man an earful, before he “took up time, before the penalty kick was taken, removing toilet rolls which had been thrown behind the goal.” The underwhelming spot kick was comfortably saved and although Berwick Rangers were (controversially) defeated, it was another battle won by their formidable boss.

 

The Win

The magnitude of the victory over Glasgow Rangers can hardly be overstated, nor can the shockwaves it sent through the footballing community. While the disbelief and euphoria were the primary emotions on the terraces of a heaving Shielfield, however, the 11 men in black and gold who took to the field had never been less than confident of a positive outcome. Wallace spoke openly of having seen weaknesses in the Rangers line-up after seeing them make heavy work of a 2-1 win over Aberdeen at Pittodrie.

Just after Wallace’s arrival, the Wee Gers produced one of the best run of results in the club’s history, winning ten and drawing one of 11 matches. Junior side Vale of Leithen were dispatched in ruthless fashion, the game finishing 8-1, and Stenhousemuir were humiliated in an emphatic 6-0 win. Berwick showed their battling qualities in a 2-1 victory over Ian Crawford’s struggling East Stirlingshire side in front of a healthy crowd of 1,084 at Shielfield. Several more impressive performances followed before the Scottish Cup first round rolled around. Swathes of Berwick fans passed through the Shielfield turnstiles, more in hope than expectation.

The Black and Gold faithful were left jubilant by the outcome, with the home side standing firm against their illustrious opponents. “[Jock] was unbelievable the day of the Rangers game,” Tony attests. “He had tremendous confidence in himself.” How good Wallace needed to be, and how dominant one or the other side was, depends on whose recollection of events one chooses to believe. Dave Smith, who later became one of Berwick’s best-loved managers, claims the home team “scored a goal and hung on”, while many of the men in black and gold have gone on the record saying their Old Firm counterparts were fortunate not to lose by a bigger margin. Which Rangers side the result flattered is, however, almost immaterial.

The victory brought not just acclaim to the Berwick club, but also expectation. Despite the result renewing hope in a promotion push, which looked feasible for once, Wallace’s side never developed the necessary consistency and were frequently humbled on their travels, losing 4-0 at Forfar Athletic and Greenock Morton in the closing weeks of the 1966-67 season. The end result, a tenth-place finish in the expanded 20-team Division Two, would have been a reasonable success in the preceding years but as it was, the mid-table security seemed more a sense of what might have been than anything else.

The following season was a comparative disappointment. Although Wallace’s side had flashes of magic, beating Alloa Athletic 5-1 at Recreation Park and again breezing through the Scottish Cup preliminary rounds to join the hat with the nation’s powerhouses, they struggled to make an impression. The impulsive boss was repeatedly too quick to sell players, offloading cup hero Sammy Reid and full-back Ian Riddell amongst others. Without many of his once-trusted lieutenants, the campaign proved to be a struggle. Yet Wallace’s methods and successes caught the eye of Heart of Midlothian and the Edinburgh club overlooked the odd debacle (like the 1-7 defeat to Motherwell in November 1968) to snap up the promising young player-manager to work under the less-than-successful John Harvey.

Not long before he left the Berwick, Wallace made the signing of little-known Eric Tait from East of Scotland League side Coldstream. Tait would go on to become the club’s record appearance maker and goal-scorer. The victory over Rangers remained Wallace’s most memorable moment at the club, but the signing of Tait might have been his most decisive action of all.

 

Success Elsewhere

It’s rare to find consensus on a manager’s tenure at any club, even when the results seem to have been distinctly impressive or notably poor. Yet despite the inconsistency of his side, Jock Wallace was admired at Shielfield Park for the fitness of his team, their fearless approach to facing more technically-gifted sides and their attacking football. His side’s overall achievements were, objectively, modest, but his tenure was undeniably one of success, not failure. In 1962-63, just three years before Wallace took charge, the side finished 17th in Division Two, just edging above Forfar and perennial basement-dwellers Brechin City. Four years later, the side finished seven places higher (in an expanded league) and showed themselves a match, on their day, for the likes of Rangers and Hibs. However, the desired promotion push never materialised, and by the time of Wallace’s exit the club were on a gradual decline.

Jock Wallace would go on to bigger things, leading Rangers to nine domestic honours including three league titles in his first spell at the club. He also managed at Leicester City with distinction and he won promotion to English football’s top tier, while also experiencing forgettable (if not failed) stints at Motherwell, Sevilla and Colchester United. His success was built on the leadership, discipline and unrelenting hard-work which he learned first in his military career, then honed on the earthy turf of Shielfield Park, and lastly by the self-made sand dunes, where his side’s peerless fitness and undeniable commitment were built up week by week.

Whilst Rangers have since fallen afoul of part-time clubs from the Scottish League’s lower reaches, the events of 28 January 1967 have never been equalled in their gleeful, incredulous wonder. As Tony Langmack succinctly remarks, Jock Wallace was “one of the outstanding personalities” of the game. Nearly 20 years after the legendary manager’s passing, the man and his achievements are still revered in the little town of Berwick-upon-Tweed.

 

The sources in the research of this article were The Lone Rangers by Tom MaxwellBlue Thunder: The Jock Wallace Story by Jeff Holmes; and Berwick Rangers F.C. Centenary Book: 1881-1981 by Tony Langmack.

Special thanks to go Tony Langmack and Keith Hamblin, the past and present sport editors of the Berwick Advertiser, for their time, insight and assistance.

You can keep up with Dave Burin at his Twitter account here.

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