Monday 25th December 2017
An edited version of this article features in the current double edition of Sons View, issued against Falkirk on Saturday and available against Morton this Saturday.
“I’M a family man, and having to go out in the morning when you have kids at that time of the year, you want to be with them.”
Lawrie Williams was never one to dodge a game of football. A total of nearly 400 matches in goal for Dumbarton over 10 years, resulting in a testimonial and a reputation which still stands as one of the club’s finest-ever players, is evidence enough. Many of those fixtures are unique in their own ways – not least the one on Wednesday, May 3 1972, when a last-day 4-2 victory at home to Berwick Rangers won the club the old Second Division title. But another outstanding one came five months earlier. It isn’t so much the result of the game, a 2-2 draw away to St Mirren, that makes it unique. It’s more the date, which is upon us once again for another year.
To those of us aged under 45, the prospect of competitive football in Scotland on Christmas Day is probably a myth. It hasn’t happened since 1976, and even then only two matches were played, with the remainder of the fixture card switched to alternative dates. Even when December 25 has been a Saturday, the only things in Scotland getting stuffed on that date have been turkeys. You’ve only donned a football strip or kicked a ball around if Santa has been good to you, and if you’ve been lucky, you’ve had Boxing Day fare to look forward to the following day instead.
For the last full Scottish football card to take place on the same day that the man in the fluffy red suit lands in your fireplace, you have to go back to 1971. At the end of the day, games were still 11 men against 11, chasing a leather sphere round a grassy aiming to put it in a metal rectangle at either end. But if you were a family man, it was different, and that was the case for Lawrie. As a father to two young daughters at the time of the trip to Love Street, it was a case of family time, open presents, leave for 90 minutes of blood, sweat and tears, hopefully get home for Christmas dinner.
“There’s not a lot I can remember about the game,” he says from his current home in Wales 46 years after the event. “But I do remember it being a surreal day, from getting up in the morning and spending time with the kids, to everybody waiting for you to come home for your dinner. It was the only time I played on Christmas Day, although I’d previously had to work on that day as an engineer. You got the kids to bed at a reasonable time on Christmas Eve and then they’d be up early the next day with their presents, but you didn’t get involved as much as you would like.
“I didn’t spend a lot of time with the kids on Christmas morning, as the manager (Jackie Stewart – not the racing driver) wanted us into Boghead early, around 10am, to prepare and travel to the game. If we were ever playing on New Year’s Day, we’d always get called in early, just to ensure we were in a fit state, so it was the same for Christmas Day.
“My family generally hosted Christmas dinner, and when I got home, everybody was sitting waiting for me coming back. It was very handy for me that the game was at Love Street, as I lived in Port Glasgow and so didn’t have a long journey home.
“Football on Christmas Day isn’t something I would advocate now. I had kids on the day of the St Mirren game and you want to be spending time with them, just to see their faces lighting up. Even now I make sure I see my grandkids on Christmas Day. It just didn’t feel right leaving my family at home on the day.”
There is, though, one part of the game which Lawrie still remembers well. “Big Roy McCormack scored a screamer.” He’s not wrong there – even all these years later, people still talk about how the Sons striker evaded Gordon McQueen’s attention, some distance from goal, and thrashed home such a ferocious shot that it rebounded from the back stanchion of Danny Stevenson’s goal.
That made it 2-0 to Dumbarton midway through the second half, with Kenny Wilson having opened the scoring five minutes after the restart. But in the end, it was the one which got away from a Sons side which was going into the game off the back of a 7-1 win at home to Alloa a week earlier where Wilson scored four of the goals. What added to the irony of St Mirren’s comeback was that it was instigated by a substitute whose introduction was met with derision by the frustrated home supporters in a crowd of over 5,500.
Within three minutes of his introduction in place of Archie Knox, Willie Borland had won a free kick for St Mirren after he was fouled by Kenny Jenkins. Iain Munro drilled home the set piece and, with 13 minutes left to play, the Buddies had a lifeline. It was one they snapped up with only three minutes remaining, as Borland himself found the net with a low drive from the edge of the area. Nevertheless, Dumbarton were probably the happier side with a point as they headed home for what was left of their family time. As a local newspaper journalist put it: “It was enough to put a poor Buddie off his turkey and mince pies.”
It was also a useful point in the final run-in, as Dumbarton went on to clinch the Second Division title. They could have done so against the Buddies in the season’s penultimate fixture at Boghead, but lost 2-1, leading to the winner-takes-all scenario against Berwick on the final day. A victory later, the champagne corks were popping.
Lawrie added: “St Mirren were going great guns for a while that season and were the favourites to go up, but they fell away after a great start. We, by contrast, made a poor start to our season – I think we took only three points from our first six games. When they beat us in the other meeting that season I think it was a deflected goal which won it for them, and they’d been one of our biggest rivals all season. However, we beat Berwick to win the title and we were all delighted with that.”
In February 2017, several members of the squad, including Lawrie, were reunited in hospitality at Dumbarton’s current YOUR Radio 103FM Stadium. They were there to watch a game against…St Mirren. The score? 2-2, although this time Sons had to equalise twice in order to take a point. Through the eyes of the legends watching on, it would have felt like Christmas.
St Mirren: Stevenson; Murray, McLaughlin, Knox (Borland 74), McQueen, McDerment, McKean, Blair, Millar, McLeod, Munro.
Dumbarton: Williams; Menzies, Wilkinson, Jenkins, Bolton, Graham, Miller, Gallagher, Wilson, McCormack, Coleman. Sub (unused): Paterson.
Referee: S Anderson (Glasgow).