Scot who gave Graham Taylor his big break
THERE will be a reminder of the Army Game later this year in Scotland.
A Hearts legends team will take on the British Army Over-35s side in March to raise money for the Soldier’s Charity.
During the era of National Service, the British Army XI coming to a ground near you was quite an attraction.
Big crowds paid to watch them taking on clubs sides and league selects.
The big draw was the chance to see international stars alongside familiar faces from the Scottish League.
It wasn’t easy to get a glimpse of those famous names in the time before wall- towall television coverage.
As well as providing a splash of glamour for supporters, it also gave some players the chance to line- up with a few illustrious team-mates.
John McTurk was a tough- tackling fullback with St Mirren when he ended up skippering the best of Britain’s young talent.
He recalled: “I’d started my career with St Mirren before being called- up to serve with the Royal Engineers.
“At first I was loaned to Wrexham, but that didn’t really work out.
“I preferred to play my football up in Scotland and the club agreed to fly me up and down from Fleet in Hampshire for matches.
“Not everyone looked forward to doing
military service, but being a footballer certainly made it a bit easier.
“You got away with a lot if you were in the British Army team.
“I was also in my regiment’s team and that meant you were training and playing games most of the time.
“I was part-time with St Mirren, working as a joiner, so I was probably as fit as I ever was during my time in the Forces.
“It was back to training two nights a week at Love Street – Tuesdays and Thursdays – after I was demobbed.”
The British Army side were regular visitors to Hearts, Hibs and Rangers.
In 1958, they made their way north to play Aberdeen in front of an 8000 crowd.
John went on: “Most of the other players went on to become full internationalists but I was given the honour of captaining the side.
“Aston Villa’s Gerry Hitchens was all the talk for England at the time and he hit the net for us before Rangers’ Davie Wilson gave us a 2-1 win.
“We played other sides in England, like Plymouth and Everton.
“Although we didn’t train together and only met up before the games, we were never defeated during my time in the side.
“The matches were very competitive. The opposition teams definitely didn’t want to lose to us.”
Playing for the Army team was a great adventure for John, but it didn’t help his chances of getting a game with St Mirren.
Displacing John “Cockles” Wilson proved to be a tough task.
He said: “I played in the second round of the Scottish Cup in 1959, but then I was dropped and didn’t make it for the Final when we beat Aberdeen.
“That was a disappointment, but it was just one of those things. You hoped there would be other finals coming along.”
John, now 80, left the Saints to join Queen of the South in 1961.
He then had spells with Ayr United, Stirling Albion and Albion Rovers
His time for Morton was notable for being on the scoresheet along with Gordon Smith in a 2-0 win over Queen of the South.
Smith, the former Hearts, Hibs and Dundee legend, was playing his last- ever league match in Scotland.
■ Gerry Hitchens scored for the Army against Aberdeen in 1958.