David McLean remembered
Sixty years ago, on 14 February 1951, the football world was shocked to learn of the untimely death of the Heart of Midlothian manager David McLean at the age of 67.
He was a man who commanded the greatest respect, mainly due to his unswerving belief that Scottish players could match the very best if they were nurtured from an early age by the country's major clubs. With this basic philosophy, he made a significant contribution to Hearts, with his work behind the scenes underpinning the outstanding teams of the 50s.
Indeed, when Hearts won the League Cup in October 1954, its first major honour in 48 years, eight of the winning team had been recruited by McLean and only one had come from another senior club.
As a young man, David played on the wing for Buckhaven United, Cambuslang Rangers, Celtic, Ayr United and Cowdenbeath. He then joined East Fife in 1911 as player-manager and the wily Fifer led the Methil side to victory in the Qualifying Cup Final in 1920-21. East Fife was also admitted to the Scottish League in 1921-22 and reached the Scottish Cup Final in April 1927. The following year, David took over as manager of Bristol Rovers but was re-engaged by East Fife, just too late to avoid relegation from the First Division in 1930-31. McLean rebuilt the team and then in 1938, he led the Second Division side to a memorable win over Kilmarnock in the Scottish Cup Final.
The Second World War created many issues for football clubs and Hearts manager Frank Moss returned to England in the summer of 1940. The directors ran the team but this was not a long-term solution and Hearts decided to advertise for a full-time manager. No applicant was suitable and the club then approached the East Fife boss, who accepted a five-year contract in June 1941.
His task was to steer Hearts through the War and plan for a successful return to normal conditions. David's appointment was hugely significant, not only because of his reputation for recruitment and team building but also because he was an expert masseur and an experienced administrator being a member of the League International Board and the Scottish League Management Committee.
David's plan involved the recruitment of carefully selected youngsters who had then to be given every opportunity, irrespective of results. From this, he would structure a well-balanced squad that would be ready for First Division football when hostilities ceased and would be available to Hearts for approximately 12 years. To underpin this, McLean wanted a Benefit Scheme that paid £750 to first-team men every five years, and £500 to the reserves. He also wanted a full-time playing staff to be under strict disciplinary supervision by first class coaches and trainers. In addition, Hearts' new manager wished to restructure the scouting system and select an assistant who would be his successor and ensure continuity.
During the remaining years of the War, David restricted the use of guest players in order to give more opportunities to new recruits, such as Jimmy Brown, Tom Mackenzie, Archie Kelly, Charlie Cox, Alfie Conn, Willie Macfarlane and John Urquhart.
When football eventually returned to something like normality in 1946, he stood firm with his youth policy and many veteran players left the club. The Hearts boss brought in John Torbet as trainer with John Harvey as his assistant and he also continued to sign promising young men such as Davie Laing, Bobby Dougan and the wonderful Willie Bauld.
Hearts reached the League Cup semi-finals in March 1947 and were slowly emerging as an effective team. But there were set-backs, and that year the team lost to B Division Arbroath in the Scottish Cup. Then in 1947-48, the team flirted with relegation and the club moved into the transfer market and bought its way out of trouble. This proved to be a correct short-term decision but McLean almost resigned over a perceived lack of faith in his youth policy.
Hearts' average League gates rose to a record level of 28,196 in 1948-49. This was not only due to the post-war crowd boom but also because benefits from McLean's policy were now clearly coming through. The "Terrible Trio", Alfie Conn, Willie Bauld and Jimmy Wardhaugh became a feature of the team and brought unsurpassed firepower to Tynecastle. The manager also made some other shrewd changes such as moving Bobby Dougan to centre-half and Bobby Parker to right-back. But possibly his most astute move was to ask that Tommy Walker be brought back from Chelsea as assistant manager, and this happened in December 1948.
Tangible progress was made in the League Championship in 1949-50 when Hearts finished third. As Tommy Walker had become more influential, McLean was co-opted to the Board on 16 March 1950 and there were high hopes of honours in 1950-51. The club was indeed destined for major success but sadly McLean would not see the result of his strategy, as he passed away in February 1951 after a period of illness. The task of guiding Hearts fell to the illustrious Walker, who nevertheless, was always quick to acknowledge the foundations laid by McLean and his fatherly interest in the welfare and development of the players.
Tommy Walker broadcast the following message to the supporters on 17 February 1951: "No doubt you are all aware of the untimely death of our manager, Mr McLean. There is no need to emphasise the fact that the loss will be great both to you and also to all here at Tynecastle. As a last token of respect for such a great man, for great he was, it would be very much appreciated if, prior to the kick-off, and immediately after the first and last verses of Abide with Me, you join with us in observing one minute's silence."
This happened with impressive solemnity and David McLean is rightly remembered for his outstanding contribution to the history of Heart of Midlothian FC.
On Hearts.TV and the official Hearts App today, exclusive post-match reaction to Hamilton victory, plus highlights of the 2-0 victory at New Douglas Park.