Obituary: John Lambie
Footballer, manager of Hamilton accies and Partick Thistle and pigeon fancier Born: March 19, 1941;
Died: April 10, 2018
JOHN LAMBIE, who has died aged 77, was one of the most legendary of football managers, particularly through his lengthy association with Partick Thistle, where, following three separate spells as manager, he was club vice-president at the time of his death.
Born in the West Lothian coalfield in Whitburn, Lambie was legendary for his use of “colliery language”. A documentary about his time as Thistle manager, which included a segment, filmed in the Firhill dressing room at half-time as Lambie motivated his team, is believed to hold the world record for the use of a “bleeper” to cover up Lambie’s mastery of early Anglo-saxon invective.
He was also a journalist’s dream with his one-liners, such as the time he was told by the club physio that, after taking a blow to the head, Thistle player Colin Mcglashan “doesn’t know who he is”. Lambie’s response was: “Slap him in the face wi’ that f***in’ wet sponge, tell him he’s f***in’ Pele and send him back on.”
Then there was the time, after a gale-lashed game at Rugby Park, when Lambie, a renowned and successful pigeon fancier, entered the press room and informed the assembled hacks: “Ah widnae hae sent ma doos oot in that.”
His father’s ploy of taking the 14-year-old down Polkemmet Colliery to put him off the miner’s life worked, but football was his saviour. He played junior football with home town Whitburn, before, still only 18, going upstairs with Falkirk. He made more than 200 appearances for the Bairns, before a transfer to St Johnstone, where he had the best years of his career in Willie Ormond’s great side. Originally a midfielder, Lambie converted to full-back, and in well over 150 games for the Saints he helped them to a best-ever third place in the league, a League Cup final and the club’s first excursion into Europe. It was here, too, that he had his first exposure to coaching, before moving to Hamilton Accies, as assistant to Lisbon Lion Bertie Auld. He also had a spell under Eddie Turnbull at Easter Road – when, he insists, it was he rather than Tony Higgins (who has claimed ownership of the legend) who found George
Best in bed with Miss
World and a bottle of champagne.
In 1984, he succeeded Auld and immediately managed Accies to the First Division title and a tilt at the Premier League. He also master-minded one of the great Scottish Cup shocks, when Accies beat Rangers 1-0 at
Ibrox in 1987, with Adrian Sprott earning immortality with the crucial goal.
He then moved to Firhill, for the first of three stints as Partick Thistle manager, but quickly returned to Hamilton, before, realising his mistake, he returned to Firhill, to a struggling Thistle team, which he picked up, shook up, then took up to the Premier Division and kept them there for three years.
But life was always tough at Firhill and Lambie moved on, to original club Falkirk. But, this was another bad move on his part; he quit after seven months, and spent a frustrating period as a mere spectator, before he answered an SOS to come back and pick up the pieces at Firhill.
In his absence, Thistle had plunged down the leagues, and even looked for a time likely to fold. Now, there have been various Firhill fairy stories over the years but the manner in which Lambie steadied the sinking ship, taking over with the club seemingly doomed to a drop into the bottom division, and guiding Thistle back to the Premier Division, is one of the best. He kept them there too and, in 2003, he called it a day and retired from management – apart from a brief cameo as caretaker boss the following season.
His love of his “doos” was well-known; at one time he had over 80, plus a string of greyhounds. Lambie was also an SNP supporter and a man who embraced and regularly attended church. He said: “I understand doos better than I do footballers, but not as well as I do greyhounds.”
He was an outspoken and, with his liking for big cigars, an at-times outlandish but genuine character who could bring the best out of footballing characters such as the aforementioned Best and
He was fiercely competitive, but the humour was always there and post-match press conferences in Lambie’s office at Firhill were always wonderful affairs, since you never knew when he would produce the memorable quotation – but, you could guarantee he would.
Maybe Lambie and the Jags were simply made for each other. Needless to say, he is in the Partick Thistle Hall of Fame and, less believably, also the Falkirk one.
Lambie was amicably separated from his wife Mamie, who survives him along with his three daughters and grandchildren.