The sudden departure of Eddie Turnbull to Easter Road in July, 1971, left the
Aberdeen FC board in a similar position to that of 1955 when Dave Halliday went
south to Leicester.
Halliday had vacated the manager's chair at Pittodrie within weeks of securing
Aberdeen's first-ever League title, and although Turnbull hadn't quite emulated
his early predecessor on that score, he had put together a side that enjoyed
a famous Scottish Cup triumph in 1970 and came within a whisker of ending Celtic's
five-year domination of the Scottish League scene the following season.
In 1955 the board decided the proper course of action was to promote the former
manager's right-hand man, Dave Shaw, and in 1971 they agreed on a similar solution
with the appointment of Coach Jimmy Bonthrone as the seventh manager of Aberdeen
FC. Bonthrone had almost been an Aberdeen player at one point in the playing
career but after a 1946 trial, he was allowed to go elsewhere. His playing
days saw spells at Partick Thistle, Dundee, Stirling Albion and Queen of the
South, but he was probably best remembered as a bustling inside-forward with
the remarkable East Fife team of the immediate post-war period that won the
League Cup as a second division outfit.
During the 1960s he took over the manager's job at Bayview but before long
he was appointed as national team coach to Scotland under manager Bobby Brown,
with the total responsibility for the Scotland under-23 side. In 1969 he was
offered the post of coach at Pittodrie and Bonthrone enjoyed two fruitful seasons
as Eddie Turnbull's second in command before the latter's second departure.
The genial Bonthrone had worked well in tandem with the more outgoing Turnbull
and seemed to have all the credentials to carry on the good work that the former
manager had begun.
Jimmy's managerial career got off to a great start when the Dons extracted
a measure of revenge for their 1970-71 title disappointment by beating the
mighty Celtic 2-1 at Pittodrie in the memorable, inaugural Drybrough Cup final
in August 1971 (the tournament enjoyed a lot of prestige in the early years).
The Dons suffered from an early exit at the section stage of the League Cup,
but that was by no means unusual in itself, and on the League front, if anything,
Aberdeen got off to an even better start to the 1971-72 season than they had
in the previous campaign.
However, on November 27, 1971, the Dons lost a five-goal thriller to Hearts
to taste League defeat at Pittodrie for the first time in over 18 months and
Celtic slipped by them to take over a top spot that they wouldn't relinquish
again all season long. A few weeks into 1972 skipper Martin Buchan was transferred
to Manchester untied for £125,000 and the break up of one of the finest
Aberdeen sides in history had begun. With Buchan gone, a fifth-round exit at
Easter Road was seen as almost inevitable and it didn't help the new boss,
as Dons fans had to sit and watch Eddie Turnbull begin to establish his Hibs
side as the real threat to Aberdeen's dominance.
Bonthrone brought Drew Jarvie from Airdrie to supplement the amazing Joe Harper
up front but the defence had lost its old impregnability without Martin Buchan,
and it became obvious quite early in the 1972-73 season that Aberdeen were
not going to be in the frame come April. The transfer of Joe Harper to Everton
on December 9, 1972, marked another downward turn in the club's fortunes, and
although at first the fans did not point the finger at manager Jimmy Bonthrone,
these events loomed large in his eventual downfall.
The Dons League position slipped steadily with Bonthrone at the helm and although
e never failed to keep Aberdeen in the top five during his four full seasons
in charge, significantly that fifth place, in 1974-75, deprived the club of
European football for the second successive season. On the Cup front, that
Drybrough Cup triumph aside, the nearest Jimmy took Aberdeen to glory was a
semi-final defeat by Celtic in the 1972-73 League Cup.
The 1975-76 season, the first ever of the Premier League, began badly for
Aberdeen with a dismal showing in the League Cup section. And worse was to
follow. With Aberdeen propping up the table with two games played, visitors
Dundee United were on their way to a 3-1 win at Pittodrie when Jimmy gambled
on throwing on striker Billy Pirie for defender Willie Young. The giant centre-half
reacted in unbelievable fashion by literally tearing of his shirt, throwing
it at his manager, and storming out of the ground.
Young was transferred to spurs shortly afterwards but Bonthrone's authority
had been publicly undermined. On October 1, 1975, the Dons were badly embarrassed
by a 5-2 home defeat by Middlesbrough in the quarter-final of the Anglo-Scottish
Cup, and within the space of a further 10 days lost to both of the Old Firm
teams, leaving Aberdeen joint bottom of the Premier league with struggling
St Johnstone. With the clamour for his head growing, Jimmy Bonthrone bowed
to the pressure and resigned. Presumably chastened by the experience, Jimmy
Bonthrone remained outside the game for several years but happily returned
to East Fife a number of years later to take over as commercial manager.
History has not been kind to Jimmy Bonthrone as he is principally remembered
by Aberdeen fans as the man who led them back into the wilderness after the
promise of the early 1970s. However, it must be said in his defence that Jimmy
was on a hiding to nothing. Established stars such as Martin Buchan and Joe
Harper wanted to try their luck south of the border and in the 11970s no Scottish
side could stand in the face of that financial reality. Jimmy countered the
steady drain of talent by trying to introduce youth in place of experience.
Bonthrone signed one of the club's finest servants in Drew Jarvie and his
youth programme was instrumental in the development of players such as Willie
Miller and John McMaster amongst others. Like Dave Shaw before him, Jimmy Bonthrone
was undoubtedly a fine coach that unfortunately found out the hard way: good
coaches don't always make good managers.