Wednesday, July 26 – 2006
Goalkeeper with Falkirk, Liverpool, Dundee and Watford
Born: 5 May 1936 in Musselburgh.
Died: 21 July 2006 in Brechin, aged 70.
Although he won the Scottish Cup with Falkirk and a Second Division championship medal with Liverpool, it is his endeavours with Dundee for which the goalkeeper Bert Slater will be best remembered.
Slater, who has died aged 70 in Brechin, was passed between brothers Bill and Bob Shankly in the summer of 1962, with the Ayrshire men then in charge of Liverpool and Dundee respectively. Given the status of the clubs today, somewhat remarkably this was seen as a step up for Slater even though Liverpool were anticipating a return to the top tier, where the club have remained ever since.
But Dundee, having won the Scottish First Division title for the first and only time in their history, were preparing for the European Cup. Bob Shankly had rated Slater since the keeper’s performance against Dundee for Liverpool in a game to mark the installation of the Dens Park floodlights in March 1960. Slater was bought for £2,500 but his departure from Liverpool left a sour taste.
“In the close season Bill Shankly told me I was on my way to Dundee,” recalled Slater in July 2004. “I said ‘no’, because I wanted to stay and fight for my place in the First Division. He then named six goalies right down to the Under-12 goalkeeper, and told me I was not even quoted.”
Fortunately, this was not an evaluation shared by brother Bob, who had also signed Slater for Falkirk. Within weeks, the goalkeeper had established himself as first choice ahead of title-winner Pat Liney and was starring in one of the most extraordinary two-legged ties in Scottish football history.
Dundee’s European Cup debut came against German champions Cologne, among the favourites to lift the cup itself. A crowd of 25,000 saw Dundee take a three goal lead in the 13 minutes. By half-time it was five, and, by the end, astonishingly, Dundee had triumphed 8-1. Even the Cologne goal was scored by a Dundee player – Alex Hamilton, who has also since passed away, putting one past Slater, his own keeper. The Germans left Dens Park nursing a grievance as well as hurt pride. Their goalkeeper had been injured in a clash with Alan Cousin, and was forced off at half-time. The German club were intent on revenge, and targeted Slater for “special attention” in the second leg. Apparently, there were already stretcher bearers positioned behind his goal when the game kicked-off.
He was gashed in the head by a German player’s boot after just 27 minutes, and replaced by inside right Andy Penman. By the time the bedraggled Scots had retreated to the dressing room at half-time, Dundee were already 3-0 down. A bandaged-up Slater walked back into the away dressing room at half-time and the sight alone was enough to raise spirits although the keeper, in typical fashion, made a joke about looking like Lana Turner, the screen siren whose sleek outfit in The Postman Always Rings Twice had included a white turban. Slater, it was decided, should play outfield, and took up position on the wing, reprising the Gordon Smith role. And with more success, he later quipped.
Another strike for Cologne was the spur for Slater to return to where he was most at home, although even as a boy growing up in Musselburgh he would often play in attack on the Fisherrow Links because he was deemed too good to be restricted to goal.
Dundee’s run that year was finally ended at the semi-final stage by AC Milan, who went on to lift the cup at Wembley. It is not simply a supporter’s reverie which prompts the thought that Slater could have been a Ronnie Simpson, the first British goalkeeper to win the most revered medal in the club game. Celtic instead made history four years later in Lisbon.
By this time Slater had left Dens for Watford, where he was a player, coach and also assistant manager. His career had begun at Falkirk, the club he joined straight from Musselburgh Grammar School. He made his debut aged just 17 in front of 90,000 at Ibrox and helped Falkirk lift the Scottish Cup in 1957 against Kilmarnock in a replay watched by as many. It’s clear he could count on a steely nerve as well as his ready wit.
Slater is survived by his wife, Jean, two daughters and a son.
(The Scotsmans, Online, 26-07-2006)