Burgh football star is popular pundit

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ONE of Scotland’s best-known football celebrities made his home in Helensburgh in 1983 and has lived in the burgh ever since. 

Former player and manager, now a football pundit, Murdo MacLeod is one of the most likeable, popular and respected figures in the game today.

As a player he starred for Dumbarton, Celtic, Borussia Dortmund, Hibs and Scotland, and as a manager he was in charge at Dumbarton and Partick Thistle and assistant to Wim Jansen at Celtic.

Murdo Davidson MacLeod was born on September 24 1958 at Milngavie, and from an early age, like his brother Alasdair, showed footballing promise.

Murdo-MacLeod-teenage031-wBoth were signed by Dumbarton when teenagers, and Murdo quickly made a name for himself at the Boghead club, playing 87 games for the first team in midfield and scoring nine goals between 1975 and 1978.

This was the era of long-serving manager Alex Wright and a great crop of players including Ian Wallace, Graeme Sinclair, John Bourke and Graeme Sharp. But the club had to sell to survive, and in November 1978 Murdo was bought by Celtic for the then club record fee of £100,000.

Shortly before he left he became only the second Dumbarton player to be capped for Scotland at Under 21 level, scoring one of the goals in Scotland’s 3-1 victory over the U.S.A. at Aberdeen’s Pittodrie ground.

Murdo-MacLeod-at-CelticAt Celtic Park he soon became a huge favourite of the fans. He wore the green and white hoops for nine years, played in 281 games, and scored 55 goals.

He helped the side win five Scottish League titles, two Scottish Cups and one League Cup during a golden era.

The supporters did not forget, and in a poll in 2000 they voted that he had scored the greatest ever Old Firm derby goal for the Hoops — in the 4-2 victory over Rangers in 1979 when ten men clinched the league title.

Next came an unexpected but very successful move to the Bundesliga and the German club Borussia Dortmund, for whom he played for four years. He played in 103 games and scored four goals, and in his time there the side won the German Cup and Super Cup.

In 1991 he returned to Scotland and joined Hibernian, captaining the Edinburgh side to a League Cup win that year. He played 78 games for the Easter Road side and scored twice, latterly also being a club coach.

After two years he was released, but just at the same time Dumbarton manager Billy Lamont resigned to take over at Alloa Athletic.

Murdo-MacLeod-teenage-2032-wThe Dumbarton directors pulled out all the stops to secure Murdo in the face of stiff opposition from Dunfermline Athletic, making the manager’s job a full time appointment, and there was delight when he agreed to become player-boss.

He drafted in Clydebank stalwart Jim Fallon as assistant manager, and brought his brother Alasdair back to the club as coach. On the field he played 66 games, mostly as sweeper, and scored one goal.

The highlight of this period was when he guided the team to promotion from the second division in second place at the end of the 1994-5 season.

To do so they had to win the final match away to Stirling Albion, and in the Forthbank crowd were his wife and children dressed and made up in Dumbarton’s black and gold.

With Murdo marshalling the defence, second half goals from Helensburgh man Hugh Ward, a tricky winger, and prolific striker Charlie Gibson gave them a much-celebrated 2-0 win.

Murdo-MacLeod-1995-wJust after the start of the next season Murdo could not resist the chance of managing premier league Partick Thistle, and moved to Firhill. He played once for the Jags, his final competitive match.

He was there for two years, but the club was relegated at the end of the 1995-6 season.

Murdo returned to Celtic as assistant manager to Wim Jansen for the 1997-8 season, and helped the club win the premier league and League Cup. But just 48 hours after winning the league, Jansen left the club and Murdo was out of a job.

Football remains his life, however, and he is one of the most recognisable pundits on BBC Radio Scotland and other radio stations, is a columnist for the Daily Record, and is a much sought-after, and very humorous, after-dinner speaker.

His international playing career was memorable, as he played 20 times for the national team, including European Championship qualifiers and the 1990 World Cup finals, and scored one goal.

Alasdair-MacLeod030-wHis first international against England was on May 20 1985 at Hampden Park, when he helped Scotland to a 1-0 win in the Rous Cup.

Scottish supporters particularly remember Italia 90, when Murdo was felled by a free-kick from Branco and the lights of the Stadio del Alpi went out on him. The ferocity of the free-kick was such that he did not know which way Scotland were shooting when the game resumed after he had received treatment.

The hardest blow he had ever taken on a football pitch also put him in a German hospital weeks later for brain scans because he was still suffering the equivalent of an aftershock.

But the lasting legacy of the night he lost consciousness was the letter that arrived from Brazil two decades later asking if he was still alive.

Murdo recalls: “I got a letter forwarded to me by the SFA. It was composed by a Brazilian in the process of writing Branco's biography. He wanted to know if, 20 years later, I was still alive after taking the full impact of his free-kick on my head.

"He wasn't exaggerating the seriousness of the side-effects from the free-kick.

Murdo_and_Mhairi_MacLeod-w“I stayed on in Italy with my wife, Mhairi, for a holiday after Scotland's World Cup was over but when I got back to Dortmund they weren't happy that I was still suffering from headaches three weeks after the event.

"I was sent for a brain scan which showed there was no lasting damage, but I was instructed to take another two weeks off to rest."

Murdo married Mhairi Jayne Brannan in Jamestown Parish Church in 1977, and they have three daughters, Gilan, Mhairi and Marina, and four grandchildren, Mhairi, Ross, Victoria and Murdo.

They have lived in upper Helensburgh for 30 years, and their daughters were educated at Hermitage Primary and Hermitage Academy.

Gilan teaches modern languages at Hermitage, Mhairi is a chartered accountant and has her own accountancy firm in Helensburgh — Fulton & Company, and Marina is still at school.

Murdo-MacLeod-Wayfarers033-wMurdo and his wife both display considerable business acumen, and they run The Wayfarers Restaurant in Croftamie, and Ambassador Taxis and A1 Taxis in Milngavie.

A keen golfer from early on in his football career, Murdo played originally at the Cardross club and now at the Carrick Golf and Spa on Loch Lomondside. Swedish strike ace Henrik Larrson was a regular playing partner during his time at Celtic.

In January 2010 he was admitted to the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank and had an operation to replace the aortic valve.

He and his family said afterwards that they had received hundreds of supportive messages from across the football community, in Scotland and beyond, which were of great comfort to them.

All commentators sometimes come out with things they wish later that they had not said. In Murdo’s case, the best known is: “That was only a yard away from being an inch-perfect pass.”

  • Photos by Donald Fullarton, except for Alasdair MacLeod (by Brian Averell), Murdo and Mhairi (The Sun), and Murdo and Buckie (unknown).