George Murray stood in as caretaker-manager as the Aberdeen FC board deliberated
long and hard on their choice of successor to Jimmy Bonthrone in the late autumn
In the immediate aftermath of Bonthrone’s resignation, Murray himself was
touted by the media as a possible replacement for his former boss, but with both
previous ‘promotions’ – Dave Shaw and Jimmy Bonthrone – largely
regarded as failures in their managerial roles, it came as no surprise when the
board cast their eyes further a field to find the right man for the job.
Almost a month elapsed following Bonthrone’s departure in early October,
1975, until the announcement came on November 6 that Ayr United boss Ally Macleod
was the directors’ choice. And extrovert Ally hadn’t even officially
taken over the reigns before he gave an exhibition of things to come.
His appointment had come to late for him to take over the job for the Dons
league visit to Fir Park, Motherwell, on November 8, so Ally had to sit in
the stand to watch his new charges for the first time. He obviously didn’t
like what he saw as he stormed down from his seat to take charge at half-time
after a dismal Dons first-half performance. There was no miracle turnaround
at Fir Park but Macleod announced to the fans with that one dramatic gesture
that he meant business.
The arrival of Ally MacLeod was like a breath of fresh air at Pittodrie with
his outgoing style and sheer enthusiasm proving an immediate tonic to the flagging
spirits of players and fans alike. His animated antics on the sidelines went
down a treat with the Dons fans as he bobbed in and out of the dug-out (a novelty
in the 70s!) as did the little gimmicks like lining up five or six players
on the left-hand side of the park for a charge upfield at kick-offs.
Characteristically he promised the fans a trophy and incredibly, within a
year of taking over, Ally, with more than a little help from the players, lived
up to his word.
When MacLeod finally took up the reigns, Aberdeen were deep in relegation with
the first-ever Premier League competition. However, within weeks of his arrival
he had guided the Dons to their first home win over Rangers in more than ten
years, and that 1-0 win was followed by a 2-0 win over league leaders Celtic
Significantly the sudden upsurge in the side’s performances seemed more
to do with motivation than anything else.
Ally attempted only one major change in personnel in the immediate Bonthrone
period – Andy Geoghegan taking over from Bobby Clark in goal, but Macleod’s
new choice of skipper, Willie Miller, proved inspired indeed. Striker Ian Fleming
was picked up from Kilmarnock after MacLeod had run the rule over the existing
talent on the club books.
Almost inevitably the Dons suffered a backlash to the heady days of Ally’s
arrival and the back end of the 1975-76 season saw the club locked in a grim
battle for Premier League survival. Notably MacLeod restored Bobby Clark in
In the end Aberdeen escaped relegation by the skin of their teeth – otherwise
Ally would have earned himself the dubious honour of becoming the first Aberdeen
manager to steer the club to a lower division. With survival achieved, Ally
then went on to establish his credentials as a manager with an eye for talent,
as he put together perhaps the best set of back-to-back deals in the club’s
Macleod had elevated himself further in the fan’s estimation by taking
Joe Harper back to Pittodrie (albeit after the transfer deadline) at the tail-end
of the 1975-76 campaign, but further gems were unearthed with the signing of
young full-back Stuart Kennedy from Falkirk and midfield man Dom Sullivan from
Clyde. The introduction of Harper, Kennedy and Sullivan transformed McLeod’s ‘relegation’ side
into the trophy winners he had promised. The opening of the 1975-76 season
was in marked contrast to the disastrous start twelve months earlier.
The Dons stormed through their League Cup qualifying section and went unbeaten
in the league until they lost to a late goal at Ibrox in mid-October. Consequently,
an alarming five-year downward trend in attendances was halted and fans began
to find their way back to Pittodrie in ever-increasing numbers. No single game
highlighted the remarkable change in attitudes instilled at the club by Ally
more than the sensational 5-1 demolition of Rangers in the League Cup semi-final
at Hampden on October 27 1976. The Dons simply played the league champions
off the park and the whole of Scotland began to take notice of what Ally McLeod
was achieving at Pittodrie.
The Dons backed up that remarkable win with a gritty 2-1 win over Celtic in
the final itself and Ally’s brash promise of a trophy for his “Red
Army” was fulfilled exactly a year to the day from the appointment as
Aberdeen’s eighth manager. The Dons were on the crest of a wave and their
league form reflected that as they led the league race until a turn of the
year fade-out put paid to their chances of adding another prize to the one
At the end of the season Dons fans were left to reflect on a remarkable change
of fortune that had brought the club its first trophy in six years and finishing
third in the Premier league – their highest league position since 1972.
If Ally could achieve that in 18 months, where would it all end? Alas, we were
never to find out. Hearts manager John Hagar was dismissed at Typecast at the
end of the 1976-77 season and Willie Ormond was appointed in his place – leaving
a vacancy with the Scottish national side. Ally McLeod was offered the post
in May, 1977 and, to the surprise of no-one, accepted the job. In the beginning
the Ally magic worked with Scotland as well. He led his squad to the 1978 World
Cup finals but the whole thing turned ugly with Scotland’s disastrous
performance in Argentina. McLeod was made the scapegoat by the very media that
had done most to create his hype in the first place.
Badly shaken, but still the optimist, Ally went on to manage Ayr United for
a second spell before moving on to Motherwell and then Airdrie. He later returned
to Ayr United for a third time before taking up his most recent post at Queen
of the South.
As a player Ally was a talented winger who saw service with Third Lanark, Blackburn
Rovers, Hibs and Ayr United.